Wealth is Good....When it has a Purpose

There is a prevailing myth among some in society that wealth is always a sign of virulent greed and that those who accumulate wealth have unjustly taken from others. There is sometimes truth in that; there are many times that people use unjust means to gain or hold their wealth. It would be wrong to draw from the abusive behavior of some that money is evil or being rich is a sin.

However, sometimes when people rightly argue against one wrong idea they fall into the trap of arguing for the opposite and equally wrong idea. Such errors are just as dangerous for people and societies as the ones that are rejected.

Used by CC License. Chainsaw by Aardvark Ethel. http://ow.ly/WLEP30hNnfG

Used by CC License. Chainsaw by Aardvark Ethel. http://ow.ly/WLEP30hNnfG

Money is not evil, but the love of it is the root of all evil. Being rich is not a sin, but it can open the door to a lot of misery in this world. Wealth is not good in an of itself, it is good when it is directed toward its proper purpose of glorifying God by helping people flourish.

Wealth is like a power tool. When a power tool is used for the purpose it is designed, then it usually produces a better result in a shorter amount of time than doing the same task by hand. However, when the wrong tool is used for the wrong purpose, terrible things can happen.

For example, a chainsaw can make cutting down a tree much quicker and easier than using an axe or a good old fashioned buck saw. But if that same chainsaw is used trimming toenails the results could be disastrous.

The comparison seems silly, but illustrates the purposeful nature of a powerful tool. The chainsaw was created for a purpose, which is not personal hygiene.

Everything God created was created for something. The world works best when we use created objects for their intended purpose.

Wealth can be an outstanding tool for encouraging human flourishing if it is used for that purpose. It can be a danger to people’s well-being if it is used or sought after for the wrong reasons.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warns the young pastor to be content and not to chase after money. Though Timothy was a pastor, that warning is echoed throughout Scripture for all Christians to heed. Paul writes,

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:6-10, ESV)

It’s dangerous to get caught into the trap of loving money and pursuing it as an end in itself. That is the essence of greed. As Paul notes, the love of money can cause people to “wander away” from the faith. That it, not to reject it out because it is wrong, but to neglect it because something else—the pursuit of riches—seems more important.

There is more to Paul’s warning, though. People that become greedy and come to love money fall into “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” When money becomes the focus of our desires, it can draw us away from God and cause us harm in this life.

Paul doesn’t leave us without something positive to focus on, though. He goes on to urge Timothy to seek something better:

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (v. 11)

Some might think that Paul’s command to “flee these things” refers to money and see it as a call to poverty. That doesn’t make sense, though, since the phrase refers to plural objects to flee from. Most likely, Paul is urging Timothy to flee from the desire to be rich and the harmful traps it leads to.

More importantly, however, Paul gives Timothy something to focus by pursuing spiritual disciplines. He urges Timothy to become more like Christ.

Paul’s message here is not that the material world is evil, but, rather, he is echoing Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)

In other words, make the worship of God and the flourishing of people the main focus in your life and the other parts will fall into place. Money can be a useful tool to build church buildings, to feed the hungry, to invest into businesses that encourage cooperation in society, and to educate your children, to keep you fed and warm when you can no longer work. However, when money becomes the object you worship and ultimately pursue, it’s like using a chainsaw to trim your toenails.

Finding Purpose

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This is where human purpose is found. Not in our sex lives, our hobbies, our careers, or our citizenship. Human purpose is found in our position relative to a holy, just, and powerful God.

Our purpose is not to find greater success in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While we are blessed to live in country that reasonably enables the opportunities to pursue prosperity, economic and physical well-being is not the purpose for our existence.

FINDING MEANING

Francis Schaeffer helpfully reminds his readers of this truth. He writes,

“Today, people constantly ask, ‘Does man have a purpose?’ In some areas of the world man is told that he has meaning only in reference to the state. In other places he is told that he has meaning only in his sexual life. . . . But all of these turn into sawdust in his hands. The Bible gives us a quite different answer: The purpose of man—the meaning of man—is to stand in love as a creature before the Creator.” (Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time)

Modernism encouraged pursuit of objectivity to a fault. The idea was that a human could absolutely know what was objectively true.

Post-modernism rejects the notion that humans can know objective truth, and in its more virulent forms it rejects the idea that there is objective truth. The first rejection is warranted, because a flawed, finite human can never know truth fully and objectively. The second rejection is cause for despair, because never will there be opportunity to firmly plant ethics on something that matters.

More, by Vern. Used by Creative Commons License. http://ow.ly/ZDEFL 

More, by Vern. Used by Creative Commons License. http://ow.ly/ZDEFL 

When I say “ethics” many think of the ability to evaluate situations to determine what should be done or should have been done. That is certainly part of the ethical task, but it falls far short of a robust understanding of the role of ethics, particularly in the Christian life.

Ethics is worship. It is the way that we evaluate future and past decisions to determine what we should do and whether it will fulfill our main purpose, or our chief end, of glorifying God and delighting in him. It entails assessing decisions, but even more significantly it requires comparing them to a standard.

WE NEED A STANDARD

When it comes to our perception of the world, we can recognize that we always have a bias, which usually entices us to redefine truth to our advantage. On the other hand, in order for that sentence to have any meaning, there must be a truth to be redefined.

Humans need a purpose in life that they can be oriented toward. When humanity rejects the objective truth of the Creator, they reflexively invent something else to judge themselves.

As John Calvin notes in his Institutes,

Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.... Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.... To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth.... Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God. (1.11.8)

When humans abandon the idea of a Supreme Being against whose justice our lives our judged, we will find purpose or meaning in something else. Schaeffer includes sex on the list. He also includes the human relationship to the state, by which is is not simply indicting excessive nationalism, but also socialism that sees all human rights as granted by the state.

We were made for more than that. However, when an objective moral order in the created order is abandoned because the idea of their being a Creator is rejected, humans cannot live with the void that is created. They create something new to anchor their hopes and aspirations in and to judge their actions and the actions of others.

The human heart is an idol factory. When God is rejected, the void must be filled by an undefined notion of “love” or the good of the state. There is always something in reality.

Philosophers may claim that there is no objective truth, but human reality demands an external reference point. When we reject the true objective reality, the human heart or society will create another.

CONCLUSION

As an apologetic, this essay will fail. It isn’t an apologetic, but a reminder of where most people live—with a false reality—and what we need to resist as Christians.

The world will constantly pull us away from our chief end. It is the task of the Christian to continually come back to the central purpose of our lives: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.