An All Too Common Story
“Tom” is a doting father of four kids: 3 boys and one infant daughter. (When Tom’s daughter reaches dating age, dates will need to certainly prove their perseverance with four men to win over.) His three boys are athletic and are all under 14 years of age. So you can imagine and you will be right: Tom is a busy man. I have had the pleasure of teaching Tom at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. He is a great thinker and student. Tom is a repair man/janitor at his church and he drives an old Ford pick up truck; a truck with a large loading bed. Most importantly, Tom suffers from being kind-hearted.
One Friday evening, Tom was asked by a Christian man [a doctor] to load and deliver some tables and chairs early Saturday morning. Tom initially told the doctor that he was busy and had to get his sons to their various athletic contests and did not want to be rushed; so Tom politely said, “No.” However, the doctor insisted and said to Tom, “I’ll make it worth your while.” Tom reluctantly agreed to help this man not because of his “worth while” offer but because Tom is kind-hearted Christian man.
Rising early the next day and alone, Tom made 3 trips loading and transporting tables and metal chairs in his gas guzzling pick up truck. Exhausted and rushed for time, Tom met up with his Christian friend [a doctor] to see how he might make it worth his while only to be given a whopping $50 dollars! Tom was livid but bit his tongue. Need I remind the reader that this was in May 2008 when gas prices were approaching $4 per gallon? After Tom recounted this story to me, I could have screamed, “No, this is injustice!”
The subject of this article is, “How do we love the rich?”
It is undeniable that Scripture affirms and tells all Christians this: “the blessed are to be a blessing to others.” Naturally, the question becomes, who are the blessed? God told Abram that he would be a blessing to the nations in Genesis 12:1-3. Abram, a former idolater, was a privileged member of the “blessed club.” All people who have been redeemed by Yahweh are members of the blessed community or the covenant family. That includes you the reader. Privileges accompany our membership in this covenant family but there are also concomitant responsibilities. (Pause for a moment and consider how God has blessed you.) One chief responsibility as a member of this blessed community is to be a blessing to others (especially to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ). This “blessing” to others can take many forms. Consider these four examples how we might be a blessing to others:
Sometimes a blessing to others means doing something tangible and concrete. For instance, the elderly often need a ride from home to their doctor’s appointments or to do light grocery shopping. We can be a blessing to this segment of our population by assuming the role of a free taxi driver for a day. Or when a person is grieving over the death of a loved one, preparing meals or doing their housework or running errands for them is being a blessing.
Sometimes a blessing to others means saying a kind and encouraging word. Words are powerful living creatures as James reminds scattered Jewish brothers and sisters (and by inference us) in James 3:1-18. Scripture reminds us that our words should be chosen very carefully and that our words can build a person up or conversely, rip a person. Consider the vivid imagery in Proverbs 12:18: “there is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Yes, that childhood jingle; “sticks and stone may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me” is a first class myth. Use your tongue to bless others. This is exactly the point of Ephesians 5:19 where Paul tells the church to address one another in “…psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” The point is not to serenade each other but to edify one another as songs and hymns edify us.
Sometimes a blessing to others takes the form of extending warm hospitality to others. The word hospitality means to “love a stranger” in the Greek as in Romans 12:13. We actually demonstrate love to a Christian brother or sister who we are acquainted with or not acquainted with when we provide them with a meal and a place to lay their head. What a great opportunity “empty nesters” have: they can open their homes to out of town or out of country college students and provide a free room.
Sometimes a blessing to others means being generous with your material blessings and lending a helping hand to someone in need. Every Christian knows what it means to be in need (or every Christian should know). Our doctor who knows Tom very well missed an opportunity to bless him out of his material blessings. Why did Tom’s doctor friend fail to bless him?
Reasons for Failure: Teach the Whole Counsel of God, Part 1
I contend that the primary reason Christians like Tom’s friend fail to bless others out of their material blessings is because of the church’s failure to properly and biblically love the rich well. How does Scripture tell us to love the rich? Let me propose only one remedy: Teach the whole counsel of God or the full breath of God’s word (cover to cover)! Specifically, four key principles for life will emerge not only for the rich but for all Christians when the “whole counsel of God” is taught.
Price of our redemption. Christ, our Passover Lamb, died a humiliating and painful death in our places and assuaged the anger of God against us. Jesus Christ was the ransom offered to free us from our captors of sin and despotic Satan. When I consider the huge and unquantifiable price of my redemption, I ask as King David did in Psalm 116:12, “what shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” Should I render Him praise, yes! But much more, I offer my body and my “things” as a willing sacrifice to advance the Kingdom of God. This is Paul’s point in Romans 12:1-2. When I offer my body as a living sacrifice, I am surrendering all that I have (body, gifts, material things) for the Master’s use. In simple terms, advancing the kingdom means helping others. Consider Acts 2:42-46. After hearing the word of God, the early church responded in kind by selling what they had to help those materially who did not have. This is the Kingdom of God’s version of a welfare program: the haves helping the have nots. Luke, the writer, is not suggesting selling your SUV or your home but rather he is suggesting we are richer than we think and we can bless others out of our abundance. And John tells us that our display of tangible love for one another testifies to the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples (see John 13:34-35). So, our loving care for other brothers and sisters in Christ is an apologetic.
Hold riches lightly. If teachers taught the whole counsel of God, then they will undoubtedly cover terrain that speaks clearly about a Christian’s view of money. For example, of all the gospels, Luke addresses money and God’s opinion of money more than the other gospel writers. If teachers taught the whole counsel of God, then they will cover territory that strongly encourages the rich to hold their riches lightly and to be generous. While covering this landscape, teachers will cover such passages as Luke 18:18-30 which is ironically (and providentially) juxtaposed with Luke 19:1-10. Consider the similarities and one major difference of the two men highlighted in these texts: the unknown Rich Young Ruler (RYR) and Zacchaeus.
Both the Rich Young Ruler (RYR) and Zacchaeus are enormously rich. We are not told how the RYR amassed his riches but we know from Luke 19:1-10, that Zacchaeus become rich by defrauding and robbing his fellow Jews.
Both the RYR and Zacchaeus had a love affair with riches; both bowed the knee to the god of money. Money had both men in its oppressive and firm grip.
Both men were leaders – the Rich Young Ruler was a religious ruler or magistrate and Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector for the Roman authorities. (Interestingly, the word, “chief tax collector” is only used here in the New Testament.)
Both men had a personal and providential rendezvous with Jesus.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus led him to repent. Zacchaeus was truly repentant and his actions were proof as he gave away half his possessions to the poor. And as Tannehill suggests, “there is no reference of anything being left over.” The rich young religious ruler left Jesus with a sad countenance because of the two demands of being a Jesus follower: being generous and serving God alone.
Warning: Do Not Exploit the Rich or Assume. Teachers (and preachers) of the word of truth must also warn others not to take advantage of the rich and not to regard them as a “personal ATM” but persons made in God’s image. As such, the rich must be treated with dignity and respect. Another mistake we make is assuming that people we perceive as rich (doctors, athletes, lawyers) are indeed rich. The cliché “we can not judge a book by its cover” is appropriate here.
Let Justice Roll. After rebuking in unflattering terms their spiritual worship with is out of step with their Monday through Sunday unspiritual living, Amos tells the Israelites in Amos 5:24: “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Personal righteousness or holiness is linked to justice. When I am a champion of justice, righteousness flows. When I am champion of justice and mercy to the less advantaged, righteousness flows. When I give away to rather than take from the economically disadvantaged, justice is rolling like waters. Helping the economically disadvantaged is akin to ushering in justice to help balance the scales. The poor often stand out in our congregations and they have faces. Consider the widow, the foreigner or the single parent. You see, we need not go very far to find those who we can help.
Reasons for Failure: Teach the Whole Counsel of God, Part 2
Sound gospel-graced centered teaching must consider our “context” or times in which we live. That is, our teaching must not only be hermeneutically sound and doctrinally precise but apologetically robust. For example, in America, Bible teachers and Christians alike must unswervingly and winsomely attack the idols of our culture. One obvious idol of culture that has rich and not so rich alike captive is materialism.
Simply speaking, someone is materialistic if he or she has more than what is needed. So, along the materialism continuum, everyone can find a place. However, some are entangled in a form of materialism that the late Solzhenitsyn called “vulgar materialism.” Consequently, many of us – including the rich – can not help others because we are obsessed with “brighter, bigger, and better bling.” So, gospel centered teaching must address the stark difference between “need” and “want.” We must also teach and model the virtues of simplicity and contentment. What would happen if an outbreak of contentment occurred in the United States? What would happen if the rich (and us) were less self-indulgent as James 5:1-6 encourages? (‘Self-indulgence’ in this context means to indulge oneself beyond the bounds of propriety; it is indulgence with no rules, no restraint.)
Christian friends like Tom’s doctor friend should be loved by other brothers and sisters in general and teachers in particular, gracefully and truthfully, by reminding them of the amazingly huge price paid for their redemption, by reminding them to hold their things lightly, and by reminding them that they can usher in economic justice when they are lovingly and selflessly generous with their material things. And all of us must be alert to the seductive lure and demanding idol of materialism. And for all of us: once we have identified this idol endeavor to demolish it and then move on to the next idol! Thank God for progressive sanctification; or becoming like Jesus will take a lifetime and more.
Questions1. What is your view of the rich? Name the sources or personal events that contributed to the development of your view of the rich?
2. Count the ways that you are “rich”. For example, if you have the use of both eyes, you are “rich.”
3. How can you break materialism’s grip on you?
4. What are some other ways can we love the rich?
5. Are you materialistic? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being content with what you have?
6. In what ways have you taken advantage or tried to exploit the rich?
7. What does contentment mean in a culture that sells discontent?
8. If you are a parent, how can you teach and model contentment to your kids?
9. Study James 5:1-6. What is explicitly discouraged? What is implicitly encouraged?
SourceTannehill, R. C., The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Vol. 1, The Gospel According to Luke, 1986.
For Solzhenitsyn see National Public Radio. See www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93250748.