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One of the most surprising things that I learned in economics is that often saving money is neither good for the saver or the economy. All my life I had heard Sunday school teachers, preachers and even Larry Burkett emphasize over and over again the importance of savings, hard work and the avoidance of debt. Does that mean God is against the economy and does not want you to plan at all? No. But, what often happens, and it is probably the most common error ever to occur, is that a statement is taken out of context and over-emphasized and over-applied. Proverbs 6:6-8 states, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and learn from him.” What can be learned from an ant or a squirrel or many other of God’s creatures is explained in verse 8. You should prepare for the winter by storing food. The problem is you can take this too far.
The Bible also tells about God causing the manna that the Israelites gathered for the next day to spoil because he told them to only gather enough for one day, except the day before Sabbath. Planning ahead for a time when you know you will not be able to get food (i.e. winter, or Sabbath) is wise and expected, but hoarding is not acceptable.
The Bible teaches in Matthew 6:19 that we should store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth. Luke 12:16-21 describes a man who is blessed with large harvests, and doing exactly what the Bible told him to do, he stored all of his grain “for winter.” The problem with his response was that God had given him more than what he actually needed for that year, and it would have been better if he had taken the opportunity to share with others. The fact that he had more than he needed is evidenced by his having to build new storage facilities to keep the excess inventory. As it turned out, his hoarding was useless since he died before getting to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Jesus’ description of the rich man sounds almost like the description of modern America. We work for and buy more stuff than we could ever use and forget about half of the stuff we already have. Then we have to buy a bigger house just to keep stuff in. It gets to the point where instead of owning stuff, the stuff owns you. Also, many do not take care of the poor (support charities) and do not give tithes or offerings. For proof, just count the number of working aged men in the church, multiply by ten percent of $20,000 (probably a low average) and compare that to the church’s annual income. This money is miss-allocated by hoarding (stuff, retirement, house, car) or wastefulness (entertainment, gluttony, etc.) The error of putting too much emphasis on the acquisition and retention of money is much more common in the current culture because of the abundance of things that are available to be hoarded. While hoarding is a major issue in America, the opposite extreme is also seen.
Wastefulness and shortsightedness is the other side of the same problem; a wrong view of the material world. This form of materialism is more obvious to most Christians but there is still a prevailing viewpoint among Americans that we only have one life, so we should live it to the fullest. Seize the day. The waster like the hoarder is obsessed with getting as much money as possible, but as soon as he gets it he spends it. Spending money quickly after receiving it is not irrational since money that is simply held decreases in value over time. Inflation has not been as bad in recent years but exchange rates and invisible inflation, such as a rise in the price of gold and in manufacturing costs, have decreased the real value of the US dollar, and we will probably see the results of this in the next year. Also in one of Jesus’ parables he tells about a man who was scolded for not investing the money that he was entrusted with. The problem with wastefulness is not the rapid disposal of money, but what the money is spent on.
The central problem for both hoarders and wasters is the love of money. Love in a biblical sense emphasizes a conscious decision more than just a feeling. The feeling is a side affect. Therefore the love of money does not mean just an abstract feeling; it is any decision to place the acquisition of money ahead of, or in place of other important things in life. The Bible calls money the root of all kinds of evil in I Timothy 6:6-?. The love of money has led people to commit many different kinds of sin. In 1929 there were people who jumped out of buildings when they lost large sums of money in the stock market crash. Love of and a desire for money can lead to some obviously related sins such as theft, murder, blackmail, and workaholism. In many cases it is also behind abortion, abuse, divorce, homosexuality, drunkenness, and adultery. The classic example of the love of money causing people to do something absolutely stupid is found in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Saphira had a desire to do something for God or at least to appear to be doing something for God. But their love for money caused them to keep some of the money while claiming to have given it all. The results were not positive.
Money is just a tool, something you can use to do good or evil. If you keep all of your tools stored in the tool shed they are of no use, and you would be better off without them because then you would not have to store them. But, money should be used wisely to accomplish God’s will in your life. Instead of wasting money on stuff you do not need, it would be better to use the money to support missionaries, churches, and other Christian organizations that are spreading the gospel and meeting the needs of the poor. God does not give us tools or talents just for us to look at or enjoy; He gives them to us so that we will be able to serve him better.
Closely related to a wrong view of money and the material world is a wrong view of work. Again we are often guilty of missing the truth on all sides. Some people are workaholics, some worry, and others are lazy.
Workaholism has at times been referred to as a physiological disorder. People can become so hooked on success that they compulsively work on things until they are perfect. Other workaholics are trying to avoid a difficult home or social life, or the lack thereof. Also, with computers and other electronic equipment becoming so common, it is not unusual to find people who relate better to machines than to people. All three forms of workaholism come from an incorrect focus on stuff, also known as materialism.
Some people, instead of using work as an escape get bogged down in worry. Materialism tends to encourage people to worry about their survival or more commonly, their appearance. For Christians worry is not an option. In Matthew 6:??, Jesus tells us to “Consider the lilies.” God provides for the needs of His creations. He gave us work as a privilege. It is opportunity to imitate our heavenly father and be creative, but it is not something we should worry about.
And then some people have it figured out. They do not worry about anything and they certainly do not work too hard. After all, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Even Christians can take the approach that since God is all-powerful, he will do what he wants to do no matter what. Or, that everything on earth is going to burn anyway, so what is the point of trying to make it better? The Thessalonians were anticipating Christ return so that were not working. They could be commended for their faith in the eminency of Christ’s return, but were reprimanded because they were living off of the kindness of their siblings in Christ when they should have been working. The parable of the ten virgins is an excellent example of Jesus view of working and being prepared.
With all of the machines we have today it is very easy to become lazy. We even have machines to make it easier to exercise, and the reason we need to exercise is that our work often includes very limited physical activity. That does not mean that machines are bad but, machines are often used incorrectly, and as a society we have not responded best of ways.
A wrong view of things and a wrong view of work are two problems associated with materialism. Our view of either things or work can get out of line causing materialistic errors on either side of the truth. Materialism, like most other errors that are believed by mankind, is based on many truths and is probably ninety percent right most of the time, but that small percent of error, causes problems on a scale that would make Vilfredo Pareto look like an extreme conservative. The challenge, according to II Timothy 2:15, is to study the scripture so that you can rightly divide the word of truth.