Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Cornelius was a Centurion, a Roman soldier in charge of 100 men. Stationed with the Italian Regiment in the Holy Land at Caesarea, he was a pagan, yet evidently had watched the Jews enough to believe that their God was the true God. Cornelius believed this God of the Hebrews would be pleased with prayer and with giving to the poor.
An angel of God came to Cornelius and told him a man named Peter could tell him the way to salvation. The angel said . . .
Acts 10:4b (Holman). “Your prayers and your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God.”
Cornelius had correctly perceived what God wanted. The Lord truly was interested in how Cornelius handled money. We can learn from a pagan. God cares about what we do with money.
This should not surprise us. God owns everything. We are merely trustees. It is thus easy to understand why God would be vitally interested in our financial dealings. God wants to know what we are doing with His money.
Let’s deal with the ultimate issue up front. Do we want God sticking His nose in our finances or not? Our lips usually say yes. Our lives often say no.
Greed, lust, withholding the tithe, not giving to the poor ( these may seem little in our eyes, but eat away the core of our spirituality like a worm in an apple.
These sins thunder in our homes, but are barely whispered against in our pulpits. Few truly grasp the enormity of the sin of being obsessed with handling our own way things we deem our own. It must repulse God to see frail creatures of dust thinking stuff belongs to them and handling it whatever way they decide.
Shakespeare ridiculed pompous human pride, “Proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assured . . . like an angry ape, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, as makes the angels weep.”
Jesus, harsher even than Shakespeare, told about God saying to the self-centered, stuff-absorbed, rich man, “You fool!” (Ouch!) No one wants to hear this from God. “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you . . . That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21 Holman).
Balzac told a legend of magic skin which granted its wearer’s every wish. With every new selfish gratification, the skin shrank, tightening its embrace, until it squeezed out the wearer’s life. This legend is lived out in reality every day.
Every time we use “my” money “my” way, God is neglected. We may for a while get what we want, but we spiritually shrink, the noose of God’s displeasure tightening ever tighter. When we exclude God from our finances, even our successes are defeats, and eventually money becomes our slave-master, we become the master’s slave. I submit for our consideration, God is a better Master than money is.
When God rules us, we give 10%, save 10%, and are able to live joyfully on 80%. When money is our master, we are often discontented with 100%, and sometimes seek contentment by living on 105% or even more.
God loves us. He wants to retain control of our finances because only in that way can our money bring us contentment. God will make us happier living on 80% of our income than we can make ourselves living on 100% (or 105%). Our Master is a Jewish carpenter who wants to build for us a happier house of finances. His desire is to enable us to enjoy less more than we enjoy more now.
God does not want us to be miserable. He desires our joy and freedom, yet in our culture, our standard of living has become our standard of grieving. Stress connected with money is now deemed normal. No! Don’t give in to this lie.
God never intends His children to have choking debt, worry, anxiety, stress, and divorce. Statistics tell us as high as 80% of marriage trouble can be attributed to money trouble. This is out of whack. God wants us free, not bound.
We need to quit taking our cues from the culture. Peer pressure is sinking us. We must radically alter our attitude, and with absolutely firm conviction, resolve to handle money as God’s and to handle it in God’s ways. The whole purpose of the Bible is to give us a guide that will help us.
To make things right, where should we start? Repent. Mishandling money is a sin. Hoarding, greed, coveting, selfishness, stealing, withholding the tithe, not giving to the poor, dishonesty, not paying debts on time ( all are a sin. There is no such thing as being right with God when we are wrong with money.
Accept blame for our own dilemma. Don’t whine or look for scapegoats. Admit we have felt we should have more than God has given us means to have. We have acted as if God doesn’t know best what our real needs are. We have believed God failed to provide, forcing us to take matters into our own hands.
Repentance forces us to bring all our money and all our financial decisions into the spiritual realm, where they belong. God is Spirit. He helps with the spiritual. Thus, when we bring our money issues into the spiritual realm, we place them in the place where God can best help us with them.
Consider again the ultimate issue. Do we want God sticking His nose in our finances or not? If not, we’re like a sick person who says to the doctor, “I want to talk with you about everything in my life, except my health.” To exclude God from our finances is to send Him packing, because almost every phase of life is money related: clothes, food, houses, cars, gasoline, utilities, medicine, etc.
Hypocrisy prays, “Lord, I want you in my life, I love you, I trust you, I want to serve you and please you. Give me meaning, joy, and fulfillment. I open all to you, except my finances.” This in essence slams the door to Him on everything.
Money is a spiritual matter. The Bible in general, and Jesus in particular, spoke often about giving. A Pastor who avoids this subject becomes God’s editor rather than His messenger. Our job is to convey the full counsel of God, to talk about cultural issues that need to be, as our Rich Miller says, addressed Biblically.
My intent is to appeal to our Godly self-interest. We all tend to do what we perceive to be in our own best interest. Having me with me all the time, I think about me a lot. We cannot escape ourselves. This is okay as long as the goal of our Christian living is to align our self-interest with God’s interest.
Rewards are fine to pursue if they are ones God wants us to pursue. When we do the Lord’s will, we fulfill Godly long-term self-interest. When we follow our own selfish lead, we choose ungodly short-sighted self-interest.
In the Klondike gold rush, two miners struck a huge deposit. Feverishly excited, they unearthed more gold each day. Meanwhile, they neglected to store up provisions for the winter. Then came the first blizzard. Nearly frozen, one scrawled a shaky note explaining their predicament. A prospecting party later discovered the note, along with two frozen bodies atop a huge pile of gold.
Don’t live as if money is all there is. Short-term self-centeredness gives us tunnel vision. We see only stuff and us. All we think of is things, things, things, me, me, me, not realizing we are missing the highest joy possessions can bring us.
Jesus does not want to confiscate all our stuff. Rather, He would like to come sit beside us, talk with us about money, use His Book as our financial guide. He wants to make us happier, while at the same time blessing God and others.
Nancy DeMoss tells the fascinating story of Dick James, whose invention of the slinky made the young engineer a millionaire overnight. He immediately immersed himself in a life of luxury, traveled everywhere, tried everything, and finally became bored with life. He decided to commit suicide, but someone told him about Jesus. James’ life was transformed. He gave away everything he possessed and became a missionary in a very primitive part of South America. He did, however, hold out on God a little bit. He kept one original die of the slinky, in case God let him down. Finally, Dick James became ashamed of his attitude toward God. He tossed the die into the ocean. That step liberated him. He says he’s been really free ever since.
Our financial stories will not be as dramatic as Dick James’ is, but we all have to face the same decision. Can God be trusted? Does He want what’s best for me? Will His ways satisfy me most?
Consider again the ultimate question. Do we want God sticking His nose in our finances or not? If yes, repent. If no, carry on. I urge us to do the former.