The Wisdom of a God Who Forbids Leaders Who Love Money
Sometimes I wonder if we fight so hard for the literality of Genesis 1 and 2 because those chapters ask so little from our daily lives. Whether the “yom” of Genesis was a 24-hour period or an extended season—whether the “aphar” was literal dust or some sort of material entity into which the imago Dei was breathed—we can still walk away from these passages challenged to change very little about how we operate day in and day out.
Both Old Earth Creationism and Young Earth Creationism mandate that God is all-powerful and sovereign. Both Old Earth Creationism and Young Earth Creationism mandate that the Bible is inerrant and trustworthy. Despite the claim of certain modern apologists--that a six/twenty-four model of creation is pivotal for the validity of Christendom--in practical reality, the issue has made little to no impact on discipleship or evangelism over the past few decades.
Despite the nervous twittering of YEC’s, Tim Keller (theistic evolutionist) has fought boldly for the inerrancy of Scripture and the glory of God. By every analytical means, his ministry has greatly outpaced the efforts of Ken Ham. While Ham has nitpicked and fussed, warning us sternly that Old Earth Creationism is destined to undermine the Bible--Keller has moved forward in faith, utilizing his background in philosophy, history, and reformed theology to help thousands embrace a complex and glorious God.
Watching this struggle has left me exasperated. Why are masses of Christians so willing to follow fear? Why are they so eager to major on the minors? Why do we believe leaders who create multi-million dollar empires by corralling us into seminars in which we lambast straw men? Why are believers are notorious for abandoning responsible methods of literary criticism, cherry picking verses that support their biases?
And why am I also so eager to do this. Why am I so quick to cite verses that emphasize my own values and so slow to rehearse passages that challenge the sins I would rather protect?
This morning, I was thinking about a command that is particularly embedded in modern, Western Christianity. This command appears in I Timothy 3:3, in the midst of a section describing qualities necessary for church leaders. The prohibition is clear--men who love money are forbidden from participating in Christian leadership.
Let the shock of that settle into your bones. In a list of warnings about the sexually immoral, the drunkard, and the violent--the man who simply enjoys having a lot of money is presented as equally dangerous to the church.
Does it feel like that prohibition is out of place to you? Can loving wealth really be as big of a threat as substance abuse, perversion, or physical aggression? Loving money is funny. It’s as neutral and as prevalent as gluttony. Pastors who would never make jokes about homosexuality get a weekly guffaw from cracks about overeating at the potluck and wanting new car or a raise.
If God said these things were sins, we disagree with him. We know what’s REALLY wrong, and loving the dollar isn’t on that list.
I grew up inside of an evangelicalism that had hard and fast ties to cultural power and wealth. For years, I loved Samaritan’s Purse without being bothered that Franklin Graham receives nearly a million dollars salary a year. I assumed he was doing something good with this money—money gleaned (at least in part) from the donations of little old ladies on limited incomes. It did catch my heart, however, when Graham began praising a President who has bragged “I am very greedy,” and “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy, ... "I’ve grabbed all the money I could get.”
Trump is a state leader, not a leader of a church. Hasn’t every Christian Trump fan repeated over and again, “We don’t need a Sunday School teacher; we need a President.” But watching Graham praise Trump’s character, even as Trump flaunted greed, has helped me realize how willing the modern church has been to abandon an aspect of leadership that God put in place because he was a wise and loving father.
If we fiercely defend the inerrancy of Genesis 1-2 but are comfortable reworking the “love of money” command, maybe we should ask ourselves which requires more of our daily lives. Which truth would cost us? Which truth would radically change the current dynamics of our Christian organizations?
As you look at the leadership teams presently driving your churches and mission organizations, do you see men who have clearly forfeited the love of money? Or do you see leaders from the community who can also check the “Christian” box—men who have a proven track record for fiscal success—elevated to positions of spiritual leadership? Is the trust of your organization embedded in the horses and chariots of men who are connected and successful, or do you see men who are committed above all lesser gods to the kingdom of God?
Because how we feel about money is so integral to our faith, the trajectory of your organization, in large part, depends on the answer to these questions.
“But we can’t judge other people’s hearts!” we cry. Actually, the Scripture clearly asks us to judge others in this way--asking us to find, identify, and evaluate greedy hearts, preventing them from taking leadership positions in the church.
Why would God ask us to do this? I think he knows what a love of money entails. A few aspects of this sort of idolatry are listed below.
1. The deformity of personal identity.
Most of us have something that tempts us to abandon our worth in Christ alone. We might be tall, smart, articulate, winsome, or gifted. Money isn’t the only threat here. But a love of money is particularly disorienting because most people respect wealth. Jesus told us that it would be harder for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich man to inherent the Kingdom of God because he knew how difficult it would be for someone who had access to external validation to depend wholly and continually upon the sufficiency of the gospel. While it’s easy enough for most of us to agree cognitively with Christ’s substitutionary atonement, carrying that cerebral agreement into pragmatics of daily life is not just difficult--but impossible--for those who worship money.
2. The deformity of wealth-based biases.
This tendency is ugly, and especially in a culture of PC police, most groups of comfortable white people don’t like to admit that we have biases of any sort. However, those who love wealth almost always find it tempting to categorize and dismiss marginalized groups of people instead of respecting the imago Dei in humanity as a whole. This isn’t an issue of conforming to a liberal ideology--it’s a theological shortcoming. A wealthy man who makes a dismissive joke about Mexicans, women, or immigrants is defying God’s respect for all humans, substituting his own values of money instead.
3. The deformity of limited exposure.
This seems counter-intuitive, but there are certain aspects of wisdom that can only be gained from lower-income leaders. Until you’ve struggled financially for many years, you cannot understand fully what faith in Jesus means. Just like there is wisdom people only learn from suffering from intense health or relational problems, poverty is a classroom that brings a depth of insight and awareness that a high income can never produce.
And no, those few short years of young adulthood when everybody is dirt poor don’t count. Being twenty-two and living on mac-and-cheese in a ratty apartment is not the same as being forty-five and wondering how you are going to take care of your teenage children. There is zero equivocation there, and the fact that so many wealthy folks reference those early years as proof that they “understand” financial hardship is actually evidence that they don’t.
4. The deformity of vision.
Men who love money will gravitate toward solutions that promise financial security. When a vision statement is chosen, when staff hires are made, when policies are created or enforced, men who harbor a deep love of the dollar will naturally be divided in their loyalties. They will feel most comfortable with the path that makes the most sense financially—and they will interpret that comfort as guidance from the Holy Spirit. God knew this when he warned us about this sort of sin. He knew that we would sometimes miss his true calling because we would be wrapped up in trying to sanctify temporal values instead.
I think the body needs a mix of leadership. We need wealthy leaders who have learned to hold wealth loosely in faith because this is a mark of deep maturity, indeed. We also need poor leaders who have learned to walk in faith with little to no resources. We need the humility to listen to one another and to hold the commodities of eternity in their proper bearings.
We also need to remember that God was just as intentional about practical New Testament commands that shake up our present organizations as he was about the narratives of Genesis 1-2, the Ten Commandments, or any other element of the inerrant Word. We cannot claim to be committed to the Bible as a whole if we are unwilling to embrace its most pragmatic instruction.
I love this section of the book of James, and I find that I am often guilty of committing the offense named here. It’s a plumb line. It’s a lodestar. It’s a call to a sort of holiness that is not of this world.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man.”
...” ... “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. “