A Curse and Blessing
Wealth is a curse and a blessing, it affords many great opportunities yet tempts us to trust in it. Many people detest those with wealth, thinking that they are selfish for not sharing or evil for ripping off the working poor. Communism had as one of its goals, to liberate the aristocrats and oligarchs of their wealth, distributing it among the poor. In such a system, your wealth is not your own, it is the property of society, and if you are wealthy then you have committed theft. It is common fare to hear story after story of people who have made it big yet whose lives are emptier than before when they were relatively more poor. Heraclitus once remarked “May you have plenty of wealth, you men of Ephesus, in order that you may be punished for your evil ways.” Plato himself once declared “There should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor again excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil.” Wow, wealth and poverty are both evil. I am sure we can agree, that the super wealthy seem to live lives of privilege and waste, shunning and avoiding those who are less fortunate than themselves.
Can Wealth Be Used for Good?
If wealth, then is so evil, how can any man stand against it. Jesus speaks to the danger of wealth in his interaction with the rich young ruler. This young intelligent man comes to Jesus and asks what must be done for he (the man) to be saved. Jesus replies, saying that the man must sell all his possessions and give to the poor. The young ruler leaves, saddened, and Jesus turns to the crowd saying “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24, ESV. What Jesus is saying, is that entering heaven is especially difficult for those who hang on to their wealth and love it. Jesus has said elsewhere in the gospels, that a person cannot serve both money and God, he will love the one and hate the other. So, if wealth is so dangerous, ought a person not have wealth?
Not quite. Bill Gates is an excellent example of someone who is choosing to use his wealth for the good of other people. Bill is one of the most wealthy men on the planet, yet has dedicated his life to giving away almost all of what he has earned. In addition, there are examples of people in the bible who were blessed with abundant wealth. Job is a perfect example, before his ordeal, he was one of the wealthiest men alive, and afterwards was even wealthier still. God blessed Job with great wealth, and spoke of Job as a godly man. Abraham is also another example, he had many possessions making him very wealthy, yet he was chosen by God to be the father of Israel, the chosen people of God. Perhaps it is not as simple as “give away everything you have”, though that may not be such a bad thing to do.
Not What We Have, but Who We Serve
The christian worldview, rather, says that it is not what we have rather it is who we serve. Job and Abraham were blessed by God precisely because they had their lives focused on God, seeking to worship and obey God in all that they did. God gave them money to use, not only for themselves, but also for others. We are used by God, in this world, to be his hands and feet, doing his work with the things he has given us.
More recent history gives us an example of a man called Humphrey Monmouth. Humphrey lived during the 16th Century, and was quite wealthy having made his fortune as a cloth merchant. The reason why we remember him, is because of Humphrey’s association with a man named William Tyndale. Tyndale, was the first person to translate the bible into English, a capital offense during the 16th Century. Humphrey Monmouth used his wealth to fund the exploits of Tyndale, and helped smuggle English bibles into England. Humphrey even went to jail for a time, but was let out since his trade was so important to England. Humphrey leveraged his wealth, seeing it not as his own but as God’s, to make the distribution of the English Bible possible. He did not let wealth enslave him, but rather kept his eyes on God.
So, What About Us?
What does this mean for us? We need to ensure that our wealth does not control us. First we need to make some breathing room in our spending by consuming less than we can afford. Second, we need to use the new spending gap to give some of our wealth away. These steps will help ensure that we remain free, serving and worshipping God instead of trusting in money. Money is a tool for worship, not selfish consumption, and only Jesus is big enough to replace it on the throne of our lives. Christ desires for us to live the abundant life, a life that is filled with joy, and as such he seeks to make himself as the center of our life. Wealth is a curse if we do not have God, but a blessing if we do, giving us even more opportunity to worship God and bless others. Work hard, seek wealth, but above all seek God. As Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV).