Understanding the Purpose of Money

Dear Jon,

You’ve been in Christ for two months and I’ve only now realized your name means “generous.” I’m glad you’ve been poring over the Gospels; they’re must-reads for a brand-new Christian. Have you noticed how much our Lord has to say about money? The reason is simple: We are His stewards, and He will call us one day to give account for how we managed His money. We must understand, therefore, what the Way has to say about the purpose of money. It is given to us so that we might spend it, give it, invest it and use it.

To Spend in Return for Goods & Services

Basic, yes, but it’s important for you to know it’s biblical. The purpose of money is to serve as a currency that everyone values so that goods and services can be exchanged. My barber has so far been reluctant to cut my hair in exchange for my sermon manuscripts. My money seems to answer, though! In the same way, how did Abraham get a burial plot for his wife, and the ancient world food for their starving families during the time of Joseph? With money (Gen 23:16; 47:14).

I hope you see what a wonderful invention money is. We earn it by the work we do, and with that money we are able to purchase needs and desires we could never produce on our own. And all this is of God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1Ti 6:17; cf. Deu 8:18; 14:25-26).[1] Paying taxes in exchange for government benefits and paying a worker promptly for his service to you are examples of using money according to its purpose, and ways of living out your new faith in Christ (Pro 3:27-28; Rom 13:7; Mat 22:21; Jas 5:1-6).

To Give for Nothing in Return

Here’s where your name comes in, Jon. Not only are we to work to earn money so we can spend it, we are also to work to earn money in order to give it. Away. Freely. A much older discipleship letter than this one says: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28). The man who wrote those words lived by them. Paul worked hard so that he could help the weak, and he learned to do so from Christ Himself who taught us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:33-35). So live up to your name, Jon! Be generous, give to the poor, and “share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb 13:16; cf. Deu 15:11; Mat 5:42).

To Invest for a Future Return

But I have to warn you, you’ll never get away with it. Giving to get nothing back, that is. When God is pleased with sacrifices He rewards us for them! Given the nature of life in this world, that we can bring nothing into it nor take anything out (1Ti 6:7), the only dollars we’ll ever get to keep are the ones we give away. In the generous ways of God, giving for nothing is an impossibility, for He is determined to reward us richly. Giving, therefore, becomes investing, one of the most important purposes of money.

I know, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. But take a look at 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Notice that Paul speaks of “present age” riches, uncertain riches. Heaping up money on earth is a foolish business as it is so susceptible to loss (Mat 6:19). But then Paul talks about storing up treasure for the future. What is the alchemy that turns paper into gold and unsecured cash into eternal fortune? Investment by giving.

Read the parable of the talents. We are to invest for our Lord to get a return, and then He rewards His servants who do so (Mat 25:14-30). Remember our Lord with the widow who gave her last two copper coins? He’s just like His Father, who sees in secret and will reward us openly (Mar 12:41-44; Mat 6:4). Invest! Acquire fortune! Money is like play money; when we learn how to handle it, our Father will entrust us with true riches, the real thing. Spend it foolishly and you’ll make fair-weather friends. Invest it wisely and you’ll make friends for eternity (Luk 16:9,11; Pro 19:4). A tribe is reached through a Bible translation project you support. Children come to Christ in an orphanage to which you send funds. They and many others will be lining up to welcome you when you make your entrance into heaven.

To Reveal Christ as Our Treasure

Money affords us with vast opportunity, for it reveals the value we put on Jesus Christ. Notice how Matthew juxtaposes Judas with a woman (who I take to be Mary) in 26:1-16. To Judas, Jesus was worth 30 pieces of silver; to Mary, He was everything. Luke contrasts the rich young ruler with Zacchaeus. One worshipped money; the other worshipped Jesus (18:18-19:10). One way of testing how much you value the Lord Jesus is by checking your credit card statement. As they say in politics, follow the money.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth” (Pro 3:9; Mat 5:16). The ultimate purpose of money is to use it to make God look great. As we reflect on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – He the ultimate rich young ruler becoming poor for us so that we could be rich – His grace overflows into us and out of us, so that it moves us to be generous to His saints (2Co 8:1-3,9). When needy Christians receive these gifts, they in turn overflow in thanksgiving and glory to God for the grace that inspired them (2Co 9:12-15). Just as a coin fed into a jukebox makes it play, so money given in love to fellow believers is a currency that makes the Church come alive with songs of praise to God for His grace.

All for now. All by grace,


P.S. Keep reading those Gospels!

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.