Idol Factory: Money and Posessions

“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” – 1 Timothy 6:10

Some sin is so subtle in our lives that we don’t even know it’s eating away at our soul. Most people can identify lust in their hearts, but fewer of us acknowledge greed. Partly it is because the pursuit of wealth is such a common, even respected, pursuit that it doesn’t feel much like idolatry. And, as Tim Keller points out, we never compare ourselves to the rest of the world, we always compare ourselves to those in our own socioeconomic bracket. In other words “You say, ‘I don’t live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs.’ You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living” (52-53, Counterfeit Gods). Of course “The rest of the world is not fooled,” and neither is God. He knows what hides in our hearts. And money and possessions can become one of the most consuming gods in our lives.

Jesus talks extensively about greed in the Bible, but one interesting feature of Jesus’ teaching is the association he draws between greed and idolatry. He says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Money can become a master, and when that happens we have surrendered our hearts to it, we have turned from God to an idol. In Mark 10:17-23 we get another clear indication that wealth can become an idol. In this particular scenario, a rich young ruler will not follow Jesus “for he had great possessions.” In light of this event Jesus says to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Wealth can easily become an idol.

But it’s important to add a careful qualifier here. It’s not just the pursuit of financial wealth that leads to idolatry. Jesus suggests to us that the anxiety over wealth can tend just as easily towards idolatry. In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So what is “greed?” The surrounding context makes clear it is anxiety about money and stuff. In verses 22 and 23 Jesus urges the disciples not to worry about their lives, about their food and clothing. Anxiety is evidence of idolatry. Tim Keller rightly says, “For Jesus, greed is not only love of money, but excessive anxiety about it” (56). He wisely adds:

Idolatry also makes us “servants of money.” Just as we serve earthly kings and magistrates, so we “sell our souls” to our idols. Because we look to them for our significance (love) and security (trust) we have to have them, and therefore we are driven to serve and, essentially, obey them. When Jesus says we “serve” money, he uses a word that means the solemn, covenantal service rendered to a king. If you live for money you are a slave. (57)

We make ourselves slaves to money and if we are not careful we will completely lose touch with the reality of the gospel.

The longer that we submit ourselves to money, that subtle and culturally approved idol, the more likely it is that we will forget the call of the gospel to deny ourselves. David Platt tells the story of a Christian news publication hat revealed two major stories. One story revealed a church that was celebrating their new $23 million building. Platt writes, “A lengthy article followed, celebrating the church’s expensive new sanctuary. The exquisite marble, intricate design, and beautiful stained glass were all described in vivid detail” (16, Radical). The other story in the news publication told of a how “Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan.” In response to this Platt writes:

Five thousand dollars. That is not enough to get a plane into Sudan, much less one drop of water to people who need it. Twenty-three million dollars for an elaborate sanctuary and five thousand dollars for hundreds of starving men, women, and children, most of whom were dying apart from faith in Christ. Where have we gone wrong? (16)

And it’s not just our churches, as Platt points out in his book and as most of us know through personal reflection. We are all prone to self-indulgence, and our love of ourselves leads us to pursue money and possessions as our god. Of course it may not be an intentional idolatry, an intentional forgetfulness of the gospel principles of sacrifice and self-denial, but it is happening.

It strikes me, as it has others, that love of money and stuff is one of the most insidious idols in our culture. If we do not commit ourselves regularly to personal reflection and accountability we will easily become “servants” of money.In response to this we must turn our attention again and again to the model of Jesus who made himself poor so that we might be made rich. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The gospel is our freedom from the idol of money and possessions. Meditate on that today, friends.

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