“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10)
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.” (Heb. 13:5)
America was founded upon Christian principles: freedom of the individual [including religion], compassion for the weak and defenseless, hard work, opportunity for all to excel, etc. It has led her to become unquestionably the greatest nation on earth, and the envy of the entire world. America’s values, based upon these biblical principles, have led millions from oppressed nations to risk life and limb here to find lives filled with prosperity, freedom, and hope.
But are two of our most enduring characteristics that have been abused due to our founding principles now leading, as they have for many apex cultures, to our demise? Have the boundless freedoms and the wealth and affluence created by boundless opportunities now turned against us? Are these two characteristics of freedom and capitalism now bringing America to her knees? I believe so, in both society and modern Christianity, which follows the world in so many ways. This first part will focus on affluence run amok in America, with the second focusing on freedoms.
Discussing society first, isn’t it every parent’s desire to see their children “have it better than they had it?” We want to give our children the best of everything, not wanting them to struggle with the things we struggled with. Even if we had a charmed childhood, we still want their charm to exceed ours. Our God is a blessing God, and we want to likewise bless our children. But in an affluent society can that get out of hand? While I can’t blame parents for wanting to see their kids protected and blessed through what they themselves have accomplished, the dangers of giving our children everything, when we can afford literally everything, is becoming more and more evident each day. People who grew up in an era where America wasn’t so affluent scratch their heads and wonder why radical socialists in Washington, D.C. have gained such a following among our young people. Well, how many generations of spoiled kids have we now raised in a socialist environment we call the family, given everything they want without working for it, not understanding the value of hard work or of money? When raised in such an environment, is it any wonder “when they get older, they do not depart from” their desire to want that to continue?
Another aspect of the love of money is the greed we see in corporate America, sports, etc. Is it any wonder socialists are finding a foothold through their constant attacks on the super-rich and corporate America when the average worker sees millions, if not billions, of dollars that could be spread out across large workforces going in to stock options and golden parachutes for individuals while the rank and file make minimum wage? How about our sports icons who decry the plight of the average man while they rake in millions because they can throw a football, shoot a basketball, or hit a baseball? If all those at the top of the food chain spread the wealth a bit more, would there be such hatred growing against greed? We rightly ask, “How much is enough?” when a few live like kings while the average man barely makes ends meet.
A passage in Ezekiel 16, which I have written of often because it’s the best I have found at describing the constant cycle of blessing and cursing Israel endured throughout the OT, casts light on what boundless affluence and freedoms do to a society. To give the Cliff’s Notes version, God looks upon His people “squirming in their blood,” in a period of time when they are oppressed and downtrodden. Being the compassionate, blessing God that He is, He sees them as “at the time for love” and He lifts them up and grants them beauty [through affluence] and stature. But then they begin to trust in those characteristics instead of the God who gave them and it leads to, well, pretty much all the sinful activities we have witnessed in America since WWII [the last time America “squirmed in her blood”]. This leads to God saying of them in anger, “How languishing is your heart,” and referring to His people as “a harlot.” This leads to His severe judgment, as we are beginning to experience today here in America. It always begins with affluence, and always ends in destruction.
When I was a kid, my dad told me I would be out of the house when I was 18 unless I was in college. He encouraged me to have a job by the time I was 16 [I first had one when I was 14 working at one of his townhome projects in grounds maintenance], and therefore I grew up with a strong work ethic. By the time I was seventeen I was out of the house, not because I had problems with my parents but because I was financially able. I never looked back, and never had to ask my folks for a penny. I thank God dad put that ethic in me, and also that it seemed to have passed down to my sons who have all shown the same characteristics. But most today don’t. They live in their virtual worlds of social media, with Hollywood and the internet extolling the virtues of wealth and power being a right rather than a privilege, and they all have the latest, most expensive cell phones to do it on. With each passing generation, the feeling of entitlement grows and rejection of the idea of hard work to earn success diminishes. It is all leading, as it did Israel over and over again, to judgment.
What about affluence’s influence on God’s kingdom here on earth? Paul prophesied of the times I feel we now live in when he said, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power…” (2 Tim. 3). If this doesn’t describe the modern church here in America, I don’t know what does, particularly the “holding to a form of godliness while denying its power” part. We go to our temples, hold our hands up and sing, and listen to a good message, but not much of it sinks in to our daily lives.
And “lovers of money?” The world would look at the vast majority of believers today and say there really is no difference at all between us and them when it comes to the size and expense of our homes, our toys, our bank accounts, our reliance on our finances, and most of all our debt. And while we’re talking about those at the top of the food chain in the world living like kings, what of our most popular teachers, speakers, and evangelists who fly around in private jets, live in mansions, and command speaking fees that would make the world proud. And do I need to mention our haves and have-nots temple system, where many smaller congregations struggle to survive while our mega temples spend money in wretched excess to wow the flesh and keep those treasured seekers coming? No, the addiction that outweighs drugs, alcohol, pornography, and all others put together among the faithful is our addiction to money, the one Paul said was the root of all sorts of evil.
Jesus gave His most chilling admonishment to a church in the revelations at Laodicea. He said to them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot, so because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…” (Rev. 3). Too much comfort in the flesh always leads to lukewarmth spirits, and likewise too much abundance in the flesh leads to a love of the world over a love for God. As we see with the Laodiceans, we also see it leads to utter deception concerning spiritual matters because it makes us “think all is OK and we are in need of nothing,” when in fact we have become spiritually bankrupt. The most dangerous spiritual condition is the lie we believe but think we do not.
Something dear to my heart our affluence has for the most part destroyed is Christian community. We have bought in to the world’s lie that we need to be independent, stand on our own two feet, be able to buy a nice house and live on our own. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean people don’t need to work hard, and the sort of community I’m talking about is not the 30-year-old son or grandson still living at home because it’s easier than supporting himself [something I used to see a lot of while running a ministry serving a retirement mobile home park]. I’m talking about spiritual segregation that has been brought about through physical independence. Our concept of community is a trip to the temple once a week, and if we’re true disciples a Bible study or home group. Most times I’ve witnessed anything approaching Christian community, it’s because people are forced into it, either through circumstance or finances. Most cultures who know poverty also know community like we can’t even imagine here in the land of plenty. It’s tragic.
Those familiar with my story know the Lord stripped me of my comfortable fortune made selling real estate some 15 years ago, and while He had to drag me out of my love of money kicking and screaming, I now know it is was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have real peace about finances now due to my faith in Him, whereas before it was a false peace due to my faith in my nest egg. I make barely enough to pay the bills now, but I have the peace of knowing He’s got this because I’ve watched Him come through time and time again when I needed Him to. Whenever I start getting a bit ahead, something comes up to zero it out, and whenever I get a bit behind, ditto. I didn’t think, while I had it, money was an idol, but you never know what an idol is until you lose it. Has money become an idol for you? Idols chain you to them. Trust in God is truly freeing. Do you “love mammon?” Ask God to reveal, and deal, with any deceptions Satan may have lured you in to in the area of finances, and you will probably find out real fast. I was, and I did.
I will end with two admonishments from the Scriptures that we had all better hear, understand, and heed if we are to survive the judgements now coming upon us, for whether they come in the form of geological/weather related catastrophe, financial collapse or war [civil or otherwise] it will mean disaster for most people’s finances. Paul said, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.” (Phil. 4), and the verse from Hebrews above. Contentment in all circumstances is the key. Contentment means faith and it brings peace. Don’t buy the lie, worldly affluence is not the path to godliness, hope, or peace. And while money may make life easier, as the old saying goes it can’t buy true happiness. Only trust in God can do that (John 15:11).