Did Jesus have much to say on the topic of finances? What was Jesus’ teaching on money and possessions? Were any of His teachings on money controversial?
It’s been said that the most sensitive part of the human anatomy is . . . the wallet.
Money can be a touchy topic. It’s been a major issue for as long as currency has been used for economic exchange. There may be big differences between people across historical eras and cultures, but three truths almost universally apply: we want more money, we want to spend it as we please, and we resent being taxed.
It should be no surprise that Jesus Christ had things to say about money. Some of His teachings on money were controversial in His time—and still are today.
So let’s explore three of Jesus’ most significant teachings about money.
Jesus taught that money shouldn’t be our driving motivation in life.
In the world of Christianity, there is a message that has become known as the prosperity gospel. It’s sometimes called the health and wealth gospel, and it’s popular among television evangelists.
The basic message is that if you have faith in Jesus and do things pleasing to Him, He will bless you with personal success and wealth (which, of course, television preachers usually want a significant portion of). It’s essentially a Christian form of the Eastern idea of karma.
But did Jesus make physical blessings a major thrust of His message? Did He lure people to follow Him by promising them abundant physical and financial success in this life? The truth is, He taught just the opposite.
Jesus taught that following Him requires sacrifice. For instance, He said that one had to “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” to be a disciple (Matthew 16:24). In this verse, taking up one’s “cross” is a symbol of sacrifice. Sometimes the sacrifice one must endure is losing family and friends (Luke 14:26).
And sometimes that sacrifice may be money. During His ministry, Jesus encountered a wealthy young man who asked what he needed to do to live forever (Luke 18:18). After Jesus answered by listing several of the 10 Commandments, the young man said he had been obeying those laws from childhood.
So Jesus answered again: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (verse 22).
Jesus perceived that this young man’s motivation in life was his wealth. He couldn’t fully give himself to following Christ until he first addressed this all-consuming attachment to money and stuff.
Sadly, at this point in his life, that proved to be too much for the young man (verse 23). After he walked away, Jesus made this statement: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (verse 24).
Notice, Jesus said it was hard—but He didn’t say it was impossible! Some of God’s greatest servants, like the patriarch Abraham, were people of considerable wealth—yet were also faithful people of character who put God first in their lives.
So, instead of preaching a health and wealth gospel promising prosperity, Jesus taught that wealth can actually be a significant hindrance to someone being willing to fully dedicate his or her life to God.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus identified “the deceitfulness of riches” as one of the major threats to those God calls (Matthew 13:22). He also identified “mammon” (wealth) as something you can’t serve at the same time that you’re serving God (Matthew 6:24).
The prosperity gospel is a false concept. Christ’s message was not that being a faithful person automatically generates riches and wealth. His message was actually that riches and wealth can be a great danger to Christians—if they allow it to become their greatest motivation in life.
Our treasure, the most important thing in our life, will either be the goal of God’s Kingdom or money. It can’t be both.Our treasure, the most important thing in our life, will either be the goal of God’s Kingdom or money. It can’t be both (Luke 12:34).
Most faithful Christians down through history have not been blessed with great physical wealth and prosperity. Using the promise of physical blessings as a lure to attract people to Christianity is deceptive and contrary to Jesus’ teaching.
To learn more about this false teaching, read “What’s Wrong With the Prosperity Gospel?”
Jesus taught people to pay their taxes.
Most people don’t like paying taxes. People will often do anything they can to pay as little as possible and, in some cases, try to evade taxes altogether. It seems like we regularly hear of celebrities (and sometimes even religious leaders) getting jailed or fined for tax evasion.
In recent years some people—even some claiming to be Christians—have seen taxation as something to resist.
But was Jesus an anti-tax zealot who made it His cause to protest big government and taxation? We should remember, Jesus lived under a regime that was more controlling, repressive and excessive in taxation than the vast majority of governments in the Western world today.
This was an issue Jesus dealt with directly. Late in His ministry He was asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17).
Jesus answered very creatively. He asked them to bring Him a piece of currency. Someone presented Him with a denarius. He then asked them whose image was engraved on the coin. They answered honestly: “Caesar’s” (verse 21).
Jesus replied, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (verse 21).
Jesus’ teaching was clear: His followers are to pay their taxes to whatever government they live under. That is a basic Christian responsibility that was reinforced by the apostle Paul many years later (Romans 13:6-7).
While it is not wrong to take steps to legally reduce one’s taxes, illegally evading or resisting payment of one’s taxes contradicts the very plain teaching of Jesus Christ. By simply doing what Jesus said, Christians can save themselves from the consequences of tax evasion.
Jesus was neither an anti-government zealot nor an active participant in the government of His day. He simply taught that while living in this world, His followers were to obey the laws of the land and pay their taxes. But spiritually He taught His followers to represent and model a different government, the future Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33; Luke 16:16).
To learn more about this topic, read “The Politics of Jesus.”
Jesus taught His followers to tithe.
Did you notice the second part of Jesus’s answer to the tax question? After saying we are to pay “Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” Jesus said that we are also to pay “God the things that are God’s” (verse 21).
What was He talking about? What do we owe God?
What Jesus was referring to would have been obvious to His audience. The group of Jews before Him would have immediately understood that He was talking about the law of tithing (Leviticus 27:30) and offerings (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
Tithing is giving a tenth of one’s increase to God. Offerings are gifts God’s people give to God based on their blessings.
Tithing was practiced by the Jews of Jesus’ day, and the Pharisees were known to be very meticulous and precise in how they tithed (Luke 18:12). Jesus pointed this out and used it to teach them a lesson in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Jesus was correcting these people for being scrupulous when it came to tithing exactly a tenth of tiny seeds of certain spices, yet being careless and neglectful of matters of personal character. He called justice, mercy and faith the “weightier matters.” But, so He wouldn’t be misunderstood, He clarified Himself: “These [the matters of character] you ought to have done, without leaving the others [paying tithes] undone.” His point was: tithe, but don’t overlook the more important issues!
So Jesus clearly taught His followers to tithe.
It is through the system of tithing that we are able to provide this magazine free of charge. Discern and all the efforts of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, are funded through the tithes and offerings of people who take seriously Jesus’ command to give to God “the things that are God’s” and not to leave tithing “undone.”
In fact, God does promise blessings to those who tithe (Malachi 3:8-10)—and many who practice it can attest to His faithfulness to this promise. Those blessings aren’t necessarily money, and we shouldn’t be motivated to tithe to try to get a blessing.
To learn more about the topic of tithing, read our article “Tithing: What Is It?”
Make God your financial adviser
The Bible has many other things to say on the topic of money and finances. In fact, since the Bible is God’s Word, by reading and applying its financial principles, you can, in a sense, make the Creator of the universe your own personal financial adviser.
To learn more about what the Bible has to say on this important topic, read “Six Biblical Personal Finance Principles.”