God and money -- The teachings of John the Baptist
John the Baptist teaches us
An unlikely source of advice
When thinking of great financial advisers, even from the Bible, John the Baptist doesn't immediately spring to mind. But he did have something to say about how we should be living and handling the assets we have. In the book of Luke, we see him in the earliest part of his short ministry, teaching people how to live a life that is pleasing to God.
In Luke 3:10-14, John the Baptist speaks to the multitude. In the previous verses, he tells them that there is about to be a great change in the socio-political landscape. Of course, he doesn't exactly say it like that. He basically tells them stuff is about to change in their lives in a major way. They aren't sure what he is talking about and everyone kind of thought he was a crazy man who dressed strange and ate strange food and lived in the desert. But they had historical experience with such crazy men and they knew he might be telling the truth. So they listened to what he had to say. He tells them they need to change their lives in order to be prepared for the revolutionary changes about to come in their society. That brings us to verse 10.
The Word tells us what to do
The advice of John the Baptist
"And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do, then?"
I love the practicality of these people. They didn't try to defend themselves or make excuses for whatever they had done or failed to do in the past. Perhaps they thought it was a waste of time to argue with the holy man. Or maybe they were frightened by his dire predictions. But they cut right to the chase and asked, What do we do?
"He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise."
I have heard and read a lot of financial advice. Some of it is good and some is not so good and some falls under the "Say WHAT?" category, but simple sharing is not often mentioned. Back during the Great Depression, it was commonplace for people to share what they had with those who didn't have. I read a story recently of a woman who fell into difficult financial circumstances express gratitude to the people who gave her things she was too embarrassed and proud to ask for herself. They saw that she was in need and stepped in to help. Pride can cause people not to ask for things they need. But if you see someone is in need, or you know someone is in need, and you have a surplus of what they need, just offer. The worst that can happen is that they refuse your help. Maybe they have something you need and you can make an exchange. Then everyone wins. I can also see something else here. John the Baptist says if you have two coats, give one to the person who has none. The implication is that this is a coat you normally wear. Sometimes people want to give the most raggedy, tattered cast off to the person in need. This is insulting to people's dignity. If you wouldn't wear it, why would the other person want it? He says the same thing about food. Share your excess with those in need. Share the food you would eat, not stuff that is five minutes away from being thrown in the trash can. One of the byproducts of the present economy is that many people are experiencing first hand what it is like to be in need, some for the first time. Hopefully, this experience will make us more compassionate towards one another and towards the poor.
Advice from the prophet on money
JTB tells us how to act
Then in the last three verses here, John the Baptist talks about money and the way in which some people interact with each other concerning money.
"Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?"
The publicans were the tax collectors. They were kind of like the IRS only worse. They could charge you anything they wanted as long as they gave the Roman government what was required by law. The tax law was so complicated that no one really knew what they owed and had to depend on these people to tell them. (Does this sound familiar?) So almost everyone was being cheated and they knew it and they hated the tax collection guys. But somehow, the words of John the Baptist had these men seeking advice on how to treat people right.
"And he said to them, Exact no more than that which is appointed to you."
Basically John the Baptist told them, Don't cheat people. Just collect what you are supposed to collect. How many people are willing to cheat others for money? Too many. Enough said.
" And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."
Sometimes the Roman soldiers would use their authority and power to get money out of people or to terrorize them in other ways. If they can learn to be content with the salary they earn, they will be less likely to try to squeeze money out of the already stressed people. In the same way, when we learn to live within our means, we will be less likely to cheat other people or to get cheated ourselves when we become involved in get rich quick schemes, overly risky investments, overextended credit and any other plan that promises wealth but leads us to poverty.
In these times of economic upheaval, there is plenty of opportunity to practice the principles set forth by John the Baptist. We can learn to share, to help instead of hurt each other and to live within our means. And these things will benefit us long after the recession is over.