I conducted a study in the Gospels recently. I looked for all the places where Jesus connects spiritual health with sex, and compared it to all the places Jesus connects spiritual health to our attitude towards money and possessions. I discovered that Jesus is at least as concerned with how we use our coins as he is how we use our loins.
So far as I can see there are seven Gospel passages warning us of sexual sin (Matt 5:27-32, 15:18-20, 19:3-9, Mark 7:20-23, 10:2-12, Luke 16:18, John 8:3-11). On the contrary there are 37 passages, five times as many, where Jesus warns us against the spiritual corrosiveness of money and possessions.
Jesus appeared to be deeply concerned about a disciple’s ability to follow while attached to wealth – “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth,” Matt 6:19; “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” Matt 6:24, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Luke 12:15; “… none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:33, etc., etc., etc. When Jesus sent out the disciples he stripped them of their dependence on possessions and money, he drove out those who had turned God’s house into a marketplace, and he told parables about sheep and goats, bigger barns and rich men in Hell, all with a passion to spare his followers the spiritual devastation of materialism.
Can you imagine a church taking materialism as seriously as they take sexual sin? A difficult letter to the congregation on behalf of the elders might read something like this:
It is with a heavy heart that we announce Pastor will be stepping down from ministry due to a moral failing. We appreciate your support, prayers and concern during this trying time in our church family. In order to keep rumor and speculation to a minimum we have decided to disclose many details which some of you will find disturbing. Please do not share this letter with others.
On May 19 our church secretary brought to our attention her concerns that Pastor had been staring rather frequently at her iPad and asking inappropriate and uncomfortable questions about its cost and functions.
Then, about a week later, our church internet accountability software alerted us to the fact that Pastor’s laptop had been visiting several explicit shopping sites. It appears Pastor made several purchases of luxury items on credit card revealing not only an addiction to high-tech gadgetry but a serious debt issue as well.
Finally, yesterday one o f our elders spotted Pastor coming out of the IKEA parking lot. When confronted, Pastor confessed to having purchased several items which were not needed. After an emergency meeting of the elders last night, we agreed that Pastor should be relieved of preaching responsibilities and entered into a counseling program.
In making this comparison I am not suggesting that the church no longer take seriously the tragedy of sex outside of marriage. In an age where sex has been commodified and turned into a form of entertainment fueling an unbelievable sex trafficking and sex tourism industry, we dare not further plunder the sacredness of the gift of intercourse in a marriage. As Jesus told the Pharisees who had fastidiously tithed their herb gardens but neglected the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith, we should practice the one (material fidelity) without neglecting the other (sexual fidelity).
There is something deeply spiritual about both sex and money. We ignore the impact of these things upon our souls to our ruin. How is it that Christians can teach about the pursuit of money, retiring rich, or boast about our spurious purchases without shame? How can magazines that titillate the desire for riches be allowed in our church reception areas while porn magazines are abhorred?
I believe that when Jesus called the rich man in Mark 10 to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,” he was not trying to solve the problem of material poverty in the vicinity; he was trying to solve the problem of this man’s spiritual poverty. Except for a couple of occasions when speaking to his disciples in the gospel of Mark, Jesus only used this particular form of the word “go” (Gk: hupago) when he was healing or exorcising someone.The demon possessed (Mk 5:19) the blind (Mk 10:52) and the leprous (1:44), among others, were invited by Jesus to “go their way” (hupago) when they were delivered or healed. I believe Jesus was inviting this man into healing and deliverance when he told him to “go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” A kind of healing which is desperately needed by me and others.
Greed is often overlooked by us because it is so rampant in our churches and because it can be difficult to identify and measure. It is part of the air we breathe, especially in the West. It’s as if a car is running and the garage door is closed. The spiritual sleepiness you are feeling is not due to tiredness. We are inhaling spiritual carbon monoxide by the 5,000 ads a day luring us to indulge materialism, or the lust for financial independence (independence from God, that is).
We were made to operate most effectively in our spiritual lives with material simplicity and the sufficiency of daily bread. Here are a few suggestions to keep us from the ruin and destruction which Paul says comes of loving money (I Tim 6:10).
1. Live in some sort of intentional community. Sharing things in common with others attacks the excessive levels of private ownership in our culture and help to wean us from the toxicity of the “that’s mine!” syndrome.
2. Give to those who ask. You might limit this to anyone with whom you’ve got some kind of personal relationship, but this Biblical practice not only acknowledges that our possessions aren’t strictly ours to hoard, but it helps to correct the worldly imbalances which tend to concentrate wealth into a few hands.
3. Be lavish with hospitality, especially those who can’t repay you.
4. Claw your way out of insulation. Climb out of the world’s caste system. Develop scandalous friendships with people whom the world would say are below your pay grade.
5. Evaluate how you spend. During one month record every purchase you make. Then invite another person to help you evaluate the things you are buying. Ask God to reveal any unhealthy patterns in how you spend your money.
Let’s stop messing around. Many of us are having brazen affairs with our bank accounts, our daily lattes, our iGadgets or our wardrobes. We need to strive for fidelity not only in our sexual relationships but our economic relationships as well. To do that may require a healing encounter with Christ and divestment from our toxic assets.