Money Motivates Me to Work Hard — Is That Okay?
Hello, everyone, and happy Friday. Thanks for joining us on the Ask Pastor John podcast today. Pastor John joins us remotely over Skype. And our question today is from a listener named Wesley, who has an important work question, though it’s unclear where he works. Wesley writes, “Hello, Pastor John! Recently, my boss offered me and all my colleagues a cash bonus for anyone generating new referrals. I felt immediately lured into the proposition. But my question is this: Should the straight-up offer of cash be a good motivator for our work? Can the desire for more money — in this case, a bonus — be desirous in a virtuous way? Or is this simply the love of money? How can I tell the difference?”
One of the most basic things to say is that money only has value in a culture where it can be exchanged for something else. The paper we call “bills” or “money,” or the pieces of metal we call “coins,” or the checks that stand for money, or the electronic impulses on your phone (that turn into money somehow) — all of that — is relatively worthless. It has value only because we live in a culture in which there is an agreed-upon use that can be made of these different coins and different bills.
You can exchange them for things and for services that you value, or you can give them away because you believe that what others will exchange them for is something you really value and want to promote. That might be a missionary who exchanges them for Bibles to give away, or it might be a research institute that attempts to find a cure for a disease, and so on. So, money is the capacity to obtain and promote what you value.
Using Money to Magnify God
Now, the Bible is clear that the ultimate goal of life is to magnify — that is, to make much of, to glorify, to show to be supremely beautiful, worthy, great — Jesus and all that God is for us in him. Everything in the world exists ultimately for this purpose, including money. So, the fundamental question for the Christian in regard to money is, Does my possession of it, or my lack of possession of it, or my desire for it, or my lack of desire for it, does all of that serve this purpose of magnifying, making much of, the worth of Jesus above all things?
The way I like to say it is this: the reason God gives his people money is so that we can use money in a way to show that money is not our God, but that God is our God. That’s why we have money. That’s why we have everything. And I think it’s important to emphasize that God does intend for Christians to use money. Money itself is just money. It’s not good or bad; it’s just stuff: it’s paper or coins or potential for value.
Jesus said in Luke 10:7 (and this is a really important sentence — and every word in it probably, especially the word worthy) that the laborer is worthy of his wages. The word worthy implies that it’s right, it’s good, it’s just to earn a living and to receive wages that correspond to your work. And evidently, the harder you work, the more wages you receive, and the less you work, the less wages. There’s a correspondence. That’s what he means by the word worthiness: the laborer is worthy of his wages. This would be called justice. It’s just to be paid more for doing a very good job for your employer. And it’s just to be paid less for doing a poor job for your employer. And of course, there are other criteria. But that’s the basic principle that would be justice, or what Jesus calls worthiness.
“God gives his people money so that we can use money in a way to show that money is not our God.”
So, I don’t deny the goodness and the justice of an employee desiring to be paid appropriately for a job well done, whether it’s an ordinary wage or whether it’s a bonus. The principle is the same, it seems to me — not whether you get a bonus and that creates all kinds of problems, but rather your wage: Why do you go to work in the morning anyway, not just for when there’s a bonus promised? Either way, it seems to me that the remuneration for work done is right. And so to desire it is right, or at least can be right.
Seven Ways to Gauge Greed
The question then becomes (and this is the question that was raised): What might make the desire for a bonus or a wage defective — a defective sinful desire for a wage or a bonus? And Wesley asks specifically, “Can the desire for more money — in this case a bonus — be desirous in a virtuous way? Or is this simply the love of money? How can I tell the difference?” So, let me give a handful of pointers that I think the Bible gives to help us discern whether our hearts are right in the desire for a bonus or a wage, or any other material benefit for that matter — some tax return, say.
1. Appraise the project.
Is the project for which the bonus is offered itself virtuous? Are you being asked to do something good? If not, then the pursuit of the money for the bonus is going to be tainted.
2. Feel the danger.
Do you feel a fitting danger that the desire to be rich is a perilous desire? “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare. . . . The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:9–10). “Only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).
In other words, there’s just a cluster of New Testament texts that wave a big yellow flag in front of the desire for money to say, “Watch out: this can kill you.” And I’m just saying, do you feel that? It’s appropriate to be awakened to that danger, lest you fall for it.
3. Check your contentment in Christ.
Is the desire for the money an evidence that God is becoming less satisfying to you? Or to put it another way around: Is the desire for the money becoming idolatrous? I use that word because of Colossians 3:5, which says that greed, or covetousness, is idolatry. Or to put it in another way: Would you still be content in God, happy in God, if the bonus did not come through?
4. Remember what’s most blessed.
Is your heart continuing to experience the truth of Acts 20:35, that “it is more blessed” — more joyful, more satisfying — “to give than to receive”? Or is the desire for this bonus rising to the level that it would be more pleasant to get it rather than to give? Has your heart begun to shift away from Acts 20:35?
5. Preserve trust in God’s promises.
Does the desire for the bonus indicate that your heart might be losing some of its confidence in the promises of God that are designed to keep you free from the love of money? And here I have in mind Hebrews 13:5–6: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” Is the desire for the bonus a loss of confidence in those promises?
6. Evaluate your love for God’s word.
Since Jesus said in Luke 8:14 that the riches of the world choke the word of God, do you detect in the desire for this bonus any lessening of your joy and desire to be much in the word of God? Boy, this is such a good barometer. People just start to find the word of God boring when they become more worldly.
Or would this bonus enhance your motives for reading and meditating on God’s word? As you desire the bonus, as you contemplate receiving the bonus, as you contemplate giving or spending or saving or investing the bonus, are you drawn to the word of God, rather than drawn away from it?
7. Root your life in Christ.
Finally, since Jesus said that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions (Luke 12:15), do you detect that this bonus is encroaching on your very sense of being alive in Christ, so that it plays a role — a life-giving role, an energizing role — that seems out of proportion with the statement that your life doesn’t consist in the abundance of your possessions? Is there a sense that to lose the bonus would actually diminish your sense of life in him?
So, those are some of the ways that you can test your heart when you are desiring a wage or a bonus or some other material benefit. In the end, the Bible says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s the bottom line: Will God be more glorious to you? And will he look more glorious through you because of this bonus and what you do with it?