If you’re going to read any book on money this year, one of my favorites is Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller.
Keller, an insightful pastor in New York City, says this:
“As a pastor I’ve had people come to me to confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, ‘I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.'”
None of us think we love money. None of us think we’re greedy. Even this week I came across an article about how a pro athlete diminished his career by chasing money instead of championships. The journalist wrote: “Now, let’s be clear: “Falling in love with money doesn’t make ‘Melo evil or even greedy. Most every player craves money, and the more, the better.”
But this book argues that greed and the idolatry of money are very real temptations for us all, whether we have a lot or a little.
Throughout the book, Keller defines idolatry this way:
- Anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give you.
- False lovers that promise to make you feel loved and valued.
- Looking to some created thing to give you what only God himself can give.
- Elevating some finite value or object to be The Answer.
- Taking some incomplete joy of this world and building your entire life on it.
We know from Scripture that money is deceitful. Jesus tells us that one of the reasons so few Christians live fruitful lives is because the deceitfulness of riches chokes out the word and it proves unfruitful (Mark 4:19). We may go to church, we may even read our Bibles and pray, but really at the center of our lives God is not calling the shots, money is.
Money is the driving force, the dominating influence. Money causes us to get up early and stay up late. It’s what we worry about. It’s a major source of fear, anxiety, and stress. If we’re handling it poorly, we can feel worthless and depressed. If we’re prospering, we can forget God.
Keller’s genius shines in his understanding of deep idols. He says that the love of money looks very different for different people.
“Some people want lots of money as a way to control their world and life. Such people usually don’t spend much money and live very modestly. They keep it all safely saved and invested, so they can feel completely secure in the world. Others want money for access to social circles and to make themselves beautiful and attractive. These people do spend money on themselves in lavish ways. Other people want money because it gives them so much power over others. In every case, money functions as an idol and yet, because of various deep idols, it results in very different patterns of behavior.” (p. 65)
The reason we love and trust money, the reason why we think about it all the time, the reason we keep such a close eye on our money is often because we’re looking to money to give us power, approval, comfort, or control. If we have money, we’re free. If we have it, we’re accepted. If we have it, we can relax. If we have it, we’re secure. But power, approval, comfort and control don’t come from money, they come from God.
God Is Better
The way to escape the love of money is to see that God is a better provider than money. If you long for approval, go to God. If you’re feeling weak, ask God who gives power to the faint.
FOR POWER: Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
FOR APPROVAL: John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)
FOR COMFORT: Paul tells us, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
FOR CONTROL: Job reminds us, “I know that you [God] can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
Keller concludes, “Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol.” When that happens the empty promises of money will entice you less and less and money will no longer change everything.