Regular readers of this blog will probably have noticed that I have been away for a few weeks. I have been quite ill, and I would like to thank my guest authors for filling in the gap while I was unable to write. It started out as a pretty average illness, but a reaction to medication made it quite serious. I honestly thought I might die. That’s the kind of feeling that tends to change your perspective on life, and make you think about eternity.
I believe that James was trying to teach a similar lesson in James 1:9-11. He says that the poor should take pride in their high position, and the rich should take pride in their low position. That is not to say that either are necessarily in the position they are in because of the amount of money or material possessions that they have. The point is that those who have little money tend to put their trust in God, while those who are wealthy face the temptation of putting their trust in their own riches and their own ability to control things. Unfortunately that is a false hope, because we truly do not have control over what happens to us. Yes, there are some aspects of our lives that we control; we do have the power to make wise or unwise choices that can affect our future, but there is a large part of our lives than can be affected by outside forces as well. Anything could happen at any moment that would change our life forever, or end it instantly.
The Bible is not against having wealth, but it is against making it a priority in our lives and trusting in it for our salvation from the trials that we face. The Bible tells us that God can provide for any need that we may have. (Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12:29-32) God wants us to trust in Him, and to be men and women of strong character. He does not look at our outward appearance or at our possessions, but at our heart. (I Samuel 16:7) We need to make sure that our hearts are wholly devoted to Him, and then we will be ready for eternity.
I’m a small town girl who was recently in New York City for the first time. From the moment I entered the subway station, people started asking me for money. In the time it took me to walk down the steps, four different people had asked me for amounts ranging from four dollars to five cents. Even combined it didn’t total very much, but it was a bit overwhelming to be stopped every few seconds. God loves a cheerful giver—that’s what it says in II Corinthians 9:7—but I wasn’t giving too cheerfully by that point.
In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus watched people putting their donations into the offering boxes. He was not watching because he needed their donations, for after all He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and everything else in all creation. (Psalm 50:9-12) What He was watching for was the attitude with which the donations were being given. He was concerned with the condition of people’s hearts. He knew that it was not the amount they gave, but the amount they withheld that was the measure of their generosity. The wealthy gave a large portion, but it was not a large proportion of what they had. The widow, a member of the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society, gave all she owned. The wealthy depended on their wealth to provide for them, but the widow depended on God. She trusted God to meet her needs. It was not her money that she gave to God, but her heart, her whole being.
When God tells us that he want us to give cheerfully, He means that what is important is the condition of our hearts, our motivation for giving. He doesn’t want us to give because people keep asking, or because we feel pressured by public opinion, or to get a tax rebate. He wants us to give because we love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and because we love Him and trust Him to provide for our every need.
Where is your heart? What do you rely upon to feel fulfilled, successful? For some it is their high-powered job, their talented or academically gifted children or their luxury home. Many feel successful as long as they are doing better than their neighbours. What is it that is the most important thing in your life?
Mark 10:17-27 tells the story of the rich young ruler. This wealthy young man enthusiastically approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. I expect that he was used to getting whatever he wanted, because he had seemingly endless financial resources. Jews at that time believed that monetary wealth was an indication of God’s blessing. This is not what Jesus said. Jesus recounted several of the ten commandments, which the young man declared that he had always wholeheartedly obeyed. He apparently missed the first commandment though (Exodus 20:3), because he chose to keep his money and to rely on that instead of God. How much he must have loved his money! Remember that his conversation with Jesus started with his asking how he could have eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer, and yet he chose to give it up in order to keep his money.
You will notice that as the young man walked away, Jesus did not run after him. Even though Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus felt love for him, Jesus let him make his own choice. We can all make our own choice about what or whom we will rely upon.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus did not tell all wealthy people that they must give away their wealth in order to be saved. It is not the having of wealth that is the problem, and it is not the giving away of it that results in salvation. The issue is who we give our allegiance to, and whom we rely upon in our time of need. It is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25) not because God’s grace is not available to them, but because they have so much more to give up. We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor earn our way by giving to the poor. We cannot save ourselves; we can only accept God’s gift of salvation which we are offered because Christ was willing to give up everything for us.