Posts tagged money
There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition. Whether in games, sports, business or elsewhere, competition drives us to be our best. It challenges and inspires us. Competition is a mirror that invites us to examine ourselves to see if we have what it takes to “run the race.”
But there can also be a dark side to competition. It can also bring out the cheat in us. It can drive us to unhealthy places. The “win at any cost” attitude can cause us to do unthinkable things in the name of being “the best.” We see it all the time. In sports, it’s things like performance enhancing drugs. In business, it’s insider trading, ponzi schemes and the like. It seems that competition can bring out the best and the worst in us.
Such is the case with Ananias and Sapphira. Here is a couple who, by all indications, were good people. They were part of the early first century church of Jesus. This means that they had taken significant risks simply to be a part of this community. It also means that they were a part of what we often consider the “model church,” spoken of in Acts 2 and 4. In fact, to understand the events of Acts 5, let’s back up to the end of chapter 4:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
That’s good stuff! And that’s the community that Ananias and Sapphira belonged to – the community they desired to contribute to. In this community, people regularly sold their possessions – even land, their most valuable possession – and brought the money to be given to those in need. It was a noble thing to do.
Ananias and Sapphira must have watched as their friend Joseph sold his field and brought the money to the apostles. And while I’m sure this wasn’t Joseph’s only sacrificial act (you have to do more than one thing to earn the nickname “son of encouragement”), it is likely that Joseph, aka Barnabas, received a lot of encouragement and accolades for his selfless act.
And that’s where competition reared its ugly head. As Ananias and Sapphira watched Barnabas, they probably thought, “You know, we’ve been thinking about giving some money to the church. We have some land we could sell and maybe even give more money than Barnabas.” Perhaps their land was bigger or better for farming. Maybe they even knew that they could get so much money out of it that they could give a large amount to the church and still have plenty left over for themselves. And, as Peter would indicate later, all of that was OK.
The trouble started when Ananias and Sapphira plotted to be dishonest about their gift. It would have been wonderful if they had decided to sell their land and give, say, half of the proceeds to the church. That would have been warmly received. But, for Ananias and Sapphira, it wasn’t good enough. They wanted the Barnabas treatment. They wanted to be seen as “encouragers” and as sacrificial givers.
And so they lied. They kept some of the money for themselves, but claimed to give it all. It was, in some ways, a little lie. After all, they were still giving a large sum of money to the church. But this little lie also revealed their hearts. There was something in Ananias and Sapphira that didn’t line up with the heart of God or the heart of that model church community. And, in that instance, God decided to make an example of theses two individuals.
Today, I think about my own Ananias and Sapphira moments. Now, I’ve never claimed to give more than I truly gave financially or tried to receive any kind of praise for giving a bunch of money. But I have had times (and continue to have them) when I told God I was giving him all of myself, when in reality, I was only giving him a portion. I tend to hold back pieces of my life, my energy and my brain-space.
Like Ananias and Sapphira, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by competition’s dark side. I want people to like me, to think I’m smart or successful or talented. And thus, instead of giving myself over to God completely, I try to hold onto those things that I desire, while still claiming to give him everything. In that sense, I am Ananias and Sapphira. It’s only by God’s grace that I haven’t yet met their fate.
Reading the book of Proverbs is kind of like taking the little slips of paper out of a thousand fortune cookies, putting them in a bowl and then drawing them out and reading them one by one. The proverbs are short and somewhat simple. They are arranged in a haphazard way. And, to be honest, they’re a little overwhelming.
However, there are some themes that we can already observe here. If we take a few steps back and try to see the forest, rather than being overwhelmed by the trees, we find that Solomon is keying in on a few main topics. Topics like:
Choose wisdom over folly.
Choose righteousness over wickedness.
Choose humility over arrogance or seeking honor.
Choose to serve rather than to be served.
There are a few others, but the one that is the most interesting to me is Solomon’s view on wealth. You see, Solomon, being a very rich man, doesn’t condemn wealth. In fact, he gives us advice on how to accrue wealth and what to do with our money. But Solomon also maintains healthy perspective about money. Look at just a couple of his proverbs:
Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil. (Proverbs 15:16)
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17)
The greedy bring ruin to their households,
but the one who hates bribes will live. (Proverbs 15:27)
Solomon seems to be saying, “If you can earn wealth while honoring God, loving others and maintaining integrity, then go for it! But if you have to choose between honoring God and earning wealth, don’t be a fool who chases after money.” It seems simple enough and yet, so many times, we are guilty of chasing after the money.
We may not even realize that we are choosing money over God. We may justify our actions by telling ourselves (and others) all the great God stuff we’re going to do with that money. But, in the end, if we are choosing that money over our God, not only are we being foolish in the moment, we are probably fooling ourselves about our altruistic intentions as well.
In my experience, often the least giving (most selfish) times in a person’s life are when he or she is making more money than they ever have before. The more they have, the more they want to hold onto it or to spend it on themselves. I know I’ve seen this play out in my own life – not in some evil “It’s mine…all mine!” kind of way. It’s just easy to forget what’s important when you’ve got money rolling it.
So take Solomon’s advice. Choose God over money. If you discover that, while choosing God, you can earn a lot of money, go for it. Just remember that God loves a cheerful giver!
I have said this before, but it is worth mentioning again here. David was a wealthy man. But he was also a wise man – one who understood the limits of his wealth. And that is why we read in Psalm 49:
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
and people praise you when you prosper—
they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life. (Psalm 49:12, 16-19)
It’s a sobering thought to think that much of what we work for during our lives will not “descend” with us. We know this, and yet look at the value that we place on things like career, financial planning and even education. After all, most people will say that a good education is important so that you can get a good job and provide financially for yourself and your family. Yet, none of that stuff descends with us.
What if we changed our mentality? What if we looked for something different in our education and our careers? What if I encouraged my daughter to get an education that teaches her about the value of people and the love of God (for her and for others)? What if instead of pushing her toward a financially sound career, I encouraged her to breath deeply of the God who supplies provision for those who follow closely his plans for them?
Now, those plans may mean that she becomes an entrepreneur or world leader, but the motivation is completely different. What if I point her toward things eternal, instead of things which are fleeting? I suspect that the more she embraces the things that last, the more “secure” she will be, no matter how much money she has.
For some of you, you may have been surprised to learn that Psalm 40 was not written by Bono, but was, in fact, written by a king named David. And these timeless words really tell David’s story and the story of countless others who have found themselves in a pit – bogged down by life – and have watched as God lifted them up – as he rescued them in a way that only he could.
But this song is not only about past afflictions. As we’ve seen, David seems to constantly be faced with challenges – accusations, illness, warring factions and internal conflict. This is not a guy who used to be in a bad place. This is a guy who lives in a bad place – a place of constant struggle. But David’s struggle is a fruitful one, because he learns so much along the way.
Just look at the last verse of Psalm 40:
But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay. (Psalm 40:17)
Here is a guy who has everything a person could want in life – he is wealthy, powerful, respected and he even seems to have a special connection with God that the rest of us would be envious of. And yet, he says, “I am poor and needy.” You see, I think David understood (or was beginning to understand) that true wealth has little to do with the amount of money you have and true need isn’t based on your possessions.
It occurs to me that some of the people that I’ve heard speak most passionately about money not fulfilling needs are the people who have tried it. David is one of those guys. He knows that no matter how much money or power or respect he has, he is still poor and needy. The things he needs, he can’t give himself and so, like a beggar on the street, he has to seek help from someone else.
Fortunately for David and for us, the one who can provide our needs is a benevolent God – one who desires to give us what we need. The challenge, I think, is for us to come to a place of recognition. We must recognize, as David did, what our true need is. We must invite God to supply that need. It’s a lesson that I know I must keep learning over and over. Fortunately, God is as stubborn of a teacher as I am a student and he will keep reminding me of this lesson for as long as it takes to sink in.
You know, I’ve said this before, but the more I read the words of the Bible, the more I realize that some things never change. Listen to these words of wisdom from David:
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be. (Psalm 39:6)
The Bible is full of wisdom about money, but perhaps no verse captures the reality of our situation better than these three lines from David. You see, if we have any sort of awareness, we understand that our work and struggles for money may be in vain. For some, they will work so hard that they will never get to actually enjoy the fruits of their labor. Others may be sent to an early grave. Still others may accumulate wealth only to lose it because of a bad business decision or because they get swindled.
But the pointed reality of David’s words is that not only do we risk losing the reward of our efforts, we actually risk facing the realization that we are working hard to earn someone else’s fortune. In David’s words, we heap up wealth, not knowing whose it will finally be. Which begs the question: How hard would you work if you knew that your paycheck was going to go to some guy down the street that you’ve never met? How many extra hours would you put in to ensure that some family across town was financially secure?
If you’re honest, the answer is probably “none.” If I don’t get the reward, I’m a lot less likely to put in the work. And yet, as I think of David’s words and contemplate the question above, I realize that a person who worked 70 hours a week to benefit another family would actually be doing something more God-honoring than if he or she was working those hours to pay for a new house, car or boat.
To be sure, we need to take care of our families. But this verse is specifically talking about “heaping up wealth.” Call me crazy, but it’s pretty cool to think about heaping up wealth for other people. What a refreshing concept. How much joy would you get out of being able to show up at somebody else’s retirement party and say, “Here’s a check for $500,000 to ensure that you can live the rest of your life comfortably.”
But we don’t do that. Instead, we heap up wealth (or whatever we can) for ourselves without ultimately knowing who is going to end up with it.