Photo Credit: Getty Images

General Conference

The Two Sides of the Coin

Money can be a blessing or a curse. It's up to you to decide.

Brazil | Gleice Barros

The Bible reports that one day a young man questioned Jesus about what he should do to have eternal life. The answer is recorded in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your goods, give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me”. Many use this speech of Jesus to support the idea that money is something bad, harmful, and evil that we need to get rid of in order to purify ourselves.

But if the Master's purpose was to condemn wealth, how could we reconcile this with the fact that the Bible itself mentions the wealth of good men like Abraham, Jacob, Job, Solomon, and so many others, without God rebuking them for it? Perhaps a simple coin will help us to answer that.

Coins have two sides. If, on the one hand, money is a blessing in our lives, on the other hand, it can also become a curse. Everything that is good, when misused, can have its purpose distorted and bring bad consequences. God created us and provided everything we needed; He gave us a body, breathed the breath of life into us, gave us gifts, including time and resources. Each of these gifts can bring us great joy or immense disappointment, depending on how we use them. When it comes to money, we need to understand “both sides of the coin” to choose well between them.

Wherever your treasure is...

Let's take a closer look at the text of Matthew 19:21. Why did Jesus ask the rich young man to donate all his possessions to the poor? And if God had given this same command to His servant Abraham, would he have turned his back on him in rejection? Well, if the “Father of Faith” was willing to sacrifice his greatest treasure, Isaac, he would certainly not hesitate to donate his material wealth, if asked. And what about Job? God Himself claimed that he was a man of integrity, upright, God-fearing, and one who turned away from evil. Can you imagine Job resisting such a divine request?

Looking at the lives of these two men, we clearly see that God reigned in their hearts, not their riches. The rich young man asked what he should do to have eternal life; he believed that salvation is something that can be achieved by doing good works, but Jesus showed him that the criterion for achieving it is to love God above all things. This story teaches us that money and riches can become idols in our lives, and this is where they become curses.

Ellen White reminds us that “the Bible does not condemn anyone for being rich, once they have acquired their riches honestly. Not money, but the love of money is the root of all evil. It is God who gives men the power to acquire wealth; and in the hands of him who acts as God's steward, employing his means unselfishly, fortune is a blessing—both to its possessor and to the world. But many, absorbed in their interest in worldly treasures, become insensitive to the requirements of God and the needs of their fellow men. They regard their wealth as a means of glorifying themselves.” (The Science of the Good Life, p. 81).

When used selfishly, money can become Satan's trap to destroy our lives. Clinging to it can cause us to lose sight of the things that really matter, such as family, health, and salvation. That is why Jesus warned us about this danger several times. “But woe to you, the rich” (Luke 6:24); “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13); “Do not lay up treasures upon the earth” (Matthew 6:19); “Be careful and do not be overwhelmed by any kind of avarice” (Luke 12:15).

It is noteworthy that this danger is not restricted to people who have many possessions, as the battleground is the heart. Rich and poor alike must fight selfishness and greed. The good news is that God, in His infinite love, has provided ways to free us from these destructive feelings and behaviors. When we follow His directions, money is a blessing in our lives.

… there will your heart be also 

The reformer Martin Luther used to say that "three conversions are needed: that of the heart, that of the mind, and that of the purse." Every true conversion is the fruit of God's work in the sinner's heart, and it would be no different with regard to money. Thus, one of the means He has provided to free us from selfishness and greed is the act of giving. Note what Ellen G. White says in this regard:

“Many despise economics, confusing it with greed and pettiness. The economy, however, is in harmony with the broadest liberality. Truly, without economics, there can be no real liberality. We need to save in order to be able to give. No one can exercise true beneficence without self-sacrifice. Only through a life of simplicity, self-denial, and strict economy, is it possible for us to carry out the work assigned to us as representatives of Christ. Worldly pride and ambition must be expelled from our hearts. In all our work, the principle of selflessness revealed in the life of Christ must be developed.” (The Science of the Good Life, p. 77).

Yes, saving simply to accumulate resources for ourselves is selfish and greedy. On the other hand, saving to help others and contributing to the advancement of the preaching of the gospel is laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19). This is also the essence of tithing and giving. Through this principle, God is freeing us from the tyranny of individualism.

Heads or tails?

The lesson we draw here is that money is not in itself a blessing or a curse; rather, it is defined by the way we earn it, use it, and the place we give it in our hearts. Philosopher Francis Bacon well observed that "money is a good servant, but a bad lord". And as we review the entire history of mankind, how much misery and pain do we see spring from the love of wealth?! Corruption, broken families, stressed people, sickness, and even suicide attempts; all because of the unbridled search for goods and possessions. So, I invite you to make the following reflection: which side of the coin have you chosen?

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site