Once upon a time, three faithful Hebrews, though they were living in a land and in a people that were not their own, stood courageously against the threat of a king. It was a very clear choice for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebachadnezzar of Babylon had constructed an enormous golden statue and commanded that people of every sort bow down in worship. So the choice was clear for the three friends – either bow to an idol, or bow to the God of Israel.
One or the other. You can’t have it both ways.
Their decision was made in a moment that they would not bend the knee to the statue.
Sometimes it happens like that. Sometimes we are presented with the clear decision point of whether we will choose to worship God, or worship something else. But other times idolatry is more sinister. Other times our choice to bow is not made in a moment, but instead is a very slow – almost imperceptible – bending of the knee as an idol creeps slowly into our hearts.
This is what makes idolatry so difficult to counter – it’s that it happens slowly. Gradually. Over the course of time.
Now Jesus warned us about one idol in particular – the idol of money. Jesus could have set up anything as the primary competitor to God in our lives. He could have easily said something like, “You cannot serve both God and power,” or “You cannot serve both God and sex,” but instead He chose money:
“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (Matthew 6:24).
For Jesus, money seems to be the primary competitor to God for our love and adoration. But like all other idols, money slinks into our hearts slowly, and before we know it, we are bowing down to the dollar.
What are some of the warning signs that this is happening? There are the obvious ones, of course – we might, for example, stop giving to the church. Or we might start spending more money than we are making. But there are other signs, too – just as dangerous, but perhaps more subtle. These other signs don’t deal so much with our spending habits, but instead deal with the way we view and treat other people.
The Bible tells us there is a clear link between our love for God and our love for other people. If we, then, notice the way we view and treat others is starting to change, then it’s indicative of something happening in our relationship with God as well. From that standpoint, here are three warning signs that money is becoming our idol, all having to do with how we view and treat other people:
1. We begin to see people as a resource.
When money starts creeping into our hearts, then we start seeing everything in our lives as a means to that end. Our time, our talents, and our relationships all become means to an end. We start asking the question, even if we don’t say it out loud, “How can I leverage these resources in order to advance myself and therefore make more money?”
The love of money makes people into rungs on a ladder that we seek to climb.
2. We seem to be unable to be happy for others.
As Christians, one of the ways we should be different from the world is that we ought to be able to be truly and genuinely happy for others. We should be able to whole-heartedly rejoice with those who rejoice when something good happens in their lives. But the love of money will keep us from doing that.
Instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice, we will secretly begrudge them for their health, their promotion, or some other element of earthly good in their lives. It will happen because we desire our own good, specifically our financial good, and we feel entitled to it.
3. We begin to live in a state of comparison.
Comparison is a miserable state to live in. Never satisfied. Never grateful. Always seeking more. And yet this is what the idol of money brings. We view others not as people, as image-bearers of God, but instead only through the lens of our own materialism. Either they prop us up, or they are a source of contempt. Money corrupts our vision like this.
Money isn’t bad. Not necessarily. But it is sneaky. So take a look at your heart today, and in particular, take a look at how you view and treat others. It might give you some insight into whether the love of money is starting to creep in.