KJV = King James Version
TEV = Today's English Version
Wealth and the Christian
"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing. There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches" (Proverbs 13:7 KJV).
"But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9) KJV).
I once heard a dedicated Christian grumbling that serving the Lord had made him poor. He said that when he was born again he instantly dedicated his three young sons to God for the ministry.
"Lord, I don't care if I'm poor for the rest of my life, just use my sons in your work," he had prayed.
When the sons reached young manhood, all three studied for the ministry and became pastors. On hearing the father's complaint, I said to him, "Why are you complaining about your lack of wealth? You told the Lord you didn't care if you were poor the rest of your life, as long as He used your sons in His work. Now that God took you at your word, you grumble about it?"
From the moment I first began preparing for the ministry until now, I have never requested wealth from the Lord; however, like Solomon, I have often requested wisdom. Only others can witness whether that request was granted; I hope it was. One brother actually severely rebuked me for not asking the Lord for riches. Yet God always has been good to my family, supplying amply for us. The churches we have served, faithfully cared for our temporal requirements. At regular intervals, the church boards generously raised our salaries and allowances without my asking them to do so. At board meetings, I would be asked to leave the board room, and when I rejoined the meetings, the board chairman would inform me that either my salary or expense accounts or both had just been increased. But I never asked for these increases.
God does not define wealth by human standards. The writer of Proverbs 16:8 noted that, "Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right" (KJV). It is true, however, that there are obvious material needs we all require. All of us would rather be comfortable than needy, but for the Christian, material things must be subordinated to spiritual prosperity. The Apostle John wrote to his friend, Gaius, "Dear friend, I pray that you're doing well in every way and are also healthy, just as your soul is doing well" (John's Third Epistle, verse two TEV). The obvious question to ask here is: If we were doing as well as our soul is prospering, just how healthy and wealthy would we be?
It is difficult to possess great wealth and not put our trust in it, though a few believers have miraculously accomplished it by using the riches for the Lord's work and putting it to paramount use in advancing the Kingdom of God. Perhaps this difficulty in possessing great wealth without it possessing us, is the reason that God in his omniscience and mercy has not made more of us millionaires.
Mark 10:17-27 records the story of a wealthy young member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who came anxiously running to Jesus.
He asked, "Good teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "You know the commandments . . ."
"Teacher, ever since I was young, I have obeyed all these commandments," replied the young man.
Jesus looked lovingly at him and said, "You need only one thing. Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come, take up the cross and follow me." When the man heard this, his went away sad, because he was very rich.
Jesus then shocked His disciples by saying, "How hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God!" (Mark10:17-23).
It should be noted that the young man's problem was not his wealth, but a misdirected faith in his wealth. He trusted in it and it robbed him of a relationship with Jesus. This author once wrote an entire article on the rich young ruler, titled, "The Man Who Rejected His Cross." When we fault the youth for rejecting his cross and the call of Christ in his life, to a lesser degree we fault ourselves, for we sometimes do the same thing.
So how should a believer handle prosperity? To answer this question, we should study the Book of Job. James 5:11 informs us that Job was a man no different than other men. He had passions the same as we have. It has always been hard for humanity to overcome the passion for possessions since we often use "things" as an emotional "security blanket." It is becoming increasingly evident that our young people, because of media subliminal - and not so subliminal - messages that have a "give-me-what-I-deserve-to-own-now" slant, seek an instant gratification of their desire for possessions. They demand to instantly possess things that past generations labored long and hard to own. Nonetheless, owning great possessions does not necessarily indicate that one is unrighteous and spiritually inferior. Conversely, having no possessions does not indicate that one is righteous and spiritually superior.
Scriptures record that Job was so wealthy that he "was the greatest of all the men of the East (Job 1:3; KJV). Job was an upright man who feared God and avoided evil (3:1). God permitted Satan to test Job, to prove that Job did not require wealth to serve God. In Job, we ascertain the characteristics of a once wealthy man who, after loosing all his vast possessions and even his children, remained marvelously spiritual.
After the loss of his wealth, Job poetically informed us that he had made a covenant (contract) with his eyes: It was a covenant for holy seeing. "I made a covenant with mine eyes: why than should I [lustfully] think upon a maid?" (Job 31:1).
Do you remember that little chorus we sang in Sunday School, "Be careful little eyes what you see"? Well, Job practiced the spirit of that chorus thousands of years before it was written. Since the eyes function as gateways to the world around us, it behooves us to be careful what they see. As Americans, we may not agree with censorship, but a self-censorship of what we permit our eyes to see is perfectly spiritual.
After the loss of his wealth, Job testified that God actually saw his ways and counted his steps: "Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?"
Such an assurance that God actually sees our ways and counts the steps we take should serve to comfort us in difficult times. My dad's favorite song was, "His Eye is on the Sparrow," in which occurs the phrase, "And I know He watches me." To know that God watches us is either comforting or disturbing, depending upon one's conduct. Knowing that God watched him comforted Job in his afflictions, though he could not understand the reason for the poverty and ensuing physical sufferings that descended on him. In riches and in poverty, in sickness and in health, Job remained true to God.
After the loss of his wealth, Job took assurance in fact that he had been a considerate employer. "If I did despise the cause [needs] of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended [reasoned] with me; What then shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?" (Job 31:13-14).
I once attended a three-day seminar titled, "Living Today in the Light of Eternity." Job lived in this manner. He lived each day in the light of eternity, asking himself the question, "[If I do not treat others well] What shall I do when God riseth up [calls me to give an accounting]. What shall I answer Him?"
Quite a question! One each of us should ask ourselves!
Sadly, we often hear reports of those with great wealth who arrogantly look down on the less fortunate. One pastor told me of a family that once faithfully attended his services.
"The entire family was faithful to the Lord," he stated, "Each member of the family helped in the work of the church. Some sang in the choir, some taught classes or worked with children."
Sounding as though his heart was breaking, he continued, "Then a very rich relative passed away and the family, who was the only heir, fell heir to the person's wealth. For a while, they continued attending services. Then they began behaving as though other members of the congregation were not in their social class and unfit to associate with. Their attendance gradually tapered off until now, no amount of persuasion will bring them back. They attend no church, and have abandoned Christ."
Job did not feel that way about those less prosperous then himself. He did not withhold from the poor, he cared about widows and orphans, and shared his wealth with those who had less than he had.
After the loss of his wealth, Job took assurance in the knowledge that he had not greedily grasped for more wealth than he already possessed (Job 31: 24-25). He testified that he had not made gold his hope. Someone once asked an extremely wealthy man who continued amassing huge sums of money, "Why are you still grabbing for more money? You already have more than enough to last several lifetimes!"
"I do it because I can," the man responded, "Anyway; one never has more than enough money."
Such tightfistedness degrades a person's entire being. As portrayed by the ever-popular classic, "A Christmas Carol, greedily grasping for wealth without caring for those about us creates a miserliness of the soul that cripples a person's spirit. Also portrayed therein, by the character of Bob Crachet, Scrooge's pauper employee, wealth is not necessary for one to express love, gentleness and concern. Despite its poverty, the Crachet family was a close nit, loving one. Though Scrooge treated him like a slave, Bob did not permit this to enslave his spirit and was grateful for his employment
In the Carol, when Scrooge was accosted by the heavily-chained ghost of his former partner, who had been as miserly as he was, he asked why the phantom wore chains.
"I wear the chains I forged in life," the apparition replied. It was only after Scrooge learned that he too was forging similar chains that he was finally converted from a grasping miser, unconcerned for the poor consigned to prisons and workhouses, into a benevolent benefactor, who became known for his generosity and benevolence. "The Christmas Carol" is merely a work of fiction, albeit, a beloved one. However, the truth it conveys extends across the centuries, teaching that wealth can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the attitude of one's heart.
As the Apostle Paul advised us, having enough to eat and drink, let us therewith be content. After all, the Bible promises us that all God's abundant wealth is at our disposal through Jesus Christ - ours for the asking.
That's some promise; no one is wealthier than God!
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Mr. Perrello, thank you for such an insightful piece. It truly gives one a new outlook on wealth in Christian hands. I pray that we will diligently do with our wealth, or lack thereof, as the Lord would have us do. And your article certainly puts light on the subject.
Yes Joseph, I would say that God has given you wisdom. You know Solomon never asked for wealth either! He asked God for an understanding heart, that he may discern between good and evil. (1 Kings 3:9) Yet this pleased God so much that He gave him wisdom and great wealth.
Wealth certainly did not taint Job did it? We all need to be very thankful that we do not have to attain to the righteousness of Job, and yet even his righteousness is as filthy rags. Which I guess means that no matter how wealthy we are if Christ is not our righteousness, our clothes are pretty shabby. I loved this article Joseph, Thank you for sharing it with us. Blessings, Sharon