It is surprising how often the topic of money comes up in the gospels. Most times it is Jesus himself who raises it. In this chapter – unique within the four gospels – he illustrates how cleverly some of the people of this world deal with money, to gain wealth, power, and fame. He then commands us to have a similar attitude towards money but, in our case, to use it to gain wisdom, heavenly treasure and eternal friendships. The phrase: “You can’t take it with you” is often used to encourage or justify large expenditure of money in the present age. That’s very true, but you can change it into a heavenly currency…
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
In the same way, we can convert our earthly currencies – via the exchange mechanism of good deeds, generosity, disciplined giving to churches and charities, reaching out to the poor, and lending freely – into something that will literally last for ever! To do this we need to be astute in our treatment of money, and generous in its destination. John Wesley wisely advised his disciples to… “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”.
Faithfulness is not usually proportional to the amount you are trusted with – although God seems to start small with us and then to enlarge our powers and resources as we prove trustworthy. His aim is not primarily to make us rich, but to make us a fast-flowing channel of blessing from heaven to earth – just like the ‘river of life’ in Ezekiel 47 – bringing life from the Temple to the Dead Sea. “You will be made rich in every way, so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11).
One thing is certain: money is either our servant or our master – and God will not put up with sharing that ‘lordship’ over us. If we choose to serve God, then we will find that money serves us!
Vv 14-31. What is the middle of the Bible? Actually, the gap between Old and New Testaments, representing the Old and New Covenants. John the Baptist ‘straddled’ this gap, being the final prophet of the Old Covenant and the trailblazer of the New. The Law does not disappear, but the Old Covenant is now redundant, obsolete, and unworkable. The Kingdom is advancing as the King makes his journey into our lives (vv16-17).
The parable of the Rich Man, Lazarus and Abraham is a key one. One of its implied teachings is that the punishment of the unrighteous is eternal, not transient, and that the decisions and actions we take in this life are the determining factors of what happens to us in the Age to Come. The final few verses of the chapter are therefore surprising: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!” (v31). The same people who reject the previous work of the Holy Spirit in their lives are not going to suddenly accept a new work of the Spirit; if you have a rebel heart, you will continue to act in the same way towards all God’s revelation – past, present, and future! What you need is not further revelation, but urgent repentance!
DEUTERONOMY 21, 22 and 23
In the newly formed nation of Israel, a teenager really didn’t mess their parents around or else the parents had the ultimate deterrent: “Shape up, or we take you to the town elders and they arrange for you to be stoned to death for disobedience”. This was a decree from the Lord, which demonstrates yet again how he wanted his new nation to be based around stable family life, and how the penalties for disrupting an orderly home were quite severe. The son mentioned in Deuteronomy 21 was obviously not a young child anymore – when the correct godly punishment would only have been the ‘rod of correction’ administered fairly by a loving father. The ‘son’ in question was clearly a late teenager or young adult who was in rebellion to his parents and had killed all respect there ever was for them. Interesting that in Romans 1:30, within a list of quite heinous sins, resides the phrase: “they disobey their parents”!
At the end of Deuteronomy 21, we come across the phrase: “cursed is he who is hung upon a tree” (or impaled upon a pole). Criminals who had committed severe crimes were first killed and them impaled or hung as public exhibits; this indicated that they must have come under some curse to have suffered such a death. In Galatians 3:13, the apostle Paul used that Deuteronomy verse to underline how Christ became a curse on our behalf, taking our sin whilst dying on the cross. It also explains why many Jews of the day were so offended and so resistant to a gospel and a so-called Messiah who was impaled on a wooden stake.
Deuteronomy 22 forbids the unnatural mixing and matching of different things. For example: men dressing up as women, and vice versa. The precise items of clothing are very culturally-related, and the Bible avoids giving examples for that reason, but the principle is that men must not dress in an overtly feminine way nor women in an obviously masculine way, according to the Lord.
The bride price that a betrothed man was required to give the father of his betrothed was probably fifty shekels of silver (obviously subject to negotiation, but that may have been the nominal sum). So, a husband who later accused his wife of not being a virgin was making a major allegation that had huge social and spiritual consequences. Once the case had been brought to court, there was no backing out; either the woman was stoned for adultery (notice that it counted as adultery even during the betrothal period) or the false accusation was punished by a further double bride price to cover the offence towards the father. Furthermore, even if subsequently the bride committed an act that normally justified divorce, the husband was not permitted ever to divorce her.
Rape of a betrothed woman was a capital offence, if proven, but rape of a virgin who was not already betrothed was a lesser offence, resulting in enforced marriage and immediate payment of the official bride price. Unlike in today’s society, no one else would have contemplated marrying such a woman – since she was regarded as defiled – and so the enforced marriage was seen as the least bad option.
Deuteronomy 23:15-16 describes the prototype of an asylum policy in Israel. Don’t send someone back to their own country if they have taken refuge in Israel and are an escaped slave.
Verse 19 reiterates the ban on charging fellow Israelites interest on loans that you make – in essence, they are family and so you are not to make a profit out of them. This really ought to apply to the church, the family of God today too. We can profit from the world, but not from our fellow believers.