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True Riches: What Jesus Really Said about Money and Your Heart
by Gregory Baumer
Learn More | Meet Gregory Baumer | Meet John Cortines
The Big Question
A TWENTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD INVESTMENT banker gives half of his income away rather than saving or spending his earnings. A couple in their seventies gives away their retirement nest egg. A father can’t fully cover his kids’ college expenses because his family has been so generous to God’s work through the years. A woman of modest means gives away her car savings fund to a widow in need. An entrepreneur gives his company away.
These are the stories of people we’ve met as we’ve traveled the country having conversations about faith and finances. They are shocking and challenging and may leave you feeling uneasy. To be honest, they make us uneasy, too, because these decisions seem foolish on the surface. They seem to go against the basic principles of financial wisdom we’ve all absorbed through the years. In a conversation about stewardship, the concept of “letting go” in this way, of opening yourself up to such radical giving, grates against how we’ve been taught, the status quo. But, if we look at the unique level of peace and joy visible in these people’s lives, perhaps it’s not so crazy after all.
We don’t all have to live exactly like these radical givers, but we do all have to answer the critically important question that started them on their paths: How are my finances shaping my heart?
As we’ll see, that question is the one Jesus cared about most when it came to money. It was also the one question neither of us had ever asked before we met and became friends in graduate school.
We both grew up hearing in church and in our culture that we should save a lot, give steadily, and spend what we want, as long as it is within our means. According to this formula, we each got off to a successful start. We were earning six-figure salaries and tithing regularly by our early twenties—the picture of what financial faithfulness is supposed to look like. Despite our outward success, however, a gnawing, almost invisible sense of unease remained. If we were succeeding financially, why did it not feel more fulfilling?
My wife and I (John) realized that our desire to save obsessively reflected a need to keep score with our bank account, and we had idolized security. We even looked down on people who were “less responsible” with money. My aggressive saving had filled my heart with both pride and anxiety—there was always another financial milestone to chase. And chasing those milestones was keeping me from experiencing the joy of generosity.
Meanwhile, my wife and I (Greg) realized that our desire to live life to the fullest, through spending on great experiences and possessions, reflected an inner belief that we could find greater satisfaction in our stuff than in our Savior. We may have been living within our means, but this false belief was thwarting my relationship with God and was actually granting me less satisfaction, not more.
Despite our outward pictures of success, our financial perspectives represented spiritual failure and were keeping us from maximizing the joyful relationship with God that Jesus was inviting us to. Remember the one key question we should all be asking: How are my finances shaping my heart? Well, the answer for us was not pretty. The peace and joy we truly wanted eluded us. Our financial postures were driving us further from God.
What Jesus Said
If we want to live the best, happiest, and most purposeful lives possible, we need to look to the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. Money was a central theme in many of his teachings and parables. This is consistent with the Bible as a whole, which contains around 2,350 verses pertaining to money, possessions, and our attitude toward them. Contrary to most of what we hear about money today, Jesus’ road map for an abundant financial life was not to ensure that everyone would become well-off. In fact, even though financial wealth and stability seem to be good things, we have no record of Jesus encouraging us to pursue them. Not even once! Rather, he taught about money to inspire people toward a closer relationship with God, whom he referred to as “our Father.” Personal finance to him was not an issue of following financial rules; it was about a dynamic relationship of trust with God, a journey toward the riches that are ultimately the most fulfilling.
Our handling of money can lead us to the true riches of a deeper relationship with Jesus himself, marked by gratitude, contentment, trust, and love. But if we pursue money for its own sake, we’re chasing false riches, and our lives will become marked by pride, coveting, anxiety, and indifference, fostering a tragic separation from God and the joy he offers. Thus, Jesus’ teachings focus less on the attainment of wealth and more on how our relationship with money forms our character.
Interestingly, many of the financially stable and diligent characters we find in the Bible were condemned specifically for their attitudes toward money. King Shallum, Ananias and Sapphira, the rich fool, the rich young ruler, the rich man from the story of Lazarus, and the entire church in Laodicea come to mind as a few examples. Any of them could have been a success story found in Money Magazine, but in God’s eyes they failed. They pursued money for its own sake, neglecting their opportunities to serve God and others financially, and this resulted in judgment. Yes, there are some wealthy leaders who are commended (such as Lydia, Cornelius, and Zacchaeus), but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
As is illustrated in Scripture, money is a deceptive force that can capture people’s hearts, drawing them away from God like a powerful magnet. The closer you get to a magnet, the harder it pulls—and the more you give your heart to money, the more ensnared you will become. In fact, Jesus identified money as the primary competitor for the affections of the human heart when he said, “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and money.”
We would be wise to heed the warning coming from the lives of these people in the Bible. Even if we are responsible and diligent, have perfectly updated budgets on Mint.com, and are steadily saving for retirement, we can still fail spiritually when it comes to managing what we’ve been given.
When the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders, heard Jesus’ teachings on money, they made fun of him. We can visualize the scene: The well-dressed and educated leaders are standing together under the pleasant shade of a palm tree. Luke, the doctor who wrote a history of Jesus’ life, called these men “lovers of money.”3 Their beards are neatly trimmed, and they have new, well-fitting robes and nice leather sandals. Perhaps one leans toward his friend with a cynical frown and remarks,
- Why do people listen to this guy? He just panders to the masses with this financial jibber-jabber. Sell your possessions and give to the poor? Yeah, right. Who would take care of you then? It is more blessed to give than to receive? Convenient thing to teach people when you’re a poor, traveling preacher. I can’t believe this guy. I’ve worked hard to earn my keep, and have been saving for ten years to buy a property I can retire on. I give my tithe, but come on! If I listened to this guy I’d never be able to make it.
Jesus responded with a strong rebuke: “God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
An abomination! These were strong words from Jesus, aimed at the financial wisdom of his time—and ours. Jesus clashed with the natural human mind-set toward money and issued stern warnings toward all who espoused it.
This story hit painfully close to home for us. As young professionals we had so easily absorbed our culture’s posture toward money—a posture that would lead us away from the God we wanted to know and serve. Our financial perspective went something like this:
- I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in life. I’ve worked hard and deserve a few nice things. I see what other people have—houses, cars, and comfortable lifestyles—and these inspire my desires. I’m driven to save and invest by my concerns about the future. And even though I know there are people with needs, I’ve got to look after myself and my family before I can help anyone else.
Sound familiar? Without knowing it, we, like the Pharisees, dutifully pursued the false riches of money for its own sake, which led us toward pride, coveting, anxiety, and indifference. A person on this path, even if rich, is truly poor within.
Jesus, however, invites us to consider a radically different posture, reflected in the following paragraph:
- I’m grateful for all I have. It is all truly a gift I never deserved! Though I have some goals and dreams, I’m totally content, even in times of suffering, because my identity is secure in Jesus. In every situation, I lean on God and trust him for provision, although my own planning and hard work plays a role. My heart and my life are full of generosity, animated by love for those in need, even when it costs me dearly.
Inviting Christ into our financial journeys makes all the difference in the world. A person on this path, even if poor, is truly rich within. It’s a path that completely changes our attitudes and behaviors, molding our hearts into ones filled with the joy, peace, and fulfillment we’re all looking for.
The remainder of this book is built around the four joy-filled transformations that are a part of our financial journeys with Christ. In these transformations, we leave behind false riches and acquire true riches. These traits, and the behaviors that spring from them, represent the difference between spiritual success and spiritual failure when it comes to money. In fact, these traits help us look a lot more like the master of generosity, Jesus himself—full of purpose and joy no matter our circumstances. So come along with us, and let’s get started.
We move from Coveting to Contentment and therefore, we Spend Modestly.
We move from Anxiety to Trust and therefore, we Save Modestly.
We move from Indifference to Love and therefore, we Give Extravagantly.
APPLICATION: JOURNEYING THROUGH THIS BOOK
In 2013, we (Greg and John) didn’t know each other. By 2015, we were best friends. This dramatic swing happened as we began to explore biblical generosity and stewardship together. We know—it’s a weird thing to bond over.
While our experience is probably extreme, we hope you find others to discuss this book with and other ways to prayerfully consider the topics at hand. In our own journeys to follow Jesus financially, we would have given up long ago if not for encouragement from each other, our spouses, and many other like-minded peers. We all need friends who will join us in our pursuit of true riches.
We also would have given up if our journeys had not been supplemented by pen-to-paper planning, prayer, and a posture of worship. For this reason we’ve built the book to incorporate all these success factors. You can read straight through to the end, but our experience suggests that if you stop to discuss with a friend, fill out a pen-to-paper exercise, or sit in worship before God, you will be even more encouraged and strengthened for the journey.
Take a moment now to consider who you might share your journey to true riches with. Feel free to write their names below or in your own journal.
If you do find some friends to journey with, or if you’re already part of a small group focused on this book, you can find the group guide in the back, complete with agendas for each of the four sessions. All songs, videos, and resources—including the exercises at the end of each chapter—are embedded for free at www.truerichesbook.com. You can write your responses to the exercises in the book or use your own journal.
These light bulbs appear throughout the book and represent best practices and practical tips for seeking true riches. We hope they’re helpful in your journey.
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