In three of the four Gospels, two stories are always told together. The first is where the little children came to Jesus but the disciples tried to keep them away. For some reason, the disciples must have thought their leader, Jesus, was too important to entertain children. In biblical times, children were not generally held in high esteem. We are told, however, that Jesus rebuked the disciples, stating that the kingdom of God was made for “such as these”—the children the disciples just shooed away. In the Mark account of this story, we are given more context when Jesus states that unless we receive the kingdom like children, we won’t even enter the kingdom (10:15). This seems significant.
The second story is about a rich man who wanted to know what it would take to enter the kingdom. From the Mark account, we see Jesus said essentially the same thing he had said in the previous story—that this rich man needed to become like a child. Then He listed some of the ten commandments—don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself. The man confidently professed to have kept all of these commandments since he was a boy (10:17–20); he thought he was a shoe-in.
But Jesus hadn’t asked about all the ten commandments. He left off numbers one through four and ten. The first four commandments seem to be the ones that any good Jew would have kept.
No other gods before Me. No idols. Don’t misuse My name. Remember the Sabbath. Those were a given. But the tenth commandment was not a given. Don’t covet; the one thing he lacked (v. 21). This must have been the rich man’s main problem. He loved stuff and wanted more of it. Jesus knew this and told him that if he wanted to be perfect and have treasure in heaven, then he needed to sell his stuff and give the proceeds to the poor. But the man just couldn’t make that big of a sacrifice and he left—sad.
It was here that Jesus said something re- ally radical to the disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23). In fact, it would be easier to shove a camel through the eye of a needle (v. 25). What? This becomes a little more understandable when we consider that every Jew believed the rich were wealthy because God’s favor was on them. The rich were already a shoe- in for the kingdom. So, then, why did the rich guy even ask? Was he just look- ing for confirmation that rich people were already in the kingdom? Or was he bragging, trying to draw attention to himself?
Let’s go back to what Jesus meant when he said “eye of a needle” in verse 24. When Jesus said it was hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, the disciples were shocked. So Jesus explained further—it is easier for a camel to get shoved through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter into the kingdom. I believe he really meant just that—the hole in a real needle, though some have speculated he meant the Eye of the Needle Gate, which was a small entrance to Jerusalem and, thus, it was difficult for anything large to make it through. But getting through could be done with difficulty. The disciples knew shoving a camel through the eye of a needle was impossible, and we all know they had that part right. It would take a miracle. “Then who can be saved?” they asked, just the question Jesus was waiting to answer. He said, “Getting people into the kingdom, even the rich, was possible, but only with God” (v. 27, author’s paraphrase).
Continuing on, Peter spoke up, reminding Jesus that he and the other disciples had already left everything, which is exactly what Jesus had asked the rich guy to do (v. 28). I’m sure he wondered, “what then will there be for us?” (v. 27). But Jesus emphasized the great gain that could be experienced in heaven and on earth when one left everything behind. This makes no sense, does it? We still don’t know how it relates to children, and it is backwards from what is logical, or so it seems to us. But think of it this way—leaving everything makes us dependent on others. We can’t easily take care of ourselves if we don’t have reserves. Children are like this—dependent! They don’t have the ability to easily take care of themselves. They rely on parents to do this for them. With these two stories, I believe Jesus is making this point—that unless we are willing to release our desire to be dependent upon ourselves and become dependent upon God, we cannot enter the kingdom. So, how do we do it, then?
In the United States of America, this is easier said than done. David Platt, au- thor of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, says, “We stand amid an American dream dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism.”1 Indeed, our culture fights against what Jesus taught. As Christians here, most of us probably live with “comfortable guilt.”2 Comfortable guilt is when we are aware we should and could give away more money to do good for others, but we are not motivated enough to make the sacrifices in our own lifestyles to do so. I believe Platt is correct. Most Christians in the United States are willing to live with the guilt of knowing they could be more generous but not willing to live without the luxuries our society affords us. And this is the crux of the matter.
Andy Stanley recently wrote in his book, How to Be Rich, how many people tend to get so absorbed in trying to get rich that they don’t recognize they are already rich. When people can finally recognize they are already rich, then they are able to be good at being rich, which means they can become better at being generous.3
The Bible teaches us a lot about money. And I mean a lot! I believe covering some important Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments that teach some basic financial concepts will be helpful to understand God’s intention for money. Let’s start with Jesus, as His teachings give us a picture of God’s heart.
Jesus’ Teachings On Money
Choose Whom You Will Serve
In Matthew 4, Satan offered Jesus the world, but Jesus’ response was that we should worship and serve God alone (vv. 8,9). Later, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus says essentially the same thing—we cannot serve both God and money. We have to choose. Either we serve something based in this world, or we serve someone who is concerned with more than this world. It is clear we cannot serve both.
Focus on What Will Last
Also in Matthew 6, Jesus goes on to say that we shouldn’t worry about things in this life (v. 25), that pagans worry about such things (v. 31); instead, we are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first (v. 32). I believe the emphasis here is worry. We aren’t to continually worry or fret or fixate about what we will eat, drink, or wear. When our main concern is about where we will eat out next or the next thing we want to buy, we are not thinking about the kingdom—instead, our focus is on things that will not last.
Jesus warns us in Luke 12 that true life does not consist in how much stuff we have (v. 15). We need to be rich toward God instead of being so concerned about storing up for ourselves on earth. Immediately following this story in Luke, Jesus teaches on not worrying about what to eat and wear. When we set our hearts on pursuing our basic physical needs, we are missing some- thing greater. The treasure we store in heaven cannot be taken away (treasure we give to the poor), but things stored up on earth (material possessions) can be stolen away. Our hearts follow our treasure, so if we treasure and store up things on earth, our hearts will be there, too. But if we store up things in heaven, our hearts will follow (v. 34).
Don’t Be Deceived by Wealth
The parable of the sower shows how wealth can be deceitful (Mark 4). It is equated to a thorn that grows up and chokes out the word (the teachings of Jesus) making it unfruitful. Many of us probably know of people who were on fire for God until financial success seemingly caused a change in them. They began seeking more wealth instead of seeking the kingdom with the same fervor they had before becoming wealthy.
Also in Luke 6, Jesus gives us a contrast between the poor and the rich. He says the poor are blessed (v. 20) and the rich are receiving their reward in this life (v. 24). Again, this would have been the total reverse of what the Jewish culture believed. Mourning and weeping, which is what it appears the rich will be doing later—is not what happens in heaven, but hell.
Rely on God to Meet Your Needs
Jesus praised the woman who gave all the money she had to the temple treasury even though she gave only a very small amount (Mark 12). Although wealthy people came and gave a lot of money, Jesus said the woman’s two small coins were worth more. Why? Because she gave it all. Talk about being dependent on God! She just gave up every- thing and decided to depend on God to meet her needs. This attitude of total dependence on God seems to fit becoming like a child.
Pay Attention to the Internals
Jesus says what is inside us, our character, is more important than what we portray on the outside (Luke 11). He says the Pharisees are full of greed and, apparently, not adequately taking care of the poor because being generous to the poor would clean the inside (vv. 39–41). And giving a tithe doesn’t seem to be the solution either. The Pharisee in Luke 18 gave the tithe but his heart wasn’t right. Internal attitudes and motives matter.
Jesus discussed what defiles us in Mark 7. After being challenged by the Pharisees because some of the disciples were eating without properly washing their hands, Jesus stated that it is not what goes into your body that makes you unclean but what comes out from the inside—the heart. In verse 22 he mentions greed as one of the things that defiles. That is because greed keeps our focus on earthly things, what we can buy and have in this life, and shifts our focus away from what really matters for eternity—living for the kingdom of God.
Share Your Wealth with Others
It is interesting that in the parable of the banquet in Luke 14, the first two excuses people gave about why they couldn’t come to the banquet dealt with the things they had just bought— a field and oxen. This seems to fit really well with Jesus’s warning about how being so consumed with things we can buy on this earth will keep us from the kingdom (vv. 16–19, 24). It doesn’t seem to mean that having things is bad because the father in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15 has a lot of wealth. He threw a party with some of it when his son came home. He wasn’t so worried about accumulating more that he wasn’t willing to give up wealth for people (vv. 22–24).
Use What You Have for Good—Today
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable that is pretty difficult to understand. A manager is fired and begins to give a dis- count to the people who owe things to his previous boss. Jesus seems to praise this “dishonest” manager. That doesn’t fit much of what we have learned about being honest. But the lesson appears to be one of generosity—that things of this earth are to be used to help people (v. 9). We have no guarantee that anything in this life will be here tomorrow. People sometimes lose everything when natural disasters happen. All they had is almost instantly gone with no way to get it back. But if we will use what we have to help people, we will have heavenly gain. Hoarding with the intent of helping in the future is misguided and uncertain. Jesus again reminds us that we can’t serve both God and Money (v. 13 TNIV). One will reveal where our heart really is and the other will be secondary.
Help the Needy Among You
In Luke 16, Jesus tells how a rich man neglected to care for a poor man who was right at his doorstep. The rich man didn’t get a second chance. In death, the poor man was rewarded and the rich man was sent to hell. The rich man had his chance but cared more about his own comfort than helping the poor (vv. 22, 23).
Also, in the parable of the talents, Jesus commends those who help the needy (Matt. 25). Obviously, to help the needy, we have to give something away that we could have used for ourselves— our time, money, talents. Jesus says, if you aren’t willingly and actively help- ing the needy, you aren’t part of the kingdom but facing eternal punishment (vv. 34–43).
Right Your Wrongs
Zacchaeus seemed to get it (Luke 19). When meeting Jesus for the first time, Zacchaeus decided to right the wrongs he had done to others and give half of all he had to the poor (vv. 1–10). I wonder how many people he had cheated and then gave four times that amount back to them? How much did Zacchaeus have left? Maybe not very much. Jesus gave him the highest commendation in verse 9, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus seemed to get what the rich man in Mark 10 did not.
Roger L. Stichter, M.B.A., D.B.A., C.P.A., is professor of accounting at Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The Principle of Maximums: Living With Enough to Give Away More (BMH Books 2019)
1 David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, 1st ed (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2010), 19.
2 Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 146.
3 Andy Stanley, How to Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do with What You Have (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).