Thursday, March 8, 2012

 Jesus and Wealth

 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves! ”  Matthew 21:12-13 (NLT).

The Holy Scriptures speak on the topics of wealth.  First, wealth is acknowledged to be a blessing from God. In the Old Testament, God chose Abram and promised to bless him and make his name great (Genesis 12:1-3). In the process, Abram became rich (Genesis 13:2). Further, we are told that God blessed Isaac; and he became very rich (Genesis 26:12-14). Solomon’s wealth was seen as a sign of God’s favor (1 Kings 3:13; 1 Kings 10:23). Job, too, was blessed by God, and his wealth increased greatly (Job. 42:12).
However, these few Scriptural examples do not allow us to assume that poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor. Jesus’ references to wealth in the New Testament consist mainly of stories or parables which show the dangers of wealth. In the parable of the farmer scattering seed, Jesus teaches that the lure of riches left no room for God and maturing in the faith (Luke 8:14).  A harsh warning against the destructive nature of wealth is given by Jesus in the story of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21).  In this story, Jesus points the crowd to the correct attitude toward the accumulation of wealth. Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:15; see also Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21; Job 31:24-25; Psalm 49; Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. In Jesus’ words, the person is a fool who works only to lay up wealth on earth rather than wealth in heaven. Of greater importance is Jesus’ statement that life does not consist of one’s possessions (Luke 12:15). Personal worth and success are not to be measured in terms of material wealth or possessions. Jesus teaches that an obedient and dependent relationship with God is far more important than material wealth.
Jesus viewed wealth as a spiritual power (Matthew 6:24), identifying wealth as an idol that rivals to God. In reality, Jesus knew wealth can become a person’s god or idol thus violating the first and greatest commandment (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:36-40). For this reason Jesus often asked people to turn away from seeking money (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33-34). Zacchaeus offered to give half of his possessions to the poor and restore four times to any one that he had cheated (Luke 19:8). This was a sign of his desire to follow Christ. The only way to defeat the power of money (or mammon is to give it away (Acts 20:35).

Furthermore, Jesus warns believers not to be anxious over material things, but instead to trust God to care for their needs (Matthew 6:25-26). Believers are to recognize that faith, obedience and love of God is more important than money (Matthew 6:33). Wealth is given to people for stewardship because God truly owns all things.  One day everyone will give an account to God on the use of their wealth.

Moreover, the apostle Paul taught to avoid longing to be rich (1 Timothy 6:3-10).  The apostle Paul taught that one of the qualifications of a church officer is to be free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3) and deacons likewise must not be “greedy for money” (1 Timothy 3:8). The apostle Paul taught Timothy to stay away from people who just wanted to use theology and preaching as a basis for making money.  In 1 Corinthians 9:11-18, the apostle Paul wrote that he did not accept gifts from the Corinthian church because he did not want to be accused of preaching only to get money. 

Instead, the apostle Paul teaches that the key to spiritual growth and personal fulfillment comes from honoring God and centering our desires on Him (1 Timothy 6:6; see also Matthew 6:6).  As followers of Jesus, the apostle Paul taught that believers should be content with what God is doing in our lives (Philippians 4:11-13). Trust and dependence on Jesus brings great wealth and contentment (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 4:10-13; Hebrews 13:5; 1 John 2:17) while greed leads to all kinds of evil (e.g., divorce, robbery, anger) (1 Timothy 6:10).  The apostle Paul’s strongest warning is found in 1 Timothy 6:10 (NRSV): “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith.” Hebrews encourages us to keep your lives free from the love of money, and to be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5). Instead, it is better to store up treasure for the coming age through trust and dependence in God and by being rich in good works and generous in love for others (1 Timothy 1:5; see also James 5:3). The promises of God still stand: “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you” (see Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Hebrews 13:5).

In the early Jerusalem church, members pooled their wealth to help others for the common good (Acts 2:44-45). None of these early believers felt that what they had was their own, and so they were able to give and share, eliminating poverty among them. To provide for the needs of those within the church, members sold their land and property and gave the proceeds to the apostles (Acts 4:34-35; Acts 6:1). While this kind of sharing may not be a requirement, it provides a model for the responsibility that believers have for one another (see also Luke 10:25-37).  

The church community is to be mutually supportive of others (Matthew 6:2-4; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 19:21; Matthew 23:23-24; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 26:6-13; Matthew 27:57-61).  Believers are responsible for meeting the needs of the poor, especially in the church (Galatians 6:10). Jesus does not command all believers to liquidate all their property and possessions and give to those in need.  Nonetheless, Jesus clearly teaches that everything we have is God’s and should be used to serve Him and His people (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-34).

We live in a wealth and possession oriented society where many people seek riches. Advertisers spend millions of dollars to entice people to believe that if they buy more and more of their products, they will be happier, more fulfilled, more comfortable. Many people eagerly spend all their lives collecting and storing money, only to die and leave their wealth behind at death. Even sadder, some people desire money far more than a commitment to God and spiritual matters.

Jesus repeatedly teaches and warns on the danger of accumulating wealth  and greed (Matthew 6:19-34; Matthew 13:22; Matthew 19:16-30; Matthew 26:14-16; Matthew 27:3-10; Matthew 28:11-15; Luke 12:22-34).  Instead, Jesus’ disciples were to focus on God’s Kingdom and His purpose in this world rather than being obsessed with money and possessions (Luke 12:31).  In the Holy Scriptures, Jesus makes clear that our first and most important loyalty must be to God (Matthew 6:20-34; Romans 12:1-2). God does not tolerates rivals and wealth can become an idol (see Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).  As followers of Jesus, believers are called to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world," by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5; Romans 12:2; see also John 14 ¾16) but  to “do good” and be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:16). Believers are to trust God to meet their needs (Matthew 4:3-4; Matthew 6:8, 11, 25-34; Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 10:9-14; Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-38). 

Jesus taught that riches can prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God because rich people often become self-reliant and do not seek God. The person who has everything on earth can still lack what is most important — eternal life (see Mark 10:17-23 with parallel references in Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30). Like the disciples in the New Testament, people sometimes believe wealth is a blessing from God or a reward for being good. However, wealth is not a sign of faith or of partiality on God's part. Instead, Jesus assures believers that anyone who gives up something valuable for His sake will be repaid a hundred times over in this life and the life to come (Mark 10:29-30) but with persecution. Jesus explained that in the world to come, the values of this world will be reversed. Those who seek status and importance here will have none in heaven. Those who are humble here will be great in heaven.

God wants all people to love, obey and seek Him from the heart daily by putting all our energy and resources at His disposal with obedience (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Amos 5:21-24). Jesus teaches that the truly good life comes from living in a relationship with God and doing His work. Faith, service, and obedience are the way to become rich toward God. Faith in Jesus Christ, not in self or riches, is what beings eternal life with God. Besides, when Jesus returns, money will be worthless!

Draper, Charles. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Holman Reference, 2003.
Life Application Study Bible. Tyndale House Publishers, 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.

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