This post stems from the Kern reading group on Faith, Work and Economics at Talbot, a small group comprised of Talbot and Crowell faculty that discusses the intersection of the Christian faith with issues like poverty, work, economics and justice.
People frequently consider money and wealth as weighting scales to measure human prosperity and well-being. When a person has more possessions than others such as a nice house or a luxury car, people usually would say that this person is successful. Economic prosperity is a common goal that represents social affluence and deserves public recognition.
Nevertheless, wealth is not necessarily good or an evidence of God’s blessing. In fact, sometimes, even against public perception, it is better not to be wealthy or to wish to become one. Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Wealth can become an obstacle to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with God. The Lord measures success and riches in different ways that we do and economic prosperity could alienate people from God and others.
Indeed, sometimes is better to be poor tan rich. Jesus declared during the important Sermon of the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Only those who recognize their deep want for God can enjoy his presence. The poor in spirit know they desperately need the Lord and at the same time they acknowledge they have nothing to give him in exchange. These people are blessed because they can enjoy the Lordship of Christ in their lives. Only those who accept their place as subjects can honor the King and enjoy his reign in their lives.
Consequently, poverty cannot be reduced to economic circumstances. As a matter of fact, some people are extremely poor because money is their only possession in life. We all are poor in some ways and we all need the help of others in our lives. I have noticed that frequently conversations about poverty focus primarily on economic factors and the participants in these discussions talk about poverty as something external to their circumstances and the poor as someone other than themselves. Only when we acknowledge that we all are poor in different ways and when we see others who are less fortunate economically than ourselves as equals with the same value and dignity, we can seek ways to help them with dignity. We need empathy to understand them and to love them as we love ourselves. My impression is that sometimes common expressions like “create dependency” or “help people to become self-sufficient” could imply, even unconsciously, a condescending spirit and a paternalistic attitude.
The Word of God points out that by God’s grace we all are rich in Christ even though we were poor, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). As followers of Christ we should imitate Christ’ example and seek for the well-being of others. We do not do it because we are superiors or give alms to those in need out of our goodness, but because we understand we have the privilege to share with others what we have. At the same time, we recognize that we also deeply need to receive much from others. Our desire for justice and social prosperity is rooted in Christ and in a humble attitude that acknowledges that we all need divine grace and the generosity and support from others.
As followers of Christ we are called to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:10). And yet, at the same time, we need to recognize that God desires to be our own source of trust and well-being. Human beings struggle with placing their possessions as their anchor for their lives. The temptation to trust in ourselves instead of the Lord grows as we acquire more material possessions. For this reason, Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that if we trust in money we cannot serve him, “no one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher, declared, “it is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Seneca was not advocating for a conformist attitude, but instead he reminds us that our desire to accumulate more belongings produces in us a deep lack of contentment. Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that greed represents a symptom of our lack of faith and trust in God’s providence, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”
The Bible clearly warns us about the ephemeral satisfaction that material possessions provide. Popular wisdom also reminds us that “money comes and goes.” Therefore, our effort to become wealthy is similar to chasing the wind; it becomes an endless journey through an unfathomable path. Proverbs 23:4-5 gives us a good advice, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” When we value our worth in riches, we never have enough and we never reach the value we desire.
Sometimes, however, people acquire wealth because of their hard work and dedication. There is nothing to be ashamed if by God’s grace one becomes prosperous. To be wealthy is not necessarily good or bad, but our attitude towards money is what dictates the difference. Those who are fortunate with material possessions need to remember the following biblical words, “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, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
May our confidence be centered at all times in the Lord of the universe regardless of our economic situation; may we remain spiritually poor to always recognize our deep need from God; and may we use whatever we have to bless others at all times and in all circumstances.