Should the Followers of Jesus Accumulate Material Wealth?
"Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God�Woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation"; and,"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."; and, "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys." (Luke 6:20, 24; Matt. 19:23-24; Luke 12:33)
For the vast majority of people who are part of what calls itself the church in the United States, the words of Jesus above, spoken in the context of material wealth, will immediately draw an emotionally defensive response. Why? What does it mean when someone is defensive at the suggestion of living a less material life for Jesus? What does it mean when people get defensive when it is suggested they do with fewer material things or 'not-as-nice' material things? Well, it probably means they are either in bondage to, or struggling with, the sin of covetousness. What is the definition of "covet"? It is to consistently desire more material things than what you presently have. It means to focus on getting more money/things as opposed to either sharing what you have or giving them away. What does it mean to be in bondage to the sin of covetousness? Sadly, it means one is not willing to try and follow Jesus of Nazareth.
Here in the United States, we live in a nation whose people's primary false god is money. Of course, this is true of the world in general, but is particularly true here in the United States. Everywhere you turn people are putting a price on everything imaginable. There seems to be nothing left which people will not sell for some price. Tragically, and horrendously, this same love for material things is also practiced by christians of most stripes. The "church" finds itself at a place where people charge money to "lead people closer to Jesus Christ". You might defensively ask, "where is this happening?". It is probably happening right in your own organization's "counseling ministry". You know, where some special guy with some piece of paper claims he has more wisdom than the "ordinary" leaders - you know, the "Christian Psychologist" - and insists on being paid to help people 'find the Lord's strength to overcome some problem of living' [see Can 'Christian' Psychology Help Me?].
Selfishness versus Selflessness
Let us back up for a moment, and start afresh at a more foundational level. Let me start by asking the reader if they understand the difference between selfish and selfless. The words are what are called antonyms. That means the words have opposite meanings. Like cold is the opposite of hot. Good is the opposite of bad. Kindness is the opposite of rudeness. Well, SELFISH is the opposite of SELFLESS.
To be selfish means to want to keep things (material, relational, intellectual) to yourself or to a group of people who will owe you by your "giving" to them. To be selfish is to say and practice, "I'll give something to you as long as I believe I'll get something back for it". This is how the world operates.
To be selfless, on the other hand, means to want to give things (material, relational, intellectual) away to others from whom you expect to get nothing back. To be selfless is to say, "I'll give to this person to show them the Father's love, without expecting anything back". A better method of being selfless is to give to people who don't know you gave it (Matt. 6:3-4). This way we won't deceive ourselves.
Christian Religion's Excuses
Have you ever heard this one from the christian clergymen, "Well, it's all right to be rich - the Lord does want to bless us - we just shouldn't try hard to be rich, and we should give to charity [lots of lip service]. But if God wants to make me rich, then who am I to get in the way of God's will?" This is usually proffered by the rank health and wealth wanabees, but is also a regular staple in most christian religious groups. I've heard this said by many charismatic clergymen, several Assembly of God clergymen and many of the African American Baptist preachers that I have heard. They typically won't come out and say that God wants you to have a Rolls Royce like some of the more flagrant deceivers. But they won't come out and plainly say that accumulating wealth is against what Jesus teaches, and against what it means to live a selfless, sacrificial life for him. They are the fence sitters - the lukewarm crowd, who hide a covetous heart behind the double speak lip service. You know, very possibly just like your very own organization's clergyman.
Well, what does Jesus say in regards to a disciple and wealth? Before we take a look at what the Jesus says about this important issue, we must first pull down some falsehoods that are used to justify a greedy, covetous heart.
Wealth and the Old Testament
Perhaps the area of greatest abuse of justifying sin by misunderstanding the Old Testament is by the contemporary wealth false teachers. People under the teachings of these men when asked why they believe they should spend most of their time earning as much money as possible and then spend it on themselves, they will often reply, 'wasn't Abraham prosperous - wasn't he a man of faith and didn't he have much material wealth?'. The proper response to this distortion is to ask the person several questions in return, such as, 'well, Abraham lied, so should I lie? Abraham had several wives, so should I have several wives?' In other words, should Abraham and his life be our model, or Jesus of Nazareth and His Words and life be our standard? Those that justify selfish materialism based on Old Testament people are purposely ignoring Jesus' teachings.
More importantly, those under the wealth teachers foolish teachings should get their eyes off of Abraham and onto Jesus, who was poor and who accumulated no material wealth in His life (Matt. 6:19-24; 8:19-20; 19:23-24; Luke 6:20, 24, etc.). Jesus says, "deny yourself, pick up you cross and follow Me". We are to follow after Jesus, our example, and not Abraham or any other man (see Are Paul's Teachings Flawless?). Jesus also says, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). Those who claim to be his followers and at the same time say, 'well, we can be wealthy, we are just not to love our wealth', are deceived.
Another way to avoid the truth - used by people who love money - in their efforts to justify themselves, is saying, "do you know so and so (some "prominent, rich Christian"), he is both very wealthy and a fine Christian - are you saying he is not a Christian?". Disciple's don't make judgements about someone's spiritual destiny, but we can look to Jesus to see what Jesus says, and judge the fruit in peoples lives (Matt. 7:15-20, notice Jesus says in verse 20, "Therefore, by their fruits, you shall know them"). Jesus says, "Assuredly I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24). The contrast is simple - living a selfless life of hating the world versus living a selfish life of loving the world. It is possible to be a wealthy disciple, even though the phrase "wealthy disicple" is an oxymoron according to Jesus' teachings. There have been cases of wealthy lost people getting saved, and for some time, they are both believers and wealthy. But if you follow those people over time - the ones who truly follow Jesus - they give their wealth away or share what they have, and thus live simple, modest lives as Jesus did.
What Jesus Teaches Regarding Material Wealth
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Verse 19 says it all. What is unclear about "Do not "? "Do not" means, well, DO NOT! The person justifying a covetous heart will say, "well, treasures does not mean money, it means ". Or they will say, "I don't lay up treasures, just enough to keep ahead of the neighbors and to be accepted as a middle class american ". These folks are sadly deceived. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also". Sadly, many say to Jesus regarding this command of His, "too bad Jesus, I want ".
"Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, 'Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head'."
A scribe was the middle to upper middle class professional. You know, like lawyers and doctors and business men and many men calling themselves 'reverend'. So this fellow pulled up to Jesus (who was walking) in his new car and said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go". Jesus answered, and said to the fellow in essence, 'You say with your mouth you are willing to follow Me, but I don't have all the comforts money can buy. The creatures my Father has created have better lodging in this world than I choose to have while I am here.' (Luke 21:37 says of Jesus, "And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet." Dear reader, the side of a mountain among vines and trees is not at the Hilton.) Are you still willing to follow Jesus if you have to give up your late model this and your new that? Are you still willing if you must forgo the material comforts that this world affords?
We are not sure how the scribe answered, but it is clear that many today say to Jesus, "well, thanks but no thanks Jesus. Instead, I'll make up my own 'Jesus' and follow him." So many today, are like the man we will look at in Luke 18 who love the things of this world more than they love God. How about you, reader? Are you willing to stop chasing after the material things, and start to share and give away instead of to chase after? Are you willing to turn away from all the excuses and justifications of your love of the material life? Do you really need that new this or that?
"And when Jesus saw that he became sorrowful, he said, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
In this country, during these last days, this is perhaps one of the most despised teachings of Jesus - perhaps it has always been this way. Lost people hate it and can't understand it because they walk in darkness. Tragically, many calling themselves believers of one label or another, also despise this teaching, and spend a good deal of effort explaining away the clear meaning. This is especially true in the United States where money is so clearly worshipped by the lost masses as well as by most christians.
Perhaps the most popular explain-it-away excuse found in evangelical-pentecostal circles is, "Oh, don't you know that the eye of the needle was a real gate in the wall of Jerusalem that camels had to get down on their knees to squeeze through? Yes, it was difficult for the camels to squeeze through, BUT they could get through, ya know." And there you have it - the plain words of Jesus explained away by some cultural fairy tale. SHOW THIS AUTHOR THE ANCIENT CULTURAL EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS FAIRY TALE. THE FACT IS THERE IS NONE. It's just that easy, you know! Just make up a cultural fairy tale, and walaa, the Jesus is explained away. And the deceived people say, 'Jesus didn't really mean what He said! Aren't you glad, because now we can want to be rich! We can call our covetousness 'godly stewardship' or something! Maybe the popular christian financial advisors could create and sell a whole seminar series called, "How to Make Your Covetousness and Longing for the Things of This World Look Like Biblical Stewardship"? Or perhaps they could call it, "How to Nullify the Teachings of Jesus by Mis-Using the Old Testament". How utterly tragic and sad, as people trade the temporary for the eternal.
Luke, who wrote the gospel that bears his name, was a physician. It is a reasonable conclusion that he was familiar with needles for he very likely used them to suture wounds. The word he uses for needle is the Greek word rhaphis, which means, "to sew". Some manuscripts of Luke use the Greek word, belone which means "a dart" denoting a sharp point, and hence, a needle. There is absolutely no exegetical or morphological reason to claim these words in that context mean anything other than a needle. Luke knew it was difficult to get a thread through a needle, let alone a camel, and he faithfully recorded Jesus' Words as He spoke them - as did Matthew and Mark. Maybe we just don't like the force of the truth in Jesus' Words?
Luke 6:20, 24
"Then He [Jesus] lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: 'Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God Woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.'"
Once again, we have some very plain words from the Light. The contrast that Jesus laid out could not be any clearer. What else could it mean other than what it says? "Oh, but it doesnt really mean that "
What is Jesus saying? Well, let me try and help those who might want to see what He says here, but are confused because they are listening to voices other than Jesus'. He says, 'Blessed are you who share and give away the material things I give you, with the motivation of honoring Me and furthering My kingdom on this earth, for great will be your reward in heaven. And curses upon you who selfishly hold onto the things I enable you to have - who don't share nor give them away, and who covet even more. Woe to you that live selfish lives and give me only a little back of all that I have given you, for great will be your destruction.'
Where is your heart in regard to this issue? Still lusting after the new car and new house and expensive "education", et al? [see Education-olotry] Why not repent and give your heart and life to the real Jesus who reveals himself through his own words in the gospels?
"And He [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites [a mite was worth less than a penny]. So He said, 'Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."
Here is our example of New Testament "tithing". You see dear readers, tithing is part of the old covenant law. Nowhere does Jesus (nor even the rest of the New Testament) teach that believers are to tithe. This should seriously concern those of you who have the "President/Pastor" who is banging you over the head with emotional manipulation about "tithing" week in and week out. The same book and chapter of Malachi, where most of the false justification for tithing is dredged up, says, "He will purify the sons of Levi [the priesthood], and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness". (Mal. 3:3) Why aren't these same men crying about the lack of the Levitical priesthood, and all of the offerings that are supposed to be offered? (Leviticus 4 for starters) Why is tithing still binding, but all of the other parts of the ceremonial law not? [see Avoiding Interpretive Traps] Ask these money-dependent men why they don't ask you to keep the rest of the ceremonial law in the Old Testament? Then ask them to consider becoming followers of Jesus and not of Moses [see Follow Jesus, Not Moses!].
Now, if Jesus commended this widow for sacrificial giving, where does that leave us? I'll tell you where it should leave us - is should leave us crying out to our Father to change our selfish hearts! What exactly do the money lovers do with this woman? I do not want to know - probably mock her or so twist the account that there is no truth left. Tragically, it is not only the overt greed mongers who are deceiving themselves and their followers. The middle of the road evangelical organizations have also been deceived. The christian financial advisor nullification is deeply entrenched in christian religious organizations. If you ask one of these fellows that they think of this widow's "stewardship", what would they say? He who has ears to hear, let him hear! John repeats the Master's teachings well when he says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15) We are told, "Oh, you need to save up for your retirement and for your children's education, et cetera ad nausea [and for that new material thing which will rot]". Does it make ANYONE wonder if these financial advisors, and those who follow their teachings, really are trying to hate their lives in this world? I guess Jesus doesn't really mean, "DO NOT LAY UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH". I guess Jesus did not understand the "wisdom" of these 'wise' financial advisors?
If you are a person who always gets defensive when hearing the truth about believers spurning wealth and living simple, sharing and non-materialistic oriented lives, then money remains an idol in your life. If you are quick to defend yourself by saying, "oh, but Christians are not to be poor, and I can have substantial wealth and still be a Christian", that is true, you can be a Christian - but you cannot be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. You are playing into the hands of the enemy of your soul, and missing the incredible blessing that comes from being free from the love of material things and thereby truly being Jesus disciple. Turn from selfishness and give all you've got to the Light's work, and you will receive eternal rewards. Work not for food that spoils, and dont fight to hold onto things that rust and decay, but rather work for that which endures to eternal life (Matt. 6:19-21, John 6:26-27). Find freedom from your matieral things, and turn and repent from it and start to truly follow Jesus!
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