By Tim Reeves
It’s April, the month of showers and new growth. It’s the month when God reminds us that winters don’t last forever and that spring will chase away the cold and harshness of wintry times.
That’s what makes April the “best of times,” but since it’s also the month for paying taxes, it is also the “worst of times!”
As I write this column, the U.S. Congress is still trying to pass a budget for the year; a budget that SHOULD have been passed before the year started, nearly four months ago. I find it so interesting (and amazing!) that our federal government can just arbitrarily choose to ignore basic accounting and economic practices, seemingly at will. No state or business; no church or individual, for that matter, could get by with the kind of accounting ignorance the federal government shows time and again.
In 1980, the United States of America was the world’s largest lender nation. Here we are less than half a generation later, and we are now the world’s largest DEBTOR nation and the largest debtor nation in the history of the world. The national debt now tops $13 or $14 trillion (who really knows?) and is expected to top $20 trillion within five years. And that is just borrowed debt from foreign nations. It does not include the “debts” of promissory notes the federal government is obligated to pay Americans in entitlement benefits down the road. Estimates are that amount could push the federal government debt to more than $100 trillion, which is the total household net worth of the entire United States population at this time.
I believe it’s time we take a breath and get back to the basics of economics. And surprisingly, one of the best “teachers” about those basics is the Bible.
Money and economics are such important topics in the Bible that they are the core subject of nearly half of the parables of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent more time teaching and talking about economics and money (15% of all teachings) than He spent teaching and talking about Heaven and hell. Don’t take my word for it; go and read it for yourself.
Additionally, one in every seven verses in the New Testament relate to money and economics. And while the Bible offers slightly more than 500 verses on prayer, just under 500 verses on faith, it contains more than 2,000 verses on money and economics.
So the natural question is, why so much emphasis upon money, possessions and economics? Why such an interest?
The truth is, we have a basic and fundamental connection between our spiritual centeredness in life and how we think about, handle and deal with our money and possessions. Now I know, talking about money, possessions, wealth, etc. is considered taboo in many churches. We don’t want to hear sermons about money and, to be perfectly honest, most pastors don’t want to preach sermons about money.
However, that doesn’t mean we should avoid the subject because we need to develop a proper Biblical perspective on this critically important subject. The great theologian and Biblical scholar Martin Luther said every person needs to make three conversions in their lifetime: “a conversion of the head, a conversion of the heart and a conversion of the pocketbook.”
As we look at what Luther and others have written about money and economics, then compare it with what Jesus taught, we can see over and over that the real test of our dealings with money and finances is motive, not amount. It is not a sin to be rich or poor; it is a sin to not be good stewards of what God has given each of us in the first place. When we slip to the point in our thinking and belief that what we have is indeed “ours” instead of being what God has graced and blessed us with, then we lose the battle with money and finances. Jesus said it so clearly in Matt. 6 with these words: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
The living example of the “wee little man, Zaccheus” is a great example for us. Before Zaccheus accepted Jesus, his life centered around money, taxes and wealth. Zaccheus’ heart was deeply imbedded in the desire to obtain more and more money. After acceptance, Zaccheus’ priorities dramatically changed and he wanted to right the wrongs of his previous life. His meeting with Jesus changed his priorities to where Zaccheus proclaimed he would give half of his wealth to the poor and pay back four times the amount he had overcharged everyone on their taxes.
That kind of conversion probably will never happen with the IRS, but it does demonstrate how our priorities in life are directly connected to our motives. Everything we do in life, whether it be paying taxes, operating a business, working for someone else, praying, teaching, etc. will be judged by our motive, or in other words, by our heart. God will not just look at what we have done on the outside, but what is being done on the inside, in our heart and soul, because motive is everything.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said (Matt 6), and whatever is in your heart determines what you say and do because a good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart (Matt 12).
So even though April may be the month when the less-than-grateful hearts of the tax collector remind us of our tax obligations, we also have this month to remind us that it isn’t how much we’ve been blessed with in terms of money and wealth that really matters in life; it’s what we do with what we have been given by God and our motives behind those actions that really matters.