(Avoiding the Temptation of the Spirit of the Miser)
I am acquainted with a woman who has been lavished with fine gifts. Her husband has given her expensive gifts that range from personal items like precious jewels to practical items like household appliances. A cursory knowledge of this relationship would cause many to conclude that she must be really special to elicit such gifts of love. The truth is that the gifts are greater evidence of the goodness of the giver’s heart than of the worthiness of the recipient.
The past holiday season captures the many motives behind gift giving. Some people give out of love; some from obligation; some do so grudgingly, and some with enthusiasm. Whatever the motive, there have been costs, in some cases even sacrifices, in being able to give the gifts. During the weeks following the Christmas holiday, people come face-to-face with how they have spent their money. Some will be pleased that they stayed within their budget. Others will feel ‘buyer’s remorse’ that they overspent and resolve to do better next year. Still others will decide to be proactive and plan to save for next year’s purchases. Whatever the situation, money is a common topic for thought (and discussion) this time of year.
While a common topic for thought now, money is also a concern for most people throughout the year. It is a subject on which the Bible has much to say. Financial topics are a common theme throughout Scripture, and a recurring subject mentioned often by Christ in the gospels. While estimations as to the actual times mentioned vary among Bible scholars, most agree that the Scriptures have much to say about financial matters. The general topic of money (which includes silver, gold, and wealth) is one of the most mentioned in the Bible, alongside the significant topics of sin, heaven and hell, and the kingdom of God.
As evidenced by Christ’s own words, money was a topic that evoked strong emotion during His time on earth, and it continues to evoke strong emotion today. Christians are not immune to this emotion, nor are we immune to the conflicting thoughts that surround the subject of money. We know that Scripture states that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Scripture also gives the warning to be wise and not waste money on frivolous luxuries (Proverbs 21:17). While there is a recurring warning about allowing money to become a focus of the heart, money is also seen in Scripture as evidence of the blessing of God. Just look at Abraham’s wealth, as well as the blessed financial condition of Isaac, Jacob, and eventually Joseph, David, and Solomon. And what about Job? He was a wealthy man, who, after his trial of faith, became even wealthier through the blessing of God. These men knew something that many of us today are still trying to grasp. They focused on the Giver, not the gifts.
For the past thirty years, I have worked in positions that have involved finances in some way, first in the corporate world and then with nonprofits. I have worked for the past four years as a financial and management consultant to for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Over the past three decades I have seen how many Christians approach the subject of money. Why is it that many Christian organizations typically pay employees less than what secular organizations pay? Why is it that some Christians tip so poorly in restaurants that owners and servers give them the reputation for being chintzy? Why is it that some Christians try to get ‘something for nothing’, and are not willing to pay a reasonable price for the goods, services, or knowledge that benefit them? Why is it that many times Christians are labeled as ‘cheap’?
These questions do not discount the fact that Christians as a group are among the most generous and have established around the world great and beneficial charitable works in missions, hospitals, schools, and colleges. But these questions do address the issue that, at heart, many Christians have miserly tendencies. We tend to want to hoard because we may lack one day. We tend to be stingy in pay to others because, after all, they are serving God and should serve without regard to compensation. We tend to try to get by with paying as little as we can in order to gain as much as possible. This ‘spirit of the miser’ does not come from God. The spirit of the miser comes from our own flesh because of fear. We fear we will lack; we fear being in want; we fear; we fear; we fear. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Getting to know the character of our God addresses this fear. When we worship the Giver, we recognize His Goodness. We experience the effects of the ‘spirit of the miser’ because we don’t understand that we are children of the King, and that He has taken upon Himself the responsibility of providing for His children. Scripture tells us that He takes pleasure in the prosperity of His servant (Psalm 35:27). Living in the knowledge that Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’ and will provide for His sheep will help combat the fear of being in want.
While some have embraced similar thoughts and called them ‘Prosperity Theology’, careful attention to cause and effect does not support the claims of prosperity theology. Prosperity Theology focuses on giving gifts to God so that He can bless you. Prosperity Theology presumes upon God’s grace when it claims that God intends to bless you because of what you give. Prosperity Theology focuses on what man can do to obtain God’s blessing. But as the illustration of the giver at the beginning of this article reveals, gifts are evidence of the goodness of a giver’s heart rather than an assessment of the recipient’s worthiness. Proverbs 26:10 tells us that the great God gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages. It is because of the very nature of God, the absolute Goodness of God, that anyone receives gifts from Him, deserving or not. So as His children, we can walk in peace and not fear. This peace can encompass all of life, including the area of finances.
Since God is good and gives good gifts, even to those who do not acknowledge or love Him, Christians are to exhibit His Goodness as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him. As fruit of this knowledge and growth, Christians should pay their employees well. Their wages should be generous because the Lord God is generous. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians chapter 9 that if we sow generously, we will reap generously. We give generously because we want to give glory to God (i.e., reflect His Goodness). And because He is so generous, He bestows bountiful blessings to those whose hearts seek to bring Him glory in this way. Secondly, Christians should also show respect for others and not try to obtain something for nothing. Whether this is in the form of free services or free goods, we should not seek it. Others may choose to give freely (as a matter of fact, Jesus said that freely we have received, so freely we must give. Matthew 10:8), but we should not be at the place where we expect it from others. If God has given us Jesus as the covering for our sins, how will He not also give us all good things to enjoy? And if He withholds something, it is because it is not good for us. Finally, Christians should not use money to exert power. Jesus said that the way of the Gentiles is to lord it over others. Christians should use money in a way to empower those in need; those with less money, less power, less status.
Scripture reveals money in the context of balance. The righteous are exhorted to be extremely generous and not miserly in any way. The righteous are also encouraged to be frugal and not wasteful. The Bible gives principles for money management that, if followed, produce sound financial conditions – for families, for churches, for societies. The ‘spirit of the miser’ comes in because we don’t understand that, as the redeemed, we are being watched over, guided by, and provided for by God Himself. Watchman Nee wrote that “it dishonors the Lord when a representative of His discloses needs that would provoke pity on the part of his hearers. If we have a living faith in God, we shall always make our boast in Him.” May we have spiritual eyes to see that gifts reveal the heart of the giver. Our God is good and gives because it is His nature to be generous, benevolent, and kind. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can reflect His goodness and similarly be generous in giving, and thus bring Him glory.
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