Friday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.
I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. ;-)
As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 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.
But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)
Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?
Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.
Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.
Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.
Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.
Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)
Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.
But they don’t have to.
Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.
I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.
The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.
Except, that isn’t necessarily true.
Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.
Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.
I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?
Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?
Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”
That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.
But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.
That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.