When you were a child, did you ever pretend to be an explorer looking for treasure? I used to hide surprises and draw treasure maps for my boys, marking the burial place with a large “X.” Our treasure maps included skulls and crossbones as well, warning my little adventurers of hidden dangers along the way.
God does a similar thing when He graciously warns us in His word of dangers we must avoid. I’ve been meditating on Hebrews 13:5 this week, a verse that includes both a warning and a promise: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I often hear quoted the promise at the end of this verse, but the warning at the beginning—not so much.
I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that warnings in the Bible are to be taken seriously by all of God’s children all of the time. God doesn’t put up caution signs because somewhere in the world there may be a man, woman, or child who occasionally falls prey to a particular sin. The imperatives are present because our hearts—all of them— are spring-loaded to do the very thing God is warning us not to do. They serve to point us in the way we should go, not the way we would go were it not for the Holy Spirit shining the lamp that guides our feet and illumines our path. They are rooted in God’s steadfast love, which is why the Psalmist could say, “When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.” (Psalm 94:18)
So in Hebrews 13:5, we are warned to keep our lives free from the love of money. Money can basically be defined as human assets and resources, or simply put, our stuff. Money represents those things we tend to put our trust in, things that make us feel secure and even powerful. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” We are also told to be content with what God has given us. Why? Because God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. This is an incredible promise! The One we are totally dependent upon for everything promises us that He will always be with us and never forsake us. But do we really believe this? Do I live as if I truly believe Hebrews 13:5?
PBS television produced a show called “Affluenza.” The network defined Affluenza like this:
Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
Here are some of their findings.
1. The average American shops six hours a week but spends only 40 minutes playing with his or her children.
2. By age twenty, the average television viewer has seen one million commercials.
3. In recent years, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.
4. In 90 percent of divorce cases, disagreements over money played a prominent role.
These findings, of course, were derived from the general population, but I wonder how many hours professing Christians shop each week (think Amazon, IKEA) compared to how many hours they play with their children? I wonder how many commercials the average twenty year old in a Christian home has seen? And what about bankruptcy and divorce? Is it possible that professing Christians sometimes fall into these painful circumstances because they didn’t heed the warning of Hebrews 13:5?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I do desire by God’s grace to keep myself free from the love of non-God stuff because I love my God-of-very-God Savior. I know my heart is an idol factory, spring-loaded to love money and not be content, so I’m thankful for the skull-and-crossbone warnings that protect me from “all kinds of evil.” I pray that God will incline my heart to His testimonies rather than to selfish gain (Psalm 119:36).
Several years ago I was thinking about the love-of-money passages in the Bible, wondering whether deep down inside I was guilty of this sin. I had been reading a 500-page book on the subject and came away thinking that some kind of a test would really be helpful since my heart is deceitful and self-deception is common. Then an idea popped into my head. Why don’t I fast from shopping for a month. Better yet, why don’t I fast from shopping for a year. Yes! One full year should paint an accurate picture of my heart.
I told Brian of my plan and why I wanted to do this. He helped me set parameters for the experiment. For one year I would not purchase anything for myself beyond necessities, such as food and water. And no, nail polish is not a necessity. This meant no new wardrobe additions, no jewelry, no makeup, no perfume, no books (ouch!), no hobby supplies, no unnecessary household items, etc. Actually, that proved to be the easy-to-give-up list, with the exception of the books. The difficult-to-give-up list included computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, and anything else Apple brought to market. I also want to note here that I didn’t stock up on anything before the test began.
I have to tell you up front that I’m not, nor have I ever been, a shopoholic. However, I can intuit the presence of an Apple store from 10 miles away. So I went in believing this test would be helpful in exposing and weeding out any money or stuff idols ensconsed in my heart.
The first month came and went pain free. The second month coasted by much the same as the first. During the third month I began to miss shopping for antique books. I plowed through the fourth, fifth, and sixth months with a little discomfort here and there. By the seventh month, God began showing me that many things I thought of as necessities were actually luxuries. God continued working in my heart during months eight, nine, and ten, revealing to me how much I needed Him and how little I needed the stuff on my list. In months eleven and twelve I did have thoughts of new technological devices dancing in my head, but the thoughts were momentary and not overpowering.
When the year came to a close, I realized two things— 1) I didn’t want the test to end, and 2) God had done a lot of heart work within me during the twelve months of fasting. Many of the biblical principles I had read in that 500-page book now seemed to be a part of me rather than words on a page. The truth is, what started as a test actually morphed into a school with me as the only student. I’m thankful for the lessons I learned.
God graciously warns us that the love of money will never lead us to Jesus. To the contrary, it leads us away from Jesus just as it did the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). When he weighed eternal life against all his possessions, his possessions tipped the scale and he went away sorrowful. Sadly, it wasn’t the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance. He looked at Jesus but didn’t see the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).” He just saw dollar signs.
I started this meditation talking about a map with an “X” and skull and crossbones. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Heidelberg answers the question like this: “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” I find it interesting that the catechism inserts the word only before comfort. Strip away everything superfluous in your life and name the only comfort you possess. And then put it to the test of death. Will it comfort you as you take your last breath? That is your treasure. That is what you will find at the big “X.”
If your comfort or treasure is anything but Jesus, I invite you to read For Your Joy.
Would you like to dig a little deeper into what it means to love money? You will find a great article on this important subject here.
Do you struggle with contentment? The Secret of Contentment by William B. Barcley is a very helpful book on the subject.