Keep Your Life Free from Love of Money
Passage: Hebrews 13:5–13:5
“You deserve more, so get some more,” says an ad by one bank. “You deserve better! Upgrade to more,” says a cell-phone company. “This vacation, you deserve a Lincoln,” says American Express. Another ad for Porsche, “Honestly, do you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan…?” All these ads have something in common. They appeal to discontentment in consumers.
Others have observed this as well. Vance Packard once noted “that America was growing great by the systematic creation of dissatisfaction.” More recently, a law professor named Tamara Piety wrote an article titled “Merchants of Discontent.” Beneath one heading she observes, “today’s satisfaction is placed ahead of delayed gratification. “Why save for tomorrow when you can spend today?” advertising implicitly tells us. Even better, why wait until you have money to spend? Spend tomorrow’s money.”[i] In saying so, she picks on the credit card industry and how they appeal to discontentment.
If it’s not discontentment, then it’s fear. In his book Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley wrote this about much of the advertising he observed: “The principles…are extremely simple. Find some common desire, some wide-spread unconscious fear or anxiety; think out some way to relate this wish or fear to the product you have to sell; then build a bridge of verbal or pictorial symbols over which your customer can pass from fact to compensatory dream, and from the dream to the illusion that your product, when purchased, will make the dream come true.”
Stated differently, without having said product, you will be miserable, unloved, uncomfortable, unsafe, unable to keep up, unable to fix your life, and so you better buy it soon. Not all advertising does this, but a lot does—it builds on discontentment and fear. Hebrews 13:5-6 addresses both when it comes to the love of money.
In an affluent culture like ours, a word like this one equips us to resist the constant appeals to have more stuff or to find more security here and now. But more importantly, verses 5-6 show us how to be free from the love of money, free from discontentment, and free from fear of man. Let’s read it together to find out the answer. Verse 5, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
What does the command mean?
The initial question I want to consider is what does this command mean? He seems to say one thing, but uses a negative and a positive to get at it. The negative comes first: “Keep your life free from the love of money.” “Your life”—the way you think and behave. Let the way you do everything be free from the love of money.
“Money,” in this context, isn’t limited to paper bills or coins that jingle in your pocket. It’s more so what those symbols stand for—buying power, ability to own something, change circumstances. That money/wealth, in itself, isn’t the problem. Ecclesiastes 5:19 describes wealth and possessions as a gift from God. 1 Timothy 6:17 includes it among other things God richly provides for our enjoyment. God also entrusts us with wealth to meet the needs of others, making sure they’re clothed, fed, blessed, or even well supplied for ministry. We might also use wealth to help others enjoy the things God has made. The problem comes with the love of money.
We don’t find much here, but Paul elaborates elsewhere on this same idea. We’re told in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” Then the context informs what he has in mind by “the love of money.” 6:9 speaks of “those who want to get rich.” Later in 6:17, it has to do with setting your hopes on what money can do for you—you depend on it to satisfy you and make you safe. Then 6:10 speaks of so longing for more that it leads you away from the faith. According to 1 Timothy 6, then, the “love of money” has to do with craving it and so hoping in what it can do for you, that you no longer serve God.
Keep your life free from that. To quote Jesus, “No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Instead of ruling money and using money to bless others, the love of money has to do with money ruling you. Money calling the shots in your life. Money dictating how you treat others, what you devote yourself to, who you try to please and don’t please, what keeps you happy and makes you mad. We must keep our lives free from that—free from money mastering us.
Instead, you must be “content with what you have.” That’s the positive way he speaks to the same thing—contentment. Our Fighter Verse from 1 Timothy 6:6-8 gave similar instructions: “…godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Contentment doesn’t mean we can’t share needs, or that we pretend that real needs don’t exist. It also doesn’t mean you can’t wish for your circumstances to change. Saints throughout Scripture state their needs to the Lord and to others in holy ways. They also pray for their circumstances to change or for the Lord to provide in some material way. The question is whether the things you wish to have start controlling you, start driving you into evil attitudes toward God or others, or take your sights off the kingdom.
Contentment is a state of mind that’s not frantic but peaceful. For those with less, it means not just tolerating things while murmuring. You’re at ease with the resources God has provided so far. Whatever you need in whatever the circumstances, you’re resting in the fact that God’s grace will provide sufficiently. For those with more, contentment looks like living beneath your means; not feeling like higher earnings must entail higher living. You’re okay living on less in order to give more.
Why is the command given?
We put off the love of money; we put on contentment. But why is this command given? That’s the next question I want to answer. Why does this command come to these Christians in particular? Why now? What does their attitude about money have to do with their perseverance? Let me use Hebrews to sketch for you a few situations of why a command like this becomes so important.
To begin, consider the way that faithfulness to God means you may suffer the loss your stuff. Remember Moses from 11:26? It says that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” He was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He could’ve been an heir. All the treasures of Egypt were at his fingertips. Yet faithfulness meant he chose the reproaches of Christ over the earthly riches. His desire for heavenly riches meant forfeiting earthly riches when obedience to God demanded it.
Consider also the ones mentioned in 11:37-38. Some of them “went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Faithfulness to the Lord meant they became outcasts. Families disowned them and kicked them out of their homes. Nobody would hire them for work. They had to wander about in deserts.
Even these Christians lost their stuff. Remember 10:34? At some point in their past, these Christians came face to face with persecution. They had compassion on those in prison; and, the text says, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. Faithfulness to God may very well put you in a financially hard position. Everything may be stripped from you one day; and you will need in those moments not to love money. If you’re given over to the love of money now, you will not be able to accept the plundering of your property with joy. You will hate it. You will feel like your world is crumbling. You will fight your enemies to keep it instead of laying down your life for them.
Or, when they threaten to take it all away—instead of obeying Jesus, you’ll begin compromising the truth. The call will come from Jesus to take up your cross, but you will walk away sorrowful like the rich young man who chose not to follow Jesus because his possessions were so great. He couldn’t sell his possessions and give to the poor and lay up treasure in heaven—he was too attached to his stuff. It’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said about him. That’s a real good reason to help some Christians be free from the love of money. More persecution was coming.
Something else about their situation was this: faithfulness to God means you will use your stuff to serve others. It’s not an accident that he tells them here to “be content with what they have,” and then later in verse 16 he instructs them to “share what they have” with those in need. Godly contentment will lead to generosity. Also, I want you to see a play on words here. Verse 1 spoke about “brotherly love”—philadelphia. Verse 2 spoke about “showing hospitality”—that’s philoxenia. Now he uses a word we translate as “free from the love of money”—aphilarguros.
In other words, a love of money will hinder you from showing brotherly love and serving the stranger. When they encounter needs, you won’t open your hand toward them. Even though you have the world’s goods, you will close your heart against those in need. You will say, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them the things they need for the body. What good is that? That’s a good reason to help some Christians be free from the love of money. It will liberate them to give generously to others. It will liberate them to share their stuff with those in need.
Then one more observation from Hebrews: faithfulness to God means our hope is set in a better country. The church was able to joyfully accept the plundering of their property because they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one. Abraham and his children packed light. Why? They recognized that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. This wasn’t their home. They desired a better country. They looked forward to the city with foundations, whose designer and builder was God.
They laid up treasures for themselves in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. If you love money, all your focus will be here. All your hopes will be limited to these temporary, man-made, fleeting kingdoms. You will be like the Rich Fool. He thought his life consisted in the abundance of his possessions. He accumulated so much wealth that he tore down his barns and built bigger ones. He told himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
That’s another great reason to help Christians be free from the love of money. The love of money will shrivel your soul, such that it becomes too easily pleased with this present age. All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride in possessions—it’s all passing away. Only the one does the will of God abides forever. When enslaved to the love of money, you will not live for God, you will not be generous to others, and you will sell your soul for a kingdom that’s passing away.
What fuels our obedience to the command?
So he says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.” How does that happen, though? How do we avoid these dangers? What fuels our obedience to this command? What will produce contentment, so that we’re freed from the love of money? The answer comes at the end of verse 15: “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’…”
Now, a couple different ways we could approach this; and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. The closest parallel comes in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5. Both times, God speaks these words to Joshua (Yeshua) before he enters the Promised Land. Joshua must be strong and courageous while leading the people into the Promised Land. Why? Because God would never leave him nor forsake him. But Joshua also represented the people. So for God to be with Joshua was for God be with the people.
In the same way, God is with Jesus, the true Yeshua. Jesus is leading us into a greater Promised Land, the better country, the New Jerusalem. God will never leave Jesus nor forsake him—we know that by virtue of Jesus’ resurrection. But that also means that if you belong to Jesus—if Jesus is your representative, if he’s leading you to glory—then God is also with you. God is committed to you. No matter what you encounter in your journey to the true Promised Land, God will never leave you nor forsake you. That’s how that promise is Yes and Amen in Christ for you. That’s one way to approach this.
Another way to approach this is to look at it more thematically. I say this because neither Deuteronomy 31:6 nor Joshua 1:5 have the exact same wording that we find here. But we do find parts of this phrase repeated in Genesis 28:15 to Jacob, then in Deuteronomy 31:6 to Joshua, then in 1 Chronicles 28:20 to Solomon. We also find the complementary promise “I will be with you” repeated numerous times throughout the history of God’s people—to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to Gideon, to Israel, all the way to the church in Jesus’ words: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In other words, when he says, “for God has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you…,” he’s revealing that this is what God has been like for his people across the ages. Proof after proof after proof in the Scriptures show that God will never forsake his people—and that became decisively shown in Immanuel, God with us.
So, what should that lead us to say? God has said this “so that,” verse 6 says, “we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” That’s a quotation from Psalm 118:6. Some of you may remember we covered this Psalm very closely last year for Thanksgiving.
It’s a Psalm that’s first and foremost about Jesus. That’s important to see. When it says in Psalm 118, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” the righteous king is talking there. He is the one with unwavering confidence in the Lord. He is the one leading God’s people into worship. He is the one representing the people in battle. He is the one committed to the Lord’s will in the face of enemies. He is the hero of Psalm 118. The Lord is his helper.
How is it, then, that Hebrews says we can say these words: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” How can we take the King’s words to our lips like this? Because God worked through that same King to unite us to himself and lead us into his presence. That’s what the rest of Psalm 118 explains. Jesus himself used this Psalm to help people understand his saving work. He was like “the stone that the builders rejected [but which] has become the cornerstone.” In other words, he experienced adversity and rejection—compared here to builders tossing aside what they viewed to be an insignificant stone. Contrary to expectations, though, the Lord actually uses his rejection to establish his work, to build his kingdom.
He’s talking about going through the cross for us. They tossed him aside. God cut him off. But he wasn’t cut off for sins he committed. He was cut off for sins we committed. God then proved to be his helper by raising him from the dead. Here’s the beauty of the gospel. You’re not the hero in Psalm 118. But when you’re united to the Hero, God so becomes your helper that you can say these words with the Hero. When Jesus is your King, your representative before God, Psalm 118:6 is yours. That’s the only way it’s yours. In union with Christ, God is our helper and he brings us into God’s presence. With God we have everything we truly need. He stands by us—not because we’re so great but because Jesus is great and God stands by him.
Therefore, we don’t need to fear man or what he can take away from us. You could imagine that being a source of encouragement to a church facing persecution. As I mentioned before, it’s not uncommon for Christians to encounter poverty for the gospel, to lose jobs, to lose the benefits of trade, to have their homes raided or buildings burned. It would be tempting to despair, to be discontent, to grow really anxious and fearful. But Hebrews takes Psalm 118 and says you need not fear. In Christ, God is for you. In Christ, God is your helper. What’s man going to do? He cannot steal the riches God has kept for you in the kingdom. At worst, man can kill you. But he cannot separate you from God.
God’s promised presence; God’s promised help—these truths about God are what liberate us from the love of money. These truths help us become content with what we have. These truths help deliver us from the fear of man. If we have God, we have everything we need (and more!). If we have God—no matter how much of our property gets plundered, no matter what needs we may encounter—he will be our helper. You can’t ask for a greater gift, a greater possession, a richer inheritance. You can’t ask for a greater helper in times of need than God himself; and he’s yours in Christ.
What are a few practical takeaways?
So, what are a few practical takeaways, then? One is this: stay alert to the dangers of the love of money and discontentment. I mentioned three earlier from Hebrews. The love of money will keep you from following Jesus when persecution costs you everything. The love of money will also make you tight-fisted instead of generous. It will also lead you away from God. The Bible includes other dangers as well.
A lack of contentment can also lead to extortion and abuse of power—like we see with the tax collectors or soldiers in the Gospels. 1 Peter 5:3 associates it with church leaders using others for selfish gain. Ecclesiastes 5:10 describes the lover of money as one who’s never satisfied—no matter how much he has, it’s never enough. In Revelation 2:17 the love of possessions leads to self-sufficiency and a lack of dependence on the Lord. In Matthew 6:25-27 it leads to anxiety and worry. In Acts 16 it leads businessmen to make money off a woman enslaved by an evil spirit. In James 5 it kept wealthy landowners from paying their employees their wages in full and on time.
In sum, the love of money and discontentment will ruin your life. The O’Jays got it right back in the 60s—“For the love of money, People will lie, Lord, they will cheat / For the love of money, People don’t care who they hurt or beat…I know money is the root of all evil, Do funny things to some people.” Spot on! For the love of money, you will forfeit your soul. You will dehumanize others. They will become objects to getting what you want or obstacles in the way of what you want.
Stay alert to these dangers. Don’t let the world’s stuff lead your heart astray. Don’t let money lead this church astray. Don’t put leaders in place who’re given over to money. 1 Timothy 3:3 says an elder must be free from the love of money. The leaders of a local church should exemplify contentment, sacrificial giving, and generosity.
Another takeaway is this: how you relate to money reveals the state of your heart. How we relate to money is a God issue. Among other things listed in chapter 13, money has everything to do with worship. Money often exposes where our true devotion and trust lies. How do you respond when money is short, or when an unexpected expense comes? Does your anxiety skyrocket? Do you start complaining? Do you become more irritable, short toward others? We had some plumbing issues a couple weeks ago. The repair turned out way more expensive than I expected—and that was after I did most of the hard work to locate the problem. I would’ve told anybody that I believed God is our provider—and indeed he had already provided. But you can ask my wife: my griping, unhappy soul certainly didn’t show it.
Have you envied others who have more than you? Maybe you begin taking supplies from work, bringing them home without asking or paying for them. Pens, notepads, building materials—you even find yourself justifying it with attitudes like, “Well, they should pay me more anyway.” Or perhaps the market is doing well, everything in life is happy—until it becomes a bear. Then you become a bear too. Or, maybe the market does well, you find a surplus in the budget, you learn of a bonus coming—before that you were a bitter person to be around, but now your joy skyrockets. You daydream about all the happy things money will buy you. You are comfortable.
These responses to money have everything to do with what your heart loves, worships, and is devoted to. Take note of these responses, these behaviors. Test yourself and ask yourself questions like, Is my happiness bound to the status of my bank account? Am I finding my joy and comfort in what money can buy me? Is God the source of my security or human resources? In the face of loss am I trusting him to provide? In the face of plenty am I growing less dependent on his help? Stay alert. The way you spend, save, give, don’t give, rejoice when there’s plenty, freak out when there’s not enough—it says a whole lot about the way you view God, trust him, and serve him. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Another takeaway: preach to yourself the promised presence of God. Don’t stop with testing your heart; preach to your heart these truths. That’s the only way we will change. Notice verse 6 again, “so that we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper…” We’re supposed to be saying something to ourselves and to each other; and we’re supposed to be saying it with confidence. God has said to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you, so that we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper…”
So, when the plumbing breaks and you encounter an expense you didn’t expect, say to yourself: “God will never leave me nor forsake me.” When your supervisor informs you that revenue is still down, and you won’t be getting that raise or won’t be getting that bonus—in that moment, “God is with you.”
When your medical bills shoot through the roof when caring for someone you love, and you wake up in the morning with anxious thoughts like, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this. We don’t have enough money,” let the Lord’s presence quiet your worried soul. Maybe you have a spouse not providing very well for you. Or maybe they’re leaving you for foolish reasons—you’ve been faithful but he’s still walking away, and you’re scared and don’t know what the future looks like. You don’t know if or where the money will come from for you or the kids. Maybe the spouse who was helping to provide died from an illness, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it now.
The Lord is your helper. It’s in these moments of distress that our cry should go to him. It’s in these moments that we can bury our heads in his chest, so to speak, and ask for his help. Maybe you know some people who have significant needs. In fact, they have so many needs that it overwhelms you. You don’t know the first way to help them, or how all the expenses could ever be met. In the midst of your anxieties and fears, preach to yourself the promised presence of God. Remember who he is: “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Finally, when enemies take your stuff (or threaten to do so), do not fear man. The path of obedience already calls us to radical generosity with wealth. This, of course, grows out of our confession of the gospel: he who was rich became poor for our sake, in order that by his poverty, we might become rich. But we may also face times of persecution in which enemies of Christ plunder our property, won’t employ us, demand we pay a tax to stay out of jail, won’t allow us to buy and sell.
A passage like this one reminds us that we don’t have to fear man. The Lord is our helper. He is on our side. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. That doesn’t mean God’s help will always come in the form of escape. But it does mean that whatever we need to obey the Lord in those circumstances, his grace will provide it. Whatever good things we have to give up in the name of Jesus, we rest assured that the Lord holds out something better (with huge dividends in the kingdom).
What does Jesus tell his disciples in Mark 8:29? “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” What can man do to you? What can man really take away, when God has promised you a hundredfold more in this life and eternal life in the next?
Brothers and sisters, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
[i] Tamara R. Piety, “Merchants of Discontent: An Exploration of the Psychology of Advertising, Addiction, and the Implications for Commercial Speech,”