Does Jesus Want Me To Be Poor?

poverty

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

Feeding the hungry.

A worker’s appetite works for him,
For his hunger urges him on.

 – Prov 16.26
DSC_1596

Few things lead to introspection and self-evaluation more than living in a foreign culture.  My host culture of four years had some beautiful, simple and amazing traits – as well as some not-so-endearing ones, just like any culture.  One thing that I noticed early on was the fact that there is not typically a “dinner table” around which families gather.  Often times food is prepared, people sit on the floor in a big circle, or meals are just grabbed and eaten wherever they happen to be.  Children are tied on to their mothers with a sarong, and typically stay on their mothers’ backs or hips while she works – in the rice paddy, in the market, and in day-to-day activities.  They often do this until the child is a few years of age!  The women are very strong.

M3367S-4507

When it comes to feeding a child, it is a very common sight to see a mother carrying a bowl of rice or noodles and following her child around trying to convince him to eat and sneaking a bite in his mouth at every opportunity.  I have watched mothers attempt to force feed children in this manner that are upwards of seven years old!

My dad was reflecting on children’s eating habits while I was home for Thanksgiving.  He noted that when my sisters and I were growing up, we really only wanted to eat two meals a day.  There was no benefit in forcing us to eat a meal, because we would be hungry by the next one and eat well.

You truly cannot force someone to eat who is not hungry.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

– Matt 5.6

Sometimes I imagine pastors and Sunday School teachers as Asian mothers chasing children around with a bowl of food trying to force feed us.  But we do not want what they have.  But Jesus says we are blessed if we hunger for Him, and for righteousness.  Only those who are hungry will be satisfied.  Only those who seek after Him will be made righteous.

“He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.”

– Luke 1.53

Are you hungry?  If not, let us pray for the Lord to stir our appetite.  Because if we are not hungry, we are not striving to be filled.  If we do not desire Christ, we are not of Him.  But praise God if there is a tugging at your spirit to desire that hunger.  Act on that now, before it is too late and your peaked curiosity is distracted.

Are you trying to feed people who are not hungry?  The call of Christianity is, in part, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Are you trying to teach and train people who do not want to learn?  If someone is coming to church regularly but is not hungry, encourage him and pray for him.  There is something drawing him.  But do not pour out all of your energy on those who are not seeking to grow.  Look for the Cornelius in whom the Spirit is moving.  Look for the one who is teachable.  Invest in those who love and want to know Christ.  And let us pray for those who are not hungry.