["Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" by Heinrich Hofman (1824-1911), slightly altered]
Within the past few years, and in the past few months especially, the Lord has been gracious to show me how I’ve labored diligently to squander the bounty that He has undeservedly blessed me with. I have consistently wasted and misspent and misused and blown the wealth that I have been given on trivial, frivolous idols of materialism and worldliness.
I have spent my life gathering heaps and tons of worthless scrap to myself while billions of spiritually needy people about me are perishing for want of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. I have been guilty of living a life of relative ease and luxury while ignoring those who, due to various circumstances, find themselves wallowing about in the mire of poverty, desperation, and the blackness of spiritual darkness.
The Lord has shown me, through His Word and the ministry of His indwelling Holy Spirit, that I have been a fool for this world and its seductive allures. During this time of instruction, He has revealed my sin to me in a merciful and gracious manner at a time when all of my self-centered actions and thoughts and desires deserved nothing but His harsh and righteous judgment. What a loving and gentle and caring Father it is that we serve who ministers to us even in our rebellion against Him. Such infinite and penetrating love is beyond our capacity to understand.
During the course of my life, I have learned the most about myself and about my God during times of great suffering and trial. This circumstance is no different. As His purposes in my life have unfolded over the past two-plus years, I have experienced great anguish and loss. The Lord has ordered the circumstances of my life in such a way as to show me the riches and utter sufficiency of the fullness of His grace while at the same time working to excise the sinister materialism that had conquered me on various levels. As a result, I now have more of Christ and less of this world in my life and heart and mind and spirit. I have less things, but more of His Spirit. I am poorer in the eyes of the world, but far richer in Christ.
Long ago, a spirit of covetousness invaded and effectively subdued the Christian Church in America. (Judging by the incident with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, it appears as if this sin has always menaced the Church of God to greater or lesser degrees at various times.) The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and his demonic hordes revel in and rejoice over the lethargic attitude and relative inaction of the people of God in this the wealthiest nation in the history of this world. For far too long, I have bought into a thoroughly Americanized and crippled Christian faith that is drenched in and weighed down by consumerism. I confess that, for far too long, I have been part of the problem. By God’s grace I pray to be a part of the solution.
I was recently reading something that was very convicting and wanted to share it with my readers. The following excerpts are from John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: 2002):
We will never persuade our people that the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) applies to them unless we apply it to ourselves. God called the man a fool because, when his fields produced a surplus, he built bigger barns and took his ease.
What should he have done with the God-given surplus? Verse 33 answers: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” Instead of increasing his own ease and security, he should have used his extra possessions to alleviate suffering.
“Fool” is what God calls a person who uses his excess money to increase his own comforts. And Luke adds, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (v. 21)….
The person who thinks the money he makes is meant mainly to increase his own comforts on earth is a fool, Jesus says. Wise people know that all their money belongs to God and should be used to show that God, and not money, is their treasure, their comfort, their joy, and their security….
God does not prosper a man’s business so that man can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a man’s business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation.
Brothers, many of our people have barely begun to grasp this. Too many are more shaped by the consumer culture than by the economics of Christ. They still operate on the simple rule: If you earned it, you deserve it. It’s yours; use it for your own material comfort.
They have been taken in by the half-truth that says we glorify God with money by enjoying thankfully all luxuries He enables us to buy. The true half is this: we should give thanks for every good thing God gives us. That does glorify Him. The false half is the subtle implication that God can be glorified in this way by every decent purchase we make.
If this were true, Jesus would not say, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). He would not say, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink” (Luke 12:29). John the Baptist would not have said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none” (Luke 3:11). The Son of Man would not have walked around with no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). And Zacchaeus would not have given half of his goods to the poor (Luke 19:8).
God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized and uneducated and unhoused and unfed millions.
The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.
Very few of our people have said to themselves: we will live at a level of joyful, wartime simplicity and use the rest of what we earn to alleviate misery. But surely this is what Jesus wants. I do not see how we can read the New Testament, then look at two billion unevangelized people, and still build another barn for ourselves. We can only justify the exorbitance of our lifestyle by ignoring the lostness of the unreached and the misery of the poor….
Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” So there are three levels of how to live with things: (1) you can steal to get, (2) or you can work to get, (3) or you can work to get in order to give.
Many of us live on level two. Almost all of the forces of our culture urge us to live on level two. But the Bible is unrelenting in pushing us to level three….
You will have to make clear to the business people in your congregation that you are not against multimillion-dollar industries. Nor are you necessarily against their six-digit salaries. The problem arises when they endorse the professional status quo that says a six-digit salary should have a six-digit lifestyle. It shouldn’t. Perhaps it should have a $40,000 lifestyle and support two families on a new mission field.
The problem is not with earning a lot. The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs (pp. 167-72, emphasis in bold added).
Luke 12:13 (ESV) Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him,‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 18:18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”