VERSES | Jun 20, 2024

Our Skewed View of Wealth

When Zacchaeus said he would give half his money to the poor and pay back fourfold those he had cheated, Jesus did not merely say, “Good idea.” He said, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). This is amazing. Jesus judged the reality of this man’s salvation based on his willingness—no, his cheerful eagerness—to part with his money for the glory of God and the good of others.

Then there’s Zacchaeus’s counterpart—the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30). This earnest, decent, hardworking young professional asked Jesus what good thing he could do to get eternal life. When Jesus recited God’s commandments, the man said he had kept them all. Then Jesus, knowing what he truly worshipped, delivered His bottom line: *“Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” *(Matthew 19:21).

We would certainly handle the situation differently!

First, we would probably commend the rich young ruler for his interest in spiritual things. Then we might tell him, “Just believe, that’s all; ask God into your life—you don’t really have to do anything.”

When he said, “OK, I believe” (which no doubt he would, since it cost nothing), we would consider him a follower of Christ. Soon articles and books about him would appear. He’d be on TV and radio talk shows. He’d be put on mission and church boards, speak at rallies, and receive invitations to share his testimony in churches and conferences across the country, likely making him into a richer young ruler.

Lacking our sophisticated, twenty-first century knowledge of how to close a conversion, Jesus said something that cost Him a valuable convert: “Sell your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me.” We might surmise by the results that this was the wrong thing to say: “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22).

After losing this potential follower, a man so sincere that he was grieved to turn away, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). He said it was harder than for a camel to go through a needle’s eye (which, contrary to some modern interpretations, was no easier then than it is now). This statement left the disciples “greatly astonished” (Matthew 19:23-25). They did not understand the barrier that wealth presents to genuine spiritual birth and growth. Apparently, neither do we.

Notice that Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give 10 percent to the poor. (If he was truly an obedient Jew, he already did that.) Neither did Jesus say, “Set up a trust fund, keep the principal intact, and give the interest to the poor.” The young man would have gladly done that. Instead, Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks by telling him to give up everything and follow Him.

Jesus did not and does not call all His disciples to liquidate their possessions, give away all their money. But Jesus knew that money was the rich young man’s god. If Christ is not Lord over our money and possessions, then He is not our Lord. Just as Jesus gauged Zacchaeus’s true spiritual condition by his willingness to part with his money, so He gauged the rich young ruler’s true spiritual condition by his unwillingness to part with his money. Jesus sees our hearts and will call us to take action that breaks our bondage to money and possessions and frees us to live under His exclusive lordship.

The relationship between our true spiritual condition and our attitude and actions concerning money and possessions is timeless.

When people asked John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance, he told them first to share their clothes and food with the poor. Then he told the tax collectors not to collect and pocket extra money. Finally he told the soldiers not to extort money and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:7-14).

No one asked John about money and possessions. They just asked him what they should do to bear the fruit of spiritual transformation. Yet all his answers relate to money and possessions.

If John the Baptist were to visit us today and gauge our spiritual condition by our attitudes and actions regarding money and possessions, what conclusions would he come to?

When you look around our Christian communities today, what do you see in our handling of money and possessions that can only be explained by the supernatural work of God?

A Poor Woman and a Rich Man

Play the role of financial counselor. Today you have two appointments, first with an elderly woman and then a middle-aged man.

The woman’s husband died six years ago. She says, “The cupboards are bare. These two dollars are all I have to live on, yet I sense God wants me to put them in the offering. What do you think?”

What would you tell her? (Don’t read on until you think about it.)

Likely you’d say something like this: “That’s very generous of you, dear, but God knows your heart—that you want to give—and He wants you to take care of yourself. You can’t expect Him to send down food from Heaven if you give up the little money He’s already provided, can you? God wants us to be sensible.”

Your next appointment is with a successful, hardworking, middle-aged farmer whose crop production has been excellent. He tells you, “I’m planning to tear down my old barns to build bigger ones so I can store up more crops and goods and have plenty saved up for the future. Then I can take it easy, retire early, and maybe do some traveling and golfing. What do you think?”

What’s your answer?

Perhaps something like this: “Sounds good to me! It’s your business, crops, and money. If you can save up enough to take care of yourself for the rest of your life, by all means go for it!”

Doesn’t our advice to this poor widow and this rich man seem reasonable? But what does God say?

In Mark 12 we meet a poor widow. Jesus watched intently as she put two tiny copper coins in the temple offering box. This was the only money she had. Jesus called His disciples together to teach them a lesson. Did He question the woman’s wisdom? No. He gave her an unqualified commendation: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

In Luke 12 we meet a rich man. We’re not told that he gained his wealth dishonestly. He probably attended synagogue weekly, tithed, and prayed, as most Jews did. He diligently built his business. Now, like any good businessman, he wanted to expand by building bigger barns. His purpose was to accumulate enough wealth to retire early and have a good time. Sounds like the American dream, doesn’t it?

So, what did God say to this man? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

Jesus added, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

Both outside and inside the Church, the widow’s actions seem unwise and the rich man’s seem wise. This shows how radically different our beliefs are from God’s.

If we take these passages seriously, we must ask some probing questions: Who receives the most respect and attention and who is more highly esteemed in Christian circles? Who typically serves on our boards and determines the direction of our ministries? Today we have a scarcity of poor widows and a surplus of rich fools.

The Story Money Tells

These case studies show how money is a litmus test of our true character and our spiritual life.

If this is true of all people in all ages, doesn’t it have a special application to us who live in a time and nation of unparalleled affluence where the “poverty level” exceeds the average standard of living of nearly every other society in human history, past or present?

Take for example someone who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes “only” $25,000 a year. Even without extras like benefits and interest, this person of modest income, by our standards, will earn a million dollars. He or she will manage a fortune.

Because we all will eventually give an account of our lives to God (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10), one day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth?

God does not apologize for watching—as He did the poor widow—with intense interest what we do with the money He’s entrusted to us. If we use our imaginations, we might even peer into the invisible realm to see Him gathering some of His subjects together this very moment. Perhaps you can hear Him using your handling of finances as an object lesson.

The question is this: What kind of example are you?

Image used with permission.

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Eternal Perspective Ministries, founded and directed by author Randy Alcorn, is focused on investing in what lasts for eternity, and helping others to do the same.

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