I was having coffee with a new friend named Chris when he said, “The greatest obstacle between people and Jesus in our culture is money.”
“That’s a strong statement,” I responded, “And I think I agree with you, but unpack that for me. Why do you believe that?”
“That’s easy,” Chris said. “When I look at Jesus’ well known parable of the soils, he clearly tells us what chokes out the word of God from producing thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold fruit in our lives.
“In Mark 4:19 Jesus said, ‘The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.’
“At least two and half of those are financial,” Chris continued. “Take the cares of the world. What do people care about? Money. When marriages break apart one of the top causes cited are financial differences. Everyone cares about money. So we’ll at least count that one as half.
“Deceitfulness of riches. Check. That’s a whole.”
“And the desires for other things. What does that sound like? Covetousness. Greed. The American Dream of an ever-increasing lifestyle. That’s a whole. So at least two and a half of the three kinds of thorns that choke out God’s word from bearing fruit in our lives are financial.”
I was stunned that I had never seen the parable of the soils quite that way. The more I reflected on it the more I found myself amazed that the word of God can be choked out at all. This is the most powerful force in the world. By his word, God created the world and it’s “through the living and abiding word of God” that we are born again. 1 Peter 1:23
But in the parable of the soils, Jesus tells us that God’s word can be choked out by money. That changes this conversation about money and generosity because it’s not just for a few people who have more money than they know what to do with. All of us want to live fruitful lives.
If we were asked which kind of soil we want to be, I’m sure we’d all say the fourth kind. And yet when we look within our own hearts and around at our culture, we seem to be third soil people. Many of us have received the word, but we’re not producing a lot of fruit. And Jesus tells us it’s because the word is being choked out by our wrong relationship to money.
“What I tell pastors,” Chris went on to say, “is that if the Jones’ are sitting in row four in their usual seats while you preach to them week in and week out, but five years later their lives don’t look any different, then you’re probably not talking about money enough.”
If we want fruitful lives, we have to talk about money. Notice that I didn’t say we have to think about money. No, we really do need to talk about money with other Christians. I believe this for a couple of reasons.
First, we never change on our own. We always grow and change in community. It’s through talking with trusted friends that you and I have experienced some of the greatest light bulb moments of our lives. It’s through talking with pastors, counselors, and therapists that many of us have felt the freedom to drag our honest thoughts and experiences into the light of day and begin to change our minds. Change happens when we’re together. And nowhere is this more needed than in our relationship with money. Money is our culture’s most secret and private topic. Most people will tell you about all kinds of other struggles and addictions they have, but never open up about money.
Second, many of us know the right answers in our minds, but the thorns are very powerful. We cut them away, but they grow back. We hear the truth, but we forget it. We look in the mirror, but then we go away and forget what we looked like. Together we can help each other become doers of the word and not simply hearers on this issue of money and generosity.
So I told Chris, “Okay, I agree with you, but I’d like to add a statement to your sentence. Not only is money the greatest obstacle between people and Jesus in our culture, but it’s also the greatest opportunity."
If we get this one thing and our friends get this and our churches get this, then we go from being third soil people to fourth soil people! That means we’ll live lives of thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold fruitfulness. I want that for myself and for everyone I know. Let's keep talking about money.