Money Is Not The Enemy
But It Can Be
Let me start with a disclaimer. Money is not evil.
Earning money, receiving money, making money, spending money, and enjoying the benefits of money are not evidence that you are misaligned with God or His purposes.
The LOVE of money is the root of all evil, not money but the obvious next question is what does it mean to love money. We all need it, we all enjoy having it, and we dread the idea of being short. Do any of those ideas qualify as loving money?
Money Is Beneficial
Although we should never love money, we should develop a healthy appreciation for it.
The truth is everyone benefits from having money. It keeps the electricity on, puts food on the table, keeps the roof over our heads, and provides us with clothes. It pays for a slew of other necessities too like education, medical care, and recreation.
Those are good things, all allowed in the Bible.
A few religions disallow the ownership of property for some while at the same time accepting large donations from others. That stance sends a confusing message. It seems a bit suspicious that property ownership is good for some but not others.
The Catholic Church, for example, does not allow members of Orders to possess material things. The motivation is not spiritual elevation, as some presume, but something more suspect. It’s a gimmick to maintain the financial heft of the church as this article reveals.
Catholicism isn’t the only religion to take this approach but they do have a large footprint. If they are wrong, they are spreading their philosophy widely. Should we consider their approach the norm? Better yet, if property ownership is wrong for so many, should it be disavowed for everyone? Should wealth be shamed?
Those are fair questions. If property ownership is wrong, if wealth building is disallowed, then everything we do to earn money and manage it is implicated too.
Money Is A Necessity
Money is NOT a necessary evil or a bad thing we tolerate.
Money is an important part of our lives. In fact, I would say it is a core issue. How we relate to money – how we earn it and manage it – is motivated from within and says a lot about us as individuals.
Your character is mirrored in the way you relate to money.
No one can live without it! Some have tried, and in a weird, uninviting, and unappealing way, have succeeded. You can read about three of them in this article.
I’m not a prophet but after reading the stories, I doubt this will become the trend.
It’s also debatable whether these people actually live without money or just manage to live on the fringe, benefiting from a monetary system they’re attempting to deny. The words associated with that approach – hypocritical, delusional, psychotic, neurotic – aren’t complementary.
I won’t be following that crowd.
The answer to materialism isn’t minimalism but balance and the right amount of discipline.
Money Can Be Problematic
Although we all need money, and it’s easy to find ways to earn it, managing it can be a source of great consternation.
If you spend 10% more than you take in every month, the accumulation of debt with interest puts you in the hole by more than a month’s income after ten months.
It’s obvious! Getting money is one thing. Managing it is another.
We need money. We have to have it but we also need wisdom and discipline to keep it from strangling us.
Money Is An Important Factor In The Crucible Of Life Development
There’s a lot of emotion swirling around money. We love to have money. We love to spend money. We love to have the things money can buy.
But we hate being restricted by money.
It’s like cake. You can’t have it and eat it too.
It’s also like the proverbial coin with two clear sides. The spending side and the managing side and that’s only if you’ve earned it first.
This post is not about earning money. That’s a different discussion. But it’s clear you have to earn money before you can manage it. The problem is most people think they’ve done their due just by earning it.
Wrong! Earning money is easy. It’s what you do with earned money that determines your financial success or failure. The only time you really make money is after you’ve earned it.
Money Allows Embalance
But it doesn’t require it.
There are two misaligned perspectives on money both focused on excess.
One person loves money because of all the impulsive, fun things they can do with it. It gives them the ability to numb every discomfort.
In that sense, there’s not much difference between comfort food and comfort money. When you’re down, spend money you don’t have on things that make you feel better. It dulls the pain temporarily but the end result is the same. One leads to excessive weight, the other to excessive debt.
For another person, money represents leverage. It gives them an advantage over people and situations.
In principle, we are all created equal but in practice, the less advantaged tend to grovel before the well-heeled. That’s true even for legal institutions.
Moneyed people are often difficult to indict and even more cagey to convict. Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein are two examples that come to mind. It’s almost as if the love of money has been masked by institutional embrace.
Forget the courtroom decisions, though, another way the legal system loves money is to extend the presumption of innocence to those who have it and deny it to those that don’t, as the following 1996 article from the New York Times illustrates.
After arrest, the accused who is poor must often await the disposition of his case in jail because of his inability to raise bail, while the accused who can afford bail is free to return to his family and his job. Equally important, he is free during the critical period between arrest and trial to help his attorney with the investigation and preparation of his defense. In a recent case, a defendant was imprisoned well over two years between the time he was arrested and the time he was ultimately acquitted on appeal, solely because he could not raise the small amount of money necessary for bail.
As a side note, The Bail Project – an organization that helps the poor pay bail when charged – wasn’t started until 2017. In this video, Robin Steinberg, Attorney and CEO of The Bail Project, says that 75% of the people in jail have not been convicted of a crime. They are incarcerated not because they are clearly guilty but because they can’t afford bail.
Obviously, the presumption of innocence applies more to money than poverty. Why? Because the system is motivated by the love of money.
But I digress. This post is not about dissing the rich. It’s about enabling and encouraging everyone to make their fair share.
Money Comes With Options
Everyone reacts to money and how they react (whether they make it work for them or not, use it for good or not) determines how they develop.
Handle money well and you develop good habits along with a sense of well-being and security. You’re also in a position to make positive differences in society.
Handle it poorly and you develop bad habits along with a sense of dread about the next series of monthly payments. You’re also never in a position to support good causes of any kind.
While money doesn’t come with instructions it does come with options. You can choose to be disciplined in your use of money or to live without boundaries. Money allows you to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, hopefully.
Those options are available, however, only if you have money. Without money, you stagnate. Your choices are dictated by circumstance. That is true for everyone.
Because money provides choices and choices are life-shaping, money is the crucible of life development.
Money Teachces Us Patience
One factor that motivates spending is Need. If we need something, we buy it. Food, clothes, it doesn’t matter. We perceive the need, we spend the money.
I won’t second guess the things people say they need but I would suggest there is another consideration: urgency. Do I need it right now?
A good question to ask before you checkout is “is there money in the budget for this right now?” If the answer is no, then the next question is “can I wait a few days for the budget to replenish before making the purchase?”
Not every need is equal. Some things we need desperately, others not. Desperate needs, like a blood transfusion, can’t wait. Most of our needs, however, are not life-threatening.
I need caffeine but only because I’ve developed an addiction, and I could probably drink it less than I feel the need to do so.
For many needs, you can wait
The delay usually involves no more than a week or two which in today’s instant-everything-mindset is an eternity but we can learn to wait. When we do, we develop a money/budget sense that is securing.
The emotional flare-up that occurs in response to perceived need is a crucible. How we respond determines how our lives shape.
Money Reflects Both Nature And Character
Occasionally we hear someone described as good with money. What that means is they have a knack for hanging on to it. They never spend more than they take in and over time, their net worth increases.
How much they earn isn’t an issue. No matter how little they make, they seem to have some leftover at the end of the month.
It’s important to realize, though, that what I’ve just described is a quality of nature, not character. There’s no prize for nature. You are what you are. People who are naturally tight-fisted save money for the same reason fish swim in water. They can’t do otherwise.
Truth be told, these people can be obsessive. They know how to save a buck but they can be insensitive killjoys of the worst kind. They, like the rest of us, are proud of their natural abilities and critical toward those who don’t measure up.
In their case, accumulating money is an outcome of nature but once accumulated character begins to emerge.
Money Is Power
Power is neither good nor bad but how you use it can be. Money is a primary form of power and what you do with that power is the critical question.
As frugal types accumulate large amounts of money, they have a decision to make. It’s a crossroads moment. Will increasing wealth become the defining purpose for the rest of their life or will they transition to a more humanitarian, charitable mindset?
Will they use their power to gain more leverage over others or will they find ways to build up the broader community.
Money Is Not A Possession
That choice is the difference between possessing money and using it as a tool. People who see money as a tool do both. They continue to increase in wealth (possess money) and find effective ways to employ money for the good of society in general (toolers).
Possessors are focused only on how much their money increases and are consequently stingy, critical, and hardnosed.
Money is their friend. People are objects to be used.
Possessors are the ones proclaiming the merits of hard work – pointing to their own efforts as example and proof – while grousing about the poor. The irony is they may have a business or be employed in the administrative level of an industry that employs those poor people.
Don’t get me wrong. Hard work is beneficial for everyone but a well-balanced life requires more than just hard work. Slaves worked hard too but it made their lives worse, not better. Hard work is useful only when it encourages personal growth and allows for prosperity.
Money grabbers won’t concede this point and to prove how right they are, they brag about offering jobs to the homeless who never show up at the appointed time.
They don’t want to work! They just want a handout!
Is the complaint.
I would argue that everyone wants to be productive and get ahead and the more widely opportunities are spread, the more people there are who will make advances.
For a possessor, that’s not a good thing. The more money others make, the less money there is to latch on to.
Money Is A Tool
Possessors and Toolers are polar opposites.
Possessors (money-grabbers) easily become oppressors, stepping on the heads of the less powerful to maintain their financial position and growth. Toolers find uses for money that solve human problems and uplift communities.
It is true that charitable efforts often fail as this New York Times article about the misuse of mosquito nets reveals but, in spite of this apparent failure, mosquito nets helped prevent more than 600 million cases of malaria and saved more than 6.8 million lives between 2000 and 2015.
How shall we respond then? Shall we cease humanitarian efforts or learn from the experience and improve?
Money Can Be Good For Everyone
Not every person is naturally gifted with money-making/managing skills but they don’t need to be. The skill to manage money and the mental, emotional traits associated with it can be learned. Once you develop a taste for the security that comes with having money, the thrill of extravagance is less captivating. The budget becomes a friend rather than a restriction.
We’re all born with different natures. Some are naturally good with money and others more extravagant but money is still the issue around which character is shaped for both types.
The tight-fisted types can learn to curb their stingy tendencies by learning to use money charitably and the less frugal types can learn to be better prepared for unforeseen contingencies through budgeting skills.
Money creates a win-win for everyone.
The character of both is shaped not when they deny their nature but when they curb it for a good reason. One must learn to make money. The other must learn to be generous.
Money Enables Us To Help Others
Learning how to relate to money helps me grow personally but that’s not the end of the story. It also puts me in a position to help others in need. Paul put it this way:
Let the thief steal no more but rather let him work with his hands the thing that is good so he may have to give to him that has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
In other words, the answer to theft is not just working but saving and giving money. Saving requires managing skills. Giving requires nothing more than a generous spirit.
I’ve always thought that the person who has the gift of giving must, first of all, have the gift of managing money, getting and keeping it. Anyone can earn money. Not so many develop the ability to manage it well enough to increase. Maybe that’s why Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. You’re in a position to give only because you’ve grown and developed.
Giving is sacrificial only when you have something to give that won’t endanger your personal well-being or that of those for whom you are responsible. You can also make a sacrifice if you don’t have the opportunity to earn money but wish to be a contributor.
But if you don’t manage your resources well and you give to gain some advantage with God, you’re fooling yourself. It’s another form of indulgence. Learn to live by a budget. Learn to make money work for you. Then you will have something to give to those that need.
Money Growth Is The Point
The point here is not to deny the accumulation of wealth. Making money isn’t just allowed, it is imperative.
If you’re not making money, you’re losing it. There’s no point in that.
It is also true that personal growth should be paralleled by financial growth. How can you grow in one way and not in another? Simultaneous growth in both areas makes good sense. There’s no moral or practical reason to think otherwise.
There’s never a time when we shouldn’t be trying to grow financially. There is risk in trying to grow but risk is never condemned in the Bible.
We may try things that don’t work but it’s better to make the effort and lose than never try.
Several examples from Scripture show that not making money or not trying to make money is sinful. You may choose to live down but you aren’t allowed to stagnate.
Anything done to stimulate making money that isn’t evil or illegal is allowed.
There are many reasons to believe the Bible teaches this.
Money Growth Isn’t Condemned
Keeping in line with that last thought, it should be pointed out that the Bible does not condemn wealth. On the contrary, the Bible endorses both money and wealth in many ways on multiple occasions.
Wealth in the Bible was associated both with good and evil people. Money was never implicated. It could be used for evil purposes and could be gained by evil means but those are character issues.
A bad person is a problem whether they have money or not.
The list of good guys who were wealthy is long:
- Joseph of Arimathae
This list is just a sample. Many more could be added.
Money Ruts Aren’t Allowed
There may have been eras when getting by financially was the only thing you could hope for but that isn’t a spiritual norm. It should never be accepted in today’s world.
The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
There were three men mentioned in the Parable. They each represented varying levels of ability/opportunity to make and manage wealth. Each was apportioned resources in line with their abilities and was later held to account for how well they used those resources.
The only one condemned was the poorest of the three, not because he was poor and not because he didn’t increase his wealth, but because he didn’t even try to increase his wealth. Jesus referred to him as “wicked and lazy” (Matt. 25:26).
He wasn’t condemned for losing money. Losing money naturally occurs when you try to make it. You get the impression that it would have been better if the lazy servant had at least tried to use the resources to increase wealth even if the effort resulted in loss.
If you try different things to make money, you’re guaranteed to lose some occasionally. That wasn’t this guy’s problem. On the day of accounting, he still had the resources he was originally given but had failed to increase them.
It wasn’t specifically mentioned in the story but money also loses value over time. Hanging onto it is not a clever option. Even gold fluctuates in value.
Apparently, not trying to build wealth – stagnating financially – is a wicked thing to do.
Money Used Wisely Is The Antidote to Evil Money
Evil people get money too and they don’t care how they get it or who is hurt when they do. It’s wrong but it happens.
The best way to combat that is to use money the right way. Get it the right way and use to encourage others to get their fair share the right way.
There were plenty of evil people in the Bible who had money but none of them were evil because they had money. It’s also true that no one is righteous because they don’t have money.
The point is instead of avoiding money, we should engage it intentionally. Making and managing money brings out the best or worst in us. When we increase wealth the right way and encourage others to do the same, we reduce the temptation to make it by evil means.
If it is immoral to make money then only the immoral would have wealth. Surely you can see how bad that would be.
Money represents value. God created this value and commands us to use it wisely. Money is not the problem. How we relate to it can be.
To break that down a little further, there are three things to do with money.
Money Is A Toy
In their earliest years, kids ask for money, not because they want money but because they want the candy and toys money can buy. That’s not a way to approach life but for youngsters, it’s okay. They’re growing and learning. There’s time for them to get over the fascination of buying the next new thing and realize the sense of security savings provide.
The problem is not all kids grow relative to money. They never grow out of the impulse mode (see it, want it, buy it). Their toys change, their motivations don’t.
There’s a dynamic here that needs closer inspection. We actually need things: food, clothing, housing, health care, transportation, and even recreation. There’s nothing wrong with fun. It’s an important part of life. “All work and no play” as they say.
But the things we buy are not created equal. A well-made shirt offered at a fair price can’t compete with designer brands on a social level and that’s the rub. We buy things for the look and the status rather than the value.
For some folks, looking like money is more important than actually having money.
The trick is to get out of the buy mode and develop the investment mindset. When money is a toy, it only dissipates and never accrues.
Money Is A Possession
Other folks aren’t quite so flamboyant. They don’t care what they look like. For them, it’s all about having money. A possessor’s two best friends are money and the power it provides. They want more of both.
Possessors can be weirdly unappealing. They’re unapproachable, incorrigible, gleeful (not grateful), and abusive. They push their weight around financially. You might outwit them intellectually but you’ll never out-leverage them monetarily. They know that and work hard to maintain the advantage.
When a possessor does try to look presentable it’s only because they’ve learned that PR can be good for the bottom line. Appearance is only a part of the financial strategy.
They also don’t care about the good that can be done with money. Any good they might do is overshadowed by the desire to have more money.
It’s okay to increase one’s wealth but that isn’t the only target. Increasing wealth and investing money in good causes – which reduces wealth – are not mutually exclusive.
Money is not a possession. In fact, it naturally deteriorates over time. It’s ironic that people who try to own money actually become its slave.
Money Is A Tool
First a word about making money.
There is a big difference between the money we earn and the money we make. We work to earn money and then we manage money to make money.
Benjamin Franklin famously said,
A penny saved is a penny earned!
I added the exclamation point.
Some people never overspend because they never stop earning. Work and life are synonyms. Doing one is the same as doing the other. Work isn’t a bad thing to do but it isn’t the only thing we should do.
Some of the worst kids in society were born to some of the hardest working, wealthiest parents. They were so consumed by work that the kids never saw their parents.
It’s easy to understand why this happens. Work is a great source of affirmation and working constantly is one way to forget about pressing personal needs at home or personal failures outside of work.
But that’s not the only problem.
Some people equate making money with making a living and that’s all they do. They hate work and live for what happens after work. They go to work, receive their pay, and then spend all their pay on their living.
What happens after work is the relief valve for the pressures that plague us at work.
That’s not a good strategy to follow.
I think of it this way. Every cent I earn needs to be invested. Not spent but invested.
Some should be invested in living expenses: housing, nutrition, clothing, transportation, insurance, etc. All those things are needed.
Some should be invested in recreation but only within your means. Overdoing on recreation creates aggravations that militate against the good your recreation does.
If money is a means to an end, what’s your end. If it is living, that’s what you accomplish and no more. If making financial progress is the goal then you’ll need to do more than just live on your money.
Tools are implements for getting work done efficiently and that is exactly what money can do. The more money you have, the more good you can do in the most efficient way to extend the logic a little further.
Screwdrivers are tools. They use leverage to tighten or loosen devices (screws) that fasten things in place. Door hinges are fastened to doors and door frames with screws that are tightened or loosened with screwdrivers.
We are surrounded by things that are held together by screws. We need screwdrivers to assemble and repair them as needed.
When we keep tools in good shape and well organized they will always be available to help us get things done efficiently.
Money should be thought of as a tool.