I’m in the process of doing a little study on not only what Jesus had to say about money, but how he lived with regards to money, and how he ran his ministry in terms of money.
I’ll be publishing all my thoughts here in consecutive posts.
Why Matthew? Well, it gives a good overview of Jesus’ ministry and Matthew was a tax collector, so I figured he might have some more to say on the issue of money than others.
So let’s begin.
Living on bread alone
The first inference in Matthew I can see on this subject is in Matthew 4. Jesus has just been baptised by John and is led into the wilderness for 40 days to be tested. (There is a larger narrative here around Israel that’s very important but there are many things here that are good for personal application as well.)
Satan tempts Jesus around God’s provision (vs 3) and Jesus answers the well-known line, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, which puts the whole thing into greater context and is worth a read. If you look at both these scriptures there are a few points worth noting:
- The Greek word for ‘word’ above (every word that comes from the mouth of God) is ‘rhema’, which refers to a ‘revelatory word’ – in other words, a word spoken directly and personally. It’s different to ‘logos’, another common word for ‘word’ in the scriptures, which has more to do with the actual, written scriptures. Note that ‘logos’ has a person element to it in Christian theology (see John 1 where Jesus is the “word” – Logos of God).
- God tested the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. They had not yet inherited a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. They had not yet received the prosperity God promised.
- Even during this time of testing, God provided manna from heaven and ensured their clothes would not wear out. He provided, but just not in the way many of the people liked (you can see this in the greater narrative).
- The time of testing was for the purpose of humbling them. One might think it was a bit extreme, but God’s season of humbling was not without its provision (again, the manna). God warns the nation of Israel that they should not become proud when they get rich and forget him.
- Vs 18 is key – “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”
- Deuteronomy 8:5 says that the Lord disciplines his people as a man disciplines his son. He tested them to teach them that they live on His word – in a personal relationship with him – more than bread. He didn’t want to be the typical god where it’s about exchange – give me my sacrifices and I’ll bring you rain for your bread. No, he wanted relationship, that they should live on his personal and direct words to them.
- If man lives on the personal and direct word of God and not on ‘bread alone’, then we need to hear from God, personally, around our finances. We need to hear from him about what season we’re in. We need to hear strategy from him as to what we should do, or rather what he is going to.
- If it’s God that gives the ability to produce wealth, then it is he who provides strategy – personally and directly to us. So I don’t mean a general, common-sense strategy (ie., plant your crops) but I mean within that common-sense strategy, God provides personal strategy that may often be outside the box. However, we need to be available to listen and obey, because if we’re so busy trying this and that, we’ll tire ourselves out and probably not find God’s provision.
- God works in seasons – a wilderness time and a time in the land of milk and honey. There may come a season of little (where we live on manna and miracles) and a season of plenty (where we live off the land). You don’t always live in the miraculous and you don’t always live on the natural order of things. You go through seasons and times where you may live off one more than the other.
- It is our sole responsibility to listen to what God is saying and do that, not to make bread. God provides the bread while we listen. This obviously doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing, but if we were listening to God we would know exactly what to do. There is a strong prophetic element, as it were, to God’s provision.
- Gleaning principles from the Bible to create wealth is anti what’s going on here. We live on His revelatory Word to us personally. That may include some things we see in the Bible, but the point is to work on our personal relationship with God, not to use the Bible as some kind of textbook that guarantees wealth. The point is to show that God does not guarantee wealth. Rather, we shouldn’t be concerned with the bread, but our relationship with God. It’s only in that context of relationship that we’ll know what we should personally do in the season we’re in and our context.
Having a little or a lot has nothing to do with my status as a man and / or husband and father. The world links wealth and status together. God does not. The season is there for a reason. God does not always give abundance. He does not always discipline either. Each season will come and go, but how is my relationship with God? Do I live off his personal word to me? Or bread alone? This is the question.