Recently in America certain huge corporate conglomerates have been exposed for fraud on unbelievable levels. The accounting firms of such monster businesses have also been implicated. Thousands of hard working people have been robbed of their retirement savings. This day another of America’s biggest corporations has been accused of fraud and extortion. AND these are the ones we know about! We can be sure that some Christians and Jews were involved in this demonstration of greed. It would seem many Christians and Jews – as well as Muslims and Buddhists and atheists – are never satisfied with enough. The Bible makes a serious warning to the rich,
“Men in a hurry to get rich incur guilt.” [Proverbs 28:20 James Moffatt]
When acknowledging the complete futility of wealth one of the richest men in history drew the following conclusion:
“The person who loves money will never be satisfied with more money, nor the person who loves wealth with even more profits. It is all complete futility.” [Ecclesiastes 5:10 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures© (= NCMM)]
Judging from Christian and Jewish corporate leaders in America this Biblical truth remains a fact.
The Nazarene Master Jesus could have been commenting on Ecclesiastes 5:10 when he taught:
“No one can slave for two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other or embrace one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Riches!” [Matthew 6:24 NCMM]
The man whom the prophets foretold would be a “pauper” [Zechariah 8:9 Vulgate] told his personal apostles:
“Sell your possessions and give to charity. Make for yourselves purses that never wear out – an inexhaustible celestial treasure – where a thief can never get close and moths never consume.” [Luke 12:33 NCMM]
The above raises the question: How much money does a Christian need? We must admit that the situation in the modern West is much different than that in the ancient Middle East. Then the majority of people were just concerned about sustenance and covering. [Matthew 6:25-32] However, Jesus the Prophet foretold that the time would come when his future disciples would need to be cautious about what they consumed and what they worried about. He does this in the context of his Return when he says:
“Continue paying strict attention to yourselves lest your hearts become burdened in overeating and drunkenness and life’s anxieties, for that Day will arrive upon you suddenly like a trap.” [Luke 21:34 NCMM]
With our own Christian lifestyle in mind it is interesting to compare a few other versions on this Saying of the Nazarene. Weymouth renders the phrasing, “… self-indulgence and drunkenness or the anxieties of this life.” Rotherham says, “… anxieties about livelihood.” Darby puts it: “… cares of life.” And finally, Barclay chooses, “…worries of making a living.” It seems clear that the original worries of Christ’s first disciples – food and clothing – would not be the same problem of the Saints near the end of history. Jesus sees a world with too much for some. So much that “over-eating [manifest in obesity] and drunkenness” become part of the lifestyle of some Christians.
“To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” [Ecclesiastes 12:12]
This is particularly true of diet books. The books and exercise regimens on diet alone would feed the Third World! Consider all the money Christians spend on weight-loss programs, with some even resorting to surgery. Truly the Nazarene Master was correct in predicting these dangers to Christians in modern times. And what would create so much over-indulgence?
Most Christians in the Western world live at a time of great prosperity. No longer concerned about just food, clothing or housing, plenty has created more leisure time and the possibility of more luxury. This has caused a terrible cycle of consumption followed by “anxieties over livelihood.” An American may be defined as a person with a garage but no room for the car. Indeed, many Americans with two and three car garages need storage facilities for all the accumulated property and possessions. And still the cars are not in the garage!
In this cycle something else happens. Once satisfied with one television, now many Christian homes have a TV in every room, a phone in every room, a car for every person – sometimes two. In the past a two or three bedroom home had but one bathroom. Now each bedroom has its own bathroom. The size of homes gets bigger, the flooring more luxuriant, the windows grander, the view grander. Now the clothes closets are walk-in closets, and people possess more shoes than they could ever wear.
Something else happens. Richer foods. And so busy with life’s anxieties “fast food” is resorted to on the run between appointments. Eating out is an American past time – or “eating in” and having meals delivered – and the richer one is the finer the restaurant. What one will wear is of no longer any concern at all – unless you are an American teen. Clothes just become more expensive, jewelry more expensive. The list never ends. The Western world is made up of “consumer” nations who now must struggle with how to dispose of the digestive “junk” spewed out by these consumers. The junk and trash left over would be considered luxuries in the Third World. Indeed, in some borderline nations children and the elderly can be seen at any city dump.
Well, of course, the list could go on regarding what the Christian/Jewish world is doing to the environment in the pursuit of such consumption. Any serious Christian who reads the Bible is aware that something is terribly wrong – in the Church! There is, almost without exception, no modern church that even vaguely resembles the early church in its communal poverty. [Acts 2-6] Paul urged an economic “equality” among early Christians when he wrote,
“For I do not want it to be easy on others with the all pressure on you, but rather by an equalizing at the present time, your surplus might offset their deficiency, so that also their surplus might come to offset your deficiency, thus an equality might exist. Just as it has been written: ‘The person with much did not have more than enough, and the person with little did not have too little.’” [2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NCMM]
Nowhere in the New Testament are all members of the Christian Church told to divest themselves of their riches or wealth as Christ’s personal disciples were. Rather Paul writes with certain instructions to Timothy,
“Command the rich in this present time period not to be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but trust in God – the One granting us richly everything for our enjoyment – to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, saving for themselves a good foundation for the Future, that they may lay hold on the Real Life.” [1 Timothy 6:17-19 NCMM]
In this command or charge to the rich one may find something of an echo here of the Nazarene’s own teachings,
“I tell you disciples, make friends for yourselves from your illegal riches, so that when riches fail they will welcome you into everlasting dwellings.” [Luke 16:9 NCMM]
So, with the above in mind, we come back to our original question: How much money does a Christian need? Clearly the men and women of those great American corporations were never satisfied with enough. A million dollars was not enough. Ten million was not enough. It had to be billions and still it was not enough. And in the process they stole from those with less below them on the corporate ladder. They ruined the futures of thousands of hardworking people. Many of these were Christians and Jews, and they demonstrated their greed in historical proportions while the Third World starved.
How much money does a Christian need? The lifestyle of Jesus and his first disciples points the way: a simple life centered on God. Paul expresses the idea when he writes,
“For we brought nothing into the world order of humanity, nor are we able to carry anything out of the world. But, having sustenance and covering, we will be satisfied with these things. However, those desiring to be rich fall into temptation and a trap as well as many foolish and harmful lusts, which plunge humans into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root for all kinds of harmfulness, which some, who crave such, have been misled from the Faith and have many self-inflicted sorrows. But, you, O man of God, flee from these things. Rather, pursue righteousness, godliness, deep conviction, benevolent empathy for others, endurance, meekness. Fight the good fight of the Faith. Lay hold of the everlasting Life to which you were called and confessed the good confession before many witnesses.” [1 Timothy 6:7-12 NCMM]
How can we apply these words in the materialistic, capitalist Christian/Jewish West? It is probably unrealistic to expect that the majority of Christians will ever apply the words of Paul above. This does not mean that some Christians will not be moved to take a candid look at their lifestyle and focal centers. We must never forget that “greedy persons … will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” [1 Corinthians 6:10] What is a “greedy person”? It is a person who constantly desires more. Greed has degrees, but it is obvious that if a Christian’s desire for more is so voracious that he/she is willing to cheat and fraud others – or exhaust their energies so that there is nothing left for God – then such a person has parted from Christ and cannot expect a place in his Kingdom.
So, how much money does a Christian need? Paul above states a Christian should be “satisfied with food and covering.” We may assume he means food, drink, clothing and shelter. Of course, in the Christian/Jewish West there is considerable difference between one person’s food, clothing and shelter and that of another. In the modern Christian/Jewish world there are an unnumbered amount of “things” that are considered “necessities” now. Even fifty years ago these would have all been considered luxuries. How are we to answer our perplexing question: How much money does a Christian need?
No one expects that some magic rule can be applied. However, one Christian writer/scholar of renown attempted to establish a reasonable principle. [C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity] He suggested that if a Christian living in his/her neighborhood spent more on luxury and leisure than given in charity, such a person was not giving enough. In other words, he feared for the person who spent thousands to go on a luxury cruise while not having given as much in charity.
If we take an American family with a household income of $50,000 [US] we can expect they are well-clothed, well-feed, living in a modest home, likely with at least one car, phone, TV and other modest “things.” However, what happens – while neglecting spiritual matters, or forcing them into something of a token-christianity – this family suddenly has $100,000? Would they not move into a better home? Buy another car? Eat at better restaurants? Spend more leisure time in recreation, possibly taking up some family sport? And, if it became $200,000, or $500,000, or $1,000,000? Does this cycle not continue with even more luxurious possessions, more prestigious address, etc., etc., etc.
How much money does a Christian need? Jesus and his first disciples answer the question by their role model – a simple life centered on God. Paul answers the question: Be content with “food and sustenance.” Those who persist in their greed to “become rich” – that is, possessed of a surplus after necessities are met – end up with self-inflicted wounds and the great depression and anxiety that are the cancers of the Christian-Jewish West. The proverbist prays,
“Give me neither poverty or riches, grant me only my share of food, for fear that, surrounded by plenty, I should fall away and say, ‘Yahweh – who is Yahweh?’ or else, in destitution, take to stealing and profane the name of my God.” [Proverbs 30:8 New Jerusalem Bible]
The problem with most Christians in America is that they have lived beyond their means no matter how much money they had. To return to a Christ-centered life free of the anxieties of life most Christians will have to work to get themselves out of debt. Back to a life centered on the family with quality time for all its members. Time to care for others and time to follow the footsteps of Christ ever closer. This means sacrifices on the part of all the family, and it is likely to take more than a few months.
It may mean scaling back and down to a more modest lifestyle. It may mean selling all that junk in the garage and the storage sheds. It may mean seeking help from institutions dedicated to helping people get out of debt. Do not fall for the line, “Now you can borrow all the money you need to be debt-free.” Each Christian family will have to decide how best to do all this, but the goal will be to live a life described in the book of Ecclesiastes – one happy with life’s necessities and finding enjoyment in family.
In time the evidence of success will be seen in how much assistance is given to the needy and impoverished. Paul counsel,
“Let the former thief no longer steal, but rather let him do laborious work with his own hands so that he may have something good to share with the person in need.” [Ephesians 4:28 NCMM]
The surplus of savings will then be used, not for more and more leisure and luxuries, but for the good of others. Paul instructed members of the early Church,
“On the first day of the week let each one of you save something as you may be prospering.” [1 Corinthians 16:2 NCMM]
Such Christ-centered life will lead to “living a calm and peaceful life.” [1 Timothy 2:2]
Christians who persist in trying to get rich, desiring more and more in their covetousness, have turned their faces from Christ. For the Nazarene Master taught,
“Look out and be on guard against all kinds of greed, because even if someone is wealthy Life does not result from one’s possessions.” [Luke 12:15 NCMM]
He warned in his parable,
“Now those that are sown among the thorns, these are those who hear the Word, but the anxieties of this period of time, and the seduction of riches choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” [Mark 4:18, 19 NCMM]
Paul speaks as though commenting on the Nazarene’s words,
“However, those desiring to be rich fall into temptation and a trap, as well as many foolish and harmful lusts, which plunge humans into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root for all kinds of harmfulness, which some, who crave such, have been misled from the Faith and have many self-inflicted sorrows.” [1 Timothy 6:9 NCMM]
The time and day and year will come when all the gold and silver in the world will not protect us from that Day of Wrath. Indeed, money in any form will be useless, just as the prophet declares,
“Their silver into the streets, shall they cast and Their gold for throwing away, shall serve, Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of Yahweh, Their craving, shall they not satisfy, and Their belly, shall they not fill, For a stumbling-block, hath their iniquity become.” [Ezekiel 7:19 Rotherham]
Mark Heber Miller
30 July 2002
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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