Living Richly

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

--Jim Elliot
Once I was winning
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"
The 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.

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

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  1. Amy said...
    I agree :) I struggle with this issue too. I remember a missionary friend looking at a very fancy new car and saying, "Do you have any idea how many churches I could plant with the money they spent on that car?"

    John Piper's book "Desiring God" is one of my favourites. It has a great chapter about money and the Christian life.
    Anonymous said...
    I think this is an issue most Christians in rich countries like the USA and Australia struggle with, or should struggle with!

    One thing I find hard is defining greed. When does enjoyment of God's blessings end and greed begin? There is nothing wrong with living a comfortable life and having beautiful posessions, so what does it take to be a greedy person? Does it mean you are always grasping for more? If so, you could be poor and greedy.

    I often remind myself that on a world and historical scale I am rich, even though in Australia I am classified as a low income earner and thus I am able to use the online access center computers right now for free! I often pray that God will help me not to be so covetous - always seeing things I want and wanting more than I have.
    Ashley said...
    Beth, this is such a great post! Our world puts a lot of focus on wealth. I struggle with that; wanting to strive for the standard of living that I envy. I think God is really trying to break me of that right now. :-)

    I think part of living richly is being content in how much you do have, whether a lot or little. I've always been on the poorer side (compared to the rest of my country), and I must admit I let envy get the best of me many a-time (especially with my wedding, comparing to my friends who were able to have "everything they wanted" - completely unfair to be comparing myself, I know).
    Anonymous said...
    Very good post. I too have a hard time with all the American consumerism I see infiltrating the church - so frustrating at times!

    I really like this question you posed: "How can wealth be a blessing, if there is so much temptation attached to misuse it?"
    Very interesting question with a very good answer, in my opinion.

    I've read The Treasure Principle. I really enjoyed it as well! Another book I would highly recommend (which touches on this topic, but others as well) would be Revolution in World Mission. You can get it free from Great book. Powerful message.
    Ashley said...
    Hannah! Your comment appeared on the "recent comments" section of the sidebar! I think this is a first. :-)
    sue said...
    Hello! I found you from Sallie's blog.I'm looking to join the celebration of Abundance. One thing that bothered me this year is my circle from church has secret pals and puts on a big Christmas party. This year I was struck by the thought why are we buying all this 'clutter' for each other during the year and why aren't we doing something for a charity with all this money instead? I can't wait to see how trying to live by 'Use it up,wear it out'etc will lead! I don't blog but will follow along!
    Ashley said...
    Thanks for commenting, Sue! I completely agree. My company has a Christmas gift exchange where we have to bring gifts $15-$20. It always bugs me because I hate spending that much on a gift that someone wouldn't even use. This year I just got a gas station gift card; I figured anyone could use that. :-) I'd rather do an ornament exchange or a $5 gifts... sigh, oh well.

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