As we continue to seek out A Carefree Attitude Towards Possessions through the lens of Ron Sider’s challenging book, ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ let me go back a paragraph to remind us where we are and then continue with words i hope you will wrestle with and share with your friends:
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Matthew, Mark and Luke all recall the terrible warning: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”(Luke 18.24, Mark 10.23, Matthew 19.23). The context of this saying shows why possessions are dangerous. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples immediately after the rich young man had decided to cling to his wealth rather than follow Jesus (Luke 18.18-23). Riches are dangerous because their seductive power very frequently persuades us to reject Jesus and His kingdom.
The sixth chapter of 1 Timothy underlines and reinforces Jesus’ teaching. Christians should be content with the necessities of food and clothing (1 Timothy 6.8). Why?
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6.9-10).
A desire for riches prompts people to do anything for the sake of economic success. The result, Scripture warns, is anguish now and damnation later.
That economic success tempts people to forget God was already a biblical theme in the Old Testament. Before they entered the promised land, God warned the people of Israel about the danger of riches.
Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God… lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied. and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God… Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8.11-17).
An abundance of possessions can easily lead us to forget that God is the source of all good. We trust in ourselves and our wealth rather than in the Almighty.
Not only do our possessions tempt us to forsake God. War and neglect of the poor often result from the pursuit of wealth. “What causes wars and what causes fights among you?… You desire and you do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war” (James 4.1-2). A cursory reading of the world history confirms this point.
Instead of fostering more compassion towards the poor, riches often harden the hearts of the wealthy. Scripture is full of instances in which rich persons are unconcerned about the poor at their doorstep (Luke 16.19-31, Isaiah 5.8-10, Amos 6.4-7, James 5.1-5). Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian archbishop who devoted his life to seeking justice for the poor, makes the point forcefully:
I used to think, when I was a child, that Christ might have been exaggerating when He warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness. Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips and hearts.
Possessions are positively dangerous because they often encourage unconcern for the poor, because they lead to strife and war, and because they seduce people into forsaking God.
The usage of the word covetousness (it occurs nineteen times in the New Testament) reflects the biblical understanding of the dangers of riches. The Greek word pleonexia (translated “covetousness”) means “striving for material possessions”.
Jesus’s parable of the rich fool vividly portrays the nature of covetousness. When a man came running to Jesus for help in obtaining his share of a family inheritance, Jesus refused to consider the case. Perceiving the real problem, Jesus warned instead of the danger of covetousness [pleonexia]; for man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12.15). Knowing that the man was obsessed with material things, Jesus told him a story about a rich fool.
The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say t my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, where will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12.16-21).
The rich fool is the epitome of the covetous person. He has a greedy compulsion to acquire more and more possessions even though he does not need them. And his phenomenal success at piling up more and more property and wealth leads to the blasphemous conclusion that material possessions can satisfy all his needs. From the divine perspective, however, this attitude is sheer madness. He is a raving fool.
One cannot read the parable of the rich fool without thinking of our own society. We madly multiply more sophisticated gadgets, larger and taller buildings and faster means of transportation not because such things truly enrich our lives but because we are driven by an obsession for more and more. Covetousness – a striving for more and more material possessions – has become a cardinal vice of Western civilisation.
The New Testament has a great deal to say about covetousness. It is divine punishment for sin. In its essence, it is idolatry. Scripture teaches that greedy persons must be expelled from the church. Certainly no covetous person will inherit the kingdom.
In Romans 1 Paul indicates that God sometimes punishes sin by letting sinners experience the ever more destructive consequences of their continuing rebellion against Him. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, … murder, strife, deceit…” (Romans 1.28-29, my emphasis). Covetousness is one of the sins with which God punishes our rebellion. The parable of the rich fool suggests how the punishment works out. Since we are made for communion with the Creator, we cannot obtain genuine fulfilment when we seek it in material possessions. Hence we seek ever more frantically and desperately for more and more houses and barns. Eventually we worship our possessions. As Paul indicates, covetousness is finally sheer idolatry (Ephesians 5.5; Colossians 3.5).
Paul actually commanded the Corinthians to exercise church discipline against covetous persons (1 Corinthians 5.11). Christians today are not at all surprised that he urged the Corinthians to excommunicate a church member living with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5.1-5). But we quietly overlook the fact that Paul went right on (1 Corinthians 5.11) to urge Christians not to associate with or even eat meals with persons who claim to be Christians but who are guilty of greed! Are we not guilty of covetousness when we demand an ever higher standard of living while a billion hungry neighbours starve? Is it not time for the church to begin applying church discipline to those guilty of this sin? Would it not be more biblical to apply church discipline to people whose greedy acquisitiveness has led to “financial success” than to elect them to the board of elders?
Such action may be the last means we have of communicating the biblical warning that greedy persons will not inherit the kingdom.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor theives, nor the greedy [the covetous], nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6.9-10, my emphasis). Covetousness is just as sinful as idolatry and adultery.
The same vigorous, unambiguous word appears in Ephesians: “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolator), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 5.5). These biblical passages should drive us all to our knees. I am afraid that I have been repeatedly and sinfully covetous. The same is true of the vast majority of Western Christians.
Possessions are highly dangerous. They lead to a multitude of sins, including idolatry. Western Christians today desperately need to turn away from their covetous civilisation’s grasping materialism.
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