Money gets a bad rap in some churches. The thinking goes something like this: Even though we ask for money every time we collect an offering, the truth is, we shouldn’t need it; we shouldn’t want it; we should be able to get by without it, just like Jesus did. After all, money is the root of all evil. We talk about money too much as it is, especially given that Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. That meant he was calling for a separation of church and plate. And his preference for the widowed woman who put two coins into the Temple Treasury over the rich folks who gave a lot more means it’s better to get by on less. Right?
To start with, this kind of thinking isn’t very helpful. First off, it puts us at odds with Jesus’ own life. Secondly, it doesn’t square with what the Bible actually says. Third, it doesn’t reflect good biblical scholarship. And fourth, it misses the point!
Read on to see the upside of money and churches. And what your church can do to develop a better relationship with it.
Let’s start by looking at Jesus’ own life. First off, Jesus was a tradesman. He was a working man who made an income and used money. His saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” suggests he tithed and paid taxes like other Jews of his day. When he began to travel widely and teach, with a bevy of disciples in tow, he began to rely on his network of supporters, many of them women. That means his supporters used their monies to support him. In this case, money was the root of tremendous good.
Secondly, nowhere in Scripture does it say money is the root of all evil. Here’s how the NIV translates 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It goes on to say “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” The truth is people wander from the faith for lots of reasons. Love of money is one of them. But any obsession can be a stand in for God — whether we’re talking shoes, sex, a perfectly shaped body, power or even too many cats or dogs! This passage is hardly a wholesale condemnation of money. The truth is, we need money to live. And the church needs money to survive and thrive and to do good in the world.
On to the next passage. Recent New Testament scholarship shines additional light on the money changers passage which appears in all four Gospels. It’s not that money or money changers were forbidden in the Temple. Offering sacrifices was an important part of Second Temple worship. Rather than haul sacrificial animals with them long distances, though, pilgrims brought their local monies with them, changed it into the coinage used in the Temple, purchased animals for sacrifice, and made their sacrifices to God. It’s thought that what enraged Jesus was not the existence of the tables, but their placement; they were located in the wrong part of the Temple — the Court of the Gentiles. This may have prevented their ability to worship God fully. If money is getting in the way of the church’s relationship with God, that’s a problem. If it supports and nurtures the church’s ability to cultivate godly relationships, that’s not a problem. That’s a blessing.
Finally, we know Jesus didn’t call for a separation of church and plate because of how he approved of the widowed woman putting her meager coins into the Temple treasury. Rather than this being a sign that we should get by on less, he commended that she gave all she had. Proportionally, she gave much more than the well to do. This is not a condemnation of wealth, but of lack of sacrificial giving. John Wesley called us to this when he counseled, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”
In visiting with churches, I encounter many faithful people who suffer greatly over the perceived disconnect between needing money and the challenge of asking for it while at the same time being afraid of it, lest they violate the Bible’s teachings. My perception is this: Money is a neutral tool that expresses our values. In the hands of a visionary, compassionate and faithful church, money can be the source of tremendous good.