Bible Truths

 
 
 
Lesson 15 Christians And Wealth

There are numerous scriptures in the Bible concerningChristians and wealth that will come as a surprise to a great many believers,and in light of some of the prosperity doctrines sweeping the Church we need toknow just what these scriptures say. In Mk 10:25 (also in Mt 19:24 and Lu18:15) Jesus said "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of aneedle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." This assertion byJesus highlights for us the radical nature of the discipleship to which He hascalled us ( Mk 10:17-27). The rich young ruler here did not get saved - hefailed the test of discipleship. He sincerely wanted to be saved, but on histerms, not the terms Jesus has laid down. He was not prepared to forsake allfor Jesus, which is one of the conditions of salvation laid down by Jesus. Thisdoes not teach that believers have to sell or dispose of all their possessionsin order to be saved but it does teach that believers must place all theirwealth and possessions at the service of God once they are saved ( Lu14:25-35).

Jesus uses three parables here to stress this teaching: theparable of the tower builder; the parable of a warring king; and the parable ofsavourless salt, so we can be under no misapprehension as to what He isteaching. Jesus is stressing the qualifications for discipleship and thatnobody can be saved unless they meet them. V26-27 teach that we are to loveJesus above all else, including our family and our own life. We must beprepared to suffer rejection and persecution and even lay down our life if needbe for Jesus. That is part of the cost Jesus warns us to count in the parableof the tower builder in V28-30, which teaches that before anyone begins tobuild they should be sure they will be able to pay the full cost of thebuilding. Likewise anyone following Jesus must also be sure that they arewilling to pay the full cost involved in being a Christian. While the benefitsof the gospel are solely on the basis of personal choice, complying with theconditions for appropriating those benefits are part of the cost of thatchoice. If we choose to follow Jesus we must comply with the conditions He haslaid down. Salvation is a paradox - it is both free and costly. Free becauseJesus has already paid for it with His life's blood, yet there is a cost interms of its impact upon those that would follow Jesus. Jesus demands that allthat we have - wealth, material possessions, family, even our life - must beplaced at the service of God. This requires our total renunciation of allself-interests and ambitions and everything else that would take precedence inour life over the things of God.

In the parable of a warring king in V31-33 Jesus illustratesfor us the impossibility of being saved unless one is willing to forsake allfor Jesus. The word forsaketh in V33 means to place in order; to assign todifferent places; to allot; to take leave of; to farewell; to dismiss; torenounce. In this context it carries the notion of putting something aside toprevent it from being a hindrance or gaining excessive control. The parable ofsavourless salt in V34-35 teaches us that like salt that loses its saltinesshas no value and is thrown out, so disciples who no longer contain thecharacteristics of discipleship - total consecration to the service of God andcomplete surrender to the authority of Jesus - are of no value either. To getthe full impact of what Jesus is teaching here we need to read the literalEnglish rendering of Lu 14:25-35 from the Greek. This is what it says accordingto Kenneth Wuest's Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament:

"Now, many crowds were journeying along with Him. Andhaving turned around, He said to them, if anyone comes to me and does not hatehis father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters in theevent that they become hindrances to his supreme love for me, yes, moreoveralso his own life in the same manner, he is not able to be my disciple. Andwhoever is not taking up and carrying his own cross and coming after me, is notable to be my disciple.

For, who is there of you, desiring to build a tower, doesnot first, having seated himself, compute the expense, whether he hassufficient resources for its completion, lest perchance, having laid thefoundation and not being able to complete it entirely, all who examine it witha view to carefully observing its details should begin to be mocking, saying,this man began building operations and did not have sufficient resources tocomplete them entirely?

Or, what king on his way to an open encounter with anotherking in war, having seated himself, does not first take counsel with himselfwhether he is able with ten thousand to go to meet the one who is comingagainst him with twenty thousand? In the event that he does not think himselfable to do so, while he is still a long way off, having sent an ambassador, herequests details looking toward peace.

Therefore, in the same manner, everyone of you who does notin self-renunciation bid farewell to all his possessions, is not able to be mydisciple.

Therefore, the salt is excellent in its nature andcharacteristics, and therefore well adapted to the purpose for which it is inexistence. But if also the salt lose its strength and flavour, by what meansshall it be restored to its original state?

Neither for the land nor for the manure pile is it fit. Theythrow it outside. He who has ears to be hearing, let him be hearing."

Opinions are divided among Christians as to what exactly isthe "eye of a needle" Jesus refers to in V25 of Mk 10. Some take it literally.Others believe that it refers to a small gate within the main gate in the citywall through which a camel laden with goods could not pass unless it wasdivested of its load, which symbolises the rich man's possessions. There areyet others who suggest that the word camel is a mistranslation of the originalGreek and should be cable. It is really not important whether Jesus isreferring to a camel or a cable; to the literal eye of a needle or to a smallgate within the main gate in the city wall - He has clearly made His point:just as it is impossible for a camel (or a cable) to go through the eye of aneedle (or a small gate within the main gate in the city wall), so it isimpossible for a rich man to get into heaven without God. God can even save arich man, but as this incident teaches, the rich man's heart must be changed,by having its attachment to material riches replaced by attachment to the onlytrue riches, "treasure in heaven" ( Mk 10:24). It is not easy foranyone to enter the kingdom of God "...for strait is the gate and narrowthe way", but it is most difficult of all for the rich ( Lu 12:13-21).

This is called the parable of the rich fool. It is a grimwarning for Christians against making material possessions or riches the focusof this life at the expense of their souls in the next life ( Mk 8:36). This isa warning for Christians not heathens. In Jesus' perspective riches are anobstacle to salvation because as He teaches here the acquisition of wealth forthe sake of it is covetousness, which is futile and self defeating, for the endof it is death. Jesus goes on to teach that a Christian's life is not to bespent accumulating material possessions and wealth which neither gives life norprovides security, because death separates from things. Abundance in Lu 12:15means more than is needed; surplus to needs. The fate of the rich man in theparable generalises the fate of all who are more concerned with possessionsthan the things of God. This does not mean that we are not to labour for ourown or our family's needs we are obliged to do that and God will bless us ( Pr13:11; Ecc 5:18 20 with 1Ti 5:8). Working to meet our needs has nothing to dowith covetousness. Covetousness in the context of this study is greed formaterial things and the desire to have more, and what Jesus teaches here shouldchallenge every one of us to be constantly re evaluating our lifestyles toensure that our heart is centred on heavenly treasure and not on treasures onearth.

Many Christians who would never consider themselves to bematerialistic in the strict sense of the word nevertheless live as thoughmaterial things are extremely important, yet in the parable of the rich foolJesus shows us that the desire for wealth and material possessions directlyconflict with the purpose of God for His children, and that the selfishamassing of wealth and possessions by Christians indicates that they no longersee life from the vantage point of eternity. Their goal and fulfilment is nolonger in God but in themselves and their possessions. It may not start outthat way but that is how it will end up ( De 31:20; 32:12 18; Hos 8:14; 13:6).Jeshurun in De 32:15 is a symbolic name for Israel. Because of their wealth andsuccess the Israelites had become self sufficient, thinking that they did notneed God and His word. Likewise, when we have an abundance of blessings we arealso tempted to feel self sufficient and that we do not need to seek God andHis help. History has repeatedly shown that in time of ease and plenty God's peopleare most prone to forget Him and stop seeking His face ( Pr 20:21; 28:16, 2022).

Riches and possessions are only temporary. They should notbe the object of a Christian's life. The desire for them cause Christians tosin, and just as the Old Testament children of God forsook Him after theyacquired wealth and possessions, so too according to scripture will NewTestament Christians ( 1Ti 6:9 12). Paul's perspective of those desiring wealthis the same as Jesus'. He teaches us here that the pursuit of wealth debasesthe mind, destroys godly traits and makes Christians selfish, proud andavaricious which all lead to destruction and perdition. Perdition refers to thestate after death wherein exclusion from salvation is a realised fact, whereinman, instead of becoming what he might have been in God is lost and ruinedforever. This is a warning to those inside the Church, not outside it. This isfor believers, not unbelievers. In this context perdition from the Greek wordapoleia is the final destiny of Christians who determine to be rich. It refersto separation from God Himself in fulfilment of Jesus' warning in Mk 10:24 25that it is only with great difficulty that the rich can enter the kingdom ofheaven. This desire for wealth is not a passing emotional thing, but the resultof a process of reasoning. It applies to all grades of wealth and Paul'swarning to Timothy to flee it in 1Ti 6:6 11 applies to all Christians whoseambition is to have more money than that which satisfies their everyday needs (Psa 37:16; Pr 15:16; 30:7 9; Ecc 5:10 17; 6:9; Jer 45:5; Ro 12:16; Php 4:11 13;1Ti 6:6 10; He 13:5 6).

These scriptures all teach the same thing: godliness withsufficient material blessings to meet our everyday needs should make us contentwith life. Money and the abundance of material things do not give life meaningand thus cannot bring real happiness. Ecc 5:10 17 teaches that in general anhonest working person can sleep more peacefully after working all day thanthose who accumulate riches. The fear of the wealthy is that something willhappen to cause them to lose everything. But even if they do not lose anythingthey can take nothing with them when they die. It is sad that so manyChristians work so hard for an abundance of earthly possessions instead ofworking to lay up treasures in heaven. The word conversation in He 13:5 meansmanner or way of life. Our way of life has to be without the desire for morethan that which will satisfy our everyday needs. This is what Jesus meant in Lu12:15 when He said "...a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of thethings which he possesseth." Covetousness and financial fear are overcomeby a contentment founded upon the assurance of God's constant presence and Hispromises throughout scripture to provide for His children's needs ( Ex23:25-26; Psa 23:1; 34:9 10; Mt 21:22; 2Co 9:8; Php 4:19). In the light of thisassurance we may boldly respond to our circumstances with a declaration ofconfidence in God. Here is the literal English rendering of 1Ti 6:6 10 from theGreek, according to Kenneth Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament:

"But godly piety associated with an inward selfsufficiency which is its natural accompaniment, is great gain; for not even onething did we bring into this world, because not even one thing are we able totake out. And having food and clothing, by these we shall be fortifiedsufficiently; but they that are after giving the matter mature consideration,desire to be wealthy, fall into temptation and a snare and many hurtful cravingswhich drown men in destruction and perdition; for a root of all the evils isthe fondness for money, which certain ones bending their effort to grasp, havebeen led away from the faith and have pierced themselves through with manyconsuming griefs."

None of this teaching denies the promises of God inscripture to prosper His children ( De 28:1 14; Josh 1:8; Psa 1:1 3; 112:1 3;Pr 3:9 10; 8:20-21; 3Jn 2). But all God's promises are conditional and must bekept in context ( De 8:10 19). This scripture teaches how Christians must guardagainst pride and backsliding when God does prosper them. Prosperity bringswith it the temptation to be arrogant, causing us to forget that God is thesource of all blessings, and it is because it is God Himself who gives us thepower to get wealth, wealth itself is not sinful. It is the pursuit of wealthand our misuse of it that is sinful ( Psa 39:4 7). This teaches us that God hasgiven unto each one of us a certain life span in which our faithfulness towardHim will be tested and determined. How we spend that span of life willdetermine our destination in eternity ( Mt 7:21 27; Ro 2:13). We can spend itchasing wealth and material things for our own self gratification or we canspend it doing the work of God's word, which is the only way we can be saved (Psa 49:1 20). Whilst this is a call to all mankind, as Christians we need toknow what it is saying to us. It stresses both the futility of trusting inriches, and the transitory nature of all that the world has to offer. Anyone atall whose life consists in an abundance of earthly possessions or in worldlypleasures or fame rather than in seeking after God and His kingdom will perish( 1Jn 2:15 17). Only those totally consecrated to the service of God andcompletely yielded to the authority of Jesus will be redeemed from the grave (Ecc 2:18 23).

All these scriptures teach the same thing. They are a truepicture of man in his best state. All his imaginations, plans, schemes and wayssoon come to nothing. He heaps up earthly treasure for himself and does noteven know what will really happen to it after he dies ( Pr 23:4 5). No humanlabour has any enduring value if it is not dedicated to God ( Ecc 6:1 2).Dedication to work as its own reward is a vain pursuit. The ability to enjoywhat we have depends on a right relationship with God. Without God it is all invain. The rich fool in Lu 12:15 21 gave no thought to the things of God. Hemistook the purpose of life, imagining it consisted in the abundance ofpossessions rather than it being a channel of blessing for others of God'schildren in need. Scriptures teach that the primary purpose for Christians evengetting a job is to help others in need ( Eph 4:28). Jesus equates ourtreatment of others in need with our treatment of Himself ( Pr 19:17; 21:13;22:9 with Mt 25:31 46). Our Christian walk is not only a spiritual walk, itmust also serve the needs of others, especially our brothers and sisters inChrist ( Jas 2:13 17; 1Jn 3:16 19). What we do of the work of the word provesour Christian consecration to the service of God, and confirms our love for Godand each other. This is the acid test of Christianity by which we know whetherwe are following the example of God's love to others. If we are not willing togive of our material things to others in need, we certainly would not lay downour lives for them like God expects us to, and like Jesus did for us. 1Jn 3:16is the exact counterpart of Jn 3:16 ( Jn 3:16).

All the scriptures studied thus far very clearly warnChristians against making temporal wealth the object of life, and they are buta few scriptures of many in God's word concerning this ( Mt 6:19 21,24). HereJesus equates the desire for wealth with serving mammon. Mammon refers toearthly riches. Jesus sees in the desire for earthly riches a self centredcovetousness, a life goal totally opposed to God which claims men's hearts, andtherefore estranges them from God. Jesus solemnly warns us that we cannot befaithful to God and also covet wealth. Covetousness is idolatry, and althoughno Christian would say that money is God, many are guilty of worshipping it (Eph 5:5; Col 3:1 5). It needs to be restated: covetousness is idolatry, andbehind every idol are demons, and although Christians pursuing wealth would notworship idols made out of wood or stone, they are in reality worshipping thedemonic forces behind idolatry. Thus Jesus' statement that "we cannotserve God and mammon" in Mt 6:24 is essentially the same as Paul'sadmonition to the Church at Corinth that Christians "cannot drink the cupof the Lord and the cup of devils" ( 1Cor 10:1 7, 14 22). The majority ofChristians see these passages as merely referring to food sacrificed to idolsand idolatrous feasts, but there is much more to it than that. Paul teaches herethat although an idol is nothing in the world, it does represent something thatis not the true God. An idol is not only an image of something, it is also arepresentation, whether corporeal or imaginary, or some other thing. Idolatrycan involve professing allegiance to God and His word while at the same timegiving equal or greater allegiance to someone or something else. As Christianswe must learn to distinguish between the things of God and that which is of thedevil. We cannot compromise ourselves with the things the world loves becausethat which is esteemed by the world is an abomination before God ( Lu 16:1315).

Christians must ever be alert to the danger of being seducedfrom their allegiance to God by the allurement of riches and earthly possessions.We must guard against any preoccupation at all with material things lest theybecome more important to us than the things of God ( Mt 13:3 9, 22). This isthe parable of the sower and the seed and it perfectly describes what the endis for Christians caught up in the pursuit of wealth. We are concerned herewith what the parable teaches about the deceitfulness of riches. The teachingin this parable centres on the soils, not the sower or the seed. The soilsrepresent those who receive God's word and how they respond to it. The termdeceitfulness of riches means that wealth gives a false impression whether byappearance, statement or influence a false sense of security. Choke here meansfiguratively to overpower. The false sense of security emanating from earthlyriches overpowers the word of God in Christians and prevents them bearing fruitfor the kingdom. They have been seduced by their wealth from continuing in thethings of God. This is the same teaching as in 1Ti 6:10: those that covetedafter wealth "erred from the faith". Erred in this context meansseduced. They also were seduced by their wealth away from God ( 1Ti 6:10).

Christians succumbing to wealth and material possessions areyielding to forces in opposition to the nature of the word of God which theyhave received for their salvation. This is made very clear in 1Co 10:14 22: wecannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils. We cannot have bothsalvation and covet earthly things. The rich young ruler in Mk 10:17 27 wantedthem both, but he could not have them. That is why he failed the test ofdiscipleship, and we will fail it too if we persist in chasing after riches onearth instead of storing up treasure in heaven. We cannot serve God and mammon( Rev 3:14 20). This is called the letter to the Church at Laodicea. It is oneof seven letters to seven Churches Jesus addresses in Rev 2 and 3, and whilethese seven Churches actually existed at the time of John's revelation, theyare also representative of all Churches since then, and the letters have anongoing application for all generations since then too they are for theadmonition of both the corporate body of the Church and for each one of usindividually. The Laodicean Church is a lukewarm Church, but Churches arepeople Christians so a lukewarm Church is made up of lukewarm Christians inthis context Christians who have compromised God's word with worldly things. Intheir self sufficient prosperity and worldliness Laodiceans have excluded Jesusfrom fellowshipping with them. They see themselves as rich, increased withgoods and needing nothing, but Jesus sees them as poor, blind, wretched,miserable and naked. He counsels them not to lay up treasure for themselves onearth, but to store it up for themselves in heaven. He then issues aninvitation for anyone who will repent to be restored to fellowship with Him,otherwise they will be rejected ( Job 31:13 28). What Job says here should bethe testimony of every believer in Christ because one day, like Job, we willall have to give an account to God for everything we lavish on ourselves andwithhold from others ( Lu 16:19 25).

This is called the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, itis not teaching that the rich man went to hell just because he was rich andLazarus went to Abraham's bosom just because he was poor. Neither affluence norpoverty determines our eternal state, but the life we live on earth. The richman went to hell because his life was consumed with self centred living, notcaring about others of God's children worse off than himself. He faredsumptuously every day while Lazarus went hungry. In his self indulgentlifestyle the rich man violated God's two greatest commandments ( Mt 22:34 40).Lazarus went straight to paradise where all the righteous dead went before Christ'sdeath and resurrection. Christ took him to heaven with Him when He"ascended on high" ( Eph 4:8-10). Lazarus was declared righteous, notbecause he was poor, but because he found his help in God. Lazarus' namedepicted his relationship with God - it means "God has helped" or"God, the helper". The significance of his name suggests that Jesusmeant Lazarus to symbolize all the outcasts of society who have no other helpbut God ( Mt 5:3; Lu 4:17-18). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teachesabove all else that men cannot profess reverence for God while at the same timeliving only for the fulfillment of their own self-gratifying desires.

God says it is only our love for others, especially ourbrothers and sisters in Christ, that proves our love for Him, and we cannothonestly say we love them if we are not prepared to give of our materialpossessions to them, which is what we learned in both Jas 2:13 17 and 1Jn 3:1619 ( Jas 2:13 17 and 1Jn 3:16 19 with Ga 6:7 10). Anyone who claims to be aborn again believer who at the same time consciously sows to their flesh isguilty of mocking and despising God and will forfeit their place in Hiskingdom. One of the best illustrations of how God's children can get caught upin self centred living and forfeit His blessings is to be found in the OldTestament book of Haggai the prophet. There is much prophetic teaching inHaggai, but for the purpose of this study we will only be looking at theadmonition in it for the Church today ( Hag 1:2 10; 2:10 15). God's children inHaggai's time had forfeited God's blessing because of their apathy towards thethings of God. They were preoccupied building and beautifying their own houseswhile God's house remained desolate. They needed to be reminded of theirobligation to God, so God used Haggai to rebuke them. God's purpose was tomotivate them to reorder their lives and their priorities so they could resumebuilding His house. This same obligation is ours today and God's rebuke to themis for us today also.

Many of us are so busy with our own lives and self intereststhat we too are neglecting to build God's house. We do not have to physicallybuild the temple like the children of Israel had to do in Haggai's time, but weare responsible for extending God's kingdom by the giving of ourselves into it.Haggai's call to the Israelites to consider their ways is a call to God'schildren in all ages to consider their ways. And as Haggai insisted that God'swork must come first with the Israelites, so too it must come first with us.God's kingdom and His righteous concerns must be the first and foremostpriority in our lives. We cannot live self seeking lives apathetic to God'spurpose, or we will also be cut off from His blessing. Haggai's admonition forthe Israelites then is the same for the Church today. We must make the work ofGod a priority by committing what we are, what we have, and all that we do toHim. We must turn from selfish ambition and personal agendas to focus onadvancing His kingdom ( Lu 12:22 32). Jesus is not teaching here thatChristians cannot make provision for their physical and financial needs to bemet, but that there are to be no life style excesses in so doing ( Lu 16:1-9).

This is known as the parable of the unjust steward. Jesus isusing this parable to draw the disciples' attention to resources that are notbeing used by God's children to advance His kingdom. This is also an admonitionfor the Church today and it behoves us to heed it. This is an unusual parable,and it has been the subject of many and varied interpretations andexplanations, but it is simple to understand when we are clear in our mind whatit does not teach. Firstly, it does not teach that Christ condones the cunningdeceit of the steward - note in V8 that it is the steward's own lord whocommends his ingenuity, not the Lord Jesus. Jesus simply contrasts the shrewdforesight of the steward in using present opportunities to ensure his futureearthly well-being, with the lack of foresight of the children of God in notusing their earthly resources for their future heavenly well-being. The pointHe makes is that worldly men in their sphere to scheme and provide forthemselves are wiser than the children of God in their sphere; unbelievers areshrewder in handling their own temporal affairs than Christians are in handlingthe affairs of God. This should impress upon us how vital our stewardship is asa test of our relationship with God. Secondly, the parable also does not teachthat by using the mammon of unrighteousness we can buy our way into heaven. Themammon of unrighteousness refers to our material wealth and Jesus is telling usto use that wealth to win souls to Christ, so that when we get to heaven theywill be there to welcome us. For Christians the "everlastinghabitations" in V9 refers to heaven as our eternal home. Souls won throughthe deployment of our finances now will become our joy and crown of rejoicingin eternity ( 1Th 2:19-20).

Paul won the Thessalonians to Christ and founded the Churchin Thessalonica through the financial support of the Philippian Church ( Php4:15-19). V19 only applies to those who give into the kingdom. It does notapply to those who do not. The core teaching of the parable of the unjuststeward is not that believers are to make friends of material wealth, but tomake friends by means of it. We must use all the temporal resources at ourcommand for God's purposes on earth in order to secure our place in heaven; ifthe people of the world know how to use worldly possessions and applymaterialistic ways to ensure their earthly well-being how much more shouldChristians use the resources at their command to ensure their heavenlywell-being ( 1Ti 6:17-19). Believers with wealth and possessions must seethemselves as not being rich but merely stewards of that which is God's. Theymust be generous, ready to share, and rich in good works ( 2Co 8:13-15; Eph2:10). Whatever we have belongs to God and whenever we use it to advance Hiskingdom we are merely re-distributing the wealth He has entrusted to us ( 1Chr29:10-16).

These Studies by Dr.B.S.Warwal may be downloaded and freelydistributed but not sold for profit.