In Exodus 32 we see a prime example of what wasting wealth looks like; and not surprisingly, it comes in conjunction with people worshiping the wrong thing. When the children of Israel were about to leave Egypt God gave them favor in the sight of the Egyptians so that their neighbors willingly gave them an abundance of gold and silver (Ex 11:1-3; 12:35, 36). Granted, in those days there weren’t websites and apps at people’s fingertips whereby they could have seemingly instant access to gold and silver’s worth; but nonetheless, it was a very valuable resource and the Israelites left Egypt with a good amount of it as a result of God’s grace.
Well not too long after, as their post-Egypt journeying ensued, Moses went up to Mount Sinai and the people became impatient with his absence. So they approached Aaron saying, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex. 32:1 NASB). Sadly, Aaron was willing to oblige them. To expedite the process he needed some raw materials. He told them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (vs.2). So they did. They broke off the gold earrings which they were wearing and they brought them to Aaron (vs.3). He took the gold, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and he created a molded calf (vs.4). And while it is not the main thrust of the passage, it is nonetheless instructive – the people took the gold that God had graciously provided to them and they wasted it on idolatry. In their false worship they also exemplified how to waste wealth.
First, so as to avoid potential confusion, the concept of ‘wasting wealth’, as used in this teaching, does not simply mean ‘wasting surplus riches’ as though “wealth” simply is meant to connote the idea of overflow and abundance. Rather, what we mean by ‘wasting wealth’ is – squandering the increase, resources, and finances that one has been entrusted with by the grace of God. So for example, if a woman spends an exorbitant amount of money, a proportion well beyond reasonable, on diamonds, cosmetics, clothing, and the like, that would indicate that her highest priority is her appearance. Therefore, as she worships at the altar of self, and spends an exorbitant amount of money on her appearance, she wastes the wealth God has providentially provided her. If a man buys fancy cars, expensive watches, and things intended to show off ‘his worth’ that would indicate that his priority is his reputation. Therefore, as he worships at the altar of reputation, and spends exorbitant amounts of money on things he wouldn’t otherwise, he wastes the money God has granted to him. If a person spends an exorbitant amount of money on food, video-games, entertainment, sports, and the like, it shows that their priority is leisure. Therefore, as they worship at the altar of recreation they waste away the wealth that God entrusted to them.
Therefore, let us be careful to know where our heart affections are set – that is where our treasure will be (Mt 6:21). Our fallen nature will be quick to entice us to wrongly prioritize and waste our wealth on things we ought not. If we would avoid wasting our wealth, we must worship the LORD our God and see our spending as the spending of a steward. Yes, we can enjoy many things with the money that God gives us (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17), but we must not make our enjoyment the altar at which we worship. Just as the people of Israel were called by God to participate in a freewill offering for the building of the Tabernacle (Ex 25:1-3) so we should cheerfully participate in using our finances to advance the kingdom of God, disperse the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and help Christians and non-Christians in the hopes that God would get the glory (Mt 5:16). When God is our treasure the way we use our money will illustrate that, and whatever wealth we are entrusted with will not be wasted.