"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
Once I was winningThe other day was my church's annual women's Christmas dinner. While it was a wonderful time to get together and worship our Savior, something didn't sit with me right. I've noticed this before, but it struck me that night: Our church is extremely wealthy, and it shows. Many women I see are perfectly groomed, with designer suits, purses, and shoes. It unsettled me a bit.
In fortune and fame
Everything that I dreamed for
To get a start in life's game
Then suddenly it happened
I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far
With a satisfied mind
--Johnny Cash, "A Satisfied Mind"
Don't get me wrong, I love our church. It's doctrinely sound, welcoming, and many of the people I know are truly wonderful, humble Christians. But I wonder how many people examine how they live their lives and consider the message they convey with the wealth they have amassed.
This is a topic that I've been struggling with lately. American consumerism is slammed in my face so much that I feel confused about what is acceptable for Christians. Is it okay to spend money on designer clothes? Expensive furniture? Bally's fitness memberships? Hubby and I have been talking a lot lately about what it means to really be a Christian. How should we stand out from the world? What makes us different?
I see the wealth around me and cannot help but wonder if I'm just being uptight. Is it okay to be a Christian and be wealthy? Or is this just a modern American idea, where materialism has wrongly been infused into the Christian culture?
Right now in our Sunday school class, we are studying the great patriarch, Abraham. After God makes His covenant with Abram and promises him the land, a famine comes to Canaan and drives Abram and his family to Egypt. (We aren't told if God told Abram to flee there, or if Abram lost faith and fled there on his own.) Upon return, both Abram's clan and Lot's have developed huge amounts of wealth. And you know what happens? Familial strife. It is at this point when Abram and Lot separate, with Lot headed down the road to Sodom and Gomorrah. (See Genesis 13.) Other examples of wealth in the Bible include Solomon, who eventually turned away from the Lord. Of course, he also had other problems. Another is the rich young ruler (see Mark 10:17-31). After the rich young ruler rejects Jesus, Jesus proclaims, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Mk. 10:24b-25)
Does this mean we should steer clear of wealth, since it leads to destruction? I don't think so. Job, in all his wealth, was a righteous man. After Job loses it all and God reveals Himself to Job, He restores all of Job's wealth in order to bless him. Wealth can be a blessing. Several verses in Proverbs say this. (See Proverbs 10:22 for an example). While wealth might be a blessing, Paul commands us not to desire it. He writes in 1 Timothy, "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wanderd away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (6:9-10) This desire for wealth is what gets us in trouble, not the actual wealth itself.
How can wealth be a blessing, if there is so much temptation attached to misuse it? The answer is to Give generously. God loves a cheerful giver (1 Cor. 9:7). We are to find joy in giving! There are many passages in Scripture that command giving. Later in 1 Timothy, Paul commands: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, not to set their hopes on the uncertainity of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (6:17-19) Proverbs 11:24 describes one of the blessings of giving: "One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want." When God blesses us with wealth, it is our joy to give to furthering His kingdom! Not only that, but those who give receive further blessings in return. Just like in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), if we are faithful in a little, God will set us over much.
I think this is why I so desire to live simply, and I don't understand others who appear to be chasing the wind (although I really can't know their hearts). I don't want or need to be bogged down with excess money, with its worries and temptations, when it could be used so much more responsibly elsewhere. If God happens to bless Hubby and I with wealth later down the road, we don't need to see it as a hinderance to simplicity. What joy to give it away!
If you would like to read more about this subject, I highly recommend "The Treasure Principle" by Randy Alcorn. It's a short and sweet little book that talks about the joy of giving.
"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce." Proverbs 3:9