This page contains the following articles;
1. Economic Immorality
2. Blaming the Rich
3. Lazarus and the Rich Man
4. Instructions to Rich Christians
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1. Economic Immorality
This article is about individual morality, not about government or politics. Christians are to accept and honor whatever government that they are under (Romans 13), as long as doing so does not violate God’s law (Acts 5:29). We also have an obligation to be a positive force for good in our world in every way that does not violate God’s laws, according to Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.”
As an example of what we are calling economic immorality, let us consider the person who is fully able to work and has been offered a decent job, but decides that it is just as profitable to take unemployment. Obviously the government might never know that he turned down a job, and they might not even care. But good moral people should recognize that this person is stealing from society just as surely as if he stole the money from a bank or a convenience store.
Please realize that we are not saying that people who have lost their jobs and are actively seeking employment are in any way stealing when they accept their unemployment checks. Accepting this payment when there is a true hardship is consistent with both man's and God's laws, and therefore they are not doing anything immoral. That is what the unemployment system was set up to do. Please do not misunderstand us in this regard.
The moral principle given in God’s word in this regard is clearly given in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat .” The word “will” here implies desire. Many disabled people today would give anything to be able to work, but they cannot. These people should be supported by society. And if these were the only ones that our society had to support, the impact on those who work would be negligible. We have more than the capability to take care of all of our needy – that is not the issue.
But when the people who could be working instead collect unemployment, they are both lying and stealing. The principle of Jesus given in Matthew 7:12 is well known: “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them : for this is the law and the prophets.” This principle applies to our social responsibilities in general – if you want people to work to provide you with the benefits of our society, then you have an obligation to contribute by doing those things that you are qualified to do.
Why do so many in our society fail to see this? We suspect that it is because taking from the government is rationalized to be a victimless crime – who does it hurt? All of God’s laws and most of man’s laws have been established to benefit all of us. When they are violated, many suffer as a result. So let us answer that question: who does it hurt?
When someone refuses to work, he still receives the benefits from the work of others -- food, shelter, clothing and quite possibly many of the luxuries of our society. These things are not produced by magic -- they are obtained by the hard work of our fellow citizens. It is only right that, if at all possible, we all contribute to this production to help others in the same way that they are providing for us. The fact that most get away with it makes it no less stealing.
Many (I hesitate to say most) have no understanding of how our economy works in this regard. There seems difficulty in understanding that working people contribute to the benefits that are enjoyed by all others in society. Those who refuse to work are not contributing. It does not matter how lowly the job may be, as long as it is an honorable occupation, it will be benefiting someone -- perhaps many other people.
A good adage in this regard is: suppose everyone were to behave exactly as I am behaving, what would be the result? And this surfaces another sin – the influence that laziness has on others. Do you ever wonder why so many in our country have just stopped looking for a job altogether?
It is a natural reaction when people see others prospering without working that they feel entitled to do the same. This produces a snowball effect, with the first indication of a problem being that the standard of living goes down. It has been going down over the past few years in the U.S. because fewer goods and services are being produced. It does not matter that money is being printed to buy things when those things do not exist. Our standard of living depends totally on our productivity.
The fact that our standard of living is going down attests to the validity of this problem. If there is no incentive to work, our entire economic system will collapse as it did in Russia and in many other places where everyone thought that the government could do the impossible. We can say with certainty that if the current trends continue, it will happen here … it is the inevitable result when the majority practice economic immorality.
Many are able to hide these things from the government and their friends, but it is impossible to hide them from God. Let those of us who have respect for God and regard for our fellow man not fall into this trap of greed and laziness. Christians recognize that when we work, it is not just for our employer it is unto the Lord. According to Colossians 3:23 “whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord , and not [just] unto men …”
There is nothing more important than the conditions of salvation given by Jesus.
2. Blaming the Rich
by Dave Brown
This article is about individual morality, not about government or politics. It applies to ourselves as much as it does our leaders. Christians are to accept and honor whatever government that they are under (Romans 13), and be obedient to it as long as our doing so does not violate any of God’s laws (Acts 5:29). We also have an obligation to be a positive force for good in our world in every good way, according to Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.” We hope this article will not be misinterpreted as being political. Like our souls, our nations are in the hands of God. Love God and do His will, and all things will work together for your good (Romans 8:28). So, let us not be too moved by the elections, one way or the other.
Is there any place in the bible where the rich are blamed for the plight of the poor just because they are rich? True, the rich are warned and rebuked in many places for taking advantage of the poor and the helpless, and for not giving them fair wages. But these are individual cases of personal immorality, not a blanket condemnation of them for being rich per se.
Let’s start by defining what we mean by rich and poor? Are these not relative terms? By what standard is a person called rich? We submit to you that the raw equivalent incomes (or government support) of the poorest among us (in the United States) is several times the incomes of most of the people in this world. According to the 2014 guidelines the poverty threshold for a family of four is $23,850.
Nevertheless, most of our poor have a standard of living that is well above the masses in the third world (e.g., cars, warm housing, clothing, TVs, and the amount of food they consume, endless supply of drinkable running water, etc.) Is it any wonder that they consider the poorest among us to be extremely wealthy (i.e., rich)? [We realize that we have some who are as poor as those in the third world, but these are relatively few among those that our government classifies as being at the poverty level.]
Is it any wonder that these masses have been led by their manipulative leaders to blame all Americans (rich and poor) for their plight? They dare not blame themselves, their own leaders, their own religion, or their own culture – that would be blasphemy. So, who else is there to blame? Rich Americans (and that means all of us) are the easy targets. Please review the article on covetousness and see if this very common weakness is not being exploited.
It is just too easy for them to control the minds of their people with this ploy. While we do not approve, we surely understand their taking this easy way out. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand why our own leaders do the same thing. We must give them all the benefit of the doubt – surely they do not understand basic economics. Let us try to see where their reasoning might lead us.
From the third-world perspective, the solution to poverty is for all of us (rich and poor) to give up the luxuries that the perceive we have, and distribute this wealth to the rest of the world. I am sure that the (relatively) poor among us consider this to be unreasonable. But we expect that the vast majority of people in the third world do not think this is unreasonable. In the United States there is a growing dichotomy between those who are considered to be rich and poor (by the federal government’s criteria). And the solution that some of our own leaders are advocating is the same one that is keeping the third world enslaved – that the fault lies with the rich. If we can just get the rich to give up their wealth, all the problems of the poor masses would be solved. And if they will not give it up, then we will take it from them!
I can recall in grade school (60 years ago) the teacher reading us stories of Robin Hood and glorifying his taking from the rich and giving it to the poor. That always seemed to my young mind to be a very reasonable and good thing. But is this a reasonable and good way to go about creating an equitable society?
Let’s just let our imagination run wild for a few seconds and think this proposition through. Suppose everyone who had a net worth (stocks, bonds, equipment, real estate, property or goods of any kind) of more than a certain amount of wealth were forced to liquidate it (sell it for cash) and give it to the government so that they could equally distribute it to everyone else (assuming that was even possible). First of all, how could they sell what they have since (according to the rules) there would be no one who would have the money to buy it? But even if they could sell it all, how would anything get produced once everything had been sold? Everything: land, tractors, canneries, fishing boats, 18 wheelers, food processors, clothing factories, etc., etc. All of the companies that produce the goods and services that enable us to survive and prosper would be cashed out. Net result – there would be very little to buy – prices on everything would skyrocket and money would become effectively worthless. The distribution system would fall apart. Society would be in a shambles, and we would have to go back to a barter type of exchange just to help each other survive.
It cannot happen? Read about the revolutions over the past two centuries in China where similar things were forced upon their society over and over: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Revolution. It has happened, proving that it can happen. But wherever this has been tried, it has failed miserably. The current leadership in China has apparently “thought it through” and learned from their history. As a result they are becoming more like the capitalistic countries because: “it works.” It is amazing how freedom motivates people to be productive; and when they are productive, what they produce becomes available to all of us. Our smart phones are a good example of a product that could never have come from a centrally controlled economic society. I need not tell you why.
Those who blame the rich hide from their poor followers what the rich do with their money. Sure, then spend some of it extravagantly. But typically this excess involves only a relatively small portion of their total net worth. (If not, they will soon go broke – as is the case with many athletes, rock stars and lottery winners.) Those who sustain their wealth invest the major part of their wealth in things that produce more goods and services for the rest of us. How can we KNOW this benefits us all? Well, in our system if more goods and services are NOT produced by the money that is invested, then the rich get no return on it and ultimately they lose their investment (and become “poor”). The system is practically foolproof. If they make money it is because society as a whole likes what they are producing. We vote for what we want with our dollars by purchasing it. It is the ultimate in democracy. We agree, however, that one role of the government is to provide regulations to keep it from becoming counterproductive.
Most of the wealth of the rich is “tied up” in stocks or other types of investments in order to earn more and create more wealth. This leads to greater productivity and more goods and services for everyone. Today many complain because large companies are “sitting on their incomes” and have millions if not billions on their spreadsheets. But even if this money is just sitting the bank, it is being loaned out and thus it is being productive. Generally it will be invested in a variety of diverse ventures. The rich know better than to just let it sit and be decayed over time by inflation.
How does this relate to the teachings of Jesus Christ? Let us look at an example passage.
Luke 10:25-29: “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer knew the law (e.g., Leviticus 19:18). He answered his own question correctly. But apparently he did not think that he loved his neighbor. Let us pause here to define the word “love” in this context. Love here means to want for our neighbor all the blessings that God has given to us. Is this accomplished by giving all of our belongings away? Perhaps that is what he thought, and his conscience was bothering him over that. But Jesus took the opportunity to teach him (and us) another lesson that is very important. Let us continue with this passage …
Jesus’ answer to the question “who is my neighbor” was the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) in which Jesus illustrated that our neighbors are not just our friends, or those next door, or even those of our own country and race – but all men everywhere. The Good Samaritan found someone in need and addressed that need because he loved his neighbor (a Jew, of another country and race). In that time the animosity between Jews and Samaritans is almost identical to the current animosity between Jews and Palestinians. But the New Testament is clear; Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity , let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.” The Good Samaritan did just that. Matt 5:44-45: “… but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
Does this make you feel guilty for what you have? Apparently it did the lawyer who was making trial of Jesus. The Samaritan did not blindly sell all that he had and give it away. Had he done that a week prior to the story he would not have been able to help his unfortunate Jewish neighbor. If you respond to others who are in need like the Samaritan did, and if you make it your habit to give liberally on a regular basis, then you should rejoice in your blessing and have a clear conscience before God. The Lord is not telling you to sell all that you have and give it all away. That would be an extreme interpretation, and the result would be extremely counterproductive – for example, the work of the church would cease to exist – there would be no way to support it. Of course, at the other extreme is to be so selfish as to give nothing to help others or to teach the lost the gospel of Jesus.
While some direct giving is good, there are ways to love our fellow man other than just giving them things. Consider the following two scenarios.
Scenario 1. A very rich person made and excess of $750,000 last year, and decided to use it to start a business. [This may also have required him to use what he had as collateral to borrow additional money that some other rich person(s) had put in the bank – but that is another story.] Let us suppose that this man was able to hire 100 people once his business got rolling in a few years. So now he is paying these people, let’s say $75,000 per year every year. If he is successful, the business might last for decades – many business have lasted much longer than that and, of course, hired many more people. But let’s keep it simple -- every year he is providing a living wage to 100 people at $75,000 per year. He is generating enough wealth to support these people at a total payroll of $7,500,000 per year, every year.
Scenario 2. Now, alternatively, suppose he had taken the original $750,000 and decided to give it to ten poor people – they would then each have $75,000, and that might last them a year or so. Then what?
There is no doubt at all that of the two scenarios above, the rich person would accomplish infinitely more good to others by investing his excess and employing others with it rather than giving his money away. This assumes, of course, that the business that he started was honorable and benefited society as a whole. Now if the rich man makes additional profits from his business and is able to build and invest more of his wealth, do we blame this man for the plight of the poor? Some people do.
There are ways to “love thy neighbor” other than just giving them things. A job is usually far superior to a gift -- a gift could well be counterproductive in producing laziness or dependency. (Can we not see this as a type of enslavement?)
“Love thy neighbor” does not imply that we give ourselves into poverty so that someone now has to take care of us. Assuring that we and our families are self-sufficient is our first obligation to our neighbor. Paul was quite blunt in his instructions to the Thessalonians: 2 Thess 3:10: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat.” “Will” here implies attitude. Many want to work but (for whatever reason) cannot, and we are commanded take care of them. But they are relatively few – the Good Samaritan helped one of them. To those who do not have the will to work, we have no obligation; and, in fact, we contribute to their sin when we reward their laziness.
When you put your money into a retirement fund, generally it is invested similar to Scenario 1 above. You are part owner of dozens of companies in a mutual fund. Is this sinful? Or is it part of loving your neighbors and giving to them the same opportunities that have made you prosperous. Can this help people in other lands? – check the portfolio – chances are it includes businesses in other countries or international companies. And let us not complain about jobs going overseas – remember: they are our neighbors too! What will contribute to world peace more: giving millions of dollars to “foreign aid,” much of which goes to corrupt rulers, or giving jobs to those in foreign lands who have a strong desire to work and be productive? Their productivity most often comes right back to us.
Now do not get us wrong. We are not saying that being rich makes a person anymore righteous than being poor does. God is no respecter of persons (Gal. 3:28), and all must avail themselves of the blood of Christ if they are to be saved. Very few rich people make investments altruistically – mostly their motivation is to make more money, and many of them are motivated by greed and the love of money. Our goal here was not to venerate the rich – it was to show the folly of blaming them for all of society’s ills, when in fact, many if not most of them are making major contributions to our standard of living.
There is nothing more important than the conditions of salvation given by Jesus.
3. Lazarus and the Rich Man
by Dave Brown
The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man given in Luke 16 might be misused to try to prove that Jesus regarded those who were wealthy to be sinful per se. We urge you to read the entire chapter of Luke 16 this to see such statements as: Luke 16:14: “And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him.” It is one thing to be rich; it is quite another to be a “lover of money.”
The previous verse tells us that it is impossible to love both money and God … Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon was the Syriac word for riches, which clearly was and is a god to many people both then and now. But the rich do not have to serve the god of riches. Indeed, a poor man serves the god of riches when he steals to acquire wealth. Many poor men have arisen to great wealth through deceit and fraud, certainly including government corruption (all veiled acts of stealing). Others have obtained their wealth by engaging in enterprises that take advantage of the weaknesses others – this would include gambling, drugs (including alcohol), prostitution, pornography and similar immoral (yet extremely profitable) endeavors. When men give themselves to the god of riches, they may have been able to skirt man’s laws, but they will have to give an account God.
Let us begin by examining the Rich Man’s sin. Luke 16:19-21: “Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the (crumbs) that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
[Some say this is just a parable. Just? Even if it is a parable, it is being used by Jesus to illustrate some critical spiritual principles. Remember that figurative language is designed to clarify and explain, not to obscure. We do not believe this to be a parable because of the word “certain” and also the use of a specific man’s (the beggar’s) name, which has absolutely no bearing on the story other than to tell us that this was in fact a real person and a real event. But there is no reason to be contentious over this – the powerful principles illustrated cannot be disputed -- they speak for themselves either way.]
The necessary implication is that the rich man was in sin – not because he was rich, but because he failed to respond in a loving way to a man who was almost totally disabled. It appears that he did not respond to him at all – not even with his leftovers (crumbs). It is very important that we understand the type and extent of this sin. Lazarus could not walk – he was “laid at his gate” in hopes that other more wealthy people would come by and give him something to sustain his life. This was not an incidental meeting – it appears he was there every day.
Let us try to see who Lazarus might be today. Is it the young man who is traveling all around the country begging for money to get to the next big city? Is it the man who feels that working for minimum wage is beneath him? Of course not, and we should feel no obligation to people who can easily get a job if they will lower themselves to be in subjection to others. But we recognize that even they may need our temporary help to get them through some tough times, so let act in our best prayerful estimate of what is in their best spiritual interests.
Lazarus lived in a time when there was no welfare, no unemployment, no health insurance, no emergency room, and apparently no dog catchers. Many at this time who had no family or other support just died of starvation or untreated disease, as is true or people in many parts of the world today.
In addition, the necessary implication is that Lazarus was a saved person. Luke 16:22: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried.” “Abrahams’ bosom” is defined in the context to be a very pleasant part of the hadean world. It says that both ended up in hades, which is the abode of disembodied spirits (sometimes ambiguously translated “hell” in the King James Version). Clearly, there are two parts to the Hadean world – one of torment and the other Abraham’s bosom. It is a place of waiting for the final judgment.
Let’s go on. Luke 16:23-26: “And in Hades he [the rich man] lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.”
There will be consciousness for the saints and the sinners alike in the spiritual world to come. The rich man seemingly does not ask for much, but it was now too late. Abraham reminds him how he failed to respond to the suffering of Lazarus … suddenly the roles are reversed. Let us not be deceived, death is the ultimate equalizer – our wealth, position, status – it all means nothing when we die. I would expect Lazarus welcomed death; the rich man was probably terrified of it – and for good reason, the least of which is that he had to part company with all of the riches that he had accumulated.
Suddenly the rich man shows compassion for his physical brothers who he knows are in peril to end up just like him.
Luke 16:27-28: “And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that you would send him [Lazarus] to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
Abraham again explains why this cannot be – but unlike the previous explanation, it is not because of the rich man’s sin, nor is it because of his brothers’ sins. It is because they all had already received their warnings …
Luke 16:29-31: “But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.”
This last statement can be validated by all of us. One HAS arisen from the dead, and even the Son of God, Jesus Christ has been unable to persuade the vast majority of their need for salvation. This is a very profound and sublime statement made by Abraham.
In what way did “they have Moses and the prophets?” Only through the scriptures. They had this information at that time and in these circumstances in no other way.
What does this say to us today? Indeed today we have more than Moses and the prophets. We have the exact words of the Son of God. If the words of Moses and the prophets could save them by the sacred writings, how much more power does the completed (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rev. 22:18-20) word of God have the power to save us today (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Pet. 1:3).
Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.”
James 1:21: “Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls .”
We will continue this theme on wealth and riches in our next article where we will discuss the responsibility that wealthy Christians have according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing more important than the conditions of salvation given by Jesus.
4. Bible Passages for the Rich
by Dave Brown
This will be our last article in the series on the god of riches. The New Testament has much more to say about this subject, and it is hard to find a topic that causes more problems for Christians and non-Christians alike. While there are other sins and motivations, most of them are facilitated in some way or another by the use of money. This article is particularly for Christians in that the passages presented were mostly directed toward Christians.
It was conventional wisdom in the first century that God rewarded those who were wealthy, and therefore they thought that a man’s wealth was a measure of his righteousness. This, of course was erroneous. It is true that often in the Old Testament physical blessings to Israel were conditioned upon obedience to God. However, this was obviously not an absolute principle, which could clearly be seen by those who gained at the expense of others. As an example, Mattew 23:14: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, …” Jesus was physically poor – he had practically no possessions other than the clothes on his back, but he was the most righteous man who ever lived.
[Let us not think that our society today has totally abandoned this false notion. We all know that undue respect and prevalence is often given to the rich. We have all heard the superstitious statement: “you must live right.” Perhaps this in jest, but most common sayings express an underlying subliminal perception.]
Consider for a moment just what money is. For those of us who get paid an hourly or monthly salary, it is a stored up part of our life. Our lives are, in a sense, sold to our employers. This should give us a better appreciation of just what it is that we are sacrificing when we give our money to the Lord – we are actually giving to Him that part of our lives spent in making that money. To those who are independently wealthy and do not work for a their pay, money is a measure of their power. In that regard it is hard to find those who are satisfied to just hold on to what they have. Most people who have power, never perceive that they have enough. But, as we have noted, there are exceptions to these rules.
In fact, our past articles have established that to be rich is not sinful in and of itself. But to eliminate this other extreme, Jesus used hyperbole. Matthew 19:23-26: “And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon (them) said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
The disciples reaction verifies what we stated about their conventional wisdom. They were “astonished exceedingly.” Why? Because they were still holding on to the old notion that riches were the result of righteousness. So if the rich could not be saved, then who could? Of course, Jesus did not say that they could not be saved. They can be saved by grace through faith just as anyone else can (Eph. 2:8); God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), neither favoring nor disfavoring the rich. But while God may not arbitrarily discriminate against the rich, the warnings are clear – it is essential that rich Christians use what God has given them to His glory and not to their own. In this regard, consider some of the instructions given to the rich.
Luke 12:16-21: “And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
His concern was only for himself. He had no concern for supporting the Lord’s work, nor for taking care of his fellow man. When God blesses us plentifully, it brings with it a special responsibility.
Luke 18:18-23: “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why do you call me good? none is good, save one, (even) God. You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother. And he said, All these things have I observed from my youth up. And when Jesus heard it, he said unto him, One thing you lack yet: sell all that you have, and distribute unto the poor, and you shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But when he heard these things, he became exceeding sorrowful; for he was very rich.”
The last clause gives the impression that had he not been “very rich” he may not have been sorrowful. The more wealth we have, the greater a burden it can become. It is commonly called “living the lifestyle to which one has become accustomed.” This passage is often used by enemies of the bible when they ask: “why don’t you obey Jesus and sell all that you have?” The answer should be clear. Jesus was trying to impress upon this man his one fatal spiritual deficiency – that of putting his riches above his service to God. It would be irresponsible for all Christians to literally obey this command in that we would all immediately become liabilities to our families and our society. The ruler was in a position where he could, as Jesus’ other disciples did, separate from their past lives and dedicate themselves totally to serving God with Jesus. We are hardly in that position today. Yet, in explaining the exception let us not neglect the principle that is being laid down here to all Christians – we are to put the Lord and His work first, and we are to serve our fellow man to the extent that our resources will allow. Jesus made it clear to this man that, although he had observed the letter of the law from his youth up, he was still putting his own selfish interests above the work of the Lord. If we were given this command by the Lord today, what would our answers be? The next passage is quite relevant in answering this question …
1 Timothy 6:9-10: “But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The 10th verse is quite often misquoted as: “money is the root of all evil.” Money is neutral – it is just a tool to facilitate trade and (as we have indicated above) to store wealth. In our day and age it is mostly paper and has no intrinsic value other than what people believe it can purchase. So it cannot be labeled as good or evil. All 11 versions that I have say that it is the “love of money” that is the root of all kinds of evil (or all evils in the plural). This is hyperbole designed to convince us of the seriousness of loving money (being “minded to be rich”). This is not a sin that is restricted to the rich – anyone can be minded to be rich and thus be a lover of money. And, while we might find some sins that are rooted in something other than the love of money, we must be impressed how widespread the types of sin are that the money obsession leads to. Indeed they are of all kinds.
1 Timothy 6:17-19: “Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life that is (life) indeed.”
Spiritual life, that is. This passage proves that there were relatively rich people in the churches of the first century. These instructions were to be given by Timothy to his fellow Christians. Paul is specific: “rich in this present world.” Rich alone could refer to being rich toward God, i.e., rich spiritually. Note the special responsibilities of those who are rich physically: (1) be humble – not highminded thinking that your wealth makes you better than others; (2) do not set your hope on your riches – they are temporal, God and your soul are immortal; (3) set your hope on God because all of your physical blessing have come from Him; (4) do good with the physical blessings that you have; (5) be rich in good works; (6) be ready to distribute – to give to help those in need; and (7) when you give, give willingly and cheerfully. The basic theme is the same – there are many things in this life that are far more important than money. When we allow our love for money to push these things aside, we place ourselves on a highway of sin and to ultimate destruction. And since the rich can be in such jeopardy (to lose their salvation), he urges them to have the attitude that will enable them to “lay hold on the life that is life indeed.”
James 1:9-11: ”But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich , in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass: and the flower thereof falls, and the grace of the fashion of it perishes: so also shall the rich man fade away in his goings.”
There are certain temptations that only the rich face. Being proud of his wealth is one of them. Wealth might come from hard work, wise investment decisions, inheritance, or just plain luck. There is a tendency to credit ourselves with any of these despite the fact that all physical blessings come from God. Even our strength and intelligence is a gift from God, and we should give Him all the credit for him. The person who has not been blessed with wealth should glory in the fact that wealth does not matter to God, and that God exalts the humble (Mt. 23:12).
Glory here does not mean to brag; it means to rejoice. Why would someone be proud of his wealth when he inherited it? He had nothing to do with it – it was a matter of the luck of his birth. Yet such people are often quite proud. Similarly, those who win the lotteries or other gambling events are often quite proud, despite the fact that this gain is nothing short of legalized theft, usually from the masses whose families suffer from their evil habits. Being proud when one should be ashamed must rank with the worst of weaknesses. We urge those who are caught up in such to repent before it is too late, as James urges …
James 5:1-6: “Come now, ye rich , weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire. Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth out: and the cries of them that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure; ye have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned, ye have killed the righteous (one); he doth not resist you.”
Again, James is preaching to Christians. Obviously he did not have in mind those like Barnabas, who were willing to sell valuable possessions to help their poorer fellow Christians (Acts 4:36-37). But since most of us are rich we need to take this warning quite seriously. Recall the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), and if this warning applies to you, repent while there is still time.
There is nothing more important than the conditions of salvation given by Jesus.
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