The late Billy Graham grasped the significance of taking an accurate stance about money when he stated, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”
Graham’s insight is significant because the “great philosophers” never grasped this simple truth.
Platonic philosophy teaches us that common ownership with absolutely no personal property (even to the point of communal spouses and children) is what will straighten out almost every human struggle conceivable. That is because Plato saw wealth and material goods as the cause of discord in society. Of course, Plato was an aristocrat who was extremely wealthy and never put his theory into practice. To do so would have required him to give up his wealth.
Diogenes the Cynic’s mission was to destroy money completely. He had been exiled from his native Sinope for defacing their currency and came to Athens to accomplish the same. Diogenes rejected materialism and gave away all his personal possession, proudly living in a wine barrel and making a living by begging. He believed that he was exemplifying generosity by living such an ascetic life. He performed immoral acts in public and wished he could fill his stomach as easily. He died by committing suicide.
Epicurus believed that happiness was only possible when pain was minimized and pleasure maximized. Luxuries, however, were merely empty pursuits. He believed that the greatest pleasures were to be obtained by relieving pain and that a drink of water should supply more pleasure than a glass of wine. Epicurus considered any desire for something further than basic needs as a needless pursuit which only produced pain and unhappiness. Interestingly, Epicurus was himself very wealthy.
Francis of Assisi was famous for his “love of simplicity and practice of poverty.” He reportedly would rather pick up dung on the street than touch a piece of money. While preaching he would strip off his clothes, make animalistic sounds and play the zither. Women would lock themselves up in their houses to protect themselves from him and most thought him mad. Today he is “loved most by leftist, animal activist, feminist and dogmatic vegetarians though he himself wasn’t a vegetarian.”[i] Francis believed that the more he was despised, the more he became like Jesus. And as all deserted Jesus, we must also be deserted by all in order to become like Christ.
But King Solomon realized the truth long before these ancient philosophers suggested such crazy notions about money, materialism and asceticism. He wrote, “Prepare a meal for enjoyment, drink wine to make yourself merry and remember that money is useful for everything. Just remember God will bring everything to judgment to determine if it be good or evil.”
Jesus was accused of being a glutton and drunkard because he ate and drank with his friends and family. John the Baptist was accused of being a lunatic because he wouldn’t eat or drink anything other than locust and wild honey. The attitude is, as Billy Graham so rightfully said, the difference here.
John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at The University of Oxford, and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford University, appreciates that it’s not what we do or don’t do that produces happiness. It all boils down to a trust relationship. Too many people, including the “great philosophers”, believed that they could earn their own happiness. But our Creator has nothing for sale that we can earn or purchase from him. It is our trust that He desires. And that trust, once given, will produce in us the attitude that all things, including the money that we need, will be provided. How we manage that money, along with all the other material things which are provided to us daily, becomes a measure of our gratefulness.
Money is a material good. It can be used to assist yourself and those around you, or it can become the very end of you and those around you. It all depends on your attitude. And when your attitude is straightened out about money, then most other things in your life will get straightened out as well.
And consider this proverb: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings NOT before obscure men.”[ii]