God is the supreme possessor of all things, for he has created all things, and indeed upholds and governs them as it were by his almighty hand. This fact alone ought to drive any man to consider his earthly possessions with deep humility, for truly the richest man then only possesses so much dust and ashes. Thus humbled, a man should strive to employ all his goods in the service of God, for all other service is vanity and idolatry. But natural man is very proud and eager to think himself and his worldly goods to be quite something. Moreover, he is prone to hate God, and therefore, to love idols. This sin of idolatry with regard to money is certainly seen in our society, but more personal and of greater impact is the observation of this sin within our own hearts, no less among us as young people than among older generations. It is therefore necessary that we, covenant youth, elect of God, bought with a price, and called out of darkness, consider this calling of the thankful life, that is, to fight against the worship of money.
As soon as a you get your first job, your perspective on life changes. Not the least part of this change in perspective is your relationship with money. Where previously money was of little concern as the business of “grown -ups”, it suddenly becomes very relevant and very real. You put in real hours of your time and earn a real paycheck at the end of the week, for which you are really responsible. Further, you begin to realize that generally as a young person, you aren’t making all that much, because looming up ahead in life is college tuition, vehicle expenses, housing costs, and much more besides. The enormous role of money is impossible to ignore in making the transition from teenage child to independent adult.
Different people approach this reality with different mindsets. One option is to focus completely on saving for the future. The mind set becomes, “I have to work as much as I can, and I need to save all my money now so that it will protect me from financial struggles down the road.” With this “every penny counts” mentality can come various temptations in the workplace, like stretching the time clock or the attraction of extra income through Sunday work. Even if these temptations are successfully avoided, it remains a tiring and stressful attitude. To the person with this mindset comes the word of God in Matthew 6:24ff to “take no thought for the morrow” but rather to consider the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, both well provided for by God. Again, in Psalm 127:2, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” God knows his people’s needs and will surely supply them. The one whose confidence lies in his own industry to ensure his success in life suffers from “little faith.”
On the other side is the mentality that says “I am still young, I need to take this time to enjoy life!” So a person works, not with an eye to the future, but with an eye to the weekend. He spends his money on himself. The lifestyles that the world portrays as fun, exciting, and carefree appeal to him, and he puts his money towards such pursuits, be they fashion, partying, cars, or any of a host of others. To have such skewed priorities surely leads to the neglect of other more worthy uses of money, and a lifestyle patterned after the world’s ideals carries with it many temptations. To a young person of this disposition comes the call of Peter to sobriety and vigilance (1 Pet. 5:8) lest the roaring lion come upon him as easy prey.
These attitudes and lifestyles present real threats, real sins that young people may be tempted to commit. Both make an idol of money, the former trusting in it for security, the latter for satisfaction. Both must be guarded against. However, these attitudes are the extremes. The average covenant young person is not a penny-pinching miser who takes every opportunity to make an extra buck at the expense of his employer or his spiritual life. Nor is he fallen headlong into the money-loving ways of the world, only wearing the highest fashions and caught up in the drunkenness and other sins of the party lifestyle.
Where these extreme cases are present, they cannot be excused, and measures need to be taken in the spiritual lives of anyone thus fallen. However, the reality is somewhere in the middle, or even more accurately, the reality can change day by day, even hour by hour. One minute you are feeling lazy and take some extra time on a job. The next, you think about your hourly wage and think how much nicer it would be if you were better paid. Then you think about how much money you have on hand, and how you plan to spend it, and your church budget somehow doesn’t make it onto the list. These are the everyday types of things that reveal our sinful nature’s inclination to be discontent, to serve ourselves, and, indeed, to idolize money.
But the way to fight against this is not with a long list of condemnations of all the idolatrous thoughts, actions, desires and motives that we have. We young people have been raised in the church, and we know what things are wrong for us to do, think, etc. (We also know that our sinful natures cause us to do them anyway). Rather, the answer that is profitable and productive for us in our walk of sanctification is the positive side of the law. It is studying and applying how we can love the Lord our God with all our heart and in every part of our lives, now with regard to money.
We return to where we started. God owns everything. Let our foolish pride stop there. All that we may ever gain for ourselves is never in principle ours. As such, our first priority in the use of our goods must be for the glory of God. Besides that, God has saved us. All the guilt of all of our idolatry and every other sin has been imputed to Christ, who suffered in our place. Therefore we are called to use our goods in thankfulness to God for such great salvation. Let this knowledge constantly frame our thinking in every use we make of the earthly goods that God has entrusted to us.
Let no young person imagine that it is not his business to contribute to collection. Contribute with the consciousness that the God of our salvation, whom we gather in church to worship, gives us the direct opportunity to express thankfulness to him in the support of the church, the poor, the Christian schools, and other kingdom causes. A reminder: thankfulness does not have a dollar value. Give real, prayerful consideration to your giving, and then, with neither shame nor pride, but rather with a thankful heart, give.
The biggest money-related area of a person’s life is their job where money is earned. Therefore, carry the fight against idolizing money into the workplace by consciously considering your job as another of God’s innumerable gifts and as a part of his perfect plan for your life. Every job teaches you lessons and life skills, gives opportunity to consider God’s mighty works in different lights, and of course, earns you money. Give real thought to how your job is part of God’s plan. Did you ever expect to be in the field you now find yourself in? Did a certain life event give you a change of plans? Or has God made your way plain before you? How will this job be part of God’s guiding you through this phase in your life? As for your paycheck, if you find yourself underpaid, look to God to learn contentment and patience. If you find yourself quite comfortable, learn humility and make use of this lack of stress to take on duties in the church. Contentment is the watchword of the thankful worker. Oh, and work hard. Laziness and half-heartedness have no place in thankfulness.
The point is not to outline every possible example of walking in thankfulness. The point is in the principle. God is so good. He is so good to you, covenant youth. And he gives countless opportunities to express your thankfulness in our use of the earthly possessions that he gives us. Also added is that he demands thankfulness, perfect thankfulness. Therein lies our call to continual repentance. Certainly we may try to drive out every vestige of idolatry from our thoughts and hearts, but, great sinners that we are, we cannot do it. Then we look to Christ, the perfect man, who was never discontent or proud, but was rather always obedient to the will of his Father. In keeping the law for us, Christ is to us righteousness and holiness. Looking to him we find the forgiveness of all of our idolatry, the freedom from all guilt, and the cause for ever increasing zeal in serving him as our Lord and savior. No greater riches could be desired.
*Ryan is a member of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI