All the Gold I Can Carry
Fans of the American Wild West will find in a Deadwood, South Dakota museum this inscription left by a beleaguered prospector:
“I lost my gun. I lost my horse. I am out of food. The Indians are after me. But I’ve got all the gold I can carry!”
Today in the Word, March 1989, p. 34.
Differences in Economics from the Ancient World to Ours
At this point in the discussion some will remark that the Old Testament says a good deal about being prosperous and even occasionally speaks about wealth, but not about money per se. That is the case because ancient economies were not money-based economies, and they were certainly not free market capitalist economies…money was beginning to play a larger economic role in Jesus’s era, but even then it operated mainly within the context of a barter or “bargain and exchange” economy. Money was used for paying taxes and tolls, but less frequently for everyday business.
There is another huge factor often overlooked in discussions of what the Bible says about money and wealth. All ancient economies, especially those of major empires and powers, were dependent on slave labor. One estimate even suggests that by the time Paul and Peter visited Rome in the 60s AD, 50 percent of all the workers in the city were slaves. Today we may jest that working for minimum wage is “slave labor,” but slave labor was literally predominant in the ancient biblical world…the point is that there are vast differences between our own world and the economic world in which the Bible was written. If we are to properly understand the key New Testament texts about money, we need to keep in mind the fundamental factors that economically distinguished those cultures from ours.
Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, once was at a party in the Hamptons. A guy came over to him and pointed at a young, 25 year old standing in the party who worked for a big hedge fund. Heller’s “friend” said to him, “see that guy over there? He made more money last year then you will ever make with all of your books combined.”
Joseph Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.”
His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?”
Heller said, “Enough.”
Have you ever heard the story of the mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson? She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.
When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”
Giving Away What Wasn’t His
When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died in 1994, his will included a staggering set of bequests. Included in his plan for distribution was more than two billion dollars for the City of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the State of Illinois, two and a half billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left six trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt. That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.
That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.”
Source: The Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1995.
How Far a Billion Dollars Goes
A reporter once asked the ultra-wealthy Oil Magnate John Paul Getty if it was true that his estate was worth, at the time, a billion dollars. Getty remained silent for a minute or two. Eventually he responded: “I suppose so,” he answered, “But remember, a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to.”
Adapted by Stuart R Strachan Jr.
How to Deal with Hooligans
Consider the old Yiddish story about the shopkeeper who arrived at his shop only to find abusive and derogatory graffiti spray-painted all over his store window. He cleaned the window, but the same thing happened again the next day. So he hatched a plan: On the third day, he waited until the local ruffians showed up and did their dirty work and then paid them $10 to thank them for their effort. The next day, he thanked them again but only paid them $5. He continued to pay them to deface his property but the amount kept decreasing so that soon they were only getting $1. They stopped coming. Why bother doing all that work to abuse the shopkeeper for so little money?
The Issue of Money
In his book on the subject, Philip Yancey describes the tension he himself deals with as a Christian related to money:
Many Christians have one issue that haunts them and never falls silent: for some, it involves sexual identity; for others, a permanent battle against doubt. For me, the issue is money. It hangs over me, keeping me off balance, restless, uncomfortable, nervous. I feel pulled in opposite directions over the money issue.
Sometimes I want to sell all that I own, join a Christian commune, and live out my days in intentional poverty. At other times, I want to rid myself of guilt and enjoy the fruits of our nation’s prosperity. Mostly, I wish I did not have to think about money at all. But I must somehow come to terms with the Bible’s very strong statements about money.
Just Charge It!
I recently attended an event sponsored by Compassion International, the International Child Sponsorship Organization. The event was called “Stepping into My Shoes”. The purpose being to show children in America what it is like living in a third-world country. At one point, children are encouraged to “work”, breaking rocks and shining shoes. For their efforts, each received their compensation: ten cents.
They then went to a “shop,” where they could exchange their newly acquired wealth for items. Unfortunately, their 10 cents didn’t get them very far: a soccer ball was 30 dollars and a toy plane was 20 dollars. One rather distraught young girl wanted to purchase a Barbie doll, but she was $79.90 short of the total price of $80. The daughter, exasperated, finally said, “Why don’t you just charge it on your card mommy?”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Lending to the Lender
While most of us probably avoid borrowing money, there are cases in which people actually enjoy borrowing from other people. For instance, the Austrian poet Peter Altenberg loved to borrow money from other people, even while maintaining a healthy bank account.
A friend of his, the poet and critic Karl Kraus tells a story of how Altenberg pleaded over and over again to borrow a hundred kronen, and, on account of his low balance himself, had to turn him down each time. At one point, Kraus got so frustrated with Altenberg that he shouted, “Look, Peter, I’d gladly give it to you, but I really, really, don’t have the money.” “Very Well”, Altenberg responded, I’ll lend it to you.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material provided by Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.
Made to See
In her engaging work, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes both the beauty and pain of seeing our own sinful nature:
It is often true that once we are made to see, we don’t like what we apprehend. Spiritually seeing, we learn who we are. We recognize our heart’s attachments. We see into our own heart of darkness. It should be of no surprise that when Jesus teaches about corollary health of eye and body, he does so in the context of teaching about money.
“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” (v. 24). Spiritual sight gives us the frightening capacity for recognizing what we have loved and desired more than God.
Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A notorious miser was called on by the chairman of the community charity. “Sir,” said the fund-raiser, “our records show that despite your wealth, you’ve never once given to our drive.”
The man replied, “Do your records show that I have an elderly mother who was left penniless when my father died?
“Do your records show that I have a disabled brother who is unable to work? Do your records show I have a widowed sister with small children who can barely make ends meet?”
“No, sir,” replied the embarrassed volunteer. “Our records don’t show those things.”
“Well, I don’t give to any of them, so why should I give anything to you?”
Landon Parvin in Leaders, Readers Digest, May 1996, pp. 67-68.
Money Can’t Buy Me…Happiness
Material wealth doesn’t make us happy. Listen to some of the wealthiest people of their day:
- “The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.” W. H. Vanderbilt
- “I am the most miserable man on earth.” John Jacob Astor
- “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” John D. Rockefeller
- “Millionaires seldom smile.” Andrew Carnegie
- “I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.” Henry Ford
The Plane Crash
Picture 269 people entering eternity in a plane crash in the Sea of Japan. Before the crash there is a noted politician, a millionaire corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents. After the crash they stand before God utterly stripped of MasterCards, checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton reservations.
Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing, in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day—like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection he misses the last train.
A few years ago, students at Harvard University were asked to make a seemingly straightforward choice: which would they prefer, a job where they made $50,000 a year (option A) or one where they made $100,000 a year (option B)? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Everyone should take option B. But there was one catch. In option A, the students would get paid twice as much as others, who would only get $25,000.
In option B, they would get paid half as much as others, who would get $200,000. So option B would make the students more money overall, but they would be doing worse than others around them. What did the majority of people choose? Option A. They preferred to do better than others, even if it meant getting less for themselves. They chose the option that was worse in absolute terms but better in relative terms. People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others.
The Seminary Faculty Guest
There’s a story out there about an angel that showed up at a seminary faculty meeting. In order to honor the dean, who had been a man of unselfish and exemplary behavior, the angel said God had decided to reward him with his choice of limitless wealth, infinite wisdom or unmatched beauty. Since the entire staff was on hand, the dean asked for advice. To a man, they quickly agreed that infinite wisdom was the best choice. And so, the dean chose to become the wisest man on earth.
“Done!” says the angel, disappearing immediately in a cloud of smoke.
Every head in the room turned to the dean. He sat perfectly still, surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispered, “Say something.” They were all anxious to hear what the wisest man in the world would say first. What wisdom had he been given?
Very slowly, carefully, and certainly, he said, “I should have taken the money.”
With all that new-found wisdom, he only knew that he’d had some bad advice!
Time over Money
An emissary from a learned society came to invite the eminent scientist Louie Agassiz to address its members. Agassiz refused on the grounds that lectures of this sort took up too much time that should be devoted to research and writing. The man persisted, saying that they were prepared to pay handsomely for the talk. “That’s no inducement to me,” Agassiz replied. “I can’t afford to waste my time making money.”
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Money. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!