What do adultery and greed have in common?
If you answer “not much,” it’s easy to understand where you’re coming from. After all, adultery is one of those really “big, bad sins,” while greed seems much less threatening.
But that’s the way that God sees things. He wants us to be just as faithful in our finances as we are in our marriages. And if you let greed come between you and God — if you become a slave to money — it’s just as dangerous as letting another person come between you and your spouse.
If you’re wondering where I came upon such a strident idea, let me direct your attention to Hebrews 13:4-6, where the writer draws an interesting parallel between greed and adultery:
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
Do these ideas go together?
I’ll admit that when I first studied this passage a few months ago, I didn’t really see the parallels at work here. In fact, the writer in me did some quiet editing of the passage: “Why does he skip from sexual immorality to the love of money in the same paragraph?” I thought to myself. “These are two different topics; if I were editing this passage, I would break them up into two paragraphs to make the ideas more distinct.”
Of course, if I see an area in Scripture where I think there’s a problem, the truth is that the problem lies not in the text, but in my understanding of it. And so it is here: These ideas about sexual immorality and the love of money do belong in the same paragraph. In fact, they go hand in hand, although at first I couldn’t see it.
So, how are these ideas related? Well, they both have to do with corrupting a holy relationship with a false love that doesn’t belong. Verse 4 refers to this openly when talking about marriage and sex: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.”
When we honor marriage and guard the intimacy of the husband-and-wife relationship, couples and families thrive. But when that sanctity is disrupted by a third party — when there’s adultery or sexual immorality — it threatens to destroy the marriage altogether.
People who fall into adultery or sexual immorality do so because they can seem really attractive from the outside. They can seem like pure love and pleasure, but that is just an illusion. The temporary gratification of an illicit sexual encounter is a shoddy counterfeit of the real love, intimacy and connection of marriage. And when we embrace the counterfeit, we put ourselves at risk of losing the real thing.
This all make sense, but how does it relate to money and greed? We get a clue by looking at the wording of verse 5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.”
Just like marriage and sexual morality are issues of love and contentment, so is our relationship with money. If we begin to love money, it changes the way that we make decisions, and it disrupts our most important relationship — our dependence on God.
Notice the Old Testament verses that the writer goes on to quote: Deut. 31:6 is God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us, and Psalm 118:6-7 is our promise that the Lord is our helper.
God is reinforcing the point here that, because He owns everything in the world, He is our only provider of everything that we need. He helps us with all of our necessities, and promises that He will never abandon us or leave us to take care of ourselves on our own. When we love God, and keep Him at the center of our lives, we will have all the contentment that we could want.
Loving God or loving money?
The love of money, though, taints all of this. Money’s influence on us can be insidious. If we begin to love and desire money, we soon begin to look to money to complete us, to make us happy, and to fulfill all of our needs.
In the same way that a mistress is a counterfeit that disrupts a man’s relationship with his wife, loving money is a counterfeit that disrupts our relationships with God.
Of course, money is a reality in our world, and we have to use it every day. It’s no different than in marriage: The world is full of women, and I have to interact with them on a daily basis. But none of them has my heart the way my wife does, and none of them has a share in my physical intimacy.
God promises to provide for all of our needs, financial and otherwise. He knows what we need before we ask, and He is a good father that wants to take care of us. But more than this, He wants to walk in intimacy with us. He wants our very hearts.
If we keep God at the center of our hearts, and keep our lives free from the love of money, we can ensure that this most important relationship stays healthy.
Photo by Walt Stoneburner. Used under Creative Commons License.