Playing Games with God
Chapter 13

The Money Game

by Robert M. Smith

Playing Games with God
Chapter 13
The Money Game
by Robert M. Smith

Although I do indeed love sports and a variety of games that challenge one's mind and wits, I have never been a fan of board games that include an overemphasis on phony money. Perhaps it is because they reflect too much of the materialistic, secular world for my liking: buying and selling properties; collecting rent from another person in the hope that they cannot pay so that I may, then, destroy them and win the game; eagerly yearning for big payoffs and windfalls; gleefully taking someone else's hard-earned cash; craving the misfortune of others; greedily wanting more and more till I win with the most of everything; literally being the fulfillment of that old saying, "He who collects the most stuff, wins!" Ah, yes, it's only a game ... but in the midst of that game what does it truly feel like? Is there a bit of anxiety? A bit of stress? Moments of extreme elation? Frustrations and anger that are very real?

Money matters have long plagued the world. Wars have been fought between "the haves" and "the have nots" for centuries. There has never been financial equilibrium in this world at any time during the course of history and this imbalance has fueled and continues to fuel hatred and fear. As I observe the drama of the "world oil crisis" unfolding – which is actually all about money and the power it provides – I can see so many seeds of destruction growing internationally. As I watch a television game show – some of which have the most tell-tale names – it doesn't take long to find avarice in each contestant rising to the levels of the most touted gambling casinos. As I stand in line at the local convenience store while someone occupies the clerk, for what seems like hours, as they choose lottery tickets and make wagers I realize what makes this world go round. When the major news items on the national news continually revolve around things like socio/politico uprisings, recessions, inflation, weather and its economic impact, technological changes and their cost to the consumer, international cartels, multi-national takeovers ... all of these, and many, more have as their driving mechanism, money.

Money matters have long plagued the church and in these last days the North American church has completely lost sight of God's intentions in this realm. The church itself has become a battleground over this instead of a finely kept orchard where fruit is obtained for the Master. Thorns instead of fruit, discord instead of harmony, suspicion instead of trust has been the norm. For though we, as followers of Christ, tend to downplay the influence of money within the church its unholy clutches can still be felt and seen in our midst. We, not God, have gone topsy-turvy, as Muggeridge indicates: "Christ turned the world's accepted standards upside down. It was the poor, not the rich, who were blessed; the weak, not the strong, who were to be esteemed; the pure in heart, not the sophisticated and the worldly, who understood what life was about. Righteousness, not power or money or sensual pleasure, should be man's pursuit. We should love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us, in order that we may be worthy members of a human family whose Father is in heaven."[1]

Any Christian who is blessed with finances or any material possession must be aware that these things are not his/her own; they belong to God. Contrary to the prosperity gospel proponents, Scripture shows that one may be entrusted if God chooses, but not entitled. God's bestowal is optional to Him, not obligatory. Modern North American evangelicalism has, due to its entrenchment in the middle class and upper-middle class echelons, spawned the prosperity gospel as a form of justification: justifying our reckless abandonment to the worship of finance. The very existence of the prosperity gospel is a testimony of disbelief, faithlessness rather than faithfulness, as John White boldly states, "If we really believed in celestial treasures, who among us would be so stupid as to buy gold? We just do not believe. Heaven is a dream, a religious fantasy which we affirm because we are orthodox. If people believed in heaven, they would spend their time preparing for permanent residence there. But nobody does. We just like the assurance that something nice awaits us when the real life is over."[2] From the small Old Testament reference of Hag 2:8 we should learn this appropriate sense of value for everything in our custody. It says, "'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the LORD of hosts." In context, the prophet is recording God's opinion of the reconstruction, the resurrection of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. God hereby declared that He could, and most assuredly would, gather whatever was needed in such a restoration. The project and the financial backing was a God-honouring matter and not fitted for human consumption. In application, this says to the Christian giver that he or she is only a steward of God's property and His will must be the deciding factor in its usage. The personal fulfillment and the personal satisfaction of man has no part in this verse.

As a balance to this thought, of course, we must see the other side of this coin [no pun intended]. We should be warned not to use the old adage "Our money is the Lord's money" to condone miserliness and being uncharitable: to dig out of a "garage sale", curb-side refuse, or the local garbage dump a birthday gift, for a loved one, which should have been purchased clean and new. [By the way, this has indeed happened and that is why I have referenced it] When one is quite capable of the acquisition, this is simply being a filthy moneygrubber, bent on vulgarity, not a frugal Christian steward. To attach a love for God and for His provisions to a gesture of this sort is to bring dishonour and shame to His Name. God who gives "abundantly" (Eph 3:20; Jn 10:10; Lk 6:38) would not appreciate the image of a miser being cast upon Him. If you wish to be cheap, miserly and petty don't add to your folly by stating that you are doing it for God ... tell it like it truly is and keep it to yourself, without incriminating Him in the process! A love of money that shortchanges others is not – I repeat "not" – what the Bible condones! A love of money, in this fashion, is not, according to Scripture, to be misconstrued with a love of God ... the two simply do not mix for Jesus, Himself, has told us so (Matt 6:24; Lk 16:13).

Also intrinsic to the Haggai reference is the fact that the receiver of God's financial blessing should realize that God is able to provide without our undue and unnecessary overemphasis on "collections" and "offerings" within the church. Remember that all the treasures of the world – though not particularly important to God – are at His disposal. Anytime God wishes to, He may obtain glory through such treasure by shaking the nations (Hag 2:7). What he expects from man – more than finances or property – is our devotion, love and obedience. In our obedience we should be found giving of the blessings that He has already bestowed upon us, however. On the other hand, this should be done under the urging of the Holy Spirit and not in response to the pressure and expectations of men regardless of their position in society or in the church. Too often we have allowed the latter to govern our giving. But do indeed note, I am not suggesting that we may now forget about giving; we must adopt the mindset of King David: that any offering, if it is to be of any value to God, must cost the individual something (2 Sam 24:24). Malachi also brings this thought before us.

Handling money, wealth and possessions has never been a problem to men who have God occupying the throne of their hearts; men like Abraham, Job, Daniel, Paul, George Muller and Hudson Taylor. But the difficulty today is that many who claim to be men and women of God, in an effort to expand their television and radio exposure, indicate that they are ruled by the almighty dollar with their constant pitch for finances. Some of these individuals are filthy rich, living in mansions, owning their own private jets, driving expensive cars, major real estate owners ... and all under the guise of serving the Lord, using "the Lord's money". The truly disgusting part of this charade is that the non Christian world thinks this is what Christianity is all about ... a front for a money squeeze! What's more, those who promote themselves in this way do not care whether they obtain funding from believers or unbelievers, just as long as they get those bucks! This is not the kind of "shake down" that God had in mind in the book of Haggai. To be sure, not all media preachers and teachers are like this but far too many are. And a word of caution is given to us by Erwin Lutzer that can help us sort the good from the bad: "False prophets often have an eye for money, lots of it (Numbers 22:17)."[3]

We do not have to switch on the radio or the television to verify the secular idea that Christianity is a money game, though. When we look at our churches, many of us will find a constant plea for finances within. Too many denominations take up "offerings" at every possible occasion, and the most appropriate question we can ask as a result is "Why?" Why so much emphasis upon this activity and why would anyone want to cripple the gospel of Christ with such an image?

Many answers can come rushing to the foreground here but we must ask if they are Scriptural at all, for, though the terminology used may sound "Christian", religious, pious or ecclesiastical the real test of validity is whether it is Biblical. "Worship" is quite likely the very first term used as justification for the frequency of offerings, but this has little support from the New Testament [incidentally, it is the New Testament that a Christian must consider when examining this subject for we are under a New Covenant not the old – Heb 8:6-13; Heb 10:14-18; Heb 12:24; Heb 14:20-21]. There were reasons for the Macedonian and Corinthian "collections" and there were reasons for the pooling of resources in Jerusalem during the early days of the church but "worship" was not one of them. Has worship deteriorated so much since the days of the early church that we must attempt to fabricate a sense of it by using "mammon"? Do not be swayed into thinking that God is interested in your wallet except that it should be used in His service. And, in service to God, a believer's possessions – which are really God's possessions – can be used in a great variety of ways without being destined for the frequently-advanced collection plate.

As we look to the Word of God we should find sufficient cause to enlist our financial strength, our property, our time and our lives without adopting notions that remain unbiblical. In Acts 2:44-45 ['Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." NKJV] we first encounter a sharing of all possessions which, by far, surpasses the mere pittance that we hear about as our "tithe/worship". With this sort of giving people become involved with other people ... it was more than a money matter or a property program. And the chief reason for this first reference to finances and the Christian church was "need" (Acts 2:45; Acts 5:35).

Next in line, Rom 15:25-28 makes mention of the Macedonian and Achaian contributions. The aid was designed to be of assistance to the "saints" (v 25) and to the "poor among the saints at Jerusalem" (v 26). Once more the idea of "need" is stated as being the sole intention of the collection ... and a definite pattern is emerging.

1 Cor 16:1-4 gives us an inkling of what happened with this Jerusalem fund. On the first day of every week each person in the church was "to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper". This format simply made good sense for Paul was going to come around and pick it up at a later date. Examine the intricacies held in this small passage:

"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me." (NKJV)

Paul writes that each one was to put something aside. This points to the obligation of every Christian but it also refers to the possibility of a savings account (modern terminology of course) for term deposits for a specific period of time. The lump sum would then be given to the Lord's service when the time came. Note that not only did the churches act independently but individual believers could act independently as well.

Concerning this same contribution we should also examine 2 Cor 8:1-9:15. This large portion of Scripture shows "need" once again as the prime rationale for its inception (2 Cor 8:14; 9:9; 9:12). Further, we see that the contribution was not of compulsion but rather born of a free will. That freedom implies that the Holy Spirit is involved in the believers' lives. We might also add that the Christians within each participating church group would know exactly where every cent of their money was going, in advance. This is seldom the case today.

In truth the matter of giving has been, in our day, simplified to the extent that we usually give to an organization, and then those at the top decide where the money goes. This system infers that individual Christians are less likely to be guided by the Holy Spirit than those in the hierarchy who, because of their elevated position, are capable of following God's guidance better than others. The system also limits – in fact, hinders – direct involvement between believers: the "fellowship of sufferings" which extends from Christ (Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 4:13) to other believers (2 Cor 1:7; Col 1:24; Heb 10:33). All of this may appeal to those who prefer to let someone else make decisions of that nature but the popularity of the system is not the important issue when Scripture is brought to bear on the subject.

What can we do then? Are we to become heretical if we do not "tithe" to the church?

To answer the second question first: no. There is no doctrinal emphasis on tithing to a church. It has, simply, become traditional, convenient and, in some cases, profitable to the local expression of the church universal. The traditional aspect runs all the way back to the roots of Catholicism where money was needed to pay the religious authorities and to finance church properties but this was not so in the early church. The "tithe" of the Old Covenant (Lev 27; Num 18) was resurrected by the church of Rome and applied to New Covenant theology. Under the auspices of doctrine it was amalgamated with the gospel though there is no Scriptural support for it. The convenience is demonstrated when one tosses out his/her weekly tithe and then forgets about it ... no thought, no prayer, no involvement and along with these, no Spiritual guidance. Moreover it has become profitable in our day to tithe for, by doing so, one may obtain an income tax receipt and thereby get rewarded in the process: sort of giving without really giving approach that only civilized man could dream up. With one's direct contribution to those in need more effort is required and the reciprocation is on an immaterial plane. This may not be very attractive to a materialistic society such as ours but we, Christians, have been called to be different.

To answer the first question now, we need only consider being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is certainly no lack of opportunity to give to those in need. We simply must be brave enough to open our eyes and look at the many needy situations that we may be able to remedy. Then we must be brave enough and compassionate enough to act. There should be a degree of localization applied to this as well. It is prudent not to ignore mission fields overseas but we should not use that as an excuse to overlook the mission fields in our own back yards either.

The call for courage also goes out to those who occupy full-time positions within the church. Bring a stop to the endless petitions for more and more offerings and initiate more and more dependence upon God. With the constant and continuous harping it appears that all Christians have somehow forgotten that God will support whatever He wishes ... what ever happened to "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Conversely, we surely must realize that the persistent pleading of men will not be able to keep a system or program going if it is not of God to begin with. "Built into life is a strong vein of irony for which we should only be grateful to our Creator. It helps us find our way through the fantasy that encompasses us to the reality of our existence. God has mercifully made the fantasies – the pursuit of power, of sensual satisfaction, of money, of learning, of celebrity, of happiness – so preposterously unrewarding that we are forced to turn to Him for help and for mercy. We seek wealth and find we've accumulated worthless pieces of paper. We seek security and find we've acquired the means to blow ourselves and our little earth to smithereens. We seek carnal indulgence only to find ourselves involved in the prevailing erotomania. Looking for freedom, we infallibly fall into the servitude of self-gratification or, collectively, of a Gulag Archipelago."[4]

Again, the book of Haggai contributes to our understanding of these things:

"You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes." (NKJV)

The point to be made is that all the offerings in the world, taken at every conceivable opportunity, will not be able to fill the purse with holes in it. Be abundantly clear, therefore, that you have the right purse before investing. If it is God's purse you will not have to concentrate on filling it either.

Of all the games this is perhaps the most odious, for Jesus spoke specifically of this one and portrayed the love of money as a characteristic that stood opposed to Him and the gospel. The New Testament epistles join Him in sorting out our attitudes toward wealth. Our responsibility lies in how we now apply these things:

Matt 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Lk 12:22-34 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

Matt 6:1-4 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

1 Tim 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

1 Tim 6:17-19 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

[1] Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., Glasgow, 1969, Page 78

[2] John White, The Golden Cow, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, 1979, Page 51

[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, Who are you to judge?, Moody Press, Chicago, 2002, Page 86

[4] Malcolm Muggeridge, The end of Christendom, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1980, Page 49

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