The Price Isn’t Quite Right

Our Money-Hungry Need for More

Entrepreneurship is a beautiful picture of the gospel — risk prompting reward, faith prompting work, vision prompting real-life action.

The same ambition can also be the root of all kinds of evil. We’re experimenting with nuclear energy — methods of “getting” that are terribly unstable, and can be unnoticably catastrophic in irresponsible hearts — in my heart.

Entrepreneurship is not a bad thing. It is a dangerous thing. It’s like getting helicopter-dropped into a spiritual Viet Cong. It’s not evil. But we are foolish to think that we are innocent and safe in any venture intended to build financial capital.

Gold or God?

In my worst moments, it is not inaccurate to confess: I worship money. I have at times been hypnotized by the rapture of money’s sweet promise — aching for Ben Franklin to tenderly coddle me in his arms, and grant me a beatific vision of “the good life.” Goodness — like a mouse hankers for cheese, or a stranded survivor longs to drink fresh water, I sometimes dream of filling my bank account with multiple 000’s.

Dear God, break this Satanic trance that eases the daybreak. Disintegrate this deceptively fluffy safety blanket which has entwined itself around my neck. Delete — permanently delete — this deceitful eschatology that offers greater ease (and more impressive security) than Jesus Christ has ever offered a single man. God, what hope is there for those of us who prefer a dream-world of prosperity to the real-world of your presence?

I know I am not alone. Many of us are tangled in life-hacks, investment strategies, and entrepreneurial ambition. We grant ourselves divine permission to fall in love with the treasures of the world under the guise of “godly, responsible ambition.” We are willingly self-deceived acolytes in the cult of more. And we are the next generation who needs to learn the hopelessness of treasuring gold over God.

The Chase

We cringe over what the Bible says about money. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Nope, not doing that. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). Sorry, too extreme. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Direct hit to the heart.

I’m not ready to sell my possessions. I’m not willing to treat money like it’s evil. But I do know that whenever I get money, it creates a high that leaves me deeply dissatisfied. I know I’m dissatisfied. Okay, Bible — talk to me more about that.

Ecclesiastes roughs up my puffed spiritual chest, and rips off my mask of pretending not to want to be rich. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Satisfaction. We will do anything to be satisfied.

Beneath the desire for money, beneath the desire for a cabin in the mountains, a beach house, a maxed out Roth IRA, or a Tesla — we desire simply to be satisfied. That’s biblical Human Nature 101. Anyone who sells us some other tantalizing motivation as more fundamental than satisfaction is lying. “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4–5).

Nothing explains our human motives, desires, and inhibitions more than satisfaction. But for the grace of God, we would trade our souls for the world.

The Art of Getting

With each decision we make out of a love for money, we trade in a fillet of our own flesh — a quarter-inch of our heart’s real estate at a time. With each step we take toward earthly satisfaction through money, we step deeper into the spiritual novocaine it requires to believe there is really a satisfying payoff to the entrepreneurial worldview.

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has a character called Mr. Money-love. The character’s arc is predictable, but his message is surprisingly similar to my own heart. Long before today’s podcasts, Bunyan had a character who was skilled in “the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion” (114).

“The art of getting.” Is there a more attractive enterprise for a dissatisfied heart? Is there a more accurate description of our own hearts stripped of Christian pretense?

We All Want More

Mr. Money-love says that learning a life-hack lifestyle in the world helps you become a more efficient and effective Christian. It’s not unlawful, therefore, it’s lawful — to get a rich wife, with good customers, and good gain is “most wholesome and advantageous” (117). “Why wouldn’t God want that for us?” he asks. “Why wouldn’t God want me to be Tim Ferris?” Interrogate your heart’s financial infatuation as you become a skilled “getter” — don’t easily allow a Christian justification for money-love without eyes wide open toward who you’re becoming.

Do we have the luxury to believe that our hearts are money-love-repellent? “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6, NIV). “Entrepreneurs” don’t struggle with greed — we are tempted by all the satisfactions we pursue through monetary accumulation: safety, worthiness, love, comfort.

We don’t really know what kind of people we are becoming. We want more. And we gladly avoid eye contact with the devil who holds out the carrot which he will never allow us to reach: satisfaction. That is me. And that is you. I would trade my vision of the one who gave me legs for the one who is willing to pay me a nickel to dance.

Know Your Real Worth

When money takes the levers that control our affections, it also takes control of how we think about God. When our hearts accept the newfound American Dream of Silicon Valley, we forget the vital workings of God’s good news for us in Christ. If we evaluate our worth based on money, we will think that God evaluates his work in us based on our worth; we exchange our spiritual matrimony with Christ for material monetization in commodity.

As Christians, it’s easy to be caught in an insane back-and-forth between feeling guilty for wanting money, and rabidly seeking financial gain. In that process, it becomes easier and easier to think that the laws of the market apply to God’s ways with us.

That’s a lie. God did not save us because of our worth. God did not follow the rules of business wisdom to take action towards us. God is not disappointed in our quarterly earnings. God is not trying to “scale” the church into something more automated, more profitable. Make sure that as you invest and grow and learn about finances, Satan doesn’t transform your view of God into one who expects a certain percentage rate of monthly dividends.

God entrusts us with a “talent” — an investment (Matthew 25:14–30). That’s not your worldly responsibilities. That’s himself. We are not stewards first and foremost of our possessions. We are stewards of Christ because he invested himself in us. He has given us a stock that has infinite value. In a world where the gospel is true (i.e., the world in which we wake up every morning), burying our talent looks more like relying on the earthly economy for our treasure than on God’s presence.

Christ, the True Entrepreneur

Christ acquired us. But he didn’t do it because we were a worthwhile investment. God is not entrepreneurial toward us. He makes decisions that would make earthly investors sell their stock — he invests in you and me. He acquires helpless, plummetting, corrupt, money-losing stock — again, but for his grace.

Jesus Christ, not considering Richard Branson a status to be grasped, became Enron for us, so that we would see that money is an idol which only enflames our evil hearts with ungrateful lust. God outshines the happiness of equity with the joy of election. God outperforms the value of our earning potential with his. God did not consider our hourly rate when he promised us his daily mercies.

Money isn’t evil. But it incites evil in us more easily than we are prepared to admit. Let’s move forward with our eyes open to the world of value around us, recognizing that which is truly valuable as that which cannot be scaled, commodified, or stored in storehouses. Only here will our hearts find rest. Only here will our hearts find sanity and satisfaction in a world where moth and rust destroy (Matthew 6:19–20).

is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute.