Have you ever wondered why you feel so uncomfortable when a homeless person or a panhandler comes up to you asking for money on the street? Oh sure, their clothes and appearance as well as smell may push you back, but do you know what really causes the "gut" reaction you feel -- a little fear, a little guilt mixed together?
The feeling we experience is caused by the fact that we're seeing poverty, real poverty up close and personal, and we don't like what we see, or smell. Not only do we not like what we see in them -their appearance also mirrors in a cruel way our own affluence and the great distance and difference there is between them and ourselves.
You see, we feel afraid because right there in front of us is our own worst nightmare in the form of this poor, wretched human being. Oh my! That could be me!!
We feel guilty because in comparison to them we have everything and they have nothing ... and that realization is driven into our hearts as we look away and on
And even if you stop and give some change - the guilt may be lessened but the fear mixed with panicky gratitude remains. Such is the experience of being rich in the face of extreme poverty on a very personal level.
On a larger scale it is the same. We live in a time a time and in a nation where we are wealthier than 90 % of the world now, as well as any other nation since the beginning of history. Despite the threat of war and a shaky economy, in comparison to the 5.5 billion people on this earth - we are the rich ones!
So when we read the Bible and it refers to the "rich" we need to understand that it's not simply talking to the wealthy superstars - the Rockefellers or Bill Gates only, it's talking to us as a nation because in our day and time and world, we, you and me, are the rich.
With this in mind, I want to share with you some things that I have learned as a rich person. Here are some of my own observations about being a wealthy man in a poor world.
1. There is a saturation point beyond which the accumulation and consumption of wealth becomes uncomfortable for both my body and soul.
Solomon describes the experience:
Have you found honey? Eat only what you need. Lest you have it in excess and vomit it.
- Proverbs 25:16
In simpler terms, he cautions those with wealth (remember, that's all of us) not to "over do it". You see, when you are rich things get too easy; we want things that are too stylish; everything has to be too elegant, we just get too full from the non-stop emotional and physical gratification we can afford. There is a point where I have to work too hard to the justify to my own conscience the difference between indulgences of my wealth and the emptiness of someone else's poverty.
For example, somewhere along the line it seems immoral to me that I have 12 pairs of shoes when someone else is barefoot.
Another observation on being rich in a world of poverty:
2. Being rich requires much more personal discipline.
I used to think that wealth brought freedom; you can do what you want when you are rich. But I have since learned that wealth is a demanding task-master and requires personal discipline in order to survive its negative influences.
Again, Solomon comments on this phenomenon:
When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much. But the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.
- Ecclesiastes 5:11-12
Wealth brings us a greater ability to consume, which in turn, requires greater discipline to avoid worldliness, gluttony, and sensuality. I have found that wealth creates a demand on my time, my energy and my emotions that increase as my wealth increases. However, I also note that this same wealth does not have to power to purchase more time, more energy or emotional substance to invest into my family or friends or the pursuit of spiritual development. In the end I realize that wealth requires discipline me to deal with my feelings but it can't purchase what I need to respond to its demands.
In other words, being rich leads me to worldliness, but won't provide me with any help to deal with this temptation.
An obvious lesson I learned about being rich...
3. Being rich has made it easier for me to be insensitive to the needs of others.
19"Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
- Luke 16:19-25
I want to note that the rich man in this passage harbored no ill feelings towards the poor beggar, nor was he the one that caused Lazarus' poverty.
- As a matter of fact, he felt nothing at all either way and therein lay his great sin.
- He was so engrossed in his own wealth that he wouldn't see or hear the cry of the poor man, even as he lay at his front gate.
- Oh he may have actually "seen" him with his eyes and been annoyed with his constant begging but his heart couldn't see or hear him.
- I've noticed in my own life that being rich causes me to forget what needing is like, and needing is what the heart sees and hears.
I don't need to worry about food, clothes, housing, medical emergencies, retirement eventually I don't need you, don't really need God as well. Being rich creates a false sense of security, a false sense of independence where I don't have to depend on anyone and pretty soon I don't want anyone to depend on me. People depending on me may interfere with my enjoyment of my wealth, or worse still could even mean that I have to share some of my wealth!!
The Christian and Wealth
In the middle ages when certain wealthy people were faced with the dilemma of being wealthy in a poor world they would give everything to the Catholic Church and enter a monastery.
Many religious and philosophies are based on the complete renunciation of material wealth, however, the Bible teaches that this practice does not save the soul nor does it solve the problem of poverty. Nor is it a guard against greed and pride. Nor is it demanded by Christ.
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
- Colossians 2:23
This doesn't mean that Christians shouldn't guard themselves against the spiritually debilitating power that possessing wealth has over us however. These are certain things we can do to maintain a Christian balance as people of wealth in a world of poverty, things that are given to us by God's word in it's instructions and patterns to guide our lives whether we be rich or poor.
And so, in order to find spiritual balance as rich people living in a world of poverty:
1. Give a minimum of 10% of your gross income to God before you do anything else with your wealth or paycheck.
I believe God used 10% in the O.T. because He knew that whatever the society, the economy, the era 10% would always be a sacrificial amount to give. The threshold to sacrificial giving.
To make it 10% off the top, before taxes or anything else makes it your first portion and because you give the first portion to God, He will bless you in the use of the 90% that you keep. By giving Him 1st, you honor Him and bless yourself.
By giving Him a minimum of 10% however makes it a "sacrificial" gift no matter what financial level of wealth you are at. Don't get me wrong about the 10% figure and think that I'm advocating some kind of legalistic system of tithing.
Tithing is a rule of law about giving we are under grace not law. I'm not proposing any kind of tithing system, I'm encouraging sacrifice in your giving to God. For expediency's sake I'm saying to you that for most people, a minimum of 10% given from the top would require sacrifice. I'm saying to you go ahead sacrifice, the Lord will be honored and your soul will be a little safer from influence of greed and worldliness. Go ahead, give at least 10% and inoculate yourself against the deadly virus of greed and worldliness.
2. Examine the amount of time and energy your pursuit of wealth consumes in comparison to the time and energy used up in the service of others (like family, church, community etc.).
Anxiety and restlessness and unhappiness usually goes up as we spend more of our time getting richer and less of our time in the service of others. Public generosity and service shields us against the envy of others. Private sacrificial giving, and quiet behind the scenes help and service protects your conscience from Satan's trap of false guilt because of a blessed and abundant life.
Finally, for those who are rich in a poor world...
3. Be Continually Thankful
We don't know why we are the rich and not the poor and we're not supposed to. God blesses us with wealth not so we will question and feel guilty about it he blesses us so that we might enjoy not only the material world He has created for us, but also the pleasure that comes from sharing and managing these for Him and knowing the joy that comes from praising Him with a thankful heart. His blessings are a continual cause for my rejoicing and praising of Him. What we give away (whether if be at church or privately) is given so that others can also know of God's love and experience this same joy of praise and thanksgiving from a happy heart.
These are some of the things I've learned from being a rich person.
Of course the most valuable thing we possess is our soul's salvation. It is so valuable, so priceless that there is nothing in the world, no material thing in existence that we can exchange for it. We may be rich in material things but these will turn to dust one day when Jesus returns.
The question then will be "are you rich in salvation?" This question needs to be resolved now so that it can be answered properly then. Are you rich in salvation? Is the blood of Christ continually cleansing you? Have you received God's most precious blessing yet?
It is ironic that people will literally work and worry themselves to death in order to gain things that quickly break down and turn to dust in time. And yet they ignore or reject the one thing that last forever and given to all for free? Don't be fooled by the riches and glitter of this temporary world, come for the precious and eternal gift of forgiveness through repentance and baptism in Jesus' name. Come for the eternal life offered by God through faith in Jesus Christ.