Written by Elizabeth Mak, Art by Tammi Yu
German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is now famous for his nickname, the “Bishop of Bling” after he spent $43 million dollars on enhancing his home. Some of the luxuries he purchased included a $20,000 bathtub, $300,000 fish tank, and $894,000 LED lights that were built into the home’s floors, walls, staircase, handrails and bronze window frames. His ridiculous overspending caused an uprising among 682,000 German Roman Catholics who demanded he be removed from church leadership. When confronted by the pope, the money-spending bishop blamed his top deputy for failing to oversee his spending habits. The pope eventually removed Bishop Tebartz-van Elst from his position.
If you think stories like these are unique to the Roman Catholic Church or even politicians and businessmen, think again.
Just a little over a month ago, David Yonggi Cho, founder and pastor of the world’s biggest megachurch (with over one million members), was convicted of embezzling $12 million of his church’s funds to supposedly help his son out of a tough financial situation. Both he and his son got sentenced to three years in jail. What’s more, Robert Schuller, founder and pastor of Crystal Cathedral Ministries in Garden Grove, Calif., sued his church for $5.5 million for using his Bible study and sermon materials without his consent. The pastor won, but forced his church to go bankrupt and sell the beautiful glass-walled church to the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange!
These church leaders were entrusted with the great task of keeping watch over the souls of their flock but what sidetracked them? Money. If you want to know a person’s true character, watch the way they handle their finances. Jesus pointed out that, “if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). The way we use money in the here and now shows how reliable we will be when it’s time for the true riches of God’s kingdom to be inherited. Peter describes this heavenly inheritance as, “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). This inheritance is kept in a place where, “neither moth nor rust destroys andâ€¦thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Jesus is holding out to us true riches that can never be stolen, destroyed, or taken from us, but only if we prove ourselves trustworthy with the measly wealth we have here on earth. What does it look like to be trustworthy in our finances?
The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy in this area. First, he warned Timothy to watch out for those who see “godliness as a means of gain” and “who desire to be rich” (1 Timothy 6:5, 9). Left by Paul to oversee the Ephesian church, Timothy had the high calling of watching over his brothers. He was to make sure that no one took advantage of his church members as a way to get rich and that no one loved money so much that it got in the way of one’s love for God, because “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). Being a good steward of one’s finances begins with the heart. If you love God, you will spend your money in ways that please Him.
Second, Timothy was also to watch over himself because he was a model to those under his care. Paul instructed Timothy and all those who were rich to not, “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God” (1 Timothy 6:17). During my high school days, everyone seemed to be striving for the “good life”â€”getting accepted into a good university, landing the best job, and attaining to a comfortable lifestyle. In essence, all of those “good” things require being rich! College tuition is expensive, the best jobs are usually rated by how much income you make, and I don’t know anyone with a six-figure paycheck who doesn’t live a comfortable lifestyle. It’s easy to get swept away by our culture and put our hope in making the most money. But what is all that really worth? When we come before God at the end of our lives and He asks us what we did with our lives, will He be impressed by what school we went to and how much money we made? I doubt it. Instead, I want Him to be the treasure that I sought after my whole life long.
So what about you? What are you hoping in? Is it the next bigger and better thing? Is it the six-figure income and luxurious lifestyle that we see in the lives of celebrities and athletes? Or are you hoping in God Himself? The reason we can be content with what we have todayâ€”our daily bread and the clothes on our backâ€”is because God is our true reward. In the book of Hebrews, the writer urges believers to keep their lives free from the love of money and to be content because God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). In the past, I always thought that was a weird connection. What does God’s presence have to do with not loving money? But I think I am finally starting to discover what the writer of Hebrews is saying. If I have Him, I have everything I need. Even if the world looks down on me for not making much money, wearing second-hand clothes and living on a budget, I don’t have to worry because He is enough for me. Is He enough for you?
Written by Elizabeth Mak, Art by Tammi Yu