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What Did Jesus Do About Money?

work and grapes

work and grapes

In my Matthew and Money series, I looked at what Jesus taught about money and we looked at most of the famous verses in the book of Matthew. But what I didn’t cover much is what Jesus himself did about money – how did he live? How did he make a living?

The answer to this question is very important. If we’re Christian, then our model for living is Jesus – after all, we are a “Christ Follower” (a “Christian”.) If we can get even just a glimpse into how Jesus ran a business, and how he ran his ministry, and how he managed his finances, and how he made money, we’ll have a model we can emulate in our context.

The trouble is, the Bible doesn’t really tell us how Jesus made a living. All we can really surmise is that, since He was brought up by a carpenter, it’s more than likely that he was trained in that craft and traded as one before he decided to go into, what looks like, a ‘full-time ministry’.

Jesus might have done a bit of trade on the side during his full-time ministry time, but we don’t know. We only have a few glimpses into what he did about money, and those glimpses tell me things that make me very uncomfortable. They’re hard to accept.

The first over-arching theme I can see is that wealth does not equal God’s blessing, and God’s blessing does not equal wealth. In fact, wealth can sometimes be a curse. So if we’re doing particularly badly we need to be realistic – we might be there because we were irresponsible, but sometimes we were also just ignorant. Furthermore, there are so many things we can’t control – like the economy etc. At this point our only next recourse is to think, “God must be teaching me something,” or “God is angry.” But this is all because we keep making material wealth a sign of God’s favour.

Yet, as we shall see, Jesus wasn’t well off at all. Yet, He was God’s very Son. If anyone was favoured by God, it was Jesus. But He lives a life of very little material wealth and then even ends up suffering on a cross. That ought to make us question some of our assumptions of how God works!

1. Jesus wasn’t rich and neither were His disciples

This isn’t a popular thing to teach these days, but it seems so obvious that even atheists who read the Gospels pick it up. In some ways, they have an advantage – they don’t have to deal with a lot of today’s pop-theology (mostly coming from Christian media). The fact is that Jesus really did live a radically different life – He didn’t seem to have a lot of money at all and yet never seemed anxious about it. He didn’t seem to think any of the disciples should be anxious about it either but called them to join Him in this lifestyle.

In Mark 6:37, Jesus suggests that the disciples feed the five thousand and they mention that all the money they have  is “…two hundred denarii…” According to some sources, that’s about $28 – R280. So that’s the best they could scrounge around and find, amidst thirteen of them! If it was just a bad time of the month, it seems that they didn’t have much in savings.

In Matthew 17:24- 27, it appears that Jesus doesn’t have the money to pay the temple tax. Sure, he might have decided to use the situation to teach Peter something, but he might also have just not had the money.

We know that Jesus wasn’t exactly born into a rich family, meaning he probably didn’t inherit a lot of money, if at all. He had to be born in a stable, and archaeological evidence shows that Nazareth (where he grew up) was probably mostly inhabited by poor people (mostly agricultural).

There are many other examples too – remember Peter’s famous line, “Silver and gold have I none…?” It doesn’t seem as if he is joking around, he really doesn’t have money. (Acts 3:6.)

Did Jesus have a home? Mark 2:1 implies that He did, except when we read it in light of Mark 1: 29-36, it appears the His home was actually Peter’s home. (And note that when they removed the roof in this house to lower the paralysed man for healing, Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for not respecting property!)

What we can gather here is Jesus didn’t invest in property and that He more than likely didn’t get much (if any) of an inheritance from His family. He didn’t even receive a home, by the looks of it. Maybe He sold the one He had, but still, He didn’t use His money to get another one, even though He did have a home-base at Capernaum (where Peter’s home was).

2. Jesus was funded from donations, but He never asked for donations

Luke 8:3 shows us how Jesus was funded from donations. John 12:6 shows us that the money bag was shared between the thirteen of them (Jesus and His disciples). But we can’t find one instance where Jesus ever asks for donations, it appears that it was entirely at the discretion of others. He may have asked for donations, but it just doesn’t seem likely.

But what’s even more interesting is that when Jesus wants to be generous, it seems he trusts God to provide him the opportunity to do so (the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand are examples). He really trusts God. He doesn’t live out a capitalist or a socialist ideal – despite that many have said that He taught one or the other of these. He seems to do what we might think are “foolish” things and expects God to provide. He didn’t even sort out His death plans – a grave had to be donated to Him by Joseph of Arimathea, a rich disciple. (Luke 23: 50-56.)

It doesn’t appear that Peter and Andrew’s fishing business supported them either. We would have expected to hear something about it when Jesus fed the five thousand. It seems that Peter and Andrew really did give up their business, at least for the most part. Yet remember, we know that Peter had a wife! (Matthew 8:14.)

3. Jesus sent His disciples to minister and told them not to bother about money

Where it gets even more challenging is when Jesus specifically tells His disciples to not even worry about money as they go out to minister. Matthew 10: 9 – 12 says:

Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the labourer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it.

Amazingly, later on in Luke 22: 35 – 36, Jesus asks His disciples if they lacked anything when they did this. Their answer? “Nothing.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no money bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.

Naturally, if they had a bit of money, I’m not sure that Jesus would have to tell some of them to sell a cloak to get one. And He wouldn’t need to say, “If you’ve got a money bag, then take it.”

So it seems that Jesus taught His disciples not to save a lot of cash and then go out and minister, but to go and trust God along the way.

How does that make me feel? Incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly challenged. But there’s more.

The Pharisees teach that blessing comes from God’s favour

In those days, the Pharisees (you might recall that Jesus repeatedly rebuked them) believed that riches were a sign of God’s favour. It seems that one of the reasons why they were so baffled with Jesus is because it was clear that God was with Him – yet He wasn’t rich! He wasn’t privileged in any way – his home town was some backward village that many Jews actually detested. (John 1:46.) This would baffle a modern-day prosperity preacher, too, because it just doesn’t add up.

I’ve heard many prosperity preachers say that we are “God’s Sons” and therefore, since we would never leave our children without good, material things, would God leave us without such things? But Jesus was God’s Son and God seemed quite happy to not give Him an abundance of possessions and material blessing. God seemed to even think that sending Him to the cross was a good idea, for our sake.

So, what does this tell us? The Gospel includes a strong suffering element. While I think it may be dangerous to think of it as “all suffering”, we can’t get away that suffering is part and parcel of our calling as Christians.

Some thoughts on Paul

While Paul isn’t as big a deal of Jesus, of course, we at least know things about his life that we don’t from the other disciples. One of the things we do know is that while he travelled a great deal, he also worked in many of the cities where he ministered. (Acts 18:3.) Even if he only worked one time, as some say, we can see that there was still an occasion where he worked.

So Paul placed ministry first but wasn’t keen on asking for donations. He accepts them when they come, but he doesn’t necessarily ask for them, rather looking to pay his own way. Once again, this must have taken tremendous trust – he goes first to a place and then looks for a way he can find a job and make money. Not exactly smart.

But what we can also gather from this is we’re not meant to be idle. If we can work, we must work. But we must keep our focus clear – it’s for the Kingdom first, not for a career first.

What are we to make of all this?

So, what are we to make of all this? It’s challenging in every single way.

1. God really does expect we trust Him in this

I cringe at this because I try and avoid over-spirituality, and this feels like it is. But there it is – we can see it in Jesus’ life. God really expects us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” He really expects us to trust Him and not trust anything or anyone else. He really does expect us to live without many things – like even homes. He really does expect us to just go and expect Him to provide.

2. God does not see a lack of money as foolishness

Jesus lived as He lived and surely He was wiser than even old rich Solomon himself. But He lives what looks like a lower middle-class lifestyle, or middle-class at the very best. He doesn’t have a home and seems to have no qualms about teaching Peter not to worry too much about providing for his family. If we don’t have a lot of money, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t favour us or we’re stupid. In fact, blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3.)

3. It’s not foolish to not care about money.

Many will say that it is, but actually – if we look at Jesus – we can see that it isn’t. What is foolish is to be careless with money.

And what is carelessness? It appears that, first of all, carelessness is a lack of generosity, a desire after fine clothes and good food (and any other material wealth), which are more important to us than the needs of others, and a refusal to look after the family.

It also appears that carelessness is getting into debt. Why do we get into debt? Because we also want the fine clothes and good food and want to keep up appearances and have cool stuff that we enjoy. This is usually why we do and it seems Jesus rather lived within His means, and that means wasn’t a lot, and He wasn’t embarrassed about it and certainly didn’t see this as tainting God’s testimony.

Peter had a family, yet it seems there was no teaching from Jesus about how he should save his money and build wealth to give his children an inheritance. It appears, when we look at what we know of Peter’s life, this wasn’t something he wasn’t too concerned about either. (Tradition has that he had children, although we can’t say for sure.)

4. God does not see wealth as a good testimony

Prosperity teachers like to say that wealth is a great testimony of God’s goodness. It seems to me, however, that God doesn’t see it like that at all. And it also seems to me that non-believers are impressed by Jesus’ choice of lifestyle and are less impressed with wealth than prosperity preachers would have us believe.

5. God will have all of us and He will make sure He does

Obviously building an inheritance for our kids is not a bad thing, it’s all about focus and energy and the heart. But in our world, we place tremendous security on these things, and God – really and truly – wants to rip that security from us. And if it means that our businesses struggle and our family struggles, so be it. He will have all of us.

6. We must place ministry first, but not become idle

Working at a job and ministering (also a job) is tough work. Yet God doesn’t seem to think it’s really that tough. In the tough, turbulent financial times we are in now, many pastors are having to work and lead churches at the same time. It seems that in God’s eyes this isn’t all that bad. Tough, but not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean anyone is a failure, it’s a simple reality.

7. Not being rich or well off doesn’t make you a failure

If Jesus thought it wise to live as He did, and we don’t believe He is a failure, then we should realise that if we’re not well off there’s nothing wrong with us! In fact, those that are constantly planning their next purchase may be the ones who need to look at their hearts and souls closely. And, sometimes wealth is a curse, not a blessing!

So should we all not own businesses and make money?

Jesus accepted donations from people who did have money and who worked a business or had a job that gave them a good income. Obviously, God has called some to do that and this seems evident throughout the Bible. The reality is, however, that we need to accept that God calls some to do that and others not to do that, but to do something else. And the challenge, above all, is that even if He has called someone to make money, He doesn’t call them to live necessarily as wealthy people, but calls them to be as generous as they can, for this will have eternal rewards.

Luke 16:9

9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

God’s way of wealth

So we’ve covered living within our means and all these things. In closing, it seems to me that when it comes to providing for our family and creating wealth, there is one Biblical principle that is often overlooked but is actually the most down-to-earth one. As we live our lives and put the Kingdom first, doing our best to not be anxious (and trusting the Spirit in this), we can trust God and remember that the Christian life is often one of hardship now and reward later. (This is an evident reality in most things we do – parenting, praying, etc. and we even see it in God’s creation too.)

God’s way is ‘little by little’ while the world’s way is “now!” This is even true in the life of holiness. As Christians, we’re called to live counter-culturally to the culture of “now” and instant gratification. And to the culture of amassing huge amounts of wealth that will carry zero reward into eternity. So I close with this:

Proverbs 13:11

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

This is all tough to accept. But equally as tough to avoid. But our God is a loving Father who cares deeply for us.

About Ryan Peter


Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.

14 replies
  1. dingo342014
    dingo342014 says:

    Its refreshing to see both a well thought out post but also the willingness to accept that we cant know it all regarding the bible.

    On the subject of money, there are some core beliefs that can affect interpretations. For instance money has not always been used by socities throughout history and in fact is a rarity. For the most part mankind has used credit (not to be confused with barter) not money.

    But what is most striking is that all major religions and philosophies surface around the world at those times when money use in those tegions was at its peaks.

    The Bank of England published some papers in 2014 on what money really is and made two distinct statements about it:

    1. All money is debt and if all debts were paid off there would be no money.
    2. Money fills the void for a lack of trust in society.

    I dont know about you but it seems to me that we have to question the assumption that converting our labours into money is the only way to earn a living.

    Whats more Jesus said he came to serve, which implies that every person is a beneficiary in his eyes, and therefore it would be unlawful to then sell his labours to these very beneficiaries (a trustee does not sell trust assets to a beneficiary – that is a breach of trust).

    Further, and correct me if I am wrong, but all major religions say not to pledge, make your yes a yes and your no a no, but do not pledge what you cannot guarantee, and yet our whole economy is based on pledges.

    Finally all money is usurious because it is borrowed into existence and is pre- charged with interest.

    As a student of law I can tell you that our right to life is not conditioned on money, debt, or competition and that it seems we are choosing this out of ignorance. I think its high time we got some minds together and looked at ways of using the law to support our right to serve our faith and the laws of the bible. Maybe the answer is in holding all our assets in trust for society as a whole rather for our own self interests? Treat others as you would have them treat you? I dont know but what I do know is that the laws that govern our economy breach every religion and philosophy I have studied.

    Reply
  2. Kurt Pollett
    Kurt Pollett says:

    Wealth is a mindset a reflection of your inward believe system that dictates to you what you’re worth and how much you deserve. You the individual set the theromstat. You wealth is a reflection of your faith. One Christian may believe in moving his ministry on foot through Africa and start raising the dead, while another Christian may have a vision to build his ministry into a fleet of 15 aircrafts with pilots and crew where they reach out to some of the most remote places on Earth. Each Christian will need different levels of Faith to do both, and both of these two individuals are doing amazing yet different things for the Kingdom. Wealth is a blessing from God and he’s already blessed all Chrisitians with wealth and prosperity and financial blessing through the words he has already spoken. You receive when you believe.

    “The blessings of the Lord makes one rich and he adds no sorrow to it”
    “As a man thinks in his Heart so is he”

    Reply
  3. Esther
    Esther says:

    I think we are taking christ representation of money ey out of context. Look at the old testament with king David, Solomon, Joseph, Esther, Abraham. We should also be role modelling them because God never rebuked them for the riches they had. They use their high position to influences others for christ. Esther beauty saved her Jewish people and she was pampered just like Royals. We are not called to sale of everything. The ministry of Jesus and the apostle were unique. And Jesus did had donations as you forget the people he touched. You also forget the women that was with them. They certainly supported them as Jesus needed food and shelter since he depended on others a lot. He did not miraculously get manner from heaven even though he could. It was painful hard Labor! He also went to parties with the rich!

    Money is not evil and helps ease everyday living as well as opportunity for the Gospel. You don’t have to to be royally rich but if you were like Joseph you have tremendous power.

    So don’t look down on money and say Jesus was poor and so we all should be poor. Are you going to want to be martyr too as he also says don’t worry about the fear of men.

    CHRIST life was filled with agonizing pain becauseof us and reflect that inside. Families ripped apart it was not very pleasant at all.

    Just go too http://www.gty.org

    Reply
      • alhaji yakubu mohammed
        alhaji yakubu mohammed says:

        I think what we need to established first is “God’s nature and his purpose of creation”. The first attribute God ascribe to Himself is “creator”. By this attribute He is able to materialize all His desires out of nothing.By this unique quality He is able to live “a worry free life”. The second nature is “sharing/love”-out of this quality He shares His ability to create with His creations by telling them to be “fruitful and multiply”-in order words extend creation or keep creating your kind and other things that you desire just as I did or do.The first man and woman created their kind but had other things in abundant supply so didn’t need to do much creation.Jesus Christ understood very well this unique quality of creation and functioned in it whiles on earth.He created many breads out of few breads,created many fishes just at the shore of the sea,,created wine out of water,He created life out of death,Health out sickness etc.When a man is able to attain the full knowledge of the ability to “create” he will be able to live a “worry free life”. The early disciples Peter and co tasted some level of suffering because they functioned at the early stage of salvation where men struggle to grasp CHRIST.Their understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what he had made them was still shallow.Some of their sufferings were also by choice because God Himself is a choice God and men are His image.Jesus’ suffering on the cross and some of His lifestyles were by choice.Hebrew 11 says “some were tortured and refused deliverance”. They would have been delivered if they had called for it.Paul of Tasus/the apostle understood the God life given to men through Christ Jesus clearly even though he joined quite late.He boldly proclaim to the Philipian congregation “I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me”. To the Romans he said “I am more than a conqueror” and to the Colossians he said “Christ in you the hope of glory”. Peter latter in his epistle said “His divine power had given us all things that pertain to life and godliness”. At another place he said “the sufferings of Christ and the GLORY that should follow”…”. At this point he had understood that Jesus Christ suffered so that we must not suffer and His very power/life given to us is our ability to create or do anything we desire.In the gospel he spoke of his lack of silver and gold but at this point he had grown to understand that the power to heal is the same power to create silver and gold.John also said “whosoever is born of God had over come the world”.The Christ life is a life beyond the material because it created the material.That is what we have inherited from our lord Jesus Christ.”Lack or suffering is a choice”. The Christ life does everything.What Christians need is to learn how this life function.THANK YOU FOR THIS WONDERFUL PLATFORM.

        Reply
  4. Alison
    Alison says:

    I’ve been on the moneyless agenda for years, long before I was Christian, and at first, it was impossible to find anyone who agreed that we don’t need it. In recent years, I’ve gained more traction, but the support of others isn’t enough. So for the past few days I’ve been researching the idea hardcore and I came upon this blog entry of yours as a result. You got me thinking harder and more honestly on the subject than ever before. It dawned on me what must change. It’s not easy- it’s like you say, an uncomfortable truth! But I won’t give up on it. Your post sounds like you’re a little further from embracing it than I am, yet you have such powerful insight that sparked my thoughts like crazy. So I just wrote another entry on my own page, partly inspired from the points you made. I hope you’ll check it out. It’s the 3/23/2017 entry, “Enough is enough,” and it’s at seekgodwithalison.com. Whether you look at it or not, I hereby encourage you to continue seeking truth despite the difficulties- like you are now- and I pray for strength for us both to implement what we are figuring out. I haven’t looked any of your other entries, so I have no clue where you’re at in your money journey, but I’ll probably check it out later. Thank you for your gifts of wisdom!

    Reply
  5. Dingo
    Dingo says:

    There is a belief in society that we all must ‘earn a living’ which is based on another belief that we all must trade, which is based on another belief…..and so on..history is littered with examples of people who traded and people who didn’t trade (at least not in the legal sense requiring a government and legal rules for enforcing contracts etc)…Jesus operated under a system which for ease I call the Way of the Custodian because he understood pure trust law..if anyone knows trust law in its pure sense (before it became the legal financial instrument it is today) one would know that if you declared to hold all your labours and all fruits thereof in trust for the whole of the community, then it would be impossible to deal in money in any way shape or form because to do so would be a breach of trust..the way of the custodian is the only true way anyone can serve the whole community

    Reply

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