What is “rich?”
“Rich” is a term, like “old,” that almost always applies to someone else. Francis Bacon famously said “I will never be and old man. To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”
In this way we never really get to the meaning of the term. So what does it mean to be “rich?”
Today there will be about 800-million people in the world who will not be able to eat. Have you already eaten at least one meal today? Are you planning on eating again, even if you don’t, could you? These 800-million people look at you and say “they’re rich.”
Right now, about a billion people on earth don’t have access to clean drinking water. Can you walk over to the sink and turn on the tap? Does filtered water come out of your refrigerator? Could you get to a convenience store in the next 10 min. and buy water in a bottle? These billion people would look at you and say “they’re rich.”
God has something to say to us:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty 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.
Those of us who are blessed by God through riches should use what we are given to bless others. We should not have a “haughty” attitude or somehow think that we are able to take care of ourselves. It’s only by the grace of God that we have what we have. We need to be characterized by generosity, we need to be ready to share.
And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
The early church establishes a good pattern for us, we need to be ready to give to those who have need. Not everyone who asks is in need, and not everyone in need asks, but we should be ready to help, really help.
We should never give money to someone who is “walking in idleness” (cf. 2Thess 3:6-12). I also think someone who chooses to have cable/satellite TV, a car payment, a mortgage, and other luxuries should not keep coming back to the church for assistance. Look, emergencies happen to us all from time to time, but to simply give money to someone, without leading them to be better stewards of what has been entrusted to them, is itself poor stewardship.
It is also important to not only invest in the right causes, but to invest in them in the right way. It is an emotional thing, and that makes it hard. We see an ad on TV or we hear about a need, a genuine need, and we are moved to action. We pull out or pocketbook and write a check. Perhaps we even go on a trip to dig a well for a village to give them access to clean water. Then we feel better, but did we really change anything? Sure, perhaps we met an immediate need, but have we broken the cycle of poverty? There’s a great book about this called “When Helping Hurts“
Obviously, if someone needs water, is starving, needs clothing, or is without shelter, it is a good thing to provide for their immediate need. However, poverty is not simply a lack of money, we cannot stop there. Billions of dollars are spent every year to help alleviate poverty, and poverty does not substantially decline. I am afraid that much of that money is wasted, God’s resources are squandered.
You have got to realize that you are rich. 90% of the world does not have a car, if your family has a car, you are rich. When we complain about our situation, that is the equivalent of a giant “face-palm” to God. He has blessed you with the resources you have, it’s not His fault you have wasted them on fast-food or cigarettes (or whatever). To compare yourself to someone who has more than you, and whine to God about it, is the height of ungratefulness (see Numbers 11). We can all make better choices, and thus not only be able to live within our means, but also help others to do the same. We all have more than we need, or was Jesus incorrect in Matthew 6:33?
I would highly recommend Financial Peace University if you are trying to get your financial house in order, but here’s the basic principle that I try to live by: “no one owes us anything, don’t spend what you don’t have.”
We also should realize that every man has the same basic need, it is a spiritual one, not primarily a physical one. People make themselves slaves to things, you don’t have to travel to a third-world country to find people who are enslaved (cf. Prov 22:7), it is the nature of the human condition. The Gospel is a message that brings freedom and breaks the fetters of bondage. Sure, we need to alleviate physical suffering, but what difference does it make if we feed someone but don’t share the Gospel with them? Is our goal to make people comfortable or to make people disciples? We (the church) must do both, we have the resources, we are simply squandering them.
You don’t have to feel guilty because you have so much, God has given you riches “to enjoy” them (see above), you simply need to not keep it all for yourself. Don’t feel bad about what you have, unless what you have is more than you can afford with a kingdom mindset. “Love your neighbor” (Luke 10:25-37) was not a suggestion or a marketing slogan, it’s what we should order our lives to do.
Are you “rich?” You may not feel like it, but likely you are. We have been entrusted with a lot and “to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). So how are you doing? Let’s stop acting as though someone owes us something for nothing, and let’s start using what God has given us for His kingdom. If we did, wouldn’t that change the world? What do you think?