Today I want to continue some thoughts about the story of the rich young man who encounters Jesus. Last time we laid out the story and saw that perhaps the most important point is that without God, no one can enter the Kingdom. Today I want to share some thoughts about money/materialism and how it relates to the Kingdom.
It seems to me that we are really, really confused on this topic in the Western Church.
We see a part of the Church that in one form or another preaches a prosperity Gospel. God wants the best for you and that seems to include financial prosperity, not to mention health and wellbeing in general.
Now this idea is not completely false. God created us to have life to the full. And there is truth to the idea that if I live my life in a Godly way that some of the fruit of that might be good things coming out of that lifestyle. Many parts of the scriptures point to this. Just look at proverbs. Do this and the following will happen. Follow the instructions of God and things will go well for you.
This is actually true to a decent extent. Sticking with the proverbs theme for example, they offer all sorts of wisdom for life. But it’s important to keep in mind that the proverbs aren’t promises as much as they are general wisdom. You will be better off living that way than if you don’t. That’s true regardless of what you have or how healthy you are. God created an ordered society. And this is true for Christians and non Christians alike by the way. Proverbs 22 for example says that the borrower is slave to the lender. In other words, stay out of debt. That’s great advice. Tremendous wisdom. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t take on debt that you’ll be the richest person around. However you’ll be in better shape than if you live you life owing other people money.
The scriptures are full of such wisdom for life. However we are a fallen people living in a fallen world with a bunch of fallen people and things are messed up. We can’t, and won’t, live it out perfectly. And with that comes suffering, some of which is no fault of our own. And this is part one of why the prosperity gospel is wrong.
The second problem with the prosperity gospel and this line of thinking is that it makes God the means instead of the end. Life is not a formula. Especially in a fallen life. But God offers us something better than a formula for this temporal life. He offers us Himself. He is the ultimate end. The prosperity gospel says that if I do enough right, or believe enough right, or pray with enough faith, that it will go the way that I want it to. That is not what the scriptures teach.
But the second thing that I see a lot of Christians thinking and teaching is that being “rich” is bad. We don’t say it that plainly of course but it is implied.
What’s funny about this is that most of us never see ourselves as rich. You see this in our American culture all the time. We talk about the top 1% or the top 10% of the wealthy or of income (which are not even remotely the same by the way). We mainly like to talk about whatever percentage that we aren’t in. This puts us in the dangerous territory of covetousness and envy. It also sets us up to self righteously judge those with more than us. We almost never see ourselves as the rich. None of that is good or holy or “Christian”.
Just once I’d like to see a pastor stand up front and say, “I just want to thank the rich people here today. It is because of them them and their generosity that we are in this building today. It is because of them that we could feed this group or do this or that ministry.”
Guess who funds missions. Guess who gives us places to meet. Guess who makes it possible for people to be in full time ministry as a vocation. Where does everyone think the resources for all of these things come from?
We don’t need to imply that money is bad. We need to teach that generosity is good. And we need to understand a couple of key things.
First we need to get that you can be a rich saint and a poor sinner. You can be poor and be greedy and envious and you can be rich and generous and gracious. Again one of the scandals of the gospel is that regardless of your earthly place you could be in or out of the Kingdom.
Second, we need to realize that from the beginning of the Church there have been Christians of means who have helped make it happen. Whose homes do you think the early Christians met in? Who supported the apostles missions? Who gave the means to build the churches? Christians with means.
I remember when I was first starting out in full time ministry. Keep in mind that I made very, very little money. I was talking with a local business man who was helping support the work I was doing. He was giving me a tour of his business and sharing about what they did there. He saw his business as a ministry. He was providing jobs for people that needed them. And he said this, “Really my goal is to make more and more money so that I have more and more money to give away. That’s the whole point.”
The bottom line is that it’s not bad to have means or to build that. It’s how you use it that counts. We need rich people who love the Lord. We need more of those people actually.
This is what we need to build into people. This is what we need to teach young believers who have the skill set to go make money. We need to teach generosity not disdain for money and entitlement. This isn’t materialism. It’s how the Kingdom works.
Finally we need to start with taking a hard look at ourselves before we look at the “rich”. How is our generosity? We’ll take a look at that idea next time.