Financial difficulties, while unpleasant, are often blessings in disguise; forcing us to re-evaluate our priorities, re-arrange our schedules, question who we really are – or ought to be – and what we are attempting to accomplish in life. And even as we see daily examples of the arrogance and stupidity of people who seem to have it all – or believe they are entitled to it – I am convinced that being wealthy is not sinful, rather not being generous is. I am further persuaded that, particularly as Christians, active involvement in the lives of those less fortunate than we are is not optional. Which may go a long way in explaining why Jesus, after a conversation with a rich man proclaimed, “…it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Because as that discussion readily illustrated, the young man’s unwillingness to take the final step of commitment in following Christ had nothing to do with his head – he knew all the right answers and had evidently done some “good deeds.” (Matthew 19:16-24) The problem was with his heart. He needed, coveted, treasured wealth and the things it could buy – possessions as well as influence – more than he desired a relationship with Christ. Proving the axiom, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” absolutely true. (Matthew 6:21 See also Matthew 6:24) The problem not being whether you possess money but whether it possesses you.
The topic of money and how we use it occurs repeatedly throughout scripture. I believe that’s so because how we use our financial resources often serves as a window to our souls; revealing a generous selflessness or a greedy me-first mentality. (Most of us falling somewhere between these two points, not particularly greedy but not overly generous either.) Luke 12:13-21 specifically addressing a number of issues concerning our attitude toward wealth and service. Asked to arbitrate between two brothers’ dispute over an inheritance, Jesus warned them instead to, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” After which he recounted the parable of the “rich fool”. This man’s investment of time, energy and money paying huge dividends, so much so that he had resolved to store his excess in bigger and better barns; the better to control his wealth for his own personal use and enjoyment – depending on those resources for his present and future with no regard to anything or anyone else. God had other plans. As, “…God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” Jesus adding the sobering caution that, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (See also Luke 16:19-31)
Jesus then went on to instruct us in the proper way to approach life and the accumulation of its necessities. In telling us not to worry – or obsess – over how we will eat, clothe ourselves and maintain our livelihoods, he was not instructing us to be lackadaisical concerning those depending on us or in seeing to our own wellbeing. (See Paul’s admonition to the Christian community in Colossians 3:23 & 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13) Rather he was cautioning us against allowing those things to become the driving force in our lives, assuring us that our Heavenly Father knows that we need them (Matthew 6:25-32), “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 It’s all about our focus and what we hold in highest esteem. We are the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven! So in reality we possess everything. What Jesus looks for is evidence of what we will do with what we possess, hoarding it for our own use or increasing its value by sharing it with others. By doing so, storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven that will be inexhaustible and eternally safe. (G. K. Chesterton citing two ways of getting enough, “One is to accumulate more and more. The other being to desire less.”)
This then led Jesus to the topic of dutiful watchfulness, stressing the importance of anticipating opportunities to serve. For, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 Indeed, Jesus compared judgment day to a separation of sheep and goats – or good and evil – the sheep representing those who had recognized the opportunities to serve others as loving Christ; doing so by feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, greeting strangers with open arms, clothing the needy and nursing the sick and visiting the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-40) The goats, on the other hand, were rejected because they failed to recognize those self-same opportunities and refused to accept their responsibility to meet other people’s needs. The one group gaining entrance to heaven and all the riches that entails, the other being eternally separated from God’s presence. (Matthew 25:41-46)
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