I think Canadians have a problem with money.
It seems like we’re always wanting more of it, yet at the same time we spend money we don’t have. Our national consumer debt is absolutely out of control. We’re talking trillions of dollars in household debt (one of the highest in the world). Credit cards, leasing, and “no money down” deals have allowed us to consume without having cash on hand, carrying the burden of debt in the years to follow.
Millions of Canadians live pay cheque to pay cheque; yet, we don’t let that get in the way of our entertainment and consumption. Many young people are ill-equipped to navigate our financial climate, believing debt is normal and sometimes the only way to get through life. Our education systems often offer no choice other than student loans, and saving for retirement sadly becomes an afterthought.
At the same time, charitable organizations in Canada are feeling the financial crunch. Various reports and news articles show that even though our Canadian population is increasing, our charitable giving has been decreasing. People are giving less, and the older generations who have built and supported many of our non-profit organizations are aging and dying out.
Some of the trends are quite interesting to see. Total participation in giving has dropped to 20% in 2015, after being almost at 30% a few decades before. Also, the amount of giving isn't proportionally represented by income level, as those in higher income brackets are decreasing their charitable giving. Religious institutions, however, still receive some of the highest charitable giving, with conservative evangelicals leading the pack in household percentages.
It’s so hard to know how Canadian Christians should respond to our cultural climate surrounding money. It’s not an easy one because we can so easily get caught up in the consumerist mindset. So how do we work our way around money and wealth? How do we talk about stewardship and financial faithfulness in a culture that is struggling so much with its financial health?
Well, as many of us may know, Jesus said way more about our attitudes towards money and wealth than any other subject. And what does Jesus say?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
- Matthew 6:24
Our love for God and our love for money don’t mix. We see this played out in scripture in an extreme way when Jesus encountered a rich young ruler who was curious about eternal life (Mark 10). After listing all the laws that the boy had kept in his life thus far, Jesus pointed out that there is something that he lacked. Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and then come follow Him. The man was sad because he knew he wasn’t able to do it, and so he left.
Jesus told his disciples that it’s difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of God. And even though it seems impossible, nothing is impossible with God. So what are we to make of such teachings? There’s no way Jesus would actually expect us to live that way, right?
Well, I’ve always thought that Jesus’ command to the young man in Mark 10 was the personal challenge that Jesus made to him. It wasn’t meant for us. Jesus would never ask that of us, because we don’t love money like the young man did. That was his personal issue. I’ve always believed that there is nothing actually wrong with being wealthy. In fact, our wealth may be God’s blessing in our lives.
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” He never said anything about wealth itself, only the love of it. We can serve God and be wealthy as long as we don’t love it. Jesus’ words are reserved for those who are really greedy. Right? As long as we can convince ourselves that we don’t love money, then we don’t need to change the way we handle it. But what if we actually do?
Perhaps it’s time for us to be honest with ourselves and our relationship with money. Let me start: I think I love money.
I don’t hoard it in my house or sniff it during the night, but I can’t imagine not having it. I can’t imagine my life with less of it, and I’m much quicker to hang on to it than to give it away. I don’t consider myself rich, but according to the rest of the world, I’m very wealthy. And I like that. I love the security of knowing that my family and I will be financially secure.
I may not show my love for the actually paper or plastic or coins in my wallet, but I love the freedom and opportunities that money provides. I love never having to worry about putting gas in the car or going out to eat. I love being able to go to concerts and on vacations. I love the status that money brings and the ability to use it to make things happen in my sphere of influence.
Very often it’s only out of abundance that I feel like giving. I want to take care of myself and treat myself first, and then if I have extra, I’ll feel better about giving it away. My nature tells me that I come first, and then, if I give to others after, it’s a testament to my own generosity.
I believe the North American church has a difficult battle ahead of it because of the way our culture views money. Jesus teaches another way, but the temptations of consumerism and greed are all around us. So what can we do? Are we missing something if we don’t actually give everything away to the poor? How can be we good stewards of what God has given us and not allow ourselves to become slaves to money? Not surprisingly, we find clues in the Bible to lead us on the way. That is the topic of next week’s blog.