We’ve all heard the popular teaching of Joel Osteen and the promises of the Health and Wealth Gospel. Preachers on TV are promising us that God wants us to be happy, healthy and rich. The level of faith that we have directly parallels our financial and personal success. The Prayer of Jabez, after all, is an example of praying for our own personal prosperity and God blessed him and called him righteous, right?
The opposite extreme sprinkled throughout evangelicalism today looks at the Church in large. They consider the Persecuted Church, they examine revivals, history, and the overall nature of the Church to say that no, Jesus is not concerned with making us rich, but that He wants us to give to the poor and to live a simple life. Ultimately they become various levels of ascetics.
So. Does Jesus want us to be rich? Or does Jesus want us to be poor?
We are called to be stewards.
“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
– Luke 12.47-48
This passage is extremely familiar. Surprisingly, however, it is speaking about actions and not finances. It is a principle that applies over and onto finances, but God is concerned about our hearts. Jesus Himself said that all of the Law was summed up in these two: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.37-39). If we love God above all else, then our talents, our time and our finances will be spent to His glory and honor. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we help meet their needs, we put them above ourselves and glorify God with our time, energy and finances.
Paul makes the very clear assessment of our abilities (which again, applies to finances):
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
– 1 Cor 4.7
But most fundamentally we all know that,
“The Earth is the Lord’s and everything it contains.”
– 1 Cor 10.26
It all belongs to God. Everything. Including money. So whatever you have – gifts, talents, finances, freedom, slavery, jobs, family – it is all God’s. And He has allowed us to use it for a season. We are stewards of His belongings.
For my ascetic friends, I would like to point out the fact that many of our forefathers were among the richest men who ever lived. Solomon was worth, in today’s dollar, approximately 100 billion dollars. That is substantially more than Bill Gates’ worth. David, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and many others were granted physical and financial wealth in the roles that God gave them.
For my rich friends, I would like to point out the fact that the very humility exemplified by the creator of the universe was to leave the throne of glory and come to Earth, living without even a place to lay his head. He kept minimal possessions and when He sent the disciples out to serve Him, they were to rely on the hospitality of others for their sustenance.
Our responsibility is stewardship of what God has given us. When we consider our finances, let’s ask this simple question, “Is God glorified in this?” When you stand before God on judgment day, will you be ashamed of how you spent your money? Or your time? Will you be proud of the toys, the clothes, the house, the comforts that you bought? Or will you know that you gave sacrificially to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and put one another’s needs above your own? Will you look back and find that your finances served God or you?
I used to wrestle with giving money to beggars. I always wondered for what they would use the money. But one day I realized that God would hold him accountable for how he used the help that he received. He would only hold me accountable for my willingness to help. I am confident that I will not stand before Him and He say, “You should not have given that money to that beggar. You should have bought a new shirt with it instead.” Now, if God has given you the mind and ability to help the homeless establish themselves in jobs and fight addictions such that they are able to feed themselves, and all you do is throw a twenty in their cup, there might be something to answer for. But that is between you and God.
Jesus was comfortable with a woman pouring out extremely expensive perfume on his feet. There are times for extravagance in the worship of Almighty God. Jesus does not say that to follow Him we must be poor. In fact, He says that we are to care for the poor. So we must be stable enough to be able to give in order to care for the poor.
It’s about our heart. We must be satisfied in God alone, and consider His provisions as tools to serve and glorify Him.
“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
– Phil 4.11-13