I used to think, when I was a child, that Christ might have been exaggerating when he warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how very hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness…
Dom Helder Camara
To soften the blow, many preachers introduce biblical passages on wealth and its dangers with the disclaimer, “of course there’s nothing wrong with money” or “God’s not saying you can’t have nice things.” Yet, at times, it seems that’s exactly what Scripture teaches.
“It’s not money that is evil,” they say, “but the love of money.” True, this was in fact Paul’s warning to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:10), but how many of those with money do not love it? If it were hated, would it not be done away with? Everyone loves money to some extent or at least enjoys the things it buys. Is this acceptable?
Jesus was no ascetic. He enjoyed a good party (Matt. 11:19), and spilt expensive perfume gave him no pause (Mark 14:3-9). He enjoyed at least some of the things money could buy, but He also said those who enjoy those things too much may find their portal to heaven plugged by a camel (Matt. 19:24).
It appears that loving money does something to our love for or allegiance to others. If this is true, do all who are rich love money wrongly or can someone be rich and still keep what Lady Macbeth sarcastically assigned to the King – the milk of human kindness?
We Are All Poor
The love of money impoverishes. Those preoccupied by it assume that others want it and, in their (sometimes valiant) attempts at kindness, misappropriate it.
Unfortunately, many people’s perceptions of poverty are misguided. They assume poverty is material – good food, clean drinking water, health care.
Surprisingly, the poor rarely view their condition in terms of material needs; rather, they often speak in terms of shame, powerlessness and loss of hope. The psychological and sociological disconnect many of them feel could be summed up in their lack of fundamental relationships – a relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation (When Helping Hurts and Walking with the Poor, Principles, and Practices of Transformational Development).
The fall has splintered all of them. Man has rebelled against God, preferring himself and despising others and, in creating a world unto himself, has neglected to steward the world God gave him. The result is a poverty of being (low self-esteem or pride), a poverty of community (self-centeredness, exploitation and oppression), a poverty of spiritual intimacy (idolatry) and a poverty of stewardship (laziness, materialism). Poverty is about broken relationships, and in this sense, everyone is poor – even the rich.
We Are All Rich
American evangelicals are rich, comparatively of course, but rich. Paul instructs Timothy to “charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God…to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).
Riches are a means toward good works, and the rich are to divest themselves of it (Eph. 4:28). Those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9).”
For those who have means, they are to be ready to give. For those who have little, they are to be content. Most have plenty to spare.
Some have tried to make these plain prescriptions less clear. Frank E. Gaebelein is concerned, “With all our devotion to the Bible, we evangelicals have not been biblical enough…Our fault has been and still is, an unbiblical selectivity in the preaching, reading and application of the Word of God…[creating] imbalance that is weakening evangelical obedience to the whole counsel of God” (Living More Simply).
To be fair, many who give do so generously, but many don’t give as if they are rich. How much wealth is acceptable according to Scripture is uncertain, but what is clear from the many passages is that “a biblical lifestyle will be suspicious of wealth. Wealth means success on worldly terms, which raises the question of how it was obtained and why it is maintained” (Peter H. Davis in Living More Simply).
A gracious suspicion of our own (not others’) storehouses, though never to be used as grounds for judgment or condemnation, is biblical and would most likely confirm what most outside our borders know – that we all are rich.
Read Part 2 of this blog tomorrow.