Maximize Your Eternal Networth

by John M. Thornton

The topic of money confuses many Christians. And no wonder. At first blush, Jesus’ financial advice seems terrible. “Blessed are the poor.” How can that be? “Give to everyone who asks.” I would be broke in a day. “To the one who doesn’t have, even what he has will be taken from him.” How is that fair? Jesus’ teachings on money can be hard. So hard that we often discard them— or Him. He flips the tables on everything we thought we knew about peace, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. Only when we understand Jesus’ purpose in coming to this world—to glorify His Father—do His teachings on money become a different kind of terrible. They change from seemingly convoluted to terrifying and awesome. Terrifying, because He ruins the empty lives we had planned for ourselves; awesome, because He replaces our mere existence with better lives than we could have ever imagined.

From Scripture, I see three clear reasons God calls us to give: to know Him better, to set us free from money as a master, and to enrich us.

Too often, my attitude toward giving reminds me of how my young sons used to respond when I asked them for one of their french fries. You know, the ones I had just bought for them. Under great duress, they would sort through the scraps to find one short enough to spare. That is how I often treat God, though everything I have comes from Him.

In truth, God is a giver. He delights to “exercise kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (Jeremiah 9:24 NIV). When we give what is kind, just, or right, we reflect our Father and know Him better.

Giving physically trades the promises offered by money for the promises offered by God. Whatever masters us, enslaves us. When we misplace our love or fear on money, it enslaves us. It is God who provides for us, and He deserves the glory.

We do not seem to understand that Jesus commands us to give to enrich us, not impoverish us. It really is more blessed to give than receive. If we truly believed Him, wouldn’t we be trying harder to give than to get?

Imagine playing Monopoly and someone offers you the chance to trade in your pink fivers for greenbacks. You would trade every single one. Why? Because when the game is over, the pink paper is worthless. Even one penny, invested at 10 percent annually, exceeds $100 billion in about 315 years. Clearly then, anything invested for eternity is worth more than everything here.

So why don’t we give all we can? It comes down to faith. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). But if we don’t know what treasures in Heaven are, how can we hope for them? Jesus’ formula for using worldly wealth is summed up in Luke 16:10-12 (NIV):

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Emphasis added.)

We maximize our eternal net worth by being trustworthy, from little to much, worldly wealth to true treasures, stewardship to ownership.

Begin by making the most of the little you have, and God will honor it. The widow who gave from the very little she had was one of the few Jesus commended for generosity.

Next, handle worldly wealth well. We cannot trade worldly wealth for true treasures without learning to live within our means, because we cannot give what we do not have.

Finally, moving from stewardship to ownership is faith’s final frontier. Simply put, stewards manage someone else’s money. Owners manage their own money. If you are an owner, you make the final call. No layers remain between you and God—you are directly accountable to Him.

What will you do with Jesus’ terrible financial advice?

This article adapts content from Thornton’s latest book, Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Moody Publishers, 2017).

John M. Thornton, Ph.D., CPA, is the LP and Bobbi Leung Endowed Chair of Accounting Ethics, and professor and chair of the LP and Timothy Leung School of Accounting.

Originally published in the Spring '17 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.