Friday, January 31, 2014

A Warning to the Rich (and we're all rich)

Have you ever heard a preacher say that you can tell a lot about a person's heart by looking at their checkbook register?  I know I've heard it a dozen times.  He's making the point that how we spend our money is a kind of litmus test of the heart.  If we spend all our money on trivial things and never give, then we are not fully devoted to Christ and his children.  Jesus speaks of this in the Sermon on the Mount. 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

While it is true that how we spend our money can be a gauge of our heart's status, Jesus was making a prediction, not giving us a test to apply to others.  If you change the sentence structure of the last verse, it becomes clearer. "Your heart will be where your treasure is." 

Jesus's prediction came true over and over in the Bible. The rich young man decided not to join Jesus because he was unwilling to give up everything he had  (Matthew 19:16-22). Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they claimed to have given all their money when they instead held back part of it (Acts 5:1-10). Gehazi, Elisha's servant, sought payment for the healing of Naaman, even after Elisha would not take any money. Because of his greed, Gehazi had leprosy from that point on (2 Kings 5:15-27). Solomon tried living a life of ease with his wealth, only to find it left him empty (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; 5:10).  For those who are rich or want to be rich, money is a stumbling block on the path to heaven.  

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:9-10). 

But that doesn't apply to me, right?  I'm solid middle class! I don't have enough money to be like the rich young ruler. Just for fun, I put my husband's income in this calculator:  It says that I am the in the top .11% richest people in the world.  Now, I don't know how they calculate that number, but all it takes is a global focus to see that someone who has a house, two cars, three square meals a day, and good health care is rich by international standards.   Could I fall into the same traps that Scripture warns about?  

  • Have I passed by an opportunity to give because it was "not in the budget"... even though substantial savings were included in my plan?
  • Do I spend large amounts of time dreaming about what I would do if I won the lottery?
  • Have I refused to be hospitable because I was embarrassed about my house?  
  • Have I refused to be hospitable because I am afraid for my house? (Like the youth group that might make a mess?)
  • Do I neglect to give beyond my ability? (2 Corinthians 8:3).  To give even though it might mean doing without? 
  • Does the thought of selling everything and moving to a foreign land to share the gospel send cold chills down my spine?
  • Do I have a bad attitude when I've had a small financial setback? 
  • Have I spent more money on luxuries in the past year than I have in giving to others?
  • Do I trust money to solve problems, arrogantly disregarding God's control of the future?

I answered yes to more of those questions than I am comfortable admitting. Jesus' prediction applies to me.

So what's the answer?  Sell all I have and hope my heart follows?  Not quite.  First, I have to realize that only God can help me out of this quagmire.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:23-26).

With God in the lead, we can follow the instructions that Paul told Timothy for guiding the rich.  

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19). 

Once we put our hope in God, He's told us two ways to lay our treasures up in heaven instead of on earth.  Do good deeds and share generously.  The next time you hear of a family in need, seriously consider giving to them.  Be willing to live on rice and beans for a week or give up that next date night in order to share with someone struggling.  Raid your savings account if you need to.  Gain a global perspective by going on a short term mission trip to an impoverished area.  I've never met anyone who has done that who didn't gain a greater appreciation for their own blessings and a heart to help those with less.  Be hospitable.  Care more about the people around you than the stuff you do or don't have.  Take a look at your budget. Can you give more?  Maybe you can cut out some luxury, or maybe you can plan better.  Add a line item in the budget for giving to missionaries or children's homes.

Jesus warned us that our riches could stand in the way of following Him. Don't let them! Pray earnestly that God would help you to have the generous spirit He so desires so that you can "take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:19). 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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