On the matter of what money can or cannot do, Archbishop Leroy Bailey Jr. of Connecticut advises us wisely:
A whole lot of people think that, that when you have money you can do anything you want to do. But I want to tell you there are some things money can’t do for you. Money can buy you a house but it can’t buy you a home. Money can buy you food to put on your table but it can’t buy you an appetite. Money can buy you one of the finest mattresses in the world, but it can’t buy you sleep.
In part one of this two-part essay, I explained that money (the medium of exchange) was a fantastic invention of the marketplace, not of kings or parliaments. It solved the problem inherent in primitive exchange we call barter and facilitated commerce across time and distance. Over the centuries, though, greedy governments couldn’t leave it alone. They took it over, monopolized its creation and abused it for their own short-term advantages. Sound money in free markets is indispensable to progress; money in the hands of politicians is a blank check for uncontrolled spending, trade cycles and inflation.
In our personal lives also, there are two sides to the coin. Whether money is a blessing or a curse depends on whether you respect it or worship it. Do you manage it, or do you let it manage you? Many thoughtful people have observed this crucial distinction.
In his Select Proverbs of All Nations, published in 1824, Thomas Fielding cites an anonymous but profound maxim:
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If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.
The words of the Apostle Paul are often misquoted as suggesting that “money is the root of all evil.” He never said that. He likely used money in his extensive travels, perhaps every day. In 1 Timothy 6:10, he wrote:
The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.
Paul was a thoughtful scholar, never so aloof or mindless as to advise anyone to avoid money. Rather, it was an unhealthy idolization of money (and the ephemeral, material things it can buy) that he warned against. The difference between money and the love of it is like the difference between night and day, hot or cold, right and wrong.
Also often misunderstood is this important admonition from Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 6:24 and repeated in Luke 16:13. Jesus said:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
In Did Jesus Despise Money?, I explained this passage. It was in perfect sync with what Paul said:
Jesus never suggested, even remotely, that money per se was an evil. He praised the earning of it through productive work and investment, as in the famous Parable of the Talents. He advised careful stewardship of it in business, as in Luke 14:28-30. He encouraged the private, voluntary giving of it to worthy purposes and charities, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He praised those who supported ministries, missions and the temple by their tithes and offerings, as in the story of the widow’s mites in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.
On many occasions, he urged people to help each other—including by way of donating money—to meet legitimate needs and improve conditions. You and I have done the same, perhaps on a daily basis at work or at home. Encouraging someone to help a person is one thing but compelling someone to give to help someone is quite another. Jesus called for personal, individual and free will-based generosity, not coercive, state-run redistribution programs.
Why do so many people think that because Jesus endorsed charitable giving, he would also embrace a compulsory welfare state? There’s a world of difference between the two. If I recommend that you read a book, would you assume I would support the state forcing you to read it? When your mother told you to eat your broccoli, did you think she was endorsing a federal Department of Vegetables?
Progressives criticize entrepreneurship and free markets as “all about money.” They pretend to be representatives of a higher calling which, it turns out, is even more about money than what they oppose. What is it that they’re always attempting to seize? Money. Your money. Even communist Cuba’s Fidel Castro understood this. In 1964, he was quoted in London’s The Observer thusly: “Capitalism is using its money; we socialists throw it away.”
While most value creators in free enterprise seek happy customers and fulfillment derived from problem-solving accomplishment, progressives and their socialist brethren can’t quit talking about other people’s money. They count the other guy’s blessings instead of their own. They have no theory of wealth creation, only political schemes to swipe it and give it away. They are utterly obsessed with it.
Virtually every problem can be fixed, they believe, by the very “filthy lucre” they despise when it belongs to someone else. Ironically, their fixation on money provides proof of just how corrupting the love of it can be. They love it so much they’re eager to steal it from others. They even buy votes with it and make people dependent on the loot. How crass! How dehumanizing!
Progressives and their socialist brethren, it turns out, are the real money grubbers. Consider this observation from economist Thomas Sowell:
I have never understood why it is “greed” to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.
The temptations that accompany material wealth, or a singular focus on attaining it, are numerous and powerful. This is why Jesus cautioned that “only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” Whether or not one gets to heaven never depends on the size of one’s bank account. That would run counter to his message of salvation. Jesus was, in effect, urging all of us to keep our priorities in order, to not allow the temptations of wealth to compromise our character. He would say the same about many things that can be taken to excess, including earthly political power.
The love of money motivates people to lie, steal, cheat, embezzle, gamble their savings away, and even murder. Instead, keep your eyes on loftier values. In free markets, material possessions are likely to follow. Those values include honesty, humility, patience, responsibility, gratitude, courage, entrepreneurship, respect for life and property, and improving the lives of others through voluntary means.
In his Parable of the Talents, Jesus reserved the highest praise for the man who magnified the money to which he was entrusted. The man who sat on his hands and did nothing with it was the object of his scorn.
Economists like me urge governments to be wise and honest with money. “Don’t abuse it and don’t let it be your highest value!” we tell them. In essence, that advice applies perfectly to all of us in our private and personal lives as well.
For additional information, see:
Did Jesus Despise Money? by Lawrence W. Reed
Jesus on Wealth Redistribution: What He Said and Didn’t Say by Randy England
Helping the Needy: What’s the Christian Thing to Do? by Lawrence W. Reed
Greed vs. Compassion by Walter E. Williams
Greed and Gravity by Dwight R. Lee
No, Markets Aren’t Making Us Greedy by Ryan Bourne
61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth by Jon Miltimore