Friday, March 21, 2014

Put your money where your hope is (All things in Jesus' name - part 2)

In my previous post I raised the reality that while we know we should be honouring Jesus with our whole lives we often struggle to know what this practically means for our lives more than shallow lip-service recognition of Jesus. So my goal in the next few post is to practically examine how to bring Christ to bear on the various contexts in which we live. First up it is how we spend our money:

To be honest Jesus rarely crosses my mind when I tap my credit card across the paywave thingy at the shop… but I don’t think I am the only one! The checkout could be the most spiritually barren place in our society. Deep down inside I reckon we don’t think Jesus belongs in our thoughts while we are spending our money. It might be easy to see Jesus having a place when we are giving at church or donating money to the poor, but when I am doing my groceries or purchasing a new computer or signing up for my next smart phone plan… Jesus all too easily slips off my radar.

How we spend our money is one of those areas we like to keep private. It is impolite to ask people what large (or sometimes even smaller) purchases cost them because we don’t want people passing judgement on our spending habits… depending on who is asking we don’t want people thinking that we are frivolous or tight… because money is what our society values most, when we spend it we are making a value statement. What you spend on your car, wedding, haircut and clothing is viewed as a status symbol, an indication of which level of society you belong to. Furthermore, we view spending what we have earned as a fundamental right… like kids with pocket money we think that if it is ours we are the masters of how it is spent.  In the church we hear a lot of messages on how to give our money but rarely to we hear anything on how to spend our money.  And yet the reality is that all of us will make more purchases than donations, this is the nature of life, so surely we should understand spending as much as we do giving.

Now before you think I am going to suggest that Christians should only buy the essentials or that we should pray and seek God about every purchase, I want to get something clear. I believe that God gives us money to spend; in fact I am not concerned all that much with how much money Christians spend; but what we spend it on. The gospel has given us radical freedom and it extends to how we spend our money. As Christians we need to realise that we don’t have to be slaves to our money like so many people in this world… always having to earn that bit more, save that bit more so you can spend that bit more and be that bit more… comfortable! As a Christian you are completely free to spend your money anyway you want! But the same gospel that frees you from slavery to money binds you to Christ and renews your heart by His Spirit so that what you want should be that which promotes Christ!

So for Jesus to be brought to bear on our spending we must spend in a way that demonstrates our freedom from slavery to our money but at the same time proclaims our allegiance to Christ.  I said at the outset I wanted these posts to be of practical help so I hope the following ideas provide a balance that perhaps is rarely discussed and help us to both spend with gospel freedom and submission to Christ:
  • Spending to share joy with the people around us - Jesus spent His life so that we might experience full and everlasting joy. I believe that we are called to spend the money that God gives us in order to bring joy to the lives of people that we meet. No one likes a scrooge who makes the lives of people around him miserable because he is too tight to enjoy life. Buy flowers for your wife, treat your kids an ice-cream, shout a good friend lunch and take your Dad to the football. Don’t be so bound to scrimping and saving that you rob those around you of joy!
  • Spending our money to help those in desperate need - Jesus' main traction in ministry was among the poor because they were ones who recognised their need for Him.  Helping those in need establishes the kind of just and fair society that God calls us to love and work towards.  It imitates Christ by giving like He gave, to people who are unable to repay us.  And it testifies to the satisfaction that we find in Christ over and above money. When we give to the needy we proclaim the gospel because we are proclaiming the wonder of having Christ as our Lord rather than money.
  • Spending to provide for the people in our families - The Apostle Paul tells us that to forsake the members of our family is to act worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). The reason being that God has given us the responsibility of taking care of those in our care, to unnecessarily burden others with our family’s needs is despicable because it crushes our families and burdens those who pick up our slack. Remember even Jesus on the cross cared enough for His mother to entrust her to John as a means of providing for her. 
  • Spending to steward your life well - While the Christ-shaped life will always trend towards self-sacrifice it should never trend towards self-loathing. Spending appropriately on your health, your fitness, your relaxation and enjoyment of life are not frivolous luxuries; they are part of stewarding your life well for God. In Col 2 Paul reminds us that self-loathing and severity to our bodies are not pious acts of worship but enemies of the gospel. Now obviously this can be taken too far and used as justification for selfish spending but the fact remains we have a responsibility to spend what we have been given to steward our bodies well.  
I could go on and mention other ways to spend in the name of Jesus, like spending on gospel ministry, spending to preserve and prolong life or spending on education, but ultimately the key is to let Christ so dominate your thinking that your spending resembles His heart. Don’t spend on harmful and addictive habits, to make a name for yourself or to keep up with the other people in your life. Money is given the highest value in our society. So if we are able to spend our money in such a way that Christ is proclaimed as infinitely more valuable than money and following Him is seen as a way to be liberated from slavery to money, just maybe society will see the value in investigating Him.

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