Sunday, February 18

How Not To Love

Study #17 on Money

Paul has been giving a list of old self lifestyles that need to be put off, and the corresponding new self and new mind to put on. Now the pattern breaks, and it appears he's pausing to summarize. Or maybe he's just spending a lot of time on this particular item in the list. Whatever the case, Paul thinks this is worth significant energy and focus. What deserves so much attention?

Eph. 5:1-14
5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be associated with them. 8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-- 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 

Fornication, impurity, and greed. Paul mentions this trio twice here, and again a few lines later. They're not only worth repeating three times (a poetic device for strong emphasis) but says things like: "they must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints," and "Be sure of this, that no fornicator, or impure person, or one who is greedy . . . has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of Gods," and "Do not even be associated with [those people]." Strong language!

What's the big, fat, hairy deal to Paul? Let's try to get under his reasoning.

The bookends on this passage are "be imitators of God and live in love" and "find out what is pleasing to the Lord . . . Christ will shine on you." 

The goal of anyone in the Kingdom is to be like the King--like God; living in love; living in the light. 

So these three things--fornication, impurity and greed--must be opposed to love and to light.

Well, clearly greed is opposed to love. I can't love my neighbor and pursue my own greedy desires. As one church father said, greed makes you hoard up the blessings God has given for the sake of the whole body. Same goes for fornication: all kinds of sexual activity, outside marriage, exploit others for my own desires to be met. 

How does impurity (uncleanness) fit in? Paul gives a clue when he says "no fornicator, or impure, or greedy person--that is, an idolator--has any inheritance . . ." Only someone who worships God has any inheritance in God's Kingdom, naturally. I take it that idolator fits all three categories: the fornicator worships sex or the lifestyle which includes broken sexuality; the greedy person worships money or material possessions; the impure person must also worship something other than God. The pure in heart are those who focus completely on God; the impure have divided hearts, they are double-minded, they are not focused on God alone.

Applying this to Money
Pretty clearly, greed connects to money. I need to watch out for all kinds of greediness. In fact, I need to root out any idolatry--any thing that I'm tempted to make a god in place of Jesus and his Father.

Personally, where is there idolatry related to money in my life?
Retirement--no, Jen and I have a minimal retirement savings, but we expect that could get swept away by the stock market at any time. By investing in socially screened companies, we are getting lower returns. But we won't take higher returns by investing in companies that exploit people and the environment (relatively overtly).

Conspicuous consumption--no, I think Jen and I have been content with cars, clothes and houses that don't impress most of the people we're around.

Luxury--no, though we occasionally enjoy very nice things (usually as gifts: someone gave us a very nice bottle of port the other day), we don't spend our money on luxury items other than for hospitality (taking people out to Starbucks or buying a CD for each other for Christmas).

Property--no, though we'd like to own a home, we clearly haven't made this a god!

Technology--well, this one is a struggle for me. That's why I've committed myself to obsolete technology. If I need a new computer or phone, I first check with several people to make sure I'm not just indulging myself. Kevin Blue gave me the category of "tool for the Kingdom." If I'm sure it will serve, I will save up money; I refuse to buy technology on credit. Then I buy the best I can get in order to maximize the life of the product. I don't upgrade unless absolutely necessary. I have needed much grace from God to stay content with items that are not cutting edge, so we can give or use our money elsewhere.

Fashion--no, Jen and I both go pretty simply in the clothing category. We do need some nice clothes for certain events, but go as economical as possible rather than with the stylish and faddish.

I think the main idolatry would be in caring what Jen and others think about me, in terms of responsibility. Am I a good financial manager? I want to be, but not for the sake of others' approval. 

Lord, help me manage resources as your steward, not caring what others think of me, and not taking them as my god in some false way.


Eddy E said...

I appreciate these studies and reflections. I resonate with you on the greed of technology. The world can come up with more than enough reasons to try to convince me that I need more, and it's been a discipline to be content with what I have. And particularly to not covet in this area.

The area of greed that you don't mention that challenges me is spending my money on food. It's not necessarily the groceries, but eating out. Some of it lazyness and some of it is just greed because I am not content with the provisions at home or the provisions within my budget.

Eternal Learner said...

Yes, that gets me too, Eddy! I find myself constantly fighting that battle. Recently I've been looking for an invitation from Jesus when I feel that way, and sometimes I sense him asking, "Do you love me enough to give that up?" Wow. How can I eat it then? Other times I sense him say, "Go ahead! Enjoy it as a good gift from me!" And that makes a lot of difference--I really do enjoy it then.