False freedom: Why Christians need to beware of the money trap

I got startled at a cashpoint the other day. It wasn’t someone trying to rob me – it wasn’t even the cashpoint refusing to give me money. The cashpoint spoke to me.
I’m not going weird – it was an advert on the screen, but it really caught my attention. The cashpoint was extolling the virtues of what it could do (ie give me cash) but it used a memorable phrase – ‘cash is freedom’.
It’s a simple phrase, but it was a stark summary of the materialistic view of life: cash is freedom, money can enable you to do whatever you like. Money can make you happy.
This standpoint is the driving idea behind modern society. We see it in the idea that politics is fundamentally about delivering a successful economy. We see it in the assumption that the purpose of our education system is to enable people to get well-paid jobs. Our culture is shaped by the power of business and advertising, selling a promise of the wonderful lifestyle a product can offer if we can get our hands on it.
In an age where most people don’t follow a God in a traditional sense, I don’t believe there’s really such a thing as an atheist. You can get rid of the idea of a God but you will inevitably end up replacing God with another god – with something else to worship and pin your hopes on. So it is that many people today worship money, possessions and the pursuit of their dream lifestyle.
Years back, I remember my church leader taking a visiting Nepalese pastor to the Sheffield’s giant Meadowhall mall and telling him, ‘This is where people come to worship on a Sunday.’ Materialism has a hold on us. It’s become so normal that just having stuff isn’t enough. We live in an area of refined materialism, with the desire to increase, upgrade, customise and insure.
We need to increase because what we have will never satisfy us. The hit of the new acquisition doesn’t last long – there will always be something else that tantalises us. We need to upgrade, because there’s always a better model, a bigger TV, a fancier car. Materialism won’t let us rest, it always tell us there’s a better offer out there. We need to customise because somehow we have to believe that all this stuff is personal to us and can fulfil our needs. We need to insure so our lifestyle is secure.
The message of the church should be different – not in a finger wagging ‘Don’t do that’ sort of way, and not in being the ones with bad clothes and rubbish cars because God is about taking all the fun out of life. But faith should offer a distinctive path towards somewhere better.
The message of the gospel is at stark odds with the idea that ‘cash is freedom’ and that getting equals happiness. The gospel says we start with gratitude for what we have, then we give, trusting God will give back, so our focus isn’t on our needs but on him and on those around us. In Matthew 6 Jesus essentially says, ‘Don’t worry about this stuff, don’t you think I can take care of it?’
My wife Louise and I have always chosen to give, to God and into the work of the local church. Our story is that as we have done that God has been faithful and we’ve had what we needed. I know that’s easy to say that as part of a rich, Western country, and yes we’ve had some help from family at times, but fundamentally we’ve always had enough. Yes, had we not given we could have had better cars and more holidays, but we chose to give into building a community of faith – and it has often been that community that has stepped in when we’ve needed it, in all sorts of ways.
Does cash give freedom? No: materialism is a con, it’s a fake god, offering a high of acquisition that doesn’t last. Worshipping this god will leave you selfish, in debt and unfulfilled.
The Bible describes freedom as something that is received, not achieved – a gift from a good God. He promises to give what we need, if not always what we want, and to set us free from the burden and disappointment of trying to achieve the dream life. Instead his offer is the life he has planned for us, that as the actual real deal God he is able to provide.

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