A writer of proverbs says: give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. (Proverbs 29:8-9 NLT)
When you think about money, do you most times think about not having enough, or do you think about having too much?
Max Lucado writes: “In 1900 the average person living in the United States wanted 72 different things and considered 18 of them essential. Today the average person wants 500 things and considers 100 of them essential. Our obsession with stuff carries a hefty price tag. 80% of us battle the pressure of overdue bills. We spend 110% of our disposable income trying to manage debt. We no longer measure ourselves against the Jones next door but against the star on the screen or the stud on the magazine cover.”
Nelson Searcy says, “The majority of us – incredibly wealthy by the world’s standards – are locked in a battle with the constant desire for more. Don’t think you are wealthy? If you make more than $2 a day, you are among the top 2% of the wealthiest people in the world.” (Nelson Searcy, The Generosity Ladder, 2010, p13)
If you have time, look on the internet at globalrichlist.com Type in what you earn in a year and it will tell you what you are in terms of the world rich list (what percent you are in). We have to acknowledge that we are living in a wealthy country and are wealthy!
I will tell you a story about a man I knew living in New Zealand. He was part of a syndicate which bought lotto tickets and they won. His share was half a million dollars. He came to me and said. “You know the story about the rich young man where Jesus says to go and sell everything and give it to the poor.” “Is that what Jesus is saying to me?” Brilliant question! God’s word gets in and challenges. “Is that what Jesus is saying?” My answer was, “If it is that this money is getting in the way of your relationship with God, then that is exactly what he is saying to you.”
We could look at the rich and the poor in terms of how they use bins. The rich people put things in bins and the poor people take things out of bins.
In the bible God speaks to us of the wealthy and the poor. Abraham and Lot had that much land/wealth, that they had enough to divide it and work out who got what. In Chronicles it talks about the Kings and how much wealth they had. Joseph, who was just one of the kids, was sold into slavery but then ends up powerful and wealthy.
Poor and rich are mentioned lots of times. In the festivals in the Old Testament, when people brought their first fruits to the temple, the whole idea was that they brought enough for their family and the priests. If they had been extra blessed that year then they brought enough for their family and friends and neighbours who might not have had such a good year and they shared.
The year of jubilee (every 50th year) was supposed to be for getting back to how it was. If you had hard times and had to sell off property and go and work for someone else, the idea was that at the 50th year your land would be restored back to you or your family, so that yopu would not have to stay poor. In some ways it was like a welfare system.
You may also have read where God says to the landowners. “Don’t harvest to the edge of your borders.” The idea was that the poor could pick this and have something to eat.
In the New Testament, Jesus said, as part of a conversation to a wealthy person, “Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” (Mark 10:21b) That’s what he said to that person. What does he say to you?
Have a look at the reading (Mark 10:17-31).
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
I find it interesting which of the Ten Commandments are mentioned and which are not. Perhaps the wealthy man was just summarizing. But the commandments listed concern the way I interact with my neighbour. I reckon this whole conversation, the whole issue of money, for this man and for us rests on putting money, and our relationship to it, into the context of the first few commandments.
The important issue about money is our attitude. Is our attitude with our money one of, I’ll see what I can get away with giving to God? Surely someone else will make up the shortfall? It’s all mine and God can have a little bit? Ultimately the question is: Who is our God? Who do we trust? Who do we think is going to take care of us? Who has given us what we have got? Does it all depend on us and our good looks and charm or has God got something to do with it?
It is not just our attitude being questioned here but God’s attitude is on display too. When we think about this it is Jesus who comes and wants to engage us. He has open arms that say “I am interested in you, I want to talk with you, I want to know how things are with you, how you deal with stuff. Which way are you walking? Are you walking the Jesus way or are you walking a different way?” He has an attitude of care for the poor and the rich. Did you hear in the passage where he says; “Jesus looked at the rich man and he loved him.” Jesus is saying to you, “I love you and want you to know who I am.” His words to the rich man were that he didn’t need all he had and should share it with the poor. His words give some freedom here. In Malachi it talks of giving a tithe. Maybe this is a good guideline but perhaps we also have some freedom here where we reflect on who Jesus is, what He has done for us and then say. “What am I going to do now because of that?”
God’s attitude towards us is one of trust. He hands things to us for us to use. He has good ideas on how we could use it but he says to us, “You work it out in your relationship with me.”
Who or what is God? Who or what do I fear, love and trust? Who or what do I worship? Which name do I call when I’m in need … ‘My Credit Card’ or my God?
All that we have, even our very life is God’s. How much money do I need for my own personal use? Whose money is it anyway? What is my relationship to it? And how does that affect my relationship with God?
The offering time at church checks whether you believe what you said during the creed. Can we trust God enough to gently hang onto what he has given us to manage, gently enough that we can give it all, or some, away to help the poor?
This is the God who ultimately trusts us to wrestle this one through with the help of His Spirit, as we reflect on His amazing love through Jesus.
Pastor Phil Joppich