“Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness And his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay And does not give him his wages, Who says, ‘I will build myself a roomy house With spacious upper rooms, And cut out its windows, Paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red.”
~ Jeremiah 22:13-14
Most well-versed Christians I know will acknowledge that the love of money is a sin. We don’t need a Ph.D. in Greek Exegesis to interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Not surprisingly, I have never met a professing Christian in any of the churches I’ve served at who believed that it is okay to love money.
But I have met plenty of professing Christians—including those who professed sound doctrine and loved listening to solid Bible exposition—who loved money.
I’m not surprised that Jesus uses the physical eye as an illustration for one’s spiritual heart. Many eye conditions are wholly undetectable to the untrained eye until it’s too late. In the same way, the presence of the love of money—something dangerous and incompatible with Christian living—is often subtle. It’s there, but it often looks like something else. Actually, in some professing believers, its presence is not only subtle but deceiving. Their verbal expressions and practical habits make it look like they’re shying away from the money that they’re actually after. And sometimes, believers themselves are self-deceived. They may not be trying to intentionally mask anything, but they don’t realize that their habits and words are indeed indicative of a love of money. Oh how deceitful indeed the heart can be (Jer 17:9).
The Necessity of Self-Examination through the Lens of Scripture
That said, I’m growing weary of reading article after article that aims to list out signs of our spiritual or emotional conditions. “Ten Ways to Know that You are Depressed,” says one. “Seven Signs that you are Experiencing Burnout,” says another. “Fourteen signs that You are in an Abusive Relationship,” claims a recent article. “Eight Marks that You are Addicted to Your iPhone,” instructs another. What’s worse is that such lists are starting make their way into Sunday sermons, Bible studies, and conference seminars. I don’t deny that inward spiritual conditions will have outward signs and symptoms. Jesus did say that you will know the tree by its fruit (Matt 7:16). What is frustrating about these articles and sermons is that they are rarely biblical. They use zero Scripture to prove their point. But it is the Word of God—and only the Word of God—that can reveal the true condition of a man’s heart (Heb 4:12-13). Any attempt to evaluate a man’s spiritual condition apart from what the Scriptures reveal is pseudo-scholarly at best, manipulative at worst.
So what are the signs and symptoms that the Bible does reveal that indicate the presence of the love of money in a professing Christian? There are many, and a single article won’t suffice if the goal was a comprehensive, systematic treatment of the topic. But the goal of this article is to look at what one particular passage reveals about this very topic. Let it encourage you who are reading to evaluate the presence of the love of money from different passages using similar treatment. May it also remind you of the depth and power contained in even just two verses of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:16).
Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness And his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages, who says, ‘I will build myself a roomy house with spacious upper rooms, and cut out its windows, paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red.’Jeremiah 22:13-14
The passage begins with a “woe.” Warning. Danger. Use whatever interjection you want. The man to whom the Bible says, “woe” is a man in grave danger of God’s judgment—be it chastisement or punishment. As professing believers in Judah were drifting from God, their spiritual wandering showed up not only in ceremonial idolatry but in their material endeavors. This passage reveals two marks of the love of money, both of which Christians today must pay close attention to as we examine our own hearts.
Mark 1: Wanting to Get Expensive Things for Free
Woe to him…who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wagesJeremiah 22:13
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying something of great quality that you didn’t pay for. That is the very definition of a gift. As Christians, we are recipients of the greatest gift—salvation—for which we did not work (2 Cor 9:15; Eph 2:9). When I was in high school, I was given the opportunity to attend one of the most expensive and academically prestigious schools in my state for almost no cost due to an academic scholarship and a gift of financial aid. As an adult, I distinctly remember when our family received a gift of four round-trip tickets to Hawaii from one of my good friends who used up all of his credit card points to gift us a vacation—and during peak season! There was absolutely no guilt in receiving the tickets and enjoying the vacation. To refuse such a gift would have been both offensive and stupid.
But there’s a difference between enjoying free things and wanting to get everything for free. Truthfully, nothing is ever truly free. Everything that you do have or receive—whether an asset or service—cost someone something. If I get my lawn mowed for free, that cost the lawnmower a service for which he won’t get compensated. When I spend a night at a hotel resort for free, that free night cost the resort resources for which they don’t get paid. Again, there are times when someone will offer to pay for those services. And there are times when the laborers themselves offer to do something free of charge. That is no problem. What is a problem is when someone, in the name of being “cheap” or “frugal”, habitually aims to get the benefit of these services free of charge without any consideration to what it will cost the laborer himself.
This is what Jeremiah 22:13 is talking about. Woe to the man who, as God warns, “uses his neighbor’s services without pay.” The man who continually seeks to gain the blessing of the services provided by or products crafted by laborers for free is a man who is walking on thin ice before the Lord himself.
But not only is wanting to get everything for free a slap on the face of your neighbors who provide those things for you, it is, by definition, a love of wealth. Wealth isn’t just the amount of numbers next to the dollar sign on your bank account statements. The word “wealth” in the Bible (Greek: mamonas) speaks of all assets—whether hard assets or wealth in the form of currency. By trying to gain the world’s goods without spending your own resources, you are seeking to increase your wealth without any cost to you. Beware then, of falling into the habit of wanting to get everything for free, for this is a mark of the love of money.
Mark #2: Wanting to Continually Increase Your Material Possessions
Who says, ‘I will build myself a roomy house With spacious upper rooms, and cut out its windows, paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red.’Jeremiah 22:14
While the lover of God says in his heart with respect to material possessions, “I want to give,” the lover of wealth says, “I want to get.” A person who loves money doesn’t think about how many goods he can contribute to the world; he is consumed with how many goods he can accumulate from the world. As verse 14 reveals, he is someone who wants a bigger home with more spacious rooms, with classier windows and brighter paint. He is one who continually wants to upgrade to the grander and finer material things of life.
To be clear, the Bible doesn’t direct believers into taking a vow of poverty, whether for leaders or laymen. Living in a studio apartment in the most crime-infested part of the city doesn’t make one inherently more godly than living in a five-bedroom home in a gated community. The Scriptures don’t instruct the rich to become poor or to even downgrade. But it does instruct the rich to be humble (not conceited) about or fix their hope on the wealth that God gave them. Instead they are to be generous toward others with their wealth and be rich in good deeds (1 Tim 6:17-18). Just because someone has a lot of wealth doesn’t mean they are lover of wealth. A lover of wealth is defined by someone who has an insatiable appetite for wealth for the sake of his own comfort, status, and enjoyment and with no genuine ambition to use his wealth for the good of others or share his wealth with those who are in need.
I don’t deny that there are times when we must increase our wealth and possessions. As a husband and father, I need a more substantial income to provide for my wife and two kids than I did as a single adult splitting rent with four other bachelors. There are greater costs in terms of food, transportation, health insurance, education, clothing, and, well, just about everything. God knows how much we need for every given season of life (Matt 6:32), and there’s no shame in acknowledging that certain seasons require more than others. And there’s no shame in also enjoying the wealth that God has empowered a person to gain (Eccl 5:18). The danger lies when one’s heart becomes consumed with an insatiable desire to gain more not as a means to meeting real needs, but as an an end to itself, and without regard for others.
Saved from the Love of Wealth
As a Christian, part of working out the salvation that Christ purchased for us is having our hope be increasingly fixed on the eternal rather than the temporal. Salvation from eternal punishment also includes redemption from the enslaving power of sin, which encompasses the sinful love of wealth. And because of this, we must be ever-so alert to the subtle presence of this soul-eroding heart condition, for the love of money is as subtle as it is sinful. And if you’re one who keeps trying to get expensive things for free or who is rarely content and always wanting to upgrade, it may have slipped through your front door without you knowing.