It’s struck me over the last few weeks: I am “the rich” that the Bible talks about.
I have heard pastors and authors say it before but, for some reason, it never stuck. To me, “the rich” conjured up pictures of Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey or Warren Buffett. It’s “the rich” who own those million dollar homes on the coasts. Or who live in that certain neighborhood in my town. Or who shop at those stores where nothing ever goes on sale.
But when I read “the rich” in the Bible, I certainly didn’t insert my name.
The “lifestyles of the rich and famous” didn’t apply to me. I’ve never attended black-tie fundraisers in the Hamptons. My wedding photo wasn’t in Town and Country magazine. I don’t have a vacation home. For goodness sake, I don’t even drive a car made in this century. I wasn’t “the rich.”
But I was wrong.
I was reminded of this by Randy Alcorn, author of many books including Money, Possessions and Eternity. Alcorn points out that if you and I have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, we’re among the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy.
That challenges my perspective. After all, I had all those things when I considered myself a “poor as a church mouse” college student. If you had told me then that I was wealthy, I would have probably laughed. But all I could see were those immediately around me. Just as a 6’5″ NBA player may feel comparatively short, we may feel comparatively average, less than average or even poor.
But our wealth perspective is skewed. The fact is that 6’5″ is tall. And the fact is that most of us are rich.
Even the average Christian teenager in America, who has about $1,500 in disposable cash income each year, makes more than 80 percent of the people on the earth.
If I have the education to write this article and the tools to get it to you on Boundless, there’s just no question that I am the rich. And if you have the education and technology to read it, you are too. “We must lay aside our illusions,” Alcorn writes, “and realize that when Scripture speaks of the rich it is not talking about ‘them’ but ‘us’.”
So if I am “the rich” of this world, what do I do? Why does it matter? I better see what the Word has to tell me.
Doing a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance word study on “rich” is eye opening. I like James 1:10 especially. But I want to concentrate on 1 Timothy, chapter 6. This is the chapter with Paul’s well-known words that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
After warning Timothy about the consequences of being “eager for money,” and charging Timothy to pursue righteousness, Paul instructs Timothy on how to instruct the rich.
Do Not Be Arrogant
First, in verse 17, Paul writes, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.”
OK, now. No one, especially me, wants to admit that they’re arrogant. It’s just not an appealing description. But Paul says that I should be commanded not to be arrogant. That’s not light language. So am I? Am I arrogant? Do I exaggerate my own importance in my finances? Am I proud?
Truly, I have been those things. I’ve always been thankful to get a raise or a bonus, but I often find myself planning how “I” can spend “my” money that “I” earned. It would do me good to repent and remember John the Baptist’s words that out of the stones, God could raise up children for Abraham, and out of stones He could create others to do my jobs as well or better. Any money that comes my way is of God, by God and, ultimately, should be used to please God.
What about putting my hope in my wealth? I think that is one of the most dangerous temptations that you and I face. Up until maybe the last 100 years, most people spent most of their daylight hours determining how to feed themselves and their families. “Give us this day our daily bread,” was not figurative, but literal.
But when was the last time I had to worry about my daily bread? Have I hoarded so much as to think myself independent of God’s provision? Do I place more security in my 401(k) than in God? It would be interesting to know how many Christians give more to the former than the latter.
Second, Paul instructs Timothy to tell the rich to “do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share.”
I was intrigued by Randy Alcorn’s point about this part of the passage. “Paul leaves a door open for Christians to be ‘rich in the present world,'” Alcorn writes, “but only if they carefully follow the accompanying guidelines related to their open-handed use of that wealth.”
The rich, Alcorn writes, are not told to take a vow of poverty. But, instead, told to take a vow of generosity.
My response then should not be to don sackcloth and ashes and beat my chest that I live in a wealthy society. But to consider carefully — very carefully — the responsibility that God has given me. Christ told us not to store up treasures here on earth — they won’t go with us. If we are “the rich,” then, we should thank God, not for our money and things, but for the opportunity to give those money and things for His glory.
So, another question — am I generous?
The Word tells me that “you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
Am I doing that? Are you?
Many of us have heard the statistics about poor giving among Christians. (According to Barna research, in 2004, only 23 percent of evangelicals gave at least 10 percent of their income to their church or to a combination of church and parachurch ministries.)
If I give more than most of my Christian brothers and sisters, is that generous? If I tithe, is that generous? If I give more to God than I store up for myself in my Roth IRA, is that generous?
The straight answer is that I don’t know. But I do know that for the past few weeks I’ve started to have some sneaking suspicions that what I thought were good giving practices may have been a good biblical starting point, but they’re certainly not generous.
When John the Baptist preached repentance to the crowd in Luke 3, they responded with a question: “What should we do then?” John’s answer: Share. If you have plenty, share with those who do not.
“Too often,” Alcorn writes, “we assume that God has increased our income to increase our standard of living, when His stated purpose is to increase our standard of giving.”
Alcorn also quotes John Piper: “The issue is not how much a person makes. Big industry and big salaries are a fact of our times, and they are not necessarily evil. The evil is in being deceived unto thinking a $100,000 salary must be accompanied by a $100,000 lifestyle. God has made us to be conduits of His grace. The danger is in thinking the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn’t. Copper will do.”
How much, then, should I be giving? God wants me to rich in good deeds and willing to share. Rather than looking at this world’s definition of generosity, I want to know what God thinks is generous. It’s something I’m going to be talking to Him a lot about in the coming year. Will you join me?
Copyright 2008 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.