Tuesday, June 27, 2006

#153: Anatomy of Wealth

Wealth has two faces: The first gives great pleasure to those who possess it, and is very desirous to those who don’t have it. It is totally understandable and natural why the vast majority of the world’s population would love to be wealthy. It gives security against hard times and makes life easy. It also gives power, prestige and a continual all-around safe feeling. Wealth is one of the most desired and treasured tools of the “survival of the fittest” mentality.

That is the reason the world turns on the desire to have money–the more the merrier—so people can do as they please with no fear of want. As it were, in most cases, money talks; money gets things done; when one has wealth, he/she is sitting on top of the world, etc. Who can dispute the importance and overall benefits of wealth? If anyone was to propose a theory that it is disadvantageous to desire or have wealth, that person would be sent to the funny farm.

This consensus on the necessity of wealth has been and still is the status quo worldwide, although there is one exception. The New Testament of the Christian Bible says otherwise, by using derogatory language concerning its value or possession. This theology is misunderstood by a vast majority of people who call themselves Christians. And it is easy to understand why: To reject wealth violates survival’s most basic instinct. Again, wealth is necessary and of great value for people who are not attached to Jesus Christ. What else do they have or desire to look forward to? Only the pleasures that wealth offers. It could be said that wealth is the holy grail of the world’s population.

Why is wealth offensive to Christ when it is in the hands of God’s holy people? There are many reasons. The most basic reason is that all humans, many without knowing it, desire to have Godly power. Remember, according to the Old Testament, we were created in the image of God. I would interpret it this way: We have the potential (all the necessary equipment) to become powerful gods. Money is the main avenue to acquire that God-like power. Now we know why we love money: It gives the ability and power to make us feel invincible. Again, it is not the money itself we love, but the ability it gives to do as we please: good, bad or selfish.

The main, if not the only, reason wealth is an insult to God is because all true wealth and power belong only to Him. This does not mean unbelievers can’t be or desire to be wealthy; they can have their fill of wealth and power and God doesn’t give a hoot. However, in the future, that wealth-driven power may keep them from becoming aware of a need for what God freely offers.

If someone desires Godly power, it must come through a connection with Jesus Christ. Of course, Godly power is not synonymous with worldly power. Worldly power is used mostly for self-centered motives, whereas Godly power is used to promote the cause of Christ. Therefore, never the twain shall meet. This tells me that God’s ways are not our ways. Christians can’t “have their cake and eat it too.” Material wealth and God do not agree. There are enough New Testament verses to substantiate that belief, which will be brought up later in this post.

There are many other reasons why wealth is not beneficial to genuine Christians, other than usurping the power that belongs to God alone. One thing that wealth produces is pride; that is something the Lord hates. It makes a person arrogant, stuck-up, snobbish; he/she feels privileged and above the law since their money can get them out of any scrape with the law; he/she also has the ability to walk all over whomever. That pride makes one feel as if they are better than others that are not as wealthy; also, pride at times puts on the pretense of goodness, and adds a facade of humility to cover up their real feelings. Pride belongs to God. Did God make the wealthy better or more important than the less fortunate? They think so. Most of these attitudes that wealth produces come naturally, and without much effort.

Laziness is another attribute of wealth. Other than in ways to increase or hold on to one’s wealth, it makes people lazy. Anything that takes effort, is physically exerting, or takes precious time is farmed out to whomever (outsourced, as it were). They think, “Why should anyone exert oneself if they don’t have to?” It could be from cleaning the house, gardening, doing lawn care and weed control, to repairs and maintenance of whatever, preparation of meals by a restaurant, or hiring a live-in housekeeper and cook, care of children, driving instead of walking or riding the bike. In fact, there are many chores that can be done by family members that most wealthy people wouldn’t think of doing. To put it in a few words, the wealthy have it easy when it comes to living. And worse yet, if a wealthy person claims to be a Christian, they believe their wealth to live the good life is a blessing from God.

Results of laziness: weight gain in the wrong places; health problems, especially in old age; premature aging and onset of many degenerative diseases. Worst of all, wealth makes the need for the good things God has to offer not as necessary; they forget about God since their life is already full of much goodness. I truly understand that it is human nature to be lazy, and wealth makes it more than possible.

Those that are wealthy are spoiled. No one has much good to say about a spoiled child who wants and gets things his/her own way, regardless of whatever is bad for them. Although wealthy adults don’t often show in public how spoiled they really are, when they want something, no big deal—they get it. When something is not going their way, puff—they, most often make it disappear.

The wealthy that claim to be christians have the power to silently influence what is preached, and what is not, in the church they attend. For example, a minister wouldn’t dare bring up the many New Testament verses that advise church members of the harm the desired “good life” does to Christians. They could never mention that obedience to what the New Testament commands is absolutely necessary as evidence of our Salvation. They can never even give a hint of how sports is a gigantic waste of time—time that could/should be spent on Godly matters. I could just imagine what would happen to the organized church if, all at once, all churches took seriously what the New Testament commands about many of the topics this blog brings out to the open: total collapse. Yes, the influence the wealthy have on church-style “christianity" is beyond what one can imagine.

Of course, out of necessity, wealthy “christians” circumvent the bad- mouthing of wealth done by the New Testament in this way: “Look at all the good our tithes, offerings and charitable work is doing for spreading of the gospel.” That may be all well and good, but if their money is going to a feel-good, easy-does-it, anything-goes gospel, it will/has done much harm to the cause of Christ Jesus. But more important than what the wealthy are doing with their money, look at what it is doing to them: flamboyant or semi-flamboyant lifestyles. This “holy wealth” is a heinous crime against God by making themselves role models for other wannabe Christians who desire to be wealthy like them. Then their main motive will not be to gain holiness, obedience, love, etc., but wealth so they too can do so much for their church. What else is new?

While on the subject of charity, what occurred this week is, most likely, one of the greatest humanitarian happenings in the history of the world: to see billionaire philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett give about 66 billion dollars to much-deserved charities (helping those who can’t help themselves)–I am certain this event will inspire more wealthy people to give for the same cause. There is only one big sadness: Did anyone hear the name Jesus Christ mentioned in conjunction with this giving? I didn’t. I heard the word “love” mentioned, but not “God’s Love.” That means neither Christ nor the Father will receive any glory, praise or honor from these wonderful good deeds. Men/women get the glory. On behalf of the creator of the world, that is a crying shame—I wonder if any of these three people claim to be Christians.

That is not to say that wealthy people can’t become genuine Christians. But if and when they do, their wealth must be spent on promoting the cause of Jesus Christ, and helping those in need–not the lazy—to the point that their lifestyle will make it obvious they are not wealthy any more. This happened in the gospels when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both wealthy men, became followers of the Christ. In the beginning days of the early church, rich believers in Jerusalem—because of extreme poverty all around—sold what they had and shared it with all those in need. Acts 4:32. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” That verse is indicative of the wealthy (Joseph and Nicodemus) who chose to become Christians–I do want to mention that any Jews that became followers of Christ in Jerusalem were ostracized in every way possible, including employment. That was the reason for their extreme poverty.

It could easily be said that the Christian religion was meant for those in need, both spiritually and materially. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He never once called the rich to himself. God would love to see His people barefoot and hungry, so to speak (without much extra), only counting on God to supply their daily provisions, through their own efforts or through the help of His holy people. The continual need for what God offers is what makes–or should make–Christianity a powerful and potent religion.

There are many things in life that are insatiable: our desire for more food than our bodies actually need; our desire to be better, in every way, than the next person; our need to be desired, wanted, admired, respected and loved by others; the sensual desire that human nature gives, especially in one’s earlier years. But the most insatiable desire is the ability to have enough money. Wealth breeds/needs more wealth. Wealth can never be satisfied; it always says, “more, more.” Guess what becomes the most damaging attribute of wealth? GREED.

We all may be guilty concerning this next subject, but the wealthy have the best chance of being the guiltiest. Waste! America is the most wasteful country on this planet. Why is that? Answer: Abundance makes waste. And the wealthy have the greatest abundance. What right does anyone have to be wasteful while there are hungry and needy everywhere one looks? Shame on us. Waste is a crime against the needy. Jesus said in John 6:12, “When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten." Actually, when anyone eats or drinks more than their body needs, that is a waste not only the wealthy are guilty of, but most of us, especially on the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I am certain no one wants to hear about how wasteful we are; nevertheless, I brought it up to point out how disgraceful the practice is. Don’t expect your church leader to mention this topic.

Another condition wealth breeds is the lack of connection with the real world. The result is apathy for the feelings and needs of the less fortunate. Apathy nullifies the nurturing of empathy (being able to walk in another’s shoes). Empathy is one of the most treasured gifts given by God to genuine Christians. The wealthy have the best chance to be empathic, but may be the least. Money is of great importance to all wealthy people; otherwise they wouldn’t be wealthy.

Actually, by bringing up this topic, I might just as well be barking at the moon. Why? In all developed countries, it is essential for everyone to go to school, and I agree. We would do no one any good if we were illiterate. Therefore, the golden rule is to go to college to get a degree and then find employment to earn good money. We do this so we won’t have to dig ditches or wash and iron clothes the rest of our lives. Understandable. The problem arises when our education earns us ‘big bucks.’ Remember, everyone desires to make as much money (wealth) as they possibly can. Again, that is only natural.

My question is this: Is there anything wrong with the educational action in the aforementioned paragraph? Why does the end result seem to conflict with what Jesus Christ expects from His people? Is there some kind of compromise? Yes, if Christians could get greed out of wealth and put God into it, to the point that wealth is nothing more than a tool/method of promoting the purpose of Jesus Christ–I didn’t say give to the local church—without having/living a life of excess, but a life of modesty. That could easily be called Godly wealth. This seems to make sense, although in this paragraph, I am ad-libbing as to what the New Testament teaches.

Let me end with New Testament verses and let God’s spirit guide everyone as to the course which is correct for them.

1st Timothy 6:17-18. “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 and be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

Mark 4:19. “but the worries of this life, the DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” [emphasis added]

1st Timothy 6:6-10. “But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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.”

Luke 16:15. “What is highly valued among men [money] is detestable in God’s sight.” [emphasis added]

Mark 10:21-23. “. . . ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’”

James 5:3. “Your silver and gold are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”

Matthew 29:21-24 is similar to the verse above. “Jesus answered, ‘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.’ [There are prerequisites before following Jesus]. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 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.’” Jesus, in essence, is saying that it is impossible for prosperous, rich, or wealthy men/women to be Christians.

Hebrews 13:5. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have . . .”

James 5:1. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.”

Luke 16:13. “ You cannot serve both God and money.”

Luke 16:14. “The Pharisees [the guys that Jesus loved to bad- mouth], who LOVED MONEY, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” [emphasis added]. Will some readers also sneer at Jesus and me for being so hard-edged? I think so.

Luke 6:24. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your reward."

James 1:10. “In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”

Luke 12:15. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:17-21. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said to himself, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Matthew 6:19-21. “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 . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

2nd Timothy 3:1-5. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, LOVERS OF MONEY, boastful, proud, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” [emphasis added].

1st Timothy 3:3. “. . . not a lover of money.”

Luke 14:33. “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Some may be thinking, “Does this leader of His stupid religion think we are jerks; what we have worked hard for all our lives, he wants us to give it to some poor bas . . . .? No thanks, I’ll stay where I am and enjoy listening to a pleasing and relaxing Gospel.”

Luke 16:19-25. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. . . . The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment . . . [Abraham speaking to the rich man in hell] ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.’”

1st Peter 5:2 “. . . not greedy for money but eager to serve . . .”

Luke 12:33. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted . . .”

1st John 3:17. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

This is not a complete list of verses that do not speak nicely of the wealthy; there are many more.

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