Beware Every Kind of Greed

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Douglas K. Kutilek's picture
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Beware Every Kind of Greed

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WealthPosted previously at SI on June 13, 2008. Reprinted with permission from As I See It. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

It is now some dozen years, perhaps more, since I heard a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Dr. Green as I recall, preach at a missions conference in Wichita. His text was the famous parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), who planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones for his surplus crops. He supposed that with his material needs abundantly provided for, he was on easy street and would enjoy a long and relaxing retirement, only to face death that very night. But rather than making the usual application of the passage to those lost persons who are preoccupied with this world’s goods to the neglect of their own soul’s eternal welfare, the professor made a pointed application to the life of believers, an application that after more than a decade I cannot drive from my mind. It was as follows:

We believers know Christ and know in theory the completely transitory nature of all our worldly goods and the express command from Christ not to focus our energies on amassing possessions in this life, but rather to focus on accumulating an ever-growing treasure in heaven. For all that, we nevertheless for the most part act exactly like the rich fool! We set before us as our chief aim the piling up of wealth and possessions with a preoccupation with houses and lands, with cars and fine clothes, with bank accounts and 401k’s. And whenever God blesses us with an increase in income or an inheritance, we automatically assume that God intends for us to spend all the increase on ourselves with yet more luxury; more vacations; and a yet larger, more palatial dwelling. “Let us tear down our barns and build bigger!” When is enough enough? When does our self-focused spending become that greed of which Jesus warned? When does it become sin?

James searchingly asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:1-3, NIV).

The problem is not with riches; the problem is with ourselves. We assume that all that we earn, all that we acquire, and all that we obtain (after taxes, naturally) is ours, ours, OURS! Sure, we say, “I’ll tithe, but don’t ask me to sacrifice. I’ve earned my Beamer. I deserve that second house in the mountains, those annual trips to Hawaii.” (Or, to bring it down closer to our level, “I deserve that new Pontiac, that larger house on an acreage in the country, that expensive seven-day cruise.”) The tragedy is that we most often go over our heads and ears in debt to gratify our craving for things and end up enslaved to our creditors, so stressed out over debts that we cannot enjoy those things we expected would bring us happiness. And all too often churches, missionaries, and various underfunded and overburdened Christian ministries with genuine and immediate financial needs struggle along with pressing responsibilities, handicapped because American Christians with more than enough heap self-indulgence upon self-indulgence.

Of course, in truth all that I have is the Lord’s, and none of it is mine in any permanent sense. The issue is what I will do as a steward of those things God has entrusted into my hands. We would do well to learn from the example of faithful saints of God from times past who had a radically different perspective on earthly possessions.

It is reported of John Wesley that “[w]hile he had but thirty pounds [income] a year, he lived on twenty-eight and gave away forty shillings [= two pounds]. Receiving twice as much the next year, he kept his living expenses down to the twenty-eight pounds and had thirty-two to bestow on the needy; and when the third year his income rose to ninety pounds, he spent no more than before and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year brought one hundred and twenty, and he disbursed still but the same sum for his own needs, having ninety-two to spare.”

Such economy on the one hand and such generosity on the other have seldom been known in human history. But George Mueller’s record will compare favorably with this or any other of modern days. His frugality, simplicity, and economy were equal to Wesley’s…. He gave—as not one in a million gives—not a tithe, not any fixed proportion of annual income, but all that was left after the simplest and most necessary supply of actual wants. While most Christians regard themselves as doing their duty if, after they have given a portion to the Lord, they spend all the rest on themselves, God led George Mueller to reverse this rule and reserve only the most frugal sum for personal needs, that the entire remainder might be given to him that needeth…. Mr. Mueller’s own words are: “My aim never was, how much I could obtain, but rather how much I could give.” (George Mueller of Bristol by A. T. Pierson, pp. 298-299)

There is One who still sits over against the Treasury, watching the gifts cast into it, and impartially weighing their worth, estimating the rich man’s millions and the widow’s mites, not by the amount given, but by the motives which impel and the measure of self-sacrifice accepted for the Lord’s sake…. God estimates what we give by what we keep, for it is possible to bestow large sums and yet reserve so much larger amounts that no self-denial is possible. Such giving to the Lord costs us nothing. (ibid., pp. 324, 331) 

Let us pause and seriously reflect on these matters.


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, a website dedicated to exposing and refuting the many errors of KJVOism and has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a B.A. in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, Mo.), an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati; and completed all requirements for a Ph.D. except the dissertation); and a Th.M. in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, Minn.). His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Biblical Evangelist, The Baptist Bible Tribune, The Baptist Preacher’s Journal, Frontline, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and The Wichita Eagle. The father of four grown children and four granddaughters, he resides with his wife Naomi near Wichita, Kansas.

JobK's picture
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An Interesting Question

I wonder how much conforming to American culture i.e. consumerism, materialism, classism etc. contributes to what Mr. Kutilek is speaking of. Especially since the reaction to the social welfare/redistribution of wealth policies of the political - and religious - left is often to swing too far the other way in making mammon and the pursuit thereof a moral virtue. "Blessed are the poor" does not seem to be one of the Bible verses most often quoted by fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals. Instead, our crowd is far more likely to say "America is so wealthy and powerful because we were founded on Christianity, have strong Judeo-Christian values, and God has rewarded us with blessings" and to take harsh, even adversarial stances towards the poor, even the working poor and indigent children. In a nation that is so prosperous, we should not forget what Jesus Christ stated in Matthew 19:23-25. The debate over what is actually meant by the camel and needle metaphor (which may have actually been only a figure of speech of the time and place) often obscures that Jesus Christ explicitly stated (according to my King James Version, esteemed Kutilek) "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven."

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Aaron Blumer's picture
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It's about property and labor

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...is often to swing too far the other way in making mammon and the pursuit thereof a moral virtue.

There are a few that make mammon and its pursuit out to be a moral virtue. It's unfortunate that much of the language among conservatives is so confusing (probably because of the misfortune that those speaking are confused to some degree).
What it's ultimately about is what we believe about property and labor. It's interesting that wealth is not portrayed in a negative light at all in Scripture until well after Abraham, and even then, if we read what's written in the context of a Bible that is positive about wealth as a starting point, it's usually not too hard to see that the wealth itself is not the issue, nor is engaging in labor in order to obtain it. Rather, in the minor prophets for example, the wealth that is criticized is in connection with power and the use of power to oppress the weak/poor.

One of the things progressivism has done--whether good or bad--is alter the relationship between wealth and power. In America, the poor are more powerful as a group than at any time in recorded history. Whether that's good or bad is a separate question, but it certainly means that how we interpret and apply biblical principles about wealth and poverty is more complex than it may seem.

(For example, what does "blessed are the poor" mean in its context--bearing in mind that Matthew's version is "the poor in spirit"--and then having figured that out, how does that apply to a national scene where "the poor" are able to elect leaders who have promised them a great many things? ...at the expense of the--so far--nonpoor)

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Covenantal Issues Here

"It's interesting that wealth is not portrayed in a negative light at all in Scripture until well after Abraham"

True. But we do live in the new covenant, which is "well after Abraham." So, we are governed by the Biblical attitude towards wealth that appears in the New Testament epistles, not the books of Moses. Now as far as the "blessed are the poor" of Luke and the "blessed are the poor in spirit" of Matthew, well there is indeed James 2:5-7. "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?"

Wealth corrupts. Not just because of the association with wealth and power, either. (The people who buy lottery tickets trying to get rich aren't interested in running for Congress ... they just want the money to buy the things that they are coveting.) 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil, Jesus Christ in Mark 10:24 says "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" The children of Israel were to be God's elect people living according to God's law with full knowledge that God was the source and reason for their financial blessing were supposed to be (mostly) immune to the corrupting influence. Israel was to be a theocracy and a theonomy, where the people in control of the political and economic systems were supposed to be God-fearing people, and the land would be rewarded with God's blessing because of Israel's special status before God.

But in contexts other than old covenant Israel, in the absence of a theocracy-theonomy, it doesn't work. Instead of an elect nation set apart from the world and led by judges, priests, prophets and other God-appointed rulers - meaning that righteous people controlled the politics and the money - the New Testament was written when politics and the money were controlled on a national scale by a pagan Roman Empire and on a local scale by the corrupt, Hellenistic Sadducees. So, rather than wealth being a sign of God's favor and the result of personal piety, in a culture and society that is part of the world rather than being separate from it, wealth contains precisely the opposite connotation. Instead of a Godly economy rewarding your being Godly, you have the Babylon system as described by Revelation rewarding you economically for conforming to it. The issue is that for a various set of reasons (i.e. cultural, theological) lots of conservative Christians have convinced themselves that America isn't Babylon, but new Israel, or as close to new Israel as it is attainable.

You stated "how does that apply to a national scene where "the poor" are able to elect leaders who have promised them a great many things? ...at the expense of the--so far--nonpoor" ... well that is still more evidence that we are Babylon as opposed to old covenant Israel. If old covenant Israel rejected God by demanding human government in the form of a king, well then what of the humanistic confusion that is democracy, which is nothing more than mob rule, with the mob ruling according to what it covets? Whether it is universal healthcare, abortion or war, the mob gets what the mob wants. The issue for the Bible-based Christian is the proper way to separate from the mob so that such a Christian is in the world and not of it. Yet, I know of at least one prominent fundamentalist theologian who asserts that American democracy is God-honoring because it is similar to congregational church polity.

So, the problem is being preoccupied with wealth and power. Political conservatives prefer for such things to be controlled by individuals and corporations. Progressives desire for them to be controlled by the government. Which is better? Neither. Two sides of the same coin; Babylon as described by Revelation. Was the Roman Empire, which fully embraced private enterprise and private property, any less of a persecutor of Christians than the Marxist Soviet Union?

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Aaron Blumer's picture
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OT vs NT and preoccupation

Well, preoccupation with anything temporal is a problem for Christians... including wealth and power. I'll agree with that. But it is not wealth and power themselves that are to blame. It's always the affections involved in wealth and power and the use of wealth and power that are the issues in Scripture.
As for OT vs. NT. The new covenant does erase principles that are expressed in the old. And, in this case, the generally positive attitude of Scripture toward abundance (let's keep in mind that there is really no difference between stuff and money. Money is just a more efficient way to trade stuff) predates the Mosaic Covenant or any kind of theocracy.
What "progressive revelation" says, as a principle of interpretation, is that later Scripture adds to our understanding of earlier revelation, but it doesn't reverse it. Sometimes it's a fine line though. But nothing in the NT decries wealth itself. Even in James where he excoriates the rich, he does not say "all rich people are like this" or that "wealth itself made them that way."

(As for democracy... another subject, but a measure of democracy is just a way to make government more sensitive to the results of its decisions and--consequently--more just. So it serves biblical principle in that sense. If power corrupts, dispersing the power a bit rather than concentrating it over much in a few should result in it corrupting less and history bears this out. But I don't personally believe power is the problem at all but rather the character of the people who possess it. Still, if there's a way to decrease the temptations of power, it's prudent to do that.)

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Piper on 401K's

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We set before us as our chief aim the piling up of wealth and possessions with a preoccupation with houses and lands, with cars and fine clothes, with bank accounts and 401k’s.

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn/ByTopic/8/2727_...

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Retirement is forced for a lot of people. When you get to sixty-five or seventy you have to step back. Finding another job at age seventy that might support you or your invalid wife is not an easy thing. The way our culture is dealing with that is having you earn your money for the post-working years while you're working. And what do you do with it? You just set it aside.

Why should we assume that the post-working years should be provided for from heaven and the working years should be provided for from labor? I don't assume that.

The way I think about retirement—though I don't believe in "retirement" if you can avoid it—is that you should start doing different things for Jesus. And if you can do them without having to be paid by people because you've set it aside, then that's all the more wonderful.

I think of that like this: I don't want to get rich. I don't want to sit on a pile of money. I just want to be able to survive between the ages of sixty-five and eighty-five. And I'd like to be spent for the kingdom. So if I can have a house and have my bills paid and pour my life out for the kingdom, I would be thrilled.

My comment: To not prepare for the non-working future is foolishness. To save (it may be a 401K or a 403 B or other kinds of investments whether they be mutual funds, stocks, bonds, or money stuffed in the mattress) is prudent. The non-working life of a person may be 20 or 30 years. My Mother aged 90, still needs regular income. For her it comes from a small pension, social security, and interest and dividends from investments.

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