The Biggest Financial Mistake

Mar 10, 2014 |John Greco
The Biggest Financial Mistake

How to follow all the rules but miss what matters most

A few years ago, I bought a new car — a new used car, that is. When I found it, I couldn't believe my luck. It was exactly what I had been looking for — a silver Subaru with four-wheel drive, low miles, and a roof rack for that kayak I would buy someday. The little car was in mint condition. Whoever owned it before me had taken immaculate care — inside and out. If the odometer didn't tell me otherwise, I would have believed the car was brand new.

For about two weeks after signing the papers, my life was warmed by the fleeting glow of happiness that comes with having a new car. I didn't mind my sometimes-painful commute to work; I volunteered to drive when friends wanted to go out; and I would take the long, scenic route when I needed to run errands.

But then it happened.

On a Saturday morning, I walked out to my car, only to discover a dent the size of a basketball in the rear bumper. Someone had hit my Subaru and left without so much as a note of apology. I was livid.

More Than a Broken Bumper

I called the police, and they sent someone out that morning. I told the officer he needed to call for backup so they could analyze nearby tire tracks, tap into the security cameras of nearby stores and ATMs, and use blue lights to look for evidence like they do on "C.S.I." The officer just smiled and handed me a copy of his report. He told me there was nothing more he could do, and then he left.

For the next few days, I told everyone my story as if it were the greatest injustice ever endured by one of God's creatures. And the more I told the story, the more I felt justified in my anger. But then Jean, a longtime family friend, took me aside and made me see how childish I was being. "Does the car still run?" she asked. It did. "Does the dent affect the way it drives or make the car less safe in any way?" It didn't. "Then stop your whining. It's God's car, and if He wants a dent in it, who are you to argue with Him?"

In a little while, I realized my blunt but godly friend was right. It isn't wrong to have a car I enjoy, and it isn't wrong to be upset (for a short while) that someone had damaged my property without taking responsibility. But it was wrong to hold up my shiny, new car with such esteem. I had been enjoying the gift more than the Giver.

In 1 Timothy, Paul writes, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (6:10, ESV). I've never considered myself someone who loves money. But love of money is a reflection of more than the bottom line on a bank statement or the number of green bills in a wallet. Love of money is a worship problem — a dysfunction of the heart — and it rears its ugliness in a number of devilish ways.

I wasn't able to self-diagnose the worship problem in my heart because I hadn't broken any of the rules. I hadn't stolen the car or cheated anyone to get it, nor had I bought something out of my price range. By all accounts, I had obeyed the financial principles I had learned from the Bible; I was being a good steward with what God had entrusted to me. But when it comes to heart problems, our ability to follow the rules is seldom a good indicator.

It wasn't until the day I discovered the crater in the back of my Subaru that I could see the sin I had allowed to fester in my heart. That dent may have been a sin on the part of the stranger who hit my car and took off, but it was used by God to show me the worship problem I had developed.

What We Give to Jesus

Since that time, I've thought a lot about how God would have me handle the money and possessions I've been given. A few months after the incident with my Subaru, I heard a sermon on Jesus' encounter with the rich, young ruler. The pastor read through Mark's account until the part where Jesus tells the man, "Sell all that you have and give to the poor" (Mark 10:21). Then, almost as a parenthetical word of comfort, the preacher added, "Of course, Jesus doesn't ask us to do something this radical today."

But is that really true? How do we know Jesus isn't calling at least some of us to give away all our stuff — to embrace poverty — in order to follow Him? How would any of us be prepared to go to the mission field or to live a life of radical generosity if we're not willing to embrace the idea that everything we own really belongs to Jesus?

While it may be true that this one man — this rich, young ruler — is the only person whom Jesus required to sell everything (at least as far as Scripture reports), I don't think Jesus was having a bad day or exacting some special measure of holiness from this would-be follower. I think Jesus was showing us the Father's heart. That's why Mark makes sure to tell us, "Jesus . . . loved him" (10:21). He loved him enough to confront the man's worship problem head on.

When it comes to our financial decisions, there is wisdom in seeking out and obeying the Bible's principles for money management, but principles alone will only create rules for living; they won't penetrate down to our hearts. In Jesus' day, the best rule keepers were the Pharisees, but time and time again, they were shown to be the people farthest from God's heart. Jesus said to them, "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Luke 11:42).

These men had scoured the Old Testament for biblical financial principles and followed them to the letter of the law — to the point where they were even giving God 10 percent of their seasonings. And following these principles worked — the Pharisees were hard working, self-sufficient, and well respected. Likewise, the rich, young ruler had the Bible's money principles down — he would have aced Financial Peace University. (And again, a course on biblical principles for money management is a wonderful thing!) But following Jesus is a relationship, not a set of rules.

When we come to Jesus, it's never about what we give Him; it's about what He gives us. In fact, the only thing we can bring to Jesus is our need for a Savior. And that's why Jesus was so serious with the Pharisees and the rich, young ruler. Money was keeping them from seeing their need. When money is our source of security or pride, there's no room left for Jesus.

The narrow path Jesus calls us to walk is one of thankfulness. Fear is on one side, telling us to seek security and comfort in money, repeating the lie that God will not provide for our needs and cannot be trusted. Foolishness is on the other side, tempting us to ignore Jesus' lordship and the Bible's financial principles altogether in order to live for momentary pleasures. But the Christian must walk between these two extremes, not legalistically or licentiously, but faithfully and always with an ear to hear what Jesus is saying to us. It all belongs to Him anyway.

Copyright 2014 John Greco. All rights reserved.

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