1973 – The O’Jays. “Money. Money. Money. Money – money!” You know the song? Maybe you remember that bass line that sticks in your head. Maybe you remember the back-up singers’ refrain. The words, though. I think the O’Jay’s have read the bible!
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it
You want to do things, do things, do things, good things with it
For the love of money
People will steal from their mother . . .
People will rob their own brother . . .
People can’t even walk the street . . .
Because they never know who in the world they’re gonna beat
For that lean, mean, mean green
Almighty dollar, money.
For the love of money
People will lie, Lord, they will cheat . . .
For a small piece of paper it carries a lot of weight
Call it lean, mean, mean green
Money can change people sometimes
Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money fool you
Money can fool people sometimes
People! Don’t let money, don’t let money change you,
It will keep on changing, changing up your mind.
The O’Jays, just like Jesus, know that money has power. Money can change you! Where your treasure is, there is your heart. You cannot serve two masters or worship God and money – though Lord knows we try!
Here’s a thought: the O’Jays are more biblically accurate than the Osteens.
The ideas they sing about are closer to scripture than the ideas that preachers like Joel Osteen preach about. Some call their ideas “The Prosperity Gospel.”
Kate Bowler, professor of American Christianity at Duke Divinity School, and author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, in a New York Times article, defines Prosperity Gospel as, “the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.”
“The Prosperity Gospel tries to solve the riddle of human suffering,” she says.
“It popularized a Christian explanation for why some make it and others do not. They revolutionized prayer as a way of getting God to say “yes.” It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules and God will reward you, heal you, restore you.”
“Sometimes it works,” she says. But sometimes, it doesn’t. She has learned, through her struggle with cancer, to face life and realize that, “at some point, I am going to need to let it go.”
At its worst, “Prosperity Gospel” makes God a “Sugar Daddy,” who lavishes favor on a special, fortunate few who know how to make him happy. The idea that God wants the best for us is not bad, but there is more to it than that!
Cathleen Falsani, in a Washington Post article called, “Worst Ideas of the Decade” says this:
“Few theological ideas ring more dissonant with the harmony of orthodox Christianity than a focus on storing up treasures on Earth as a primary goal of faithful living. The gospel of prosperity turns Christianity into a vapid bless-me club, with a doctrine that amounts to little more than spiritual magical thinking: If you pray the right way, God will make you rich.
Jesus was born poor, and he died poor. During his earthly tenure, he spoke time and again about the importance of spiritual wealth and health. When he talked about material wealth, it was usually part of a cautionary tale.”
That “cautionary tale” most often reminds us that the love of money, the worship of money, can warp us and lead us to selfish, mean, and angry lives – far from the lives Christ teaches about.
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the gospel of Matthew lately. So, I chose today passage from Matthew. I think it is significant that in his first, big, sermon, his first public teaching, his “debut,” if you will, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:
Matthew 6:19-24 (CEB)
19 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! 24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Money can become our master, our “Lord.” Money pervades every aspect of our lives. Herb Miller, author of many books on church finance and stewardship says, money has four basic influences on our lives:
- It influences the way we live
- The way we relate to others
- our life goals
- the way we are described by others.
Miller says, “the way money exerts these enormous influences in our lives is determined less by how much of it we have than the philosophy we have adopted regarding it.” It doesn’t matter what you have, but it matters what you think about what you have.
We cannot serve two masters, according to Jesus. We’ll love one and hate the other. Some of us try to balance two “gods.” We divide life into two realms – a spiritual realm and a material realm. We say that money is accepted and even vital in the material realm, but it doesn’t belong in the spiritual realm. One realm is for praying and getting in touch with God; the other is for making, spending and amassing wealth.
Jesus taught that the two realms should come together. Money is important – in all of life, material realm and spiritual realm. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The way we look at money has a physical and spiritual impact. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus says. If we have a healthy outlook (on anything, not just money), then our lives will be “full of light.” If our outlook is distorted, unbalanced, unhealthy, then our lives will be “full of darkness.”
Our attitude toward money pervades our entire personality. It can be a dangerous or enriching way to express that personality. It can get us into trouble, or strengthen our relationship with God. It can fill our lives with the darkness of greed. It can fill our lives with the light of generosity and joy.
We mistakenly think that controlling and amassing a fortune is the key to happiness – but it isn’t. If we truly seek contentment and happiness, Jesus has an answer for that, too:
Matthew 6:33-34 (CEB)
33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We know that verse as “seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . .” We often sing it, and finish with “and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, alleluia.” When we “seek first,” the “added unto you” doesn’t come as Prosperity Gospel claims – like a “vending machine.” “All these things” come in the form of new priorities. Things that were important when money was our god, are not important when God is God! Worries we had when our “eye was full of darkness” are not our worries anymore.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The bottom line is this: Jesus doesn’t care how much money we have. He cares about what we do with it.
Do we worship money?
Does our use of money betray the darkness that is inside us?
Or . . . Do we worship God?
Does our use of money show that worship? Does it show people where our priorities are? Does our use of money allow God’s light to shine forth from our lives?
“Money. Money. Money. Money!”