I've been reading King's Cross by Tim Keller recently, which goes through the Gospel of Mark in order to investigate the life of Jesus and unpick the gospel's key themes. I reached the chapter called The Trap, and inevitably it was about money. Keller writes how money has the particular power to blind us to our spiritual state. That's why it isn't a coincidence that Jesus warns us about money more than any other traps of the world.
In response to this, we may get defensive over what we have or give just what we can in order to still continue life the way we want to. It can be difficult for us to look at money and simply see a number, coins or paper rather than security, comfort and standing. I am by no means exempt from this, and looking into this topic of finance, money and giving has been just as beneficial to me as I hope it will be for you.
What I want to do in this article is answer the question that pops into all of our minds at some stage, 'why should I give my money away?' I want to sober us to what money really is and also, with our permission, what power it can have over us. To journey toward a place of deep generosity is where freedom from scrooge-like security lies. This shouldn't make us feel uncomfortable, rather generosity should be our heart's response to the nature of God's ways.
Ultimately, No Wealth is Ours
Wealth is for us to enjoy but we'll never fully appreciate it if we treat it as if it's wholly ours. In the Old Testament we read that Israel were told by God to never have the audacity to assume any property is ultimately theirs. A reflection of this was that they weren't allowed to permanently sell property, because the land was God's (Lev 25:23). We live, of course, in a different time and season to Israel, but I think there is something in this mentality that still applies for us today.
We can see this in Matthew 19:21 when Jesus is asked by the rich young ruler how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus' response was to sell all he had and give it to the poor, and then his treasure would truly be found in heaven. Jesus' response is not simply advice to the young ruler, rather it assumes that Jesus has some sort of authority and say over what should be done with this man's money and possessions. It assumes that for this man to follow Jesus, he had to acknowledge that the Lord would not be turned aside when it came to his wealth; it was ultimately the Lord's to be done with what He will – for the good of the rich young ruler and for the good of his wider community.
Every good gift is from God. This includes our wealth. When James says this, he is discussing the rich and poor who are now in Christ. He tells the poor find glory in their exaltation through Christ, and for the rich to find humility through God's grace. But he concludes by saying that both these social spheres who declare Jesus is Lord have been brought forth to be a 'kind of first fruits of His creatures' (James 1:18). If our entire selves are referred to as first fruits, as a living sacrifice, then that means there is nothing in our lives that we can hold back from God. By nature, first fruits and sacrifices are to be given away to someone holier. It all came from Him and ultimately goes back to Him. This means that since Christ gave us everything, He can ask anything of us. He has every right to.
God Commands It
Simply put, we should give money away because God tells us we should. But sometimes we lose sight of the character of God and can regard Him as a kind of tyrant. I remember sharing my faith over the years with one of my university friends. Eventually he said that he would gladly become a Christian but he knows that immediately when he does so, God would ask him to give all his money away, never again able to enjoy what he has. This guy had an interpretation of God that was dictatorial. God wasn't really interested in you, just in your pocket. If my friend had really known God's heart, then that fear and money grabbing would relax into God's goodness and adoration.
There is a very good reason why God commands we give money away, and that links into what has been said previously – money is a very dangerous trap in the hands of us humans. We can think that God wants us to give our money away because He is more concerned with the welfare of others, but rather He tells us to give our money away for our sake just as much as those receiving it.
If you haven’t noticed already, God knows you to your core. He knows the things that will do you good, and the things that will harm you. I heard recently on a podcast by Ravi Zacharias that when we turn our faces away from God, it's painful to Him not because He needs us but because He knows we need Him. What we do with our money and our mentality towards it is not excluded from this.
God asks us to trust Him with our finances when He tells us to give Him our first fruits (Malachi 3:10). Again, this was directed toward the Israelites, but the purpose of what God is doing here still applies to us today. God doesn’t say, 'just give me the last of what you earn when you know you're comfortable and when it won't impact you at all.' Instead He wants our first fruits. The purpose behind this is that God wants us to see Him as the provider, not our wealth. God knows we need money to live and enjoy life, but He wants to be the one to provide that, not our bolted storehouses. To give God our first fruits is to say, 'Lord, You are worth more to me than my income, my safehouse is in You not my pay slip. So, I'm going to give to you the first of what I have, before I know if I can see it through the month, because I desire You more than what I can get from this world.'
To Give Away Brings Most Joy and Freedom
Since God knows what our soul needs, He knows what will bring true joy and freedom to our lives. How beautiful that God says and commands all He does because He yearns for us to live in freedom and joy unimaginable, that alone should make us trust Him. There is nothing more freeing than releasing that grip we feel at the core of us, tensely grasping with unyielding hands what we see is rightfully ours. That is surely not how we want to live. This kind of living breeds paranoia, fear and anxiety. That was not God's intention for what was to occupy our thoughts and identity.
The loosening of those tense hands means we rest and fall deeper into God. We thought that joy and life were to be found in the bank account, when all along it was in the simple life filled with the Lover of our souls.
This doesn't mean we then turn the tables and become fearful of money and possessions in leading us astray. In God, we are able to enjoy the things He has given to us ultimately knowing that none of it is ours. We can see possessions as just possessions, money as just money. That means that when we see a need it is easy for us to give away, at the same time as being easy for us to enjoy rightly.
Jesus brings us perspective by explaining how our lives on earth are really just a blip in the eternal expanse of Him. He does this by saying that our treasures are to be stored up in heaven, not on earth. When Jesus says this He is speaking to how we were originally created and how we will be in the new creation – to be eternally abiding in Him. That means all finite things in this world just won't cut it for us, the finite is not where we find joy or freedom because we were made for the eternal. How can things on this earth that decay and eventually fade away be sought after when we are built for the forever? Allow God to invade the things that you hold too tightly, knowing He is good, He is your Father and He knows the best for you.