is wealth bad? – part two

i had several interesting comments on my recent post about the danger of wealth.  fran presented an interesting hypothetical…

What if someone does give all and is willing to give all to the Lord for kingdom purposes? Have I become so affected by my culture to think that the scripture, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” means I will have all the material wealth I need or want?

there is absolutely no question that god desires to bless his people–it is in his nature.  in the old testament, god lavished blessings on israel so that surrounding nations would see and acknowledge israel’s beneficient god.   god rewarded his people–the ones that obeyed his statutes–with wealth and property and large families and long life.  the reason god used material wealth to bless his people in the old testament, was because it was the most visible, most tangible asset available to him.  according to the self-imposed limitations of his own plan, he wasn’t yet able to provide “real blessings.”

then jesus came and introduced a blessing greater than wealth: kingdom.

the old testament blessing was substandard in every way to the new testament blessing.  in the mind of this writer, it is ridiculous to associate the word “blessing” with money (and the prosperity gospel has done immeasurable damage in this area). kingdom life is infinitely richer than anything temporal (including material wealth), and that’s why jesus never backed away from making audacious claims on the lives of his followers.  such as:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. (luke 12:32-33a)

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

consider this illustration.  abraham was described in scripture as being “very wealthy in livestock and silver and gold” (genesis 13:2).  and this when he was still living a nomadic lifestyle!  still, somehow, way deep in his spirit, abraham knew that there was “more.”  he somehow discerned the superficial, temporal blessing in material wealth.  paul described it like this (with commentary from me):

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing (and yet, they had immense material wealth). How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted (and enjoyed a life of comfort and luxury on the earth). But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 – The Message)

the implication is clear: the kingdom life (provided in relationship with jesus) is a “far better country” than anything this world has to offer.

i think jesus is stunned by our devotion to money/possessions.  frankly, i am stunned by how hard it is for me to trust jesus and walk by faith.  the strategy i have chosen is “process.”  i have resolved to surrender my appetites/desires/agendas to the lord on a daily basis.  i find myself gradually (painfully so) dying to my plans and growing more and more hungry to be used by god.

i want the better country.


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7 thoughts on “is wealth bad? – part two

  1. randy, i agree with you on some of what you’ve said. and i’ll be honest, i want to agree with you on all of it. there’s nothing i want more (that’s probably not true) than to be able to say financial blessings have been done away with and the kingdom is now what we’re gifted. i want the prosperity gospel to go away; and i also want wealth to be a bad thing, just so it’s clear to all of us.

    but i don’t think scripture teaches it. the psalm 112 man (who gives of his wealth, and is therefore given more because he’s proved himself a worthy steward) seems like the same guy i find in 2 cor 9:6-15.

    i think it’s a biblical principle that if those who are “blessed” (i said it) with wealth use it wisely for the kingdom, they will be blessed with many things — one of them being greater wealth — so they can continue using it wisely. i think giving gifts and “rewarding” good stewardship is a biblical principle in both the old and new testament. a wealthy individual is able to meet the needs of others, and point them to God, who is the one who can meet all our needs.

  2. another reason the “wealth is bad” thing doesn’t fly is that wealth is relative. i’m a poor man in the states. my current adjusted income (after work fund is removed) leaves my family well below the poverty line. and when i lived in the states, my wife and i were able to live off of a very small salary. i don’t know a person who would have called us wealthy in terms of possessions and cash.

    but in tanzania, i’m one of the wealthiest people in town. i drive a truck, have an indoor restroom (more than one), and you should see how much meat i eat in a day.

    so what do we do with that? even if i did give away all my belongings to minister here, i’d still have greater wealth than others. because i’d have a family and a church back in the states who would occasionally pay for me to fly back to the u.s. to visit. and were i to have a medical emergency, they’d pay for me to get the best treatment, etc.

    i think our views of wealth being individual and private are relatively exclusive to more western thought. and i also wonder if those aren’t the bigger problems? individualism, private money, selfishness.

    here in tanzania, i am extremely wealthy. but i am not judged by my wealth. i am judged by whether or not i share it. i’m expected to employ people because of the money i have. i’m expected to help neighborhood kids pay their school fees. i’m expected to help a sick guy pay for some medicine. my wealth brings with it a responsibility to those without. i think that’s what God is looking for.

    giving away all material possessions seems to me to be a spiritual discipline to which some individuals might be called — namely because they’ve proven unable to use that wealth wisely, and it is standing between them and God. for others, i think wealth has the potential to make them more like God — if they use it as he would have them.

    • okay, brett, i’m going to joust with you on a couple of points, but i’m pretty sure our disagreement is a matter of semantics.

      i said in my first post on the subject that “wealth is not bad. god seeks trustworthy conduits for kingdom resources, and gifts people to be skilled in earning, business, and distributing wealth according to kingdom purposes.” so i agree with your point that “if those who are ‘blessed’ (i said it) with wealth use it wisely for the kingdom, they will be blessed with many things — one of them being greater wealth .” and i appreciate your reference to the macedonian believers in 2 corinthians 8.

      but that’s not the issue here. the issue is the seductive nature of wealth (and the desire for wealth). you cited the prosperity gospel and you even flinched when you used the word ‘blessed,’ and i think that makes my point. nothing becomes an idol as quickly and easily as money. and materialism is not the real problem–the real problem is pride. with wealth, i am hoping my neighbors envy me. i seek to control my own life, and to independent (even from god).

      and it gets really ugly when i ask god to “bless me” with something as destructive as wealth. isn’t that blatantly self-serving (as opposed to kingdom-serving)? to me, that’s like praying, “god, bless me with really pure cocaine.”

      and to the idea that wealth is “relative,” i would contend that you are in no position to make that argument. because you can afford indoor plumbing and an occasional plane trip home does not make you a slave to your wealth. you are the one who has been given much and proven trustworthy. jesus talked about you in mark 10:

      “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—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

      that’s the “good wealth” you referred to…like the macedonians had.

      • i think we’re mostly together on this. i don’t think wealth in itself is a good thing, and i believe seeking after and longing for it is selfish in most situations. and it’s even worse when we put our trust and faith in material possessions rather than in God.

        my only real argument is against your idea that it’s ridiculous to associate “blessing” with material possessions and wealth. it came across to me as if there’s this inherent evil in money, and that we can only equate “spiritual” things with the word “blessing.” that smacks of a dualistic mindset in which there exists spiritual and physical, one good and one evil, with a possibility or even an expectation of separating the two.

        but i live in a world that’s made up of both — and indivisible at that. and money is our tender. so, if used properly, i’d argue that wealth is every bit as much a blessing as is family or friends or health. if you think about it, all of these things can also have a very seductive nature (albeit not as easily as money). here in tanzania, there are a lot of people who don’t think they’ll ever have money — but they have huge families, because it does all (most of) those things which money does in american society.

        you said, “it gets really ugly when i ask god to ‘bless me’ with something as destructive as wealth. isn’t that blatantly self-serving (as opposed to kingdom-serving)?”

        my answer: sure it is. but no more so than the couple who can’t have kids begging God to give them children because a mother wants to satisfy her “mom-nature.” or an individual asking God to bless him with health, so he can live a long life.

        i think we’re almost in complete agreement. i just believe we swing the pendulum too far when we say money isn’t and can’t be a blessing from God — that it’s not a “kingdom thing.”

  3. Randy, I TOTALLY agree with you on some of your points. I read your reference to Luke 12 where Jesus said to “sell all and give to the poor”, and I believe Jesus had an encounter with a rich young man where he told him to do the same. In both of those situations, I believe, that Jesus is getting into the heart of the ones he is speaking to and recognizing that there is a greater issue here. Luke 12:13-14 indicates that someone yelled to Jesus from the crowd asking him to make a brother settle his father’s estate with him. Jesus then gives the illustration of the man who decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so that he can fill them and sit back and take his ease. Jesus finishes his story with Luke 12:21: “Yes, every man is a fool who gets rich on earth but not in heaven.” (Living Bible) The rich young ruler, if my memory serves me correctly, walked away from following the Lord because the one thing Jesus asked him to do was too big a price.
    So, I’m thinking Jesus went to the real issue here which is “wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.
    Living in China was an eye opener in this area for me. Many believers there believe it is a sin to be wealthy and they avoid it at all costs. True story…..
    I believe it is difficult, very difficult to remain a good, faithful, godly steward of wealth because of its inticement. But, I’m wondering and still questioning if it’s possible for God to ask some of us to manage enough money to fund the Kingdom while we are here on earth. I wonder if it’s possible to have the Kingdom while having the responsibility of managing the wealth of the kingdom. I agree that the prosperity message has taken this issue WAY out of balance. But, isn’t that one of Satan’s M.O.? Isn’t he the champion at counterfitting what God intends?

    Thanks so much for helping me to wrestle with this topic. All my questions are pointed directly at me and my current situation. I am by no means wealthy by western standards but I have been given this business which I didn’t choose and I am trying to be a steward of it. And, it has experienced very moderate “success” if that’s what you want to call it. But, as I have worked the busisness, these questions keep coming up.

    Thanks again!!!!!

  4. PS…perhaps God was smart when He made relationship the him the only thing that will truly satisfy us. It helps keep every thing else in it’s proper place. Therefore, we experience life to the full. Living out our part of the kingdom no matter how much wealth I have. Everyone fit together does its work, its part…..just more thoughts. And, no one is more important than the other….the person who is wealthy is not any more important than one who isn’t……..

    • amen, franny, that is certainly our hope (even with the regular frustration of an incomplete, imperfect body of believers). btw, i’ve got a book or two i want you to read. check with me.

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