How to handle unclean money

Straight Talk

The Question

Is it morally right to accept money from a drug dealer or from gambling proceeds? What if the money is used for good?

B. From Chicago, Illinois

Is there something like “unclean” money (receiving it from a wicked source)? If so, how do you cleanse it?

L. From South Africa

The Answer
Part 1: Scriptural groundrules
Part 2: Principles

Scriptural groundrules (Part 1)

There’s a little more to these questions than you might think. I’ll tell you why by giving two examples in scripture about the way goods from unclean sources were handled. In one case God commanded his people to take them and in the other he forbade them to.

When the Israelites were leaving Egypt they were doing so in a great hurry. Having been slaves for 400 years they had no property and little else besides personal household goods—if that. Yet they were not to leave empty-handed. “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:35-36)

These articles were not mainly intended for personal use. Once in the wilderness, God told Moses to build an intricate mobile sanctuary and the materials would come from the people. “’Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.’” (Exodus 25:2) Where did the people get the goods with which to give? You got it—the plunder from the Egyptians, which was unclean based on their idolatrous lifestyle.

The heart of the people was right regarding the plunder they had received from the Egyptians. They were allowed to contribute as they felt moved and in the end they brought so much that Moses had to say “Whoa – no more. We have enough.” They were free to use the rest of it for themselves.

In the second example God did the opposite. When they entered the land of Canaan they were told to take Jericho but most of the things of the city were under a ban and the people were not to touch them. “But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of he things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.” (Joshua 6:18) This rule happened over and over as they conquered various places in Canaan and those who broke the rule often had dire consequences. (See the story of Ai in Joshua 7)

Principles (Part 2)

So where do we go from there? How does God want us to handle any unclean money or goods that might come our way? Our decision is not based on intrinsic evil in the goods themselves because God made everything and everything ultimately belongs to him to do with as he pleases. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14)

There’s the problem. The problem is in us. It was the same for the people in the Old Testament. In one case, the plunder the Israelites got from the Egyptians never took hold of their heart but in the second case, it corrupted them. That’s what usually happens unless God specifically commands us to receive. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

I think the questions of both readers unwittingly reveal something of their heart. The first one says, “What if the money is used for good?” That sounds a lot like, “After all, doesn’t the end justifies the means?” The second questioner wants to know how to cleanse unclean money and the implication as I see it is, “…so I can keep it.” Both parties are looking for a way to take the money. Each one needs to examine their heart for signs of greed.

There may be a time when God commands us to receive goods that might be considered unclean. Proverbs 13:22 says, “…and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.” That’s fine if it is really clear that it’s an act of God and he’s doing the transferring. Otherwise, isn’t it better to stay away or we might end up with “all sorts of evil.”?