The Bible and Money, Who Knew?

what-does-the-bible-say-about-moneyThe last 100 years or so have seen thousands of books written about how to handle money. But the Bible–a book that dates back through millennia–contains plenty of advice that is amazingly relevant in a complex global economy today. Of course, as is often the case, many people misconstrue Biblical teachings about money–or simply ignore them altogether–if they don’t say what we want to hear. But the fact remains that Biblical advice about money is just as reliable as the best offerings from more recent times, for both believers and nonbelievers. The two main areas where this is best illustrated are addressed in this article.

Making The Most Of Your Money

Many Christians spend considerable time working with their investments. They read the Wall Street Journal, carefully watch business news networks, or frequently research certificate of deposit rates. These people may be criticized as being greedy, but that’s not accurate.There’s a thin line between greed and the desire to simply use money wisely. The underlying issue is really about why you want to make more money. Is it to fund sinful purposes like gambling or binge drinking, or are you just trying to make sure that you can provide for your family?

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus illustrates the point that not only does God permit wise investments, he encourages it. Remember that the story illustrates the different ways that the servants put their talents to use. Two of them invest the money and reap a return; the third hides the money away and neither loses nor gains. The master admonishes his unwillingness to make the money work for him, saying, “…you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” (ESV)

So it’s clear right there in the New Testament (among other places) that God wants us to grow our money, not just hold it. The important thing is that we are using the increase for positive purposes, like educating our children or helping those in need.

Meeting Obligations To The Government

There may have never been a time when more attention has been paid to the separation of church and state. The Affordable Care Act’s provisions for birth control; placement of religious objects on government property; and a Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has drawn many eyes to this aspect of constitutional and case law.

Somewhere in this swirl of debate has been mentioned the issue of paying taxes. Some believers have gone to the extreme of saying they owe no financial obligations to an earthly authority, while others have used the Bible to justify their stance on these divisive issues.

Mark 12:17 addresses taxation directly, with Jesus being asked if Christians should pay taxes to a secular government. His reply: “Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.”

This is another clear-cut explanation from the Bible that the teachings of Jesus align with common sense and obedience to earthly law. You pay your taxes. Your government says so, and God is fine with it too. No excuses!

It’s long been accepted that the Judeo-Christian ethic has driven many of the laws in the U.S. But for those less familiar with the Bible, there is a lower awareness of just what other parts of life are well-guided within its pages. Common sense, honesty, and fairness are infallible, and thousands of years have proven it.

5 Things the Bible Says About Materialism in Ecclesiastes

materialism and the bibleOne of the hardest things for Christians to deal with, especially those living in Western countries like the United States, is materialism.

We are constantly bombarded with messages, often subliminal, in the form of signs, commercials, advertisements, magazines, online columns, and overall culture that our self-worth is determined by the possessions we own, whether it be in the form of wealth, property, houses, cars, educational pedigree, or career.

The Prosperity Gospel, which preaches heretical teachings about God’s purpose for our life, only makes this more difficult for Christians to wade through. Often, since this false gospel placates to our natural imperfections and selfishness as humans, it is easy to become consumed with surrounding one’s self with whatever possession they crave or seek most.

Fortunately, the Bible provides us with plenty of warnings on materialism written by men who either saw how rampant it was in their society or those who engaged in it themselves and lived to rue it.

One of the most vivid, descriptive, and compelling accounts is found in Ecclesiastes.

Written by King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live save for Jesus Christ, the book is a reflection on the life he had lived, particularly the latter part, where he fell away from God and succumbed to major sins – including materialism. 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as 1 Kings, recounts how Solomon turned away from God. Ecclesiastes is essentially not only an elongated apology on Solomon’s behalf, but it is written as a warning to all others on the consequences of poor choices.

Materialism is one of the major topics he discusses in the book.

There are five critical things he said about it that Christians today would be wise to note, as well as some fictional and real life examples.

1. It is idolatry

Ecclesiastes 3:14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Materialism puts something other than God as an idol to be worshiped. Materialists make sacrifices to their idol in terms of time, money, energy, passion, hope, and even love. But even if they happen to achieve what they seek, God will still prevent them from enjoying it. If the purpose of seeking something is based on one’s worship of it, there is no point in it.

As I wrote in a previous column about the story of the rich young man and Jesus, the moral of the story wasn’t that the man was sinful because he was rich, but because he loved money more than Jesus. He was not willing to give up his wealth in order to follow Jesus. It was more important to him than than God.

2. It is all-consuming

Ecclesiastes 4:8: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. For whom am I toiling,❠he asked, and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?❠This too is meaningless┠a miserable business!

A person who obsesses about owning possessions – whether it is obtaining a Ph.D. or a purchasing a new Corvette – will become so consumed with pursuing it that they will neglect more important matters in life. They will put it ahead of their relationships with their family, friends, and spouses. Or, it can even be possessing many relationships or friends; this too will rob someone of their relationship with God.

Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is one of the finest literary examples of such a man. Enough though he is rich and successful, he is a lonely, greedy, cankerous old man. After spending his entire life pursuing money, he finally realizes he has in consequence shunned his nephew, his only living relative, a girl whom he fell in love with but left him when his love for money replace it, and a family of his own, like his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. When shown what the future may bring, he watches as his possessions are sold following his death, proceeded by a funereal that attracts few.

3. It is counter-productive

Ecclesiastes 4:4: And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

The whole point of materialism is that one can find contentment and happiness by owning something. But the problem with this belief is it is a lie. Materialism subliminally teaches it is necessary to own what other people own by promoting jealousy and envy; if your neighbor owns a yacht or a cabin, then it inspires you to seek one out due to envy. This produces a “keeping up with the Jones‘” mentality whereby a person becomes entrapped in a situation where they must buy things, not because they personally enjoy them, but in order to maintain the same level of appearance as their neighbor. But it does not ever create a lasting happiness.

Just as the Lernaean Hydra in Greek mythology would grow two heads for every one lost, as soon as one possession desired is obtained, a person immediately loses interest in it and desires something else’s their neighbor owns.

The whole point of materialism is supposed to bring happiness by possessing, but in the end it only causer deeper and greater unhappiness because it produces only temporary bouts of superficial elation, much like a sugar or caffeine high. There’s always a crash.

4. It is unsatisfying

Ecclesiastes 5:10: Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

When asked how much money is enough, Andrew Carnegie was said to have replied, “Just a little bit more.”
This may have been said in jest, however, because Carnegie also said that a man that dies rich “thus dies disgraced.” In other words, he criticized the accumulation of money for the mere sake of wealth.

People often wonder why wealthy individuals, whatever their background may be, so often resort to breaking the law in order to obtain even more money and or possessions than what they already have. The answer is that it isn’t enough, because if money is the specific craving a person has who subscribes to materialism, it is a life purpose, not an objective. There is never an exact amount of money that will satisfy. As Carnegie said, a person will always need “just a little bit more.”

Yet, as I have written before in previous columns, having wealth or being rich is not a sin; putting it above God, however, is.

5. It is ultimately futile

Ecclesiastes 5:15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.

In the end, everyone is going to die. When they do, all the money, possessions, education and whatever else they have accumulated will be left here on earth, regardless of where they ultimately go. The Rembrandt painting will stay on the wall. So will the collection of rare coins or the library of first editions.

But, most importantly, none of these will be there for entirety. Everything material will be destroyed.

A person is born with nothing and when they die they take none of it with them. For someone who lives in an area that suffers from natural disasters, war, famine, or instability, this is easy to understand. For Christians who live in places where such situations are rare, it is easy to forget that nothing will go with them when they die. It will stay behind. Or, it could be taken away in an instant. What this means is that a person’s worth is not defined by what they own but by God. And the only wealth that will go with you when you die will be the acts of righteousness credited to you.

So the next time we feel pressured to buy or accumulate something in order to feel either a sense of belonging or self-worth, we need to remember men like John the Baptist. He had no home. He wore clothes of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He ate locust and honey for sustenance. He didn’t have two coins to rub together. He had no livestock, property, or position. He died while suffering in a prison.

Solomon, on the other hand, had riches beyond measure, hundreds of wives, and a lavish palace, yet in the end it was meaningless to him.

Additionally, while Solomon was the wisest man on earth, Jesus said no man born of woman was greater than John.

photo by Axiom 23

Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is a Christian Duty

give to caesarMany verses in the Bible are misquoted, misinterpreted, or taken out of context or their contextual meaning. Some of the worse violations in this regard involve Jesus’ statements concerning money and finances.

Among the most misquoted is “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The quote is taken from a story that occurs in several Gospels, including Mark, specifically 12:13-18, as well as Luke. For clarity’s sake I will use Mark’s version to provide a quick summary.

In the story, Pharisees and Herodians are sent to speak to Jesus. The Pharisees were a traditional, conservative sect within Judaism at the time, and the Herodians most likely some sort of a political entity friendly to the family of Herod Antipater, who was tetrarch of Galilee at the time.

First, they flatter Jesus by calling him a man of integrity and pretending to be authentic and ingenuous about their concern for the law and following God. They then ask him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not.

Jesus immediately accuses them of hypocrisy and demands to see a denarius, which was a Roman coin. After they produce one, Jesus asks them whose inscription is on it. When they reply it is Caesar, Jesus answers, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

Mark writes “they were amazed at his answer.” In Luke’s Gospel, the men were “astonished by his answer, (and) they became silent.”

A ‘GOTCHA’ QUESTION

It is important to contextualize the situation.

At the time of this story, Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover on a donkey during the triumphant entry, which is now called Palm Sunday. The large welcoming he receives made his enemies jealous, as well as concerned he would attempt to rebel against the Roman government and bring disaster down on them.

To get rid of him, the religious and political enemies of Jesus attempt to trap him in his own words – similar to a modern day political “gotcha!” question.

One important observation to make is the intent of the men who ask the question.

Luke’s account (20:20-26) describes them as spies who hope to catch Jesus in something he said to hand him over to the government.

Thus, the question they asked him was strictly to trap him in a no-win situation.

Had Jesus answered they were not required to pay taxes to Caesar, it would have qualified as preaching rebellion against the Roman government and would have been appropriate grounds to have him arrested by the authorities. In fact, during Jesus’ eventual trial, many of the Jewish chief priests would later falsely claim to Pontius Pilate Jesus had preached this.

On the other hand, had Jesus replied they should pay taxes to Caesar, the spies would have then used his answer to stir up a mob and have him stoned or killed. Roman rule over Palestine was extremely unpopular among many Jews during the time, which is why the region suffered from so many insurrections, rebellions and revolts. Many Jews believed it was wrong to pay taxes to a pagan government and despised many of their own people for working as tax collectors, like St. Matthew, who was a tax collector before Jesus called him. Some Jews also did not consider the Romans their legitimate rulers; thus, for Jesus to say they should pay taxes would, in their mind, giving the Roman rule legitimacy and indirectly condemning Jewish nationalism.

Also, Passover was one of the most important of Jewish religious holidays, which meant the people would already be in a highly religious and patriotic mood, making it easy to manipulate them.

QUESTION ACT OF REVENGE

Additionally, if one reads the previous section before this incident, one will discover the spies were using the exact same trick question Jesus had used against them.

In both Mark and Luke’s gospels, the chief priests and elders of the law challenge Jesus’s authority to teach and preach from the Torah, since he was not a trained rabbi, and demand to know where his authority comes from. Jesus replies he would answer the question if they first answer his: Where had John the Baptist’s authority come from, men or God?

Discussing it amongst themselves, they realize they can’t answer it either way; if they say John’s authority came from God, why hadn’t they accepted his teachings of repentance? If they say his authority came from men, i.e. he made it all up, they fear being stoned by the people, who firmly believed John had been a prophet.

Thus, they aren’t able to give an answer because they lack of the courage to stand by their convictions, a fault they know very well Jesus did not suffer from himself.

So the question of paying taxes to Caesar is an attempt at revenge for humiliating them, knowing he has the bravery to say what he believes regardless of how unpopular it is.

Jesus response showcases both his brilliant wit and his divine knowledge.

In Luke’s Gospel, he immediately confronts them for their deceit, calling them hypocrites, and asks them why they intend to trap him.

Right away, he using showing them he knows their hearts and hasn’t been fooled for an instant. He also points out their hypocrisy because he knows if they were asked the same question, they wouldn’t answer it. This puts them on the defensive.

It is also significant to note whom the spies were; one group, the Pharisees, were generally opposed to the Roman government and disliked paying taxes; the other group, the Herodians, supported or at the very least were open to the Romans and most likely supported the taxation. So no matter what answer he gave, he was guaranteed to offend one of the groups.

After having chastised them, Jesus then asks them to show him a denarius. When they do, he inquires whose face is on it. When they reply it is Caesar’s, Jesus answers their question: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

OMITTING THE SECOND PART OF THE ANSWER

Most people only know the first part of this quote; and even those who know the other half don’t understand what Jesus meant by it.

As I see it, the point Jesus was making is that a denarius bears the image of Caesar. Therefore, if Caesar issues a tax, it should be paid.

In other words, his answer is yes, the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar if required to.

But the other half of the answer is the most insightful. He says to them “Give to God what is God’s.”

When he says this, he is referring to mankind, which bears the image and likeness of God. Therefore, men should give what God demands of them as well. And God made it clear in the Old Testament they were to love him with all their heart, soul, and strength.

This is what makes Jesus’ answer so profound. In addition to saying the Jews should submit to the Roman government, Jesus is telling them that they should be as equally concerned, if not more concerned, about submitting to what God asks of them.

He is essentially putting God’s commandments above Caesar’s decrees and laws while simultaneously telling people to obey Caesar. He is effectively disarming any qualms the Herodians may have about his answer, while making it impossible for the Pharisees to accuse him of putting obedience to Rome above obedience to God. Additionally, he is chastising them for their obsession with money rather than spirituality.

The phrase “Render unto Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s” is often used in a very pro-statism and totalitarian manner. When used, it generally means whatever the government wants of its citizens it owns or is entitled to.

Those who use only the first part of the phrase miss the entire point Jesus made; our focus should not be so much on money and the government as it is on God. This was a direct attack on the Sadducees, Herodians and other chief priests who placed their allegiance to Rome – the government – above God. It was the chief priest who would later say at Jesus’ trial “We have no king but Caesar.”

The underlying message, however, is that Christians should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as long as it does not belong to God, and it would be foolish to think there is anything we could “render unto God” which is Caesar’s, i.e the government, because everything is created by God.

For Christians today, this means while we should be concerned about matters such as taxes and money, we shouldn’t become so obsessed with money and taxes to the point where we forget our obedience to God.

photo by tonynetone

The Bible and Finance: The Myth of the Prosperity Gospel

prosperity gospelIn my last article, I talked about the story of the rich young man and how finances is merely one of many idols people can have in front of God.  I also pointed out that the Bible does not condemn wealth, per se, but what is done with it.  On the other side of the coin, however, is one of the more subversive beliefs today within the Christian Church: The Prosperity Gospel.

Pure heresy at it’s finest

Make no mistake about it; it is more than a simple misunderstanding or poor reading of Scriptures; it’s pure heresy.  The Prosperity Gospel teaches that if you are a “good” Christian, you will be rewarded with success in worldly endeavors, i.e. your wishes and desires, whatever they may be, will be fulfilled.

Christianity, under this Gospel, becomes a mathematical formula in which your righteousness is directly proportional to your worldly blessings.  In America and many developed nations, this false Gospel has taken root due to our unparalleled degree of personal and national wealth.

Preachers and followers of this Gospel use examples from the Bible where righteous men such as the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were all wealthy, as were kings such as David and Solomen, under whom gold became so common that it was practically worthless.
One such verse they use to advocate this belief comes from Psalms 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

 

False teachers are everywhere

What makes this belief so subversive and destructive is that those who promote it do not do so blatantly, but discreetly.  Prosperity Gospel preachers and churches will not state directly that if you are poor or financially struggling that you are somehow less of a Christian than someone who is rich. If you listen to their sermons, however, and listen carefully to what they are actually saying, there is a subtle, yet unmistakable theme that righteousness is connected to worldly success. Their sermons consist of how if you accept God as your savior everything in your life will get better and the things you desire can be gained through “trusting God.”

They will quote Scripture, such as Deuteronomy 30:15-20, where God promises blessings on those who are obedient to his word and trouble on those who do not.
Or they will point out stories such as King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-20) and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-36). Both were torn from their throne and riches because of their flagrant disobedience to God. After they turned back to Him, their kingdoms and riches were restored to them.

Yet, the Prosperity Gospel falls apart under the weight of both Scripture and the example Jesus set for Christians.  All one need do is point to Jesus’ warning in John 16:33:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Yes, there were men in the Bible who were blessed with wealth for their faithfulness.  There were also men who were not, and it had nothing to do with their faith.

The Prophet Elijah lived penniless and homeless for years while he prophesied against King Ahab. He was so poor he had to beg a woman, who was on the cusp of starvation, for food.

John the Baptist lived a spartan-like existence in the desert by himself, subsisting off of locust and honey. All he had for clothes was a leather belt and camel hair. He was ultimately was beheaded by King Herod.

Yet, in both instances, these men were praised for their righteousness. Elijah was taken up into Heaven and did not experience death. Jesus called John the greatest man – aside from himself – who ever lived.
It’s absurd that such a belief like the Prosperity Gospel has taken root, since the entire Book of Job is dedicated to squashing this attitude. Unfortunately the sad truth is that it is easy for us to jump to the same conclusion as those who follow the Prosperity Gospel.

 

Bible and modern day

Sometimes it can be hard to understand Biblical stories without giving them a modern comparison. As I pointed out in my previous article, Job was probably the richest man who ever lived. The Bible says he owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, as well as the necessary servants to tend to these flocks. He also had a large family, seven sons and three daughters. Later chapters in the book imply he also held considerable sway over the political issues in his region and was well-respected.

Try to imagine a billionaire businessman/politician who had a large, closely-knit family, power and influence on a national level, and outwardly showed every sign of godliness.
Then suddenly, he loses everything he owns through a series of natural and unnatural events in a single day, along with all of his children. Shortly after, he is stricken with a myriad of diseases and illnesses.

Our first reaction to such news would be, sadly, predictable.  What did he do to make God so angry at him?  According to the Prosperity Gospel, this is the only possible explanation. Why else would God cause one of his followers so much pain?

This is exactly what Job’s friends believed; the the Book of Job contains long lectures Job’s friends give him, telling him he had to have sinned horribly in order to have brought such a disaster down on himself, and that only by repentance could things change.

Job knew in his heart this was not so. While he did not understand why God has caused him so much sorrow, he knew that it had not been because of anything he had done.
Job 2:10 is probably the best verse to dismantle the Prosperity Gospel.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Only the reader is aware that Job is being tested by God to see if he will hold onto his faith after losing everything.

In the end, God chastised Job’s friends for their false teachings, which is essentially the Prosperity Gospel, and rewarded Job for not accepting it by returning his wealth, then doubling it.

Inasmuch as Job contradicts the Prosperity Gospel, the rest of the Bible is full of examples which disprove this myth.

Not one of Jesus’ disciples ever became rich; they all died gruesome, horrific deaths preaching the Gospel. The Apostle Paul was flogged, whipped, stoned, beaten, ship wrecked, and finally beheaded.

Other Christians in the first century were covered in pitch and burned as torches by Nero or torn to pieces by wild beasts in the Colosseum because they refused to recant their faith. Martyrs like Polycarp and John Hus were burned to death.

 

What about the rest of the world?

To this day, Christians in Africa and the Middle East are martyred or live in constant fear of death or imprisonment.

If the Prosperity Gospel is true, then what are they doing wrong?  The sad truth is that this heresy only exists in developed countries, such as America, because only in such countries would it ever make any logical sense. Insomuch as people complain about income inequality and the 99 vs. 1 percent, we have attained such luxury that all one has to do is avoid making poor life choices and one can still live a life of relative affluence.

In Third World countries, where death, war, terror, disease, and persecution are commonplace, the Prosperity Gospel and its believers would be ridiculed. In developed countries, proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ will bring scorn or ridiculed, but in countries like Iran or Afghanistan, it’s akin to signing one’s own death warrant.

 

Prosperity gospel a bunch of non-sense

The Prosperity Gospel is essentially a blend of Christian gnosticism and eastern religions’ belief in karma, where the unfathomable complexity of God’s divine plan for the individual and all of mankind is reduced down to a facile modus operandi. It also takes away the true purpose for following God and replaces it with the greed desire for possessions.

Nowhere in Scripture does it guarantee that a Christian will live a life blessed with material possessions if they follow God. Any verses used to promote this idea are twisted and taken out of their proper context.

The Apostle Paul and the other authors of the News Testament state a very consistent message; if you are faithful to God, he will strengthen you spiritually. He will enable you to accomplish great things in advance of the Gospel.

He will not, however, necessarily make life easy in terms of finances or anything else. As I stated before, however, this also does not mean that as Christians we are commanded to be poor or shun wealth. Wealth can be a sign of God’s blessing on an individual, but it also may simply be an indication of what a person truly worships in life.

Christians should never look at their worldly possessions, financial security, or social status as an indication of their favor with God.  Rather, they ask themselves how great their wealth is that they have stored up for themselves in Heaven.

As Jesus said,

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

The Bible and Finance: The Story of the Rich Young Man

rich young rulerThe Biblical story of the rich young man is one of the more misunderstood and misinterpreted stories of the Gospels. It appears in the Gospel of Matthew 19:16â“30, the Gospel of Mark 10:17â“31 and the Gospel of Luke 18:18â“30. It leaves a lot of Christian confused about whether or not their wealth is a sign of their sinfulness or a blessing from God.

For the sake of clarity, I will use the story taken from Matthew’s Gospel.

In the story, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks him (16) Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?â

After reminding him that only God knows what is good, Jesus commands him to follow the commandments and lists off several. The rich young man states that he has kept all of them since he was a little child.

Jesus then says that he lacks one thing. He gives the rich young man a command.

(21) If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.â

The young man then leaves sadly, because of his (22) “because he had great wealth.”

Jesus then says one of the more oft quoted verses, and most misunderstood, in the Bible.

(24) “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.â

People throughout history have used this verse to make the case for Christian poverty, i.e. the notion that Christians cannot walk faithfully with God if they have any wealth. This idea was the foundation for Christian monasticism and was also heavily advocated by Russian literary genius Leo Tolstoy in his classic novel, Anna Karenina.

Indeed, the story seems to imply that rich people cannot go to Heaven. This belief, however, falls flat after some general observations in other areas of the Bible and in the story.

There are innumerable examples of godly men in Scripture who have owned wealth. The first patriarch, was a very wealthy man, and God never criticized him for it or required him to sell off his livestock. Joseph became the second greatest man in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Jacob and Isaac both owned large flocks, which in ancient times was a source and indication of wealth.

 

Possessions does not disqualify a holy life

Job was, by all estimations, the richest man who ever lived, and was rewarded for his integrity with even greater wealth.

The man who buried Jesus’ body, Joseph of Arimathea, was rich enough to afford to own a brand new tomb to place him in.

It would be erroneous to claim that the mere possession of wealth disqualifies someone from salvation because nowhere in Scripture does it name poverty as a godly qualify. There is no specific amount a Christian is “supposed to own.” Romans 1:17 does not say “The righteous will live in poverty.” Rather, it says, “The righteous will live by faith.”

Christianity teaches that nothing, including wealth, can come first before God or should become an idol. The story, therefore, is not a condemnation of wealth, but of the worship of wealth as an idol. You don’t have to be rich in order to idolize wealth.

When you look closer at the story, it is obvious that the young man who approaches Jesus is clearly there because he knows that his wealth will not save him. In the other Gospels, he is described as a “certain ruler.” Mark’s Gospel even states that the man “ran up to him (Jesus) and fell on his knees before him,” implying that the prospect of damnation had been tormenting him for some time.

 

Be ready to surrender all

Additionally, the commandments Jesus lists are all ones which deal with morality, not spirituality; honor thy father and mother, thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery.

Jesus intentionally avoids the first two commandments, which deal with man’s relationship with God.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall make for yourself no graven images.

Jesus words must also be read correctly. He didn’t say “you have too much wealth so you need to get rid of it, because only poor people can be saved.” He said that the young man “lacked” one thing, and it had nothing to do with money, per se. He lacked faith and total devotion to God.

His command that the young man sell all of possessions to the poor was done to demonstrate how Christians must be willing to surrender everything at any point if God calls them to (I emphasize the “if” because not everyone necessarily is called to do so). In Matthew 8, Jesus makes the exact same ultimatum with another man, except it deals with death and burial. The man wants to bury his father, but Jesus tells him to “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Up until that point, the rich young man had relied on a very worldly attitude; if I do something, I can save myself. He asks “What good thing must I do…” as though all that is needed is for him to perform a deed to receive eternal life.

What Jesus did here was put him to the same test God put to Abraham when he commanded him to sacrifice Isaac; to surrender his wealth would have forced the young man to trust and obey God totally.

By placing his devotion to him ahead of what they held most dear to his heart, Abraham passed his test and was spared the horrible prospect of killing his own son.

The young man failed, because he was not willing to give up his money in order to follow Jesus, and therefore gain eternal life. This is what made Jesus so distraught as he sees the man leave; how can someone prefer money to eternal life?

Who knows? Jesus might have rescinded the command had the young man immediately obeyed, much like the angel who held back Abraham’s hand from slaying Isaac.

The story, however, does not end there. Jesus’ disciples ask “how then can be saved.”

Jesus answers, (26) With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.â

He then goes on to give the heart of the message; notice nowhere in it does he mention money.

(29) “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

This is the message of the Gospel; those who follow Jesus might not have to give up everything, but they must be willing to if necessary.

Thus, the story isn’t necessarily about finances, wealth or poverty, but about our priorities.

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