How to Tell if Money Has Become Your Idol

by Jason on March 17, 2010

Oh boy – here he goes again on a rant about how we love money way too much.

Doesn’t this guy write about anything relevant?

Just hear me out a second.

You and I both know that if we were painfully honest with each other, we’d have to admit that there is a sense in all of us that we love money.  We do!  We love it.

My guess is that there are probably three groups of people reading this post right now – maybe four:

The Groups

Now, the first group will say – “Of course I love money – who cares!”  The ol’  Gordon Gecko “Greed is Good” mentality right?

The second group will sorrowfully admit that they know they love money way too much, but they’re striving to let go of the earthly treasure and view Christ as a greater one!

The third group will say outwardly, “Of course not!  I do NOT love money – how dare you.”  But deep down in their heart they crave the latest and greatest, they strive for the next promotion as if it will solve their problems and functionally they view money as their savior!

The fourth group, if they exist, have it all figured out – they are living fully and completely for God and really don’t care about money at all.  But, I doubt there are many of us in this last group.

Now which group is on the most destructive path?  Well, one could argue that it’s the first group, but I don’t really think so – they just simply don’t care.  At least we know where they stand.

The second group knows there are issues and they want to work on it.  The fourth group is few and far between – so that leaves us with the third group – the ones that outwardly have it all figured out, but inwardly are greedy idolaters!

My guess is that every single person who just read that last sentence said to themselves, “I’m glad that’s not me – those poor souls who don’t even realize they’re greedy – what a shame” – or something along those lines.

Pay Close Attention

I need you to read closely a second here – what if – and I’m just throwing this out there – but what if you are in the third group!?

How would you even know?  What are some of the symptoms, the warning signs?  What red flags should you be looking for to know if you have made money an idol in your own heart?

The Litmus Test

I just finished reading the book Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York.   The book has been very challenging to me in the way I view money and possessions.

He offers four ways to identify idols in our own hearts, and I’d like to paraphrase his tests and adapt them to talk about one specific idol – namely money.

Your Imagination

Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude”.  What he meant by that is what does your heart run to when it has a spare moment to think privately?

In other words, if you were to stop yourself in a daydream mode – what would we find out about you?  Are you thinking about making more money, buying more stuff, building a bigger house, getting rich quickly or any other money-grubbing thing?

Where does your imagination lead you when you are privately in thought?

Your Checkbook

Author and finance teacher Ron Blue says,

A life story could be written from a checkbook. It reflects your goals, priorities, convictions, relationships, and even the use of your time. A person who has been a Christian for even a short while can fake prayer, Bible study, evangelism, going to church, and so on, but he can’t fake what his checkbook reveals.”

Want to tell if money has become your idol?  Take a look at your spending habits.  You will effortlessly spend money on your idol.

If God is your heart’s greatest treasure, you will radically give generous amounts of money to ministries, charities and to those in need rather than hoarding it for yourself.

As Keller says, “Most of us, however, tend to overspend on clothing, or on our children, or on status symbols such as homes and cars.  Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.”

Your Functional Savior

I just recently did a post asking if money is your functional savior.  I encourage you to check out that post. But, these folks view money or what it brings as what will save them from their misery and bring them ultimate joy!  What is it that you are viewing as bringing you the ultimate happiness and joy?

Your Emotions

Anger, bitterness, fear, doubt, despair, guilt – are just a few emotions that we can rattle off here.  Emotions aren’t wrong – they are good – in fact they help us express what we are feeling.

Have you ever thought about the emotions you have surrounding your money?  Keller says that our most uncontrollable emotions reveal what kind of idols we have.

If you’re angry, ask yourself, “Is there something here too important to me that I must have at all costs?”

If you are fearful or despairing, ask yourself, “Am I scared because something I view as so important is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not?”

Ask, “Is this thing (promotion, money etc) so important to me that I must have it to feel fulfilled?”

Keller says,

When you ask questions like that, when you “pull your emotions up by the roots as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.

Making Progress

So hopefully we’re making progress here.  I’ve seen how money is an idol in my own heart and I know I need help.  Tomorrow we’ll talk about How to Replace Money as an Idol.  But for now, let me leave you with a few closing questions:

  • Has money become your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, fear and delight?
  • Do you think having more money will make you happy?
  • Do you think  having more money will make you an acceptable person?
  • Do you look to money to define you or make you powerful or successful?

Share Your Thoughts

I know there’s a lot to chew on this post, but let me know in the comments below:

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the litmus test?
  2. Which litmust test resonates most with you?

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