Bartering is an activity that began very early in the history of human civilization. Co-operating in an exchange of goods was an important step in our social evolution. Money is simply an abstraction of the battering process. The earliest evidence that we have of this ‘abstract bartering’ comes from ancient Mesopotamia, in around 3000 B.C. , where clay tablets were inscribed with pictures of goods in order to represent a debt or barter. Money is a necessary tool, which enables us to exchange labor for goods, without money there would not be the civilization that we have today.
Like it or not we cannot lead our everyday lives without dealing with money; nor could the people who lived during the time of the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Bible has over 2,000 verses that talk about money, and about 15% of Jesus’ recorded words deal with money or possessions. You may be surprised to learn that so much scripture is given over to discussions about money; you may feel that ‘money’ is somehow the antithesis of spirituality, so let’s take a closer look at what the Bible has to say on the subject.
‘God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life, but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 2 Chronicles 1:11-12
Solomon chooses wisdom over wealth and because of this choice, God rewards him with wealth ‘such as no king who was before you ever had and none after will have.’ Great wealth is given to Solomon because he has proved himself to be a worthy steward of that which God has entrusted to him. Similarly, God rewarded Job for his enduring faith.
‘So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.’ Job 42:12
God doubled Job’s wealth as a reward for his faith, but the crucial point is that neither Solomon nor Job sought wealth as an end in itself; God rewarded them because they had demonstrated that they would use their wealth in the service of God.
‘Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “ I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
The Bible is not detached from the harsh realities of human life; there is no guidance more ‘practical’ than the wisdom of God. It is the love of money that is a sin; money itself is neither good nor bad. A Christian uses their money in the service of God. We may feel that the New Testament is more condemnatory of money than the Old Testament but though the emphasis may be different, the message is the same.
‘For love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’ 1 Timothy 6:10
Saint Paul has much to say concerning the ways in which love of money can alienate us from God, but he does not reject it as evil in itself; he acknowledges that it fulfills a necessary function that ensures that human society can operate peacefully.
‘Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed; revenue to whom revenue is owed…’ Romans 13:7
Jesus was born in a manger and died naked upon a cross, he did not seek to accumulate wealth, he lived a life of poverty; he was acutely aware that money is a source of temptation and that great wealth is a great responsibility.
‘ “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When his disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ‘ Matthew 19:24-26
Jesus uses words that shock us out of our complacency; because of our human weakness our love of money is often an obstacle to faith,
‘but with God all things are possible.’
The mendicant orders of the 13th century, the Dominicans and the Franciscans adopted vows of extreme poverty in imitation of Christ.
‘Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” ‘ Matthew 19:21
Jesus challenged a rich young man to give up his wealth in order to demonstrate to him that his wealth had become an obstacle to faith; he is not instructing everyone to give away all their money. As the parable of the talents makes clear, money and the things that can be done with money are part of the stewardship with which the Lord entrusts us. How we spend our money is a moral decision that should always be informed by our Christian faith.