Wealth and the Christian (I)

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold (Gen.13:2).

Many Christians have had difficulty coming to terms with what the Bible says about wealth. We read what Jesus said about the rich man and Lazarus in the scripture (Luke 16:19-31), and think to ourselves, “I don’t want to be like that rich man.”

But we’d better understand: what Jesus was pointing out in this parable was a) the transience of life, b) the wrong attitude towards the poor man that the rich man held, and c) the accountability of everyone to God. Both the rich man and Lazarus die, and come to judgment. The rich man suffers in hell, and the poor man goes to Abraham’s bosom. Is it because they are rich and poor that they receive these different destinations? No, though Jesus did warn that “…it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat.19:23).

The Bible specifically says that “Lazarus was… longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:20-21). The rich man didn’t lift a finger for the sake of Lazarus. He may have died of hunger.

The word “poor” is used 209 times in the scripture, through 19 Hebrew and Greek words. Clearly, the issue of poverty and our treatment of the poor is of great importance to God.

What the Bible draws our attention to is our attitude towards wealth. Wealth is not intrinsically evil, or good. It is an asset. It can be used wisely and productively for the glory of God, or for evil purposes. Wealthy men and women are not good or evil because of what they possess. Their wealth has nothing to do with being good or evil, though the Bible makes it clear that wealth can become a snare. God warned the children of Israel:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God… (Deut.8:8-14).

The Bible teaches us that we are stewards, “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of servants that one be found trustworthy” (I Cor.4:1-2).

The first step in financial accountability to God, is a tithe on income to the local church. This is essentially what Abraham practiced when he tithed to Melchizedek (Gen.14:17-20). Where did he get this idea to tithe from? We don’t categorically know. The recorded teaching about the tithe was given by God to Moses hundreds of years later, so we can only assume that the knowledge of tithing was passed on to Abraham, as part of the original law given to Adam.

Tithing is one of the few things that Jesus commended the scribes and Pharisees for (see Mat.23:23). The tithe on income to the local church empowers it in the community, permitting it to employ leaders, and to engage in all sorts of community activities in God’s Name, including caring for needy people.

The church has a long and remarkable history of effectiveness in this regard, since the days of the early church (see Acts 6:1-4; Gal.2:10; 6:10). When a church has a number of rich people tithing, (or even a good number of middle-class people who tithe) it can become a powerful community institution with great effectiveness.

(To be continued)