Is it Immoral to Be Wealthy?

Luke 12

13Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15Then he said, “Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

16And he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17In fact, his barns were full to overflowing.18So he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store everything. 19And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’

21“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago I saw the following tweet from Dave Ramsey who quoted and then commented on a statement from Larry Burkett.

If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s well known for teaching thousands, if not millions of people biblical principles for managing money, getting out of debt and building wealth.

Larry Burkett was Dave Ramsey before Dave Ramsey.  Burkett, founder of Crown Ministries, was one of the main voices teaching biblical money-management principles from the 1970’s through the 1990’s before his passing in 2003. Personally, I remember reading a number of Larry Burkett books in the early 1990’s that helped me get out of debt, stay out of debt and begin to save money that would become foundational for my future marriage and family.

Why do I bring this up? What’s the big deal about this tweet?

Actually, I only saw Dave Ramsey’s tweet because of a response to his tweet that showed up on my timeline.

In the response, the tweeter made the comment that he’s heard too many sermons that try to explain away passages like this by saying that it’s not wealth that is being condemned but it’s the motivation for that wealth that Jesus is condemning.

The problem, according to the tweeter, is that these Bible passages, like the one we’re looking at today, don’t talk about “attitude” but only mention the bigger barns and the tremendous wealth.

The implication is that Jesus was condemning great wealth and that building bigger barns is immoral. After all, that is what is stated in the story.

The responder had a follow-up tweet in which he stated that the challenge he was bringing up isn’t just a challenge for Ramsey but it’s a challenge for himself as well, because as a middle class American, he’s wealthy by global standards. Therefore, he is just like the fool who is building bigger barns.

Is this tweeter on to something? Is it true that Jesus was condemning great wealth?  Is it also true that if you are a middle class American, you too are a fool because you have great wealth by global standards? In short, Is it immoral to have wealth?

If Jesus is condemning wealth then he would be instituting a radical shift in understanding regarding what was taught and understood from the Bible regarding wealth.

Consider the following facts:

    • Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people. was quite wealthy, as were his sons Isaac and Jacob. It is clear that God blessed them and their wealth was God-ordained.
    • David too was wealthy, as was his son Solomon. In fact, God provided tremendous wealth for Solomon because he asked God for wisdom to guide his people instead of asking for wealth. God gave him what he asked for (wisdom) and threw in what he didn’t ask for (wealth) as a bonus.
    • Job was tremendously wealthy. In fact, the scriptures say he was the wealthiest man in the area. After he lost everything, God restored his wealth and gave him even more. Job is consistently described as righteous, despite his wealth, which is never condemned.

How do we reconcile the tremendous wealth of these great bible characters with this “new understanding” that Jesus is supposedly condemning great wealth?

A basic tenet of Bible study is that scripture interprets scripture. What that means, simply, is that our understanding of a passage must align with what is taught in other passages. Otherwise, we end up with the Bible contradicting itself, which would be quite problematic.

Given the fact that wealth in the Old Testament wasn’t condemned as immoral and that there are numerous examples of God Himself providing and blessing people with great wealth, it should be clear that Jesus must not be condemning wealth outright.

So what’s Jesus saying? What’s the point of His story.

If we take a closer look at the passage, it’s clear from the outset what the point of the story is. Jesus tells us plainly in verse 15 when he says:

“Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

What Jesus is condemning is greed, which is clearly sin. Jesus’ example uses a rich man who decides to tear down his barns and build bigger barns because otherwise, he would not be able to store all the crops that his fields are producing. Because Jesus’ example involved a “rich” man, one might conclude that Jesus must be against the rich. But that’s not the case.

Jesus defines what is foolish in verse 21 when He says:

“a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

What makes a person a fool is being greedy, which leads to an attitude of always wanting and needing more. This is why the rich man felt the need to build bigger barns.

It’s also clear from this passage that another aspect of being a fool is NOT having a rich relationship with God.

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that people are foolish when they are not content with what they have. Greed is not just a problem for people with money. Anyone can be greedy. Conversely, just because a person has wealth doesn’t mean they are greedy.

Greed is sinful because we seek to gain satisfaction and significance from material possessions instead of from our relationship with God. This is what Jesus is condemning.

We need to be very careful not to assume or project our motives onto others, particularly those who are wealthy. It’s become fashionable lately to malign those who have great wealth and condemn them as greedy.

The problem is that we cannot really know the inner motives of those who have an abundance of material resources. They “may” be greedy or they may not be.

The irony is that when we assume that those who have much are greedy and when we call for them to stripped of what they have so that it can be redistributed to others who don’t have as much, it actually demonstrates our own envy and sinful desires.

Wealth is not immoral. Greed is. Wealth is just a tool that can be used for good by those who are generous or it can be used for evil by those who are greedy.

Lastly, God Himself owns everything. He’s the wealthiest person in existence. The fact that He owns everything does not make Him selfish or greedy or immoral. He is none of those things. Instead, He’s extremely generous.

As believers, we should not be consumed with those who have more than us. We should be content with what we have and if we are blessed by God with much, we should be generous, just as God is.

Reflection

What has been your attitude towards people who are wealthy? What about people who have extreme wealth, such as billionaires? What has been your attitude towards their wealth?

What are some examples in your own life when you’ve been envious of others? What are some examples of greed in your own life?  How can you combat these attitudes and cultivate an attitude of generosity?

Do you agree with the tweeter or this author regarding how God views wealth? How does your view align with what the rest of Scripture teaches about wealth?

Why do you think so many people nowadays are attacking those who are rich and seeking to redistribute their wealth to others? What do you think are the reasons and motivations? 

 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

 

Biblical Advice: Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Proverbs 26

4When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are.

5When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

(Proverbs 26:4-5, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Not long ago, as I was reading through Proverbs, I encountered these two verses, right next to each other, which seemingly contradict each other.

Verse 4 states that we SHOULDN’T respond to a fool’s arguments while the very next verse says that we SHOULD respond. Which is it? Should we respond or shouldn’t we? How are we to reconcile these two statements?

When evaluating these two statements, you’ll notice that the first half of each statement is essentially the same, “when arguing with fools….”

The difference is in the back half of each statement, with each verse giving a different intended outcome. So, when arguing with fools, there are two desired outcomes. First, we don’t want to become as foolish as they are. Secondly, we want to ensure that the fool doesn’t become wise in their own estimation.

So while these two verses seem contradictory at first glance, you can see that the two intended outcomes are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, as long as you are satisfying the two different intended outcomes, the two statements are not contradictory.

Exactly how can we approach our engagements with others so that these two outcomes are achieved?

First of all, we should realize that it’s not necessary to respond to every foolish argument. In internet circles (forums, threads, tweets, posts, etc.) it is very common to encounter people who are engaged in what’s known as “trolling”.

An internet troll is someone who purposefully makes inflammatory or rude comments in order to evoke an emotional response or in order to hijack a conversation. Most people who engage in this type of behavior do so for their own personal amusement.

When we encounter this kind of foolish behavior, it’s tempting to respond in kind. But that would violate the outcome of verse 4. We don’t want to engage with a person in such a way that we “become as foolish as they are.”

Furthermore, when we engage people like this, we’re simply feeding their own amusement. Though it might feel good initially to respond with a zinger or some kind of disparaging remark, it actually serves as fuel and encouragement for the other person to continue their foolish behavior. Hence the phrase “don’t feed the trolls.”

So if you’re too emotionally involved in the conversation, or you’ve been triggered by something that the person said or the way in which they said it, then the advice of Proverbs is to NOT engage with the fool. In this case, it’s better to simply not respond.

However, if you’re able to respond in a respectful way and not act as foolishly as the other person, it may be prudent to expose the person’s immature behavior or the foolishness of their argument so that they don’t walk away thinking how wise they are.

Recently, I’ve encountered some examples of these principles in action as I manage an online forum where just about anyone can post.

In a recent thread, people were posting on the topic of evil. An article had been posted on the subject of why do bad things happen and many folks were posting their comments on the content of the article.

Whenever you are talking about a theological topic like the existence of God or the problem of evil, it is not uncommon for people who consider themselves atheists to engage in the discussion. While some are interested in genuine dialog, a number of people like to engage in trolling kinds of behavior with posts that are agitating, mocking and generally rude to people of faith.

One person posted on the thread a lot of inflammatory remarks aimed at God along with some incendiary language mocking Christians and people of faith.

After some deliberation I decided to respond to this person who, quite frankly, was coming off as arrogant and condescending. I shared how ironic it was that we were discussing the existence of evil and he was the only one, through his disrespectful language and mocking tone, who was engaged in behavior that most people would consider to be evil. I pointed out that while he was ridiculing those who believed in God and rolling his eyes at the biblical understanding of evil, he had not made an alternate case for why evil exists or how to deal with it.

I invited him to continue to engage but in a civil, adult way and I gave him some specific questions to answer if he wanted to show the superiority of his position.

To his credit, he did respond with a much less combative tone, though he never did answer the questions that were posed.

I think this was an example of responding to a fool so they don’t “become wise in their own estimation.”

So the bottom line is that these two verses are not contradictory but represent two different approaches to dealing with someone’s foolish arguments and behavior.

Our approach will be dictated by the outcome we are trying to achieve. If we’re trying to avoid the trap of engaging in the same kind of foolish tactics the other person is engaging in, then our approach will be to NOT engage. However, if our goal is for the other person’s foolishness to be exposed so they don’t become so full of themselves, then our strategy will be to respond.

Knowing the difference of when to pursue which outcome requires wisdom, which is why we need the Lord’s perspective, even in our personal and online interactions!

Reflection

When have you been tempted or even succumbed to foolish behavior in your in-person or online interactions? What do you think is the reason so many people engage in these uncivil and unproductive arguments?

What are some ways you can respectfully engage with people are who are fools to point out the folly of their position or tactics?

How would you rate your current in-person and online interactions? How well are you applying and abiding by these two proverbs?

Of the two approaches, which one would you say you need to grow in or develop more – do you need to practice NOT engaging because you’re too triggered or emotionally involved? Or do you need to develop in the art of engaging the fool to expose their tactics and behavior?

 

Original Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash
Edited photo by Dave Lowe