Continuing the passage i am sharing from the Ron Sider book, ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’, i’ll back up one paragraph just to remind us where we were:
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If there are poor people who need assistance, Jesus’ carefree disciple will help – even if that means selling possessions. People are vastly more important than property. “Laying up treasure in heaven” means exactly the same thing. “In Jewish literature, the good deeds of a religious person are often described as treasures stored up in heaven.” One stores up treasure in heaven by doing righteousness on earth. And aiding the poor is one of the most basic acts of righteousness. Jesus does not mean, of course, that we earn salvation by assisting the needy. But He does mean to urge His followers to be so unconcerned with property that they eagerly sell it to aid the poor and oppressed. Such activity is an integral part of living a life of joyful unconcern for possessions.
But a difficult question remains. Did Jesus mean that we should sell all our possessions? How literally should we understand what He said in Luke 6.30: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and of him who takes your goods do not ask them again”? Jesus sometimes engaged in typical Jewish hyperbole to make a point. He hardly meant in Luke 14.26 that one must actively hate father and mother in order to be His disciple. But we have become so familiar with Jesus’ words and so accustomed to compromising their call to radical discipleship and unconditional commitment that we weaken His real intent. What 99 percent of all Western Christians need to hear 99 percent of the time is: “Give to everyone who begs from you” and “sell your possessions”. It is certainly true that Jesus’ followers continued to own some private property. But Jesus clearly taught that the kind of substantial sharing He desired would involve selling possessions. His first followers at Jerusalem took Him very seriously. If Christians today in affluent countries want to experience Jesus” carefree outlook on property and possessions, they will need to do the same.
Other parts of the New Testament continue the same theme. Bishops must not be lovers of money (1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7). Deacons likewise dare not be “greedy for gain” (1 Timothy 3.8). In many churches today, “success” in business is one of the chief criteria for selection to the church board. Is that not a blatant reversal of biblical teaching on the importance of possessions? Even those who are rich should be careful not to set their hope in “uncertain riches”. Instead they should trust in God and share generously (1 Timothy 6.17-18). “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you”‘ (Hebrews 13.5). Our future is secure not because of our possessions but because it rests in the hands of a loving, omnipotent Father.
If we truly trust in Him and are unconditionally submitted to His lordship, we can confidently imitate Jesus’ carefree unconcern for property and possessions.
THE RICH FOOL
Most Christians in the Northern Hemisphere simply do not believe Jesus’ teaching about the deadly danger of possessions. We all know that Jesus warned that possessions are highly dangerous – so dangerous in fact that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to be a Christian at all. “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 (Luke 18.24,25).
But we do not believe Jesus. We Christians in the West live in the richest society in the history of the world surrounded by a billion hungry neighbours. Yet we demand that our government foster an ever-expanding economy in order that our incomes will increase every year. We insist on more and more. If Jesus was so unlike us that He considered riches dangerous, then we must ignore or reinterpret His message.
But He said it all the same. 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.
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It might be helpful for me, Brett Fish, to jump in here quickly. As i was reading this i was reminded of a camp i spoke on in Americaland last year. It was a youth camp that took place on a bunch of houseboats in the middle of Lake Shasta in California, so we are talking a really wealthy church and 16 year olds getting BMW convertibles for their birthdays, tennis courts, hot tubs, trips to Europe for the holidays etc.
On the last night we sat on the side of the hill and i thought, ‘I’ve been really nice and gentle with you for four days but let’s ramp it up a little for the last talk’ and i talked about some of the stuff Ron has been writing about here.
There was a middle aged lady in the group who was one of the leaders and earlier in the week she had told tbV how God had blessed her by allowing her to have a second luxury car because her first one had stopped working or something but she didn’t want to get rid of it and so God had worked the miracle that had allowed her a second expensive car while getting to keep the first – you know? God’s blessing…
So i start off by asking this group of 35 young people and leaders to close their eyes.
“How many of you think that you are in the top fifty percent of wealthy people in the world? Raise your hands.” Maybe half the group raises their hands.
“How many of you think that you are in the top twenty-five percent of wealthy people in the world?” This lady with the “blessing” of the two expensive cars [and the mansion etc etc] exclaims out loudly, “That would be nice!”
So as you are reading this extract from Ron Sider, it is brought to my attention that maybe some of you don’t know. The next stat i brought to that group not as a question but as a fact was that actually each of us here are in the top 3% of wealthiest people IN THE WORLD. And probably everyone sitting on the side of that hill was in the top 1 or 2 %. Maybe the problem is that most of us don’t get that. If you are reading this on a personal computer or even on a smartphone and if you own a car, if you live in a place with running water and an inside toilet, if you have someone who comes once a week or more to clean your house or look after your children… then you are wealthy. This stuff is about you! And me!
So maybe take a moment to breathe and regroup and go back and read yesterday’s post, and then reread today’s one from the point of view and context of the fact that i am the wealthy person being spoken about and to.