Recently, I’ve been listening to a series about dictators on a British podcast called Noiser. It’s a fascinating and disturbing deep dive. But one element that I find most intriguing is the circumstances that coalesce prior to a dictator’s rise to power.
One thing I’ve learned, for instance, is that Hitler rose to power amidst a colossal economic collapse. The German economy, following the Treaty of Versailles, was gutted, creating a spiral that was ripe for exploitation and violence. The collapse was slow at first, but then—seemingly overnight—turned into an avalanche. On the eve of World War I in 1914, four Reichsmarks (the German currency) were equal to one dollar. By 1921, it was 1,000 to one dollar. It jumped to 1,000,000 to one dollar, then billions to one dollar.
Family fortunes, accumulated over generations, suddenly evaporated. The cost of a loaf of bread quadrupled in the time it took to travel to the store. In the early twentieth century, before World War I, Germany had been a fiscally responsible nation of savers. But now, they were penniless. People resorted to bartering because cash in Germany meant nothing.
My point here isn’t to offer advice on how Europe should have solved that crisis. (This stuff is complicated.) It’s simply this: If you were living in Germany in, say, 1930, your entire relationship to money would have been turned upside-down. Everything you thought was simply a given would have turned out to be a lie. That kind of economic freefall—it does something to the way you think about money.
But here’s the thing: If we listened to the words of Jesus—I mean, really listened—we’d realize that his teachings on money are every bit as revolutionary and disorienting as this change in German life. The big difference is that unlike their situation, Jesus’ teachings lead not to fear and tyranny, but to freedom.
Consider: In your daily life, your dependence on money is so ingrained, so assumed, so given, it’s like the air you breathe. You struggle to even imagine another reality.
Money, after all, is your livelihood. This is one reason Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell combined—because money is the most reliable indicator of what you most love and trust in your life. Money is, for both religious and irreligious alike, the greatest competitor with God.
God measures our giving and our faith not by how much we put in, but by what kind of sacrifice it represents for us.
Most of us, when we consider what God has to say about our money, keep the conversation in terms we can manage. Okay, I’ll put a little bit in the plate this week. Fine, pastor, you keep bringing this up, so I’ll write a check for the building campaign. But what Jesus is after isn’t just a slight adjustment. He wants to turn your economic world upside-down.
Those who truly hear Jesus’ teaching on money turn into some of the most extravagant givers you’ll meet. They take leaps of faith that others find strange, even reckless. So instead of just giving the minimum, they start packing that generosity bowl full to see how God blesses and multiplies it.
I know of one wealthy man, for instance, who has recently begun to follow Jesus. Not long ago, he came across the story of the widow giving her “two mites” to the temple (Luke 21). He asked me, “Is that a true story, or is that a parable?”
I said, “Sure enough, it’s true.”
This man said, “So, if the widow was a real woman, I’ll meet her in heaven, right?”
I said, “Right again.”
He responded, “I don’t want her to be able to say she outgave me. Whatever she gave there, by her standards, I want to give by my standards.”
She gave “all she had”—and this guy, in simple and radical obedience, is attempting to do the same.
God measures our giving and our faith not by how much we put in, but by what kind of sacrifice it represents for us. So, the question isn’t, “How much do I need to give?” It becomes, “How much do I want God to bless?”
And then give accordingly.