God's Presence and the Love of Money
I’m not a huge fan of ranking the comparative benefits or blessings of the gospel. That being said, J. I. Packer has argued that adoption into the family of God as spiritual sons and daughters is the greatest blessing of the gospel. Others prefer justification, the truth that through faith we are declared righteous in Jesus. Occasionally you will hear someone talk about forgiveness of sins or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the greatest benefit we gain through faith in Jesus. Continue reading . . .
I’m not a huge fan of ranking the comparative benefits or blessings of the gospel. That being said, J. I. Packer has argued that adoption into the family of God as spiritual sons and daughters is the greatest blessing of the gospel. Others prefer justification, the truth that through faith we are declared righteous in Jesus. Occasionally you will hear someone talk about forgiveness of sins or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the greatest benefit we gain through faith in Jesus.
I don’t know how you can say one of these is any “better” than another, but if it makes you feel good to choose, you are certainly free to do so. But if you pressed me to make a choice, I might be inclined to put the presence of God at the top of the list. Knowing and being assured that, no matter what I face in life, God is always there with me, comforting and encouraging me, is a blessing of immeasurable value. What I have in mind is what we all remember from what David said in Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We find this same emphasis all through God’s Word. Let me give you just a couple of examples.
To Isaac God said: “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father” (Genesis 26:3).
To Jacob God said: “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Gen. 31:3).
To Moses God said: “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exod. 3:12).
To Gideon God said: “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16).
To Solomon God said: “And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38).
To the people of Israel as a whole God said: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isa. 43:2).
To the Church Jesus said: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
And I could cite dozens of other biblical passages that promise the same thing. The simple but glorious truth is that God promises to be with you in whatever dark valley through which you must pass. He promises to be with you in your bedroom (although some may wish he were not). He promises to be with you in your car, regardless of your destination. He promises to be with you on the athletic field or in the gym or on the golf course. He is with you when you stand toe-to-toe in an argument with your boss. He is with you in the kitchen and in the backyard. He promises to be with you in the hospital when you are undergoing surgery. He is with you when you visit the friend who is undergoing surgery. He is with you at work and at play and while you sleep and whether you stand or sit or run. He is with you in that movie theater and with you as you sit in front of the TV.
There is no greater blessing, no more powerful incentive for obedience, no more comforting truth in the midst of unimaginable hardship and temptation than the promise of God that he will be “with” us. We find this simple but life-changing, fear-defeating truth everywhere in God’s Word.
One place where it is found initially strikes me as odd. In Hebrews 13:5-6 we read this:
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6).
Unlike those other instances that I just noted, here the author appeals to God’s abiding presence as the incentive for not loving money. Here, the reason or ground for why we should be content and satisfied with what we own is that God has promised always to be present and never to leave us or forsake us.
I would have expected a different incentive to undergird the command that I be free from the love of money. I would have expected our author to say something like:
“Keep your life free from love of money because there will never be enough to satisfy you . . . or because God will always make certain that you have enough at the end of the month to pay all your bills . . . or because your friends and family will then discover you to be a much nicer person than you otherwise would be . . . or because as Paul says in 1 Timothy 6 the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil . . . or because greed and covetousness are destructive passions in the soul.”
Of course, all these are true enough. But instead, our author bases his exhortation on God’s abiding presence with us.
The wording here in v. 5 is powerful and intensive. First of all notice that the promise is from God himself. A slightly more literal rendering would be: “For he himself has said.” No one else has said it on God’s behalf. This isn’t someone claiming to speak for God. God himself, and it is quite emphatic, is the one who makes this promise and assurance to us. And he doesn’t merely say it once. Again, more literally, “he said it and it still stands.” Or, the ever-lingering and always applicable effect of what he said is that he will never leave us.
But that’s not all. When you and I want to reinforce an impossibility, we often say something like: “That will never, ever happen.” Here in v. 5 our author does this not once but twice! He uses a double negative which might be rendered this way: “I will not, no, by no means will I ever abandon you. And if that doesn’t register with your soul, let me say it again: I will not, no, by no means ever will I forsake you.” You would think saying it once would be enough. But God knows how prone we are to doubt. He knows how inclined we are to question whether or not he’s really committed to us. He knows that our experience in this world is one where we are often abandoned by people closest to us. People make promises. They make vows. They declare their undying and unwavering commitment and promise that no matter what happens they will always be there for us. No matter how bad it gets, whether there be financial disaster or physical disability or some devastating loss, they tell us that we can count on them. They won’t let us down.
God knows that all of us, at some time or other, and in the case of many of you several times, have experienced the devastation that comes when that person on whom you thought you could always depend failed to show up. Or if they did show up, they told you they were backing out of a relationship or a marriage or now refuse to fulfill a promise or pay a debt.
My sense from what I read in Scripture concerning the nature of God and his promise to us is that he would say to you something along these lines:
“I know how hard it is for you to believe anyone when they promise they’ll always be present with you. I know how deep the pain is in your heart. I know that your instinct is never to trust anyone ever again. I know that you’ve put up defenses in your heart lest you suffer that unimaginably painful rejection yet again. I know that you think you yourself can only rely on you yourself. But I’m telling you that, as God, as the only totally truthful being in the universe, I will always be there when you need me. You may not feel my presence. You may feel all alone, but you aren’t. I’m there. I’m watching and loving and caring and guiding you through even the worst of circumstances. So don’t be afraid. Don’t make stupid or sinful decisions based on your past experience with unreliable people. Trust me. I will never, ever, by no means ever leave you or forsake you or abandon you. There isn’t much you can rely on in this life. The stock market looks stable, but one day it will crash. Your house feels sturdy and strong, but a tornado may leave it in a pile of rubble. Your husband/wife gives every indication that they meant what they said when they exchanged wedding vows with you, but there’s no guarantee they won’t fall in love with someone else. Your best friend has repeatedly told you, ‘If you’re ever in a bind, call me.’ But I’m the only one you can ultimately and unconditionally and with complete confidence know will keep his word to you.”
One of the greatest pop songs ever written came from the pen of Carole King. It was made popular by James Taylor. It is titled, “You’ve Got a Friend.” It goes like this:
“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand,
And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there,
To brighten up even your darkest night.
You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am,
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call,
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.”
I love that song. And it’s truly wonderful when it actually comes true in our experience. I’ve had a couple of friends like that. But even with them there’s no guarantee. The only guarantee is with God. He’s the only friend who is present whenever we call. Always. Ever. Never-failing.
And the point of our author is that money will never be a friend like that. Money and all that it can gain for you will eventually let you known. It will leave you empty and frustrated and poor and miserable. Money can’t satisfy you, only God can. Money says, “Trust me. I will make you happy. Get as much of me as you can. Pile it up. Hoard it. Spend it. Steal it. Do whatever is necessary to amass as much of me as is possible and I promise that you won’t be sorry. I’ll fill that void in your soul. I’ll bring you a sense of worth and value and importance. Just look at the world. Do you see all those rich people? They sure are happy, aren’t they? Wouldn’t you like to be one of them?”
But it’s a lie.
How, then, might we enjoy the wealth God has given us without yielding to the temptation to trust money and to love it? The answer is right there in our text: know and believe and trust in the all-satisfying promise of God that he will never leave you or forsake you! The way to live in contentment with whatever you have is to enjoy God’s abiding presence and his promise that no matter what humans may do to you they can never separate you from God’s presence and love and eternal purpose in Christ.
The way you break your enslavement to money is by the power of this single, simple truth: God will always be with you. God will never leave you. God will never forsake you. All his promises to you in Christ are true and immutable and more satisfying than all the money in the world and everything it might obtain for you. Will you believe it?