Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wealth Accumulation And GOD

I love my brother. He truly is a beautiful soul. It saddens me to see him not walking with God and it saddens me to see him believe in the poverty perpetuating left. His challenge to me was to do a Bible Study on the accumulation of wealth. I accepted that challenge and am prepared to present this study to my BS group on Monday night.

At first blush, the unstudied Bible, without thorough context, appears to condemn the accumulation of wealth. Oft cited passages of Scripture such as “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:25) and “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20) suggest that possession of wealth is suspect while poverty is virtuous. These verses, of course, should be balanced by others that present wealth differently. In the Old Testament, it says that wealth is to be regarded as God’s blessing to be enjoyed (Eccl. 5:18-20) and a result of one’s diligence (Prov. 10:4-5).

In the New Testament, Paul advises Timothy to keep wealth in proper perspective (1 Tim. 6:6-19), and Paul acknowledges that God gives generously to his people for their enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17). This acknowledgment is balanced by warnings not to trust in your wealth because of the temptation to become arrogant and of the uncertainty involved in keeping wealth (Eccl. 5:8-6:12), and on the flip side, to be content with one’s economic station in life.

The Bible distinguishes between possession of wealth and love of wealth. This is important because only the love of wealth is condemned (1 Tim. 6:10). The love of wealth and desire to become rich bring many temptations and have the potential to destroy your spiritual life (1 Tim. 6:9). The members of the early church and the crowds who followed Jesus were both rich and poor. From what is known of Jesus’ background and his trade as a carpenter, it appears that he lived a middle class lifestyle in contrast to many portrayals of him in poverty. It doesn't seem that being rich is a problem in Scripture, but hoarding your wealth when surrounded by poverty is a sign of selfishness and greed.

Throughout Scripture, the rich are condemned for their callousness to the needs of the poor (Amos 4:1-4; James 2:1-7). The early days of the church were characterized by an extraordinary generosity toward the poor, many of whom constituted the majority of the membership in the early church (Acts 2:43-47). Though the pattern of the early church did not involve a socialistic style of holding property in common, it did involve more awareness of the needs of the poor.

Though the Bible says you may own private property, this right isn't absolute. It's tempered by the reality that all property belongs to God and that we are all stewards of God’s property. God has entrusted his property to us both for our personal needs and enjoyment and for use to achieve God’s purposes (such as meeting the needs of the poor). (Having a large government step in and be virtuous for us is never suggested in the Bible, by the way.)

The gathering of wealth 2,000 years ago was full of potential problems which made it easy to view those who had wealth with a moral and spiritual raised eyebrow. Though the temptations facing the pursuit of wealth today shouldn't be minimized, some important differences exist between the modern and ancient economic systems that at least partially account for the strong cautions about wealth.

Back then, as a general rule, people became wealthy differently than today. The economic system back then was centered around subsistence farming with limited commerce and trade. Real estate was the primary hard asset. The economy was a “zero sum game.” Economic resources were mostly fixed, so when one person got rich, someone else became poor. Or, to a pie guy, the economy was like a pie. When someone took a larger piece, someone else received a smaller piece.

Taking advantage of the poor occurred very regularly and is one of the reasons why the Bible so often condemns exploitation of the poor. There were very few morally legitimate ways to acquire great wealth back then. In most cases, the rich became richer at the expense of the poor, and when someone was rich, they had usually acquired it through some immoral means. As a result, the rich were viewed with suspicion and great emphasis was placed on the potential temptations of becoming wealthy.

The poor certainly continue to be exploited today, but the zero-sum game type of economic system no longer exists. In fact, the economy today is nothing like a zero-sum game. In modern economies, the economic pie is constantly growing. Wealth is created instead of just transferred. Every time a company makes a profit, wealth is created and the size of the pie gets bigger. This is why the rich can become richer while at the same time the poor can also be better off.

The incomes of the poor can and have increased at the same time that the rich get richer. If you get rich, it is not a fair assumption today, that someone else is worse off because of it. In today's modern market economy, wealth is always being created, so it's possible for you to become rich without succumbing to the temptations that the Bible warns against. Today’s market economy makes it far easier to be rich and virtuous than the economic system of old did.

Don't get me wrong; warnings not to give in to the temptations associated with the pursuit of wealth still apply today, as do the commands to share generously with those in need. Your attitude toward and generosity with your money are matters of the heart that haven't changed since the days of Jesus. No matter how much money you have, you are still expected to depend on God, not on money, to share a loving Godly heart for the poor, and to be generous toward those in need.

Having gone through this exercise, I am afraid I have to maintain my original point of view. I have not skewed any facts to defend a political stance, nor have I closed my mind to opposing points of view. If you would like to discuss this further, dear brother, I would be honored to further explore an opposing point of view. I will always speak from the heart when discussing God. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to present this topic in a manner that might result in you someday realizing that to attain Heaven, all you need do is believe that Jesus died for your sins (because NONE of us are good enough to get there on our own). I love you, brother. I eagerly await your comments.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for addressing my suggestion.
    That said, I believe you have completely disregarded the issue facing our country today- the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. This is happening in large part due to the "government intervention" that you speak about.
    The Republican policies of deregulation and lowering the tax rates of corporations and the ultra-rich have created and are perpetuating the downward spiral of our economy.
    This nation will be a 2-class nation VERY SOON- a ruling class and a serf class.
    I suggested this exercise to my brother for one simple reason--- I believe that the Christian way is that those who have more are MORALLY OBLIGATED to help those who are less fortunate.
    Conversely, I believe that those who are the recipients of said help are similarly obligated to use said help in the manner in which it was intended (simply put- not to buy drugs, etc.).

    Feel free to judge me. I lead a less than perfect life, and I do not define myself as a Christian. I do, however, believe that I am a person who is guided by my morals- I believe I was raised well (at least by todays' standards), and my political leanings are dictated by my moral compass, and not the other way around.
    In a nutshell--- STOP YOUR OBSESSION FOR THOSE WHO ARE ABUSING THE SYSTEM, AND FOCUS ON THE FACT THAT THIS NATIONS' SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON KEEPING THE GENERAL POPULATION SOLVENT!!!
    Seriously- look at the link that started this dispute between brothers- Bernie Sanders' speech to Congress on 12/07. The egregious growth of the upper class while all others are free-falling into poverty (myself included) is APPALLING! Just watch it, and LISTEN. SERIOUSLY--- LISTEN. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7q5F2u1I_Q

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  2. Amen, jefftd. I am by no means wealthy, but as long as there are others with less than me, I will always have enough to give. Simply because it is the moral thing to do.

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  3. Unfortunately, Jeff, your poster child, the gentleman from Vermont, is a politician spouting falsehood. The poor in this country are getting LESS poor every year. Their standard of living has been steadily INCREASING since 1983.

    I AM compassionate and I DO give freely to the poor. The perpetuation of poverty because of the tiny check the government dangles in front of the poor is the reason there is multi-generational poverty. 42% of those klicked off the "system" have a 66% HIGHER income within 3 years of being removed from welfare!

    This perpetuation of poverty is indeed caused by greedy politicians wishing to keep their party in power. Why do the poor keep voting Democrat? That party has held them down for far too long with their false hope. Remember all the videos of people celebrating because Obama was going to give them free stuff?

    I say end poverty NOW by truly helping the poor rather than keeping them in their hovels with a tiny check each month. Educate them and put them to work. End the perpetual cycle of hopelessness.

    Your challenge to me was to authenticate your argument on Biblical truth. I researched and my findings were contrary to what you wanted them to be. II was hoping this was an exercise with open-minded participants. I listened to Vermont make inaccurate statememnts about the division of classes but he never once mentioned that the poor in America today have a substantially hiugher standard of living than they did just 20 years ago.

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  4. I left Islam for Christ Jesus, many years ago. Thanks be to God, political Christianity then was near nonexistent; otherwise, I may have never know my Lord and Savior.
    However, nearly all redress of social inequities and injustice was brought about the people you call "poverty perpetuating left" Had America waited for Christianity of Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, etc. to be agents of righteous change, we would still be waiting. It is God's prerogative to choose whoever he wants to do his work; even through the secular, like your brother. Perhaps there is nothing more haughty than Christians believing only they have morals, and only they can be called upon.

    Reading Mr Ward's article that interlaced Bible verses with political bias and slogans (bigger pie myth) made me want to spit. I do not doubt his faith and love for Lord Jesus. But Mr. Ward's political religiosity stinks to high heaven.

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  5. Mr John,
    I am indeed a believer and always striving to strengthen my walk with Him. I am also a politically active conservative. I try not to mix the two but in this case, I was posed a very specific question that combined the two topics.

    I know many liberals who are wonderful caring people. I did not mean to suggest that conservatives are "better" people. I did, however, mean what I said about government policies that perptuate poverty. It has been policy for long enough now, that any honest thinking person can see it. Multi-generational welfare families disgust me. Not the people, the policies that create the lifestyle.

    I am thrilled that you have found the love of Jesus, John. I live my life to serve others and love seeing others that serve, however they serve. I will never stop praying that my brother accepts Jesus. I am fairly certain that we will talk politics again too.

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