John 21:15-17

“More than anything, more than anything, I love you Jesus, more than anything.” 1

I don’t know about you but I have a very difficult time singing that song. It makes me examine whether or not I really do love Jesus more than . . . anything. More than I loved spending the day yesterday with family and friends in Columbus tailgating the Ohio State game? Maybe if I really loved Jesus more, I would have spent the day reading the Bible, or maybe I should have given the gas and food money to missionaries.

Every time I sing that song and question how much I love Jesus, I think of John 21 where Jesus asked Simon Peter a similar question about how much he loved Jesus.

After breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

If Jesus had asked me the question He asked Peter, I too would have evaded His question with my answer, “Lord, you know I love you?” For did you notice that the question was not “Do you love Me?” If that would have been the question, it would be a no-brainer, all of us would say with Peter “You know I love You.”

But the question was, “Do you love Me more than these?” And the question is, what are the ‘these’ Jesus refers to?

Commentators are divided; some siding with the idea that Jesus is asking Peter “Do you love Me more than these” fishing buddies do? And others “Do you love Me more than these” boats and nets.”

In his well-respected commentary, Gary Burge writes, “These two options are relevant since Peter has rejoined his fishing career and now with his friends around him, Jesus is calling him to make a choice. Does he love his career or is he willing to be Christ’s disciple with a thoroughgoing call to ministry.” 2

Which opens up Pandora’s box for us, doesn’t it? “Do you love Me more than your career? Or more than the money you earn on the job?” “Do you love Me more than anything that might distract you from more perfectly following Me?

What Jesus is talking about is the setting of priorities. What’s more important in life; our relationships with other people and things, particularly money, or our relationship with God?

Let’s begin by confessing from the outset we love money.

We can’t help it. Money buys the things that sustain our lives; food, water, and shelter. Without these, we could not survive. And so there is a natural attachment to money.

Money also buys many other things that we have come to enjoy. It is easy to love money.

But I must tell you, it is Biblically dangerous to love money. The wisest man, Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!”

First he says that ‘those who love money will never have enough.’

Indeed, “When people are asked, ‘How much would it take to have enough money?’ regardless of income, people say, ‘We need about 10% more to feel comfortable.’ Whether people in these studies earn $30,000 per year or $60,000 or $250,000 or a cool million, people say they need just 10% more to feel comfortable. And the same studies show that when over time people do get that 10%, they want just another 10%, and so on. British psychoanalyst Joan Riviere makes the following observation: “By its very nature greed is endless and never appeased; and ceases only with death.” 3

Then again Solomon was right when he continued: “How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!”

In fact, isn’t it ironic that a love for money actually causes us much stress?

“A 2015 Stress in America survey shows 72% report feeling stressed about money.” 4

Then again, a 2012 survey, found that couples fight about one issue more than any other; money. On average, couples fight about money at least three times per month. That made it the most volatile topic, ahead of arguments about children, chores, work, or friends. As couples age and have more money, they generally argue about it more often. 5

The love of money can also have a negative impact on our spiritual growth, In I Timothy 6:10, Paul writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Research shows that generally the more money we have the harder it is to connect with others, and the more difficult it is to have empathy for others. They are less charitable and generous and less likely to help someone in trouble. 6

Even so, we love money.

However, if we are not careful, if we do not guard against it, we will be susceptible to allowing to become an idol.

Is it possible that money is the kind of idol God, in His Ten Commandments, told us not to have? “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3). An idol is anything that takes precedence over our relationship with God.

Jesus affirms that money can be an idol. Though He doesn’t use the word idol, Jesus describes it in Luke 16:13-15:

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.”

What is detestable in the sight of God? Giving first place in our hearts to money rather than God.

Note, Jesus could have set up anything as the primary competitor to God in our lives. He could have easily said, “You cannot serve both God and power,” or “You cannot serve both God and sex,” but instead He chose money. That’s because he knew that our relationship with God would be deeply impacted by our relationship with money. If we worry about money then we won’t be trusting God. If we are chasing after money then it’s doubtful that we’re chasing after God.

Notice Jesus said you ‘cannot’ serve both. It is impossible, it is one or the other and all of us must choose one or the other.

I remember a time back when I used to hunt. I had a Brittany Spaniel named Buck, who was primarily a bird dog, but he didn’t shy away from chasing rabbits. One day he scared up two rabbits at the same time who took off in opposite directions. He looked at one and then the other before taking off after one of them. When the one he was chasing circled back around Buck caught sight of the other rabbit and took off after it! He never caught either one! The best rabbit dog cannot chase two rabbits at the same time.

We try our best to chase both, but Jesus said, we cannot serve both God and money.

So Jesus presents us with a clear choice: “No one can serve two masters. Is money more important to us than God? Is it an idol?

So how can you tell if money is an idol for you?

In a book titled Counterfeit Gods author and Pastor Tim Keller offers some ways to identify whether we are in danger of making money an idol. I will clue you as to two of them:

Your Imagination. Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude”. What he meant by that is what does your heart run to when it has a spare moment to think privately? In other words, if you were to stop yourself in a daydream mode, what would we find out about you? Are you thinking about making more money, buying more stuff, building a bigger house, getting rich quickly or any other money-grubbing thing? Where does your imagination lead you when you are privately in thought?

Secondly, your Checkbook. Author and finance teacher Ron Blue says, ‘A life story could be written from a checkbook. It reflects your goals, priorities, convictions, relationships, and even the use of your time. A person who has been a Christian for even a short while can fake prayer, Bible study, evangelism, going to church, and so on, but he can’t fake what his checkbook reveals. Want to tell if money has become your idol? Take a look at your spending habits. You will effortlessly spend money on your idol. If God is your heart’s greatest treasure, you will radically give generous amounts of money to ministries, charities and to those in need rather than hoarding it for yourself.’ Then Keller says, “Most of us, however, tend to overspend on clothing, or on our children, or on status symbols such as homes and cars. Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.” 7

Another pastor and author Michael Kelley says another warning sign money is an idol is “we begin to live in a state of comparison. Comparison is a miserable state to live in; never satisfied, never grateful, always seeking more. And yet this is what the idol of money brings.” 8

I say that a sign that money could be an idol for us is if we don’t like to talk about money. And most of us do not.

A new survey from Wells Fargo found that money is the hot button issue most people ignore. 44% of Americans point to money as the most challenging chat anyone can possibly have. Even the existentially terrifying topic of death comes in second at 38 percent. 9

And of course, the reason we don’t like to talk about it is we don’t want anyone trying to tell us what to do with our money. In many cases, even God.

Which leads to my last warning sign that money might be an idol. The most telling sign that money is an idol is that we don’t want to comply with what God says about the way we should be using money. God has a few things to say about how we use money. And when we listen to what God says and refuse to comply with what God says, then we are putting our desires above God’s, essentially making money an idol.

Another way to look at it is we are saying we love money more than we love God.

Despite how complex we make it, how I have made it today, Jesus makes it quite simple; whom will we serve?

Will we serve God by using money in accordance with His wishes as outlined in scripture? Or will we serve money by handling it solely at our discretion?

Once upon a time, I was officiating a wedding and when I came to that all-important question of the bride, “Do you take so-and-so to be your lawfully wedded husband?” for some unknown reason, there was an incredibly long and unbelievably awkward pause. She was looking directly into her future husband’s eyes, which were growing bigger with each passing second. But she didn’t say a word for 20 to 25 seconds before she turned and looked at me with a quizzical expression as if she was wanting me to answer for her. No one, including the groom, knew for sure if the bride had just zoned out for a moment, or if she was actually contemplating how she wanted to answer. Later, we found out she was so nervous she couldn’t speak a word.

No groom deserves to have a hesitant bride on his wedding day.

That incident made me think of how the Church is the Bride of Christ, and how we can be reluctant in committing ourselves to Him. Just as it would crush a groom for his bride to have second thoughts it must be disappointing to Jesus when we hesitate in our surrendering to Him when he asks us as He did Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”

1 Lyrics from Song More than Anything. Words and Music by Chris Christensen. Integrity’s Hosanna Music. © 1989

2 Burge, Gary. The NIV Application Commentary; John. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, © 2000]. Page 586.

3 Ted Scofield, Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem, Pt. 5: You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, Mockingbird blog (9-8-15)

4 American Psychological Association, “American Psychological Association Survey Shows Money Stress Weighing on Americans’ Health Nationwide” (2-4-15)

5 Market Watch, “AICPA Survey: Finances Causing Rifts for American Couples,” The Wall Street Journal (5-29-12)

6 Britt Petterson, “Why it matters that our politicians are rich,” Boston Globe (2-19-12)

7 Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods. [London: Penguin Books, © 2011].


9 Taylor, “The Last Taboo; Why Nobody Talks About Money,” Reuters (3-27-14)