35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing.
36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
In these tough economic times, it is difficult not to think about money. We are all suffering from the current recession and the rising prices of fuel and food, and the struggles are happening in all areas of society. One major ministry here in America declared bankruptcy last year, and just last week they announced they would be selling off property to get out of debt–including their beautiful and well-known church building. That loss of such a signature place of worship reminded me how much we must always depend upon the grace of the Lord God.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
It is not so much that Christians love money–certainly not like stereotypical bankers or stock traders might–but that we RELY on it so much. Worse yet, we TRUST money. Think about it: These days, when a large church is struggling to pay bills for a mostly-empty building, what do they do most often? Do they downsize like a business might, or do they sponsor a fund-raising or “awareness” campaign to gain more attention and money for their church? Modern churches have become so enamored of “programs” and “drives” that the word “ministry” is little more than part of a marketing slogan for more fund-raising.
Here’s another question for us to think about: When a church starts drawing in more attendance from farther away, what should they do? Should they raise more money to build a larger building and house more people–like a nautilus constantly enlarging its shell to house its growing body? Or should they plant another church closer to where those other people are coming from? I look at what Paul did in 1st century Asia Minor, travelling throughout Palestine, modern Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Crete, and even planning trips to Rome and Spain. Everywhere Paul went, he planted churches and the seeds of faith, and he expected those who stayed behind to continue making disciples and creating new leaders.
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you–
6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
“Elders in every city,” Paul wrote. And we aren’t talking about big cities like Jerusalem or Rome or Athens. Paul is writing about Crete, where even today the largest city (Heraklion) has only 130,000 people. And Paul’s command to Titus is to appoint elders, not to build churches. He told his disciple to raise up new men to lead new flocks in each city, not to call all the flocks in an area to one leader in one city. It isn’t money or size that makes better churches, it is faith and all that comes with it–prayer, fasting, fellowship, charity, mercy, and a whole lot of grace.
So when the Israelites were leaving Egypt, why did God give them so much material wealth? Why did He bless them and allow them to plunder their former masters? Did all that wealth help them during their wanderings? Plainly not, since the Israelites cried out for better food. (e.g. Numbers 11:14) It obviously didn’t serve their faith either, since they often turned their eyes and hearts back toward Egypt–even when they had reached the Promised Land! (Numbers 14:2-3) So what good was all that silver and gold? What was it for? Look at these two scenes from the Exodus:
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
4 Then all the craftsmen who were doing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work he was doing,
5 and they spoke to Moses, saying, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do.”
6 So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.” And the people were restrained from bringing,
7 for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done–indeed too much.
Which is it to be? Shall we build idols and declare them to be our god, or shall we build a tabernacle for the one true God? In the first case, the Israelites gave only a tiny portion of their plundered wealth to build the golden calf. But in the latter case, they gave so much that it was too much for the work that had to be done. This is less about giving and more about the purpose for which they gave. In the case of worshiping the golden calf, the children of Israel trusted in their old ways, their old life, and so the calf was simply a symbol of the blessings they thought they had received. They kept most of their newfound wealth, and then feasted and played in front of that calf. But when it came time to build the tabernacle, the Israelites had been suitably humbled by their God, and they understood that their wealth truly belonged to the Lord, and so they gave it to Him willingly and completely. They still went on grumbling and complaining and doubting, but they eventually came to trust the Lord completely, to follow His ark of testimony across the Jordan into that Promised Land.
When Paul wrote that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” he was reminding us that when we love someone or something, then we come to rely on and trust that connection–to the detriment of our reliance on and trust in God.
1 Timothy 6:6-12
6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Those who lead the churches must remember that the Lord desires very little for His house, save that His elders be men of good report and willing to lead. (1 Timothy 3) And those who give to the churches must give with such willingness that it is too much. And when church needs have been met, the elders must acknowledge such, so that the house of God does not become a den of robbers which must one day be torn down, but becomes a house of prayer that constantly builds people up.
I have seen some glorious church buildings in my life, all across Europe and North America, but I have seen no church so lovely as the little building where I gather each week with two-score believers who love the Lord with all their heart and mind and soul. Brothers and sisters, money can never make up for our former bondage to sin, and it certainly is no substitute for faith and prayer and living in the Spirit. Whatever plunder we may take from our Egypt, we must not hold so fast to it that it becomes a new idol and reason to celebrate. Let us instead give it back to the One from whom it came, and let us, as Paul said, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness,” and fight the good fight of faith, all to the glory of our Father in heaven.
O children of God, we are not called to build bigger churches, but better churches. We are not called to simply minister to people, but to spread the gospel and make new disciples. We are not called to bring people to one elder, but to raise up new elders in every city. We are not called to raise funds for new church buildings that corrode and fade, but to raise communities of faith throughout the land. Let us therefore keep our eyes on the one great treasure that we might ever possess: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. When we truly love Him with all we are, then we will know what to do with all we have.
Holy Lord God, I continue to struggle with finances, and yet I trust in You. You alone have never let me down, have never forgotten me in the midst of adversity. I trust in You with all I have. Father God, please, accept from me all I can give, and multiply it to Your own glory. Al I pray for myself is that, like Your apostles, I will be content with what godliness I have and not worry about anything more. Amen.