Ralph Martin gave the following talk at a recent i.d.9:16 Disciples’ Night. The text below has been abridged from its original form; you can hear the entire talk by visiting our YouTube channel. Simply visit our home page, at RenewalMinistries.net, and click on the YouTube icon on the left side. You will find the talk under Playlist > Conferences > Putting Our Treasure In Its Place.
It’s really amazing how much Jesus and the apostles teach about money. I want to start this discussion on money—on our “treasure”—by reminding us what it means that Jesus is Lord.
I say to you, “Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7-8).
Jesus is Lord—do you understand how important that is? He’s the Lord, He’s God, and everything He says to us is important, so we want to hear what He says about money.
Some of the greatest competitors for the Lordship of Christ are money, sex, and power. These are strong desires in human beings—almost unconscious desires that lead us in a certain direction. They are competitors to the Lordship of Christ, unless they are in harmony with the His Lordship.
That’s why one of the pillars of i.d.9:16 is ongoing conversion—more and more wanting Him to be Lord of our lives—and it doesn’t happen all at once. I’m still finding parts of my life that I’m opening to the Lord that I didn’t know were closed to Him.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No person can serve two master. He will either hate one and love the other or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money.”
Jesus also says it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (Mk 10:23, Mt 19:24). The disciples were shocked and asked, “Lord, who can be saved?”
Jesus said that with man it’s impossible, but with God we can find a way.
An excessive, disordered love of money becomes the root for all evil (1 Tm 6:10), because people start cheating, cutting corners, making deals, etc. Jesus teaches His disciples to hold on to wealth a little lightly—to hold on to everything in life a little lightly. We need to keep giving it to the Lord; we need to keep surrendering it to the Lord.
In 1 Timothy 6:7-10, Paul gives basic advice about our attitude toward money: We brought nothing into this world, nor have we the power to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we have all that we need. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap. They’re letting themselves be captured by foolish and harmful desires that drag man down to ruin and destruction.
Another both challenging and life-giving passage, Hebrews 13:5-6, instructs us to keep our lives free from the love of money, and to be content with what we have. But how do we be content with what we have? By trusting in the Lord, who said, “I will never abandon you, nor will I forsake you.”
Therefore, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me” (Heb 13:6)? For those who love God, everything works according to the good. Whether we live or die, we can’t lose if we are in Christ and He is our Lord.
How is this really possible?
In my work, I’ve met wealthy people who have millions and millions of dollars, but don’t think they have enough to begin giving to the Church. I also know people with lots of money who are so afraid of losing it that they can’t give.
I’ve also had the opposite experience. I was in little village in India one time. They were very excited about seeing an American for the first time. They gathered in a little huddle and started talking to each other, and they were really excited. They said, “Wait, we’ve got something for you!” Somebody ran off, and about twenty minutes later, they came back with a bottle of Coca Cola.
I can’t tell you how moved I was by that. I knew that I needed to take that Coca Cola, even though it was the collective wealth of the village. They pooled their resources to buy it for me, and they were so happy to do it.
Being content with what we have isn’t a function of how much we have—it’s a function of Who we know. It’s a function of the relationship we have with the Lord Himself.
Let me share a bit of my personal testimony with you.
When my wife and I got married, I only had a part-time job. I was digging sewer lines in Williamston, Michigan, and then we got hired at St. Mary’s Chapel, but not at a very high wage. My wife was a lab tech, but we were pregnant with our first baby and she was going to have to stop work, and we were wondering how this was going to work.
One day on her way home from the hospital, my wife stopped at the chapel and said, “I’m not leaving, Lord, until You let me know whether this is going to work out or not.”
I was back in our one-bedroom apartment praying the same prayer—“Lord, help, what is going to happen?”
I had this absolutely strong experience of God saying, “I’m your Father; you can rely on Me. You can trust Me.”
My wife got the same sense, so she came home and told me what she experienced, and I told her what I experienced. We didn’t know how it was all going to work, but we knew the Lord had assured us of His care.
Later, I remember praying on the floor of our apartment, which had hardly any furniture. I felt like the Lord told me, “I am going to give you a Scripture passage that you need to make the key Scripture passage of your life.”
It was Luke 12:28-31: “Unbelievers are always worried about what they’re going to eat what they’re going to wear, what the future’s going to bring, and I say to you, seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness and these other things will be added as well, because your heavenly father knows you need them.”
This is not the prosperity Gospel. This is not the promise of getting a Cadillac or a Mercedes. This is a promise that God the Father is going to give us what we need to carry out the mission for which He created us.
I can’t tell you enough how important it is to take seriously these words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His holiness, and these other things will be added as well.”
If you put the first things in the first place, the second things are going to work out really well. If you try to put a second thing in the first place, there’s going to be tremendous strain and frustration, and it’s not going to work.
Let me tell you how my wife and I started to deal with the question of tithing. In the Old Testament, you had to give the first ten percent of your income, of the produce of your fields, to the Lord. It is not a requirement in the New Testament.
But in the New Testament, an even greater price has been paid for us; a greater deed has been done for us—Jesus’ death on the cross—so generous giving is encouraged.
When my wife and I got married, we had few worldly possessions. We shared one very used car with three other couples. We didn’t have a lot, but we started tithing—giving ten percent, with half for the parishes we attended, half for causes we believed in, and then giving alms. We were just trying to pass on what the Lord was giving to us, and that has been our practice for over forty years.
Sometimes in the early days, when we’d be serving meals, we’d be concerned about not having enough food—and honestly, the food was multiplying!
How is this possible? It’s knowing the Father’s love. It’s gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice and wanting to follow His teaching.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide moneybags for yourself that do not wear out—an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy, for where your treasure is so also will your heart be” (Lk 12:32-34).
St. Francis DeSales has tremendous wisdom about how to make this concrete: How do you know you’re not fooling yourself about your relationship to money? How do you know you’re letting Jesus really be Lord of your finances? He talks about some of the ways we can deceive ourselves in this area and some practical steps we can take to keep turning this area over to the Lord.
The first thing he says is waiting until you have enough is a delusion. You’re never going to feel like you have enough. He says start where you are, being generous with what you have. The second thing he recommends is asking yourself what happens when you lose money.
Do you freak out? Do you feel like the end of the world has come? What happens to your heart? Are you so attached to money that it’s disturbing your whole life—or can you move beyond it, trusting that the Lord will provide?
He says if you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of money, you love it too much. The strongest proof of love for a lost object is suffering over its loss. Instead, accept your losses meekly, patiently, and avail yourself of the opportunity to live more simply. The Apostle Paul said, “I know how to handle the want and I know how to handle abundance. I know how to abase and I know how to abound” (Phil 4:12).
We need to have a certain detachment and freedom about leaving our money in God’s hands. Talking about disciples, St. Catherine of Sienna said, “The Lord gives a lot of money to people He knows can handle it well. And if He’s not giving you a lot of money, maybe it’s for the good of your soul, maybe He knows you couldn’t handle it well.”
Scripture also has advice to people who are wealthy: “Tell those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be proud, and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth. Let them trust in the God who provides us richly with all things for our use. Charge them to do good, to be rich in good works, and generously sharing what they have, thus they will build a secure foundation for the future, for receiving that life which is life indeed” (1 Tm 6).
You can’t outdo the Lord in generosity. I can’t tell you how much the Lord has blessed us like He says he will bless those who follow Him. I’d recommend if you’re not already tithing to start doing it, even if you hardly have any money, and see what the Lord will do.