NOTE: this review of Chapter 7 of Desiring God was written by a friend of mine as a private devotion but they gave me permission to share it here because I found it to be helpful ...
Chapter Seven: Money. The Currency of Christian Hedonism
My history with money has been one of irresponsibility, idolatry, and covetousness, and only more recently generosity, stewardship and discipline. The change in my habits or patterns with money is directly related to my relationship with Jesus. Prior to Christ in my life I had no desire to honor Him with my finances and I had only experienced the fleeting pleasures of spending my money on my passions. Although, these fleeting pleasures were the norm for me and so I really didn’t know what I was missing when it came to fleeting pleasure versus joy in the handling of money. I believe it is one of the evidences of His Spirit working in me when I see that my motives and the way I handle my money are starting to change , but I also recognize that my heart is deceitful and wicked and even as a believer I am very capable of sinful motivations and dealings with my money. This chapter helped me better understand the significance influence my attitudes about money have on my happiness in Christ. Piper opens up this chapter on money with a precedent that what we do with— or desire to do with our money can make or break our happiness forever. The Bible makes it clear that what we feel about money can destroy us or secure the foundation of our eternal lives (p185). The text from scripture Piper uses to support this precedent is from 1st Timothy 6:9 and 18-19. Piper believes they advocate Christian Hedonism by teaching us to use our money in a way that will bring us the greatest and longest gain. I will review a few of Piper’s insights like the distinctions between desiring to be rich versus desiring gain (a major theme in this chapter), a few comments on simplicity and contentment, and clearing up the potential objection of a prosperity gospel teaching.
Is the desire for gain, in regards to money, wrong for the Christian? Does not the Bible say that money is the root of all evil? The answers to those questions are—maybe and no. This is what I really appreciated about what Piper did in his clarifications about the desire for gain versus the desire to be rich and the often misunderstandings of the “love” of money being a root of all kinds of evil versus money itself being the root. You could say it’s a matter of the heart, or as Piper explains it’s a matter of our desires and motivations. A desire to be rich or craving material wealth so that this life is padded with luxuries, comfort, and stuff for our own sake and pleasure is the love of money that scripture warns us about. This type of desire to be rich leads to temptations, snares, and many senseless and other harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is the warning from 1st Timothy 6:5-10. However, the desire for gain, even more precisely, great gain, is to be had in godliness with contentment! As Pipers writes on page 187, in regards to Paul’s writings, “Instead of saying Christians don’t live for gain, he says Christians ought to live for greater gain than the slick money lovers do.”
So how do we better understand pursuing simplicity and godly contentment? What are the ruins and destructions we avoid in doing so? What are the gains? I will briefly offer Piper’s responses. First off, a clarification—getting raises is not the same as getting rich. In other words, working to earn money for the cause of Christ is not the same as desiring to be rich. There is a big difference in making money that will be used to benefit others rather than making money to benefit self only.
One ruin to avoid is storing up stuff for ourselves in this life. Why is this destructive?
Paul tells us in 1st Timothy verse 7 he says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of this world.” It’s simply vanity to store up stuff for a temporary existence and that you can’t take with you. Remember, this life is passing away—and fast. Store up eternal treasures!
Another reason not to pursue wealth is that for the Christian, we have been given the ability to be content with having simply food and clothing (see 1 Timothy 6:8). What a joy this should be for us! Because buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy (p189). You see, God actually tells us that we can and will be content in not falling for this weaker desire of happiness from acquiring stuff. This joy is not simply from avoiding the collection of stuff but this joy seems to come as a result of now being able to give more. Remember Jesus says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Surely, we can trust him in this. Christ has freed us, who are not rich, from the trappings of the desire to be rich be enabling us to be content with less to experience the joy of giving more.
For those who are rich in this world, Christ has freed them from the trappings of settling for being rich in this world. How-- by being generous. A rich Christian can actually achieve greater riches by pursuing treasures in heaven by being generous with his riches on earth. Scripture tells us this is Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and in Luke 12:32-34 scripture tells us how, “…sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide for yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with the treasure in the heavens that does not fail…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Again, we see the mentioning of the heart. Our hearts desire’s guide our storing and spending).
For the rich, not so rich, even those with very little, we see God telling us over and over in scripture to pursue joy in Him by being generous with our money. An eternal perspective is essential in this endeavor and without it we will fail. Why—because in this life it is too easy for those without much, in the way of material wealth, to fall into the trappings and pangs of desiring more. And for those with much, scripture makes it a point to say it is even hard to enter the kingdom because is too easy to think they don’t need God. It’s hard not to love the gifts instead of the gift Giver.
This brings us to a brief clarification of what some may confuse pursuing gain in or from God for prosperity gospel teaching. Especially in light of scriptures like Deuteronomy 8:17, “You shall remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” Piper makes a few key responses. God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of the unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The passage in Deuteronomy does not justify seeking God as a means for or more stuff. It is not intended to encourage a relationship with God for wealth on earth. In Piper’s words “God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove our yield is not our God. God prospers a business so that thousands of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel, and so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back the precipice of starvation.” (p198-199)
In summary, the motivations of a Christian Hedonist, in regards to money, are to pursue gains and rewards, joy and happiness. This is done by simply listening and doing what God tells us to do with our money. We are in fact called to be rich—rich in good deeds! Only when we keep our perspective eternal we keep God’s intended perspective for us and it guides us into godly contentment which results in great gain!