The Danger of Wealth*

Time and time again, we read in the Scriptures that wealth and riches are deceptive and dangerous. Jesus even goes as far as to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The Bible overwhelmingly conveys that this pursuit is dangerous, yet most of the world, including many Christians, is fixated on becoming rich.

Pursuing wealth is not a new thing. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples the story of the unjust steward who was mismanaging his master’s money (Luke 16:1-13) and warns them, “You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees who were also listening to this story ridiculed Him, and this show of contempt was motivated by their favorable view of being rich in material possessions. 

The Pharisees believed that being rich was a sign of being spiritual. The wealthier a person was, the more he was thought to be favored and blessed by God, a reward for his righteous conduct. In contrast, poor people were believed to be sinful and under God’s judgment because of their unrighteous conduct.

Of course, this view isn’t supported by the Scripture, and Jesus’ response shows that he opposes this belief. He said to them, “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15 ESV) Furthermore, he knew their hearts and was not impressed with their outward appearances or wealth. 

Jesus isn’t against someone having riches or wealth. He is, however, against riches getting between him and his people and when it’s used to divide people instead of bringing them together.

At this time, America and many other countries are experiencing social unrest. A significant part of this is due to economic inequality. It is not the scope of this article to dive into the reasons for this growing inequality, but rather to point it out because regardless of which side of the debate you land on, the answers will not be found in government policies, higher taxes for the rich, or any number of strategies our leaders are suggesting. The answers lie in the hands of every person, and more so for those of us who the gospel has enlightened.

We have one Creator, God, Savior, and Provider from whom comes all that we have. The wealthy person’s wealth comes from and belongs to God. So do the poor person’s few possessions. There is nothing that we have that hasn’t been given to us. Our responsibility and response to this provision will define our stewardship and determine our reward.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

After addressing the contemptuous response of the Pharisees about money, Jesus shares what I believe is one of the most sobering stories he ever told. The story of The Rich Man and Lazarus is universal. Though Jesus was specifically addressing the disbelief and disobedience of the Pharisees, the implications and warnings also apply to us, and we must take them seriously.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” (Luke 16:19-23 ESV)

There’s something that immediately stands out in this passage. The rich man “was clothed,” which hints at the fact that God clothed him and gave him his wealth. Similarly, the poor man “was laid” at the rich man’s gate. We are not told who carried him to the rich man’s gate, but it isn’t a stretch to believe that due to his poor health, he could not have done it on his own.

Both the rich man and Lazarus were, in different ways, provided by God. The rich man was given everything he needed and more. Lazarus was given the opportunity to receive what he needed daily by the charity of others.

Now, you and I can debate whether it was fair for the rich man to have so much while Lazarus lived in poverty and suffering, dependent on others. That’s what the world is doing right now; arguing over what’s fair and equitable and trying to convince their respective leaders to create laws to force equality. Yet, it’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t address the inequality or fairness of the situation, but he does hit at the solution.

Jesus continues the story: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:24-28 ESV)

Though Abraham doesn’t directly say it, he implies that the rich man’s lack of compassion in sharing his abundance with Lazarus, and likely with others, is the reason for his current situation. The fact that there’s no argument or rebuttal is sufficient to conclude that he knew he hadn’t believed and obeyed the Scripture.

The Law of Moses gave clear instructions on how to deal with the poor and warnings on how not to (see Deuteronomy 15:7-11 ESV). Yet, by ignoring them and living selfishly he missed the opportunity to be part of God’s plan to bring provision to Lazarus. People are asking for equality through force. Jesus is offering equality and prosperity to all people through acts of obedience and generosity.

Knowing his faith was justified, the rich man’s concern turns to his still-living brothers, who were apparently living similar lives as he had, and pleads with Abraham in an effort to help them avoid his fate. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'” 

It’s hard to believe that anyone would ignore the warnings of a person who was raised from the dead, but that’s what Abraham is suggesting, that even if someone came back from the dead to speak to the rich man’s brothers, they would not repent, and they would not change.

Well, guess what? Someone did come back from the dead. Sometime after telling this story, Jesus was crucified, buried, and after three days rose from death, and the Pharisees who loved money still didn’t believe in him and didn’t repent of their selfish ways. Though they had the law and knew what they should do, they rejected it and Jesus.

This parable isn’t about money, though Jesus tells it in response to the Pharisee’s ridicule of his view on money. No, this parable is about believing in God and obeying his laws and commandments, which teaches us how we should manage his provision, including wealth, as well as other principles necessary for godly living.

You cannot serve God and money.

You cannot be truly committed to God, use money in the way you see fit, and ignore what God says you should do with his stuff! That’s the sobering message of this story. 

The rich man was not unrighteous because he had wealth; he was unrighteous because he chose to live for himself and disobey God’s instructions, ultimately leading him to reject God. Lazarus was not righteous because he was poor; he was righteous because he depended on and trusted in God for his provision.

Who are you dependent on?

Who influences you in the management of your money? Is it God’s word and his voice, or your wants and desires? Your stewardship reveals your commitment to God and his word and, ultimately, your future reward. Choose rightly.

*Christian Stewardship Network: posted 07.07.2022.

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