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Is it possible to be both good and rich?

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1 Timothy 6:6-10 & Luke 16:19-31

A businessman visited by an angel was promised one request. He asked to see the stock market page one year ahead. Anticipating how much he’d make he studied the future list until he noticed his picture - in the obituary column. Suddenly his new wealth faded into insignificance.

Wealth’s a good tool, if used as God intended but its a dangerous trap if we don’t. Young John Wesley said he’d only known four men who’d not declined in faith by becoming wealthy. Later he corrected that and made no exception.

“Is it possible to be both good and rich?”

If you’re thinking ‘this doesn’t concern me, I’m not rich and never will be’ I have to tell you that you’re wrong. None of us are super-rich but by world standards, we are. Our homes have plumbing, electricity, furniture, appliances. We all have changes of clothes, clean drinking water, access to medical care and many own a car. We’re all rich! The Bible contains many warnings to those who are rich – remember money being the topic Jesus talked about more than anything else. Money can be dangerous if we don’t have the right perspective towards it. We’re going to look at two important passages about it, firstly from St Paul who also had rather a lot to say on the subject. 1 Timothy 6:6-10

Paul’s often misquoted as saying, “Money is the root of all evil.” Its not money, but the love of it that’s a root of evil. I reckon we ALL hear this and think, ‘phew, I’m okay, I’ve got the right attitude toward money.’

BUT money, like a loaded gun, is dangerous. Both can be useful, both are used by fallible people. There’d be nothing better than a gun if a lion was about to attack but not used with care and respect it could do as much damage as the lion. Money deserves all the caution of a loaded gun: if you’re not careful, it can destroy you.

Paul explains the danger as: the desire which draws you in (want to get rich, love of money); the deception which gets you comfortable and oblivious to the danger (trap, wandered away), finally the destruction (ruin, pierced) which kills you.

“Plunge” (v9) as boats filled with fish beginning to sink. An overloaded boat can stay afloat in calm seas, but rough waves will swamp it and suck it to the bottom. Someone pursuing riches sails along fine but isn’t prepared for crises because they haven’t been putting ALL their trust in God. When swamped by catastrophe, they have nowhere to turn, and sink.

“Wandered away from the faith” (v10) describes getting lost. No one sets out to get lost, we usually think we know the way. Often, thinking we know a shortcut, we land up far from where we wanted to be. Pursuing riches seems like a shortcut to happiness. But going off in that direction, we’re soon lost, confused and far from the faith. “Pierced” (v10) means, “put on a spit.” Those pursuing riches, end up on Satan’s barbecue!

The love of money is a ROOT sin, lying beneath the surface, nourishing other sins (including ALL of the 10 Commandments). This root bears several kinds of fruit, all sins, because the root determines the fruit. If we let the love of money take root it will dominate us and we’ll end-up reaping ruin and destruction.

Paul’s warning is very strong medicine. It doesn’t taste good, but we need it to get well. Let’s look now at what our Gospel reading says about two very different people, one rich and one poor. Luke more than any other New Testament writer stressed the danger of letting our life consist in the things we possess.

The context: Jesus has just told the Pharisees, who believed being rich was a sign of God’s favour, “You cannot serve both God and money.” They respond by sneering at Him and He says “You justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” Jesus is tackling the problem of poverty and riches but its easy to miss out on what He’s really saying.

Luke 16:19-31

I used to rank this story alongside my childhood hero - Robin Hood. I enjoyed the role reversal of the wicked getting their just deserts and the underdog getting his reward. But, did Jesus really tell this story to give the poor some kind of victory over the rich? Or encourage and help them come to terms with their miserable lot in life? Is it proclaiming virtue in being poor and condemnation for the wealthy? Back to basics first: Why is one man wealthy and another poor? If the Jews had obeyed the commandments God gave Moses concerning the Sabbatical Year (every seventh year the land being allowed to rest) and the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year everyone receiving back their original property, and slaves being returned to their families), there wouldn’t have been this divide as wealth couldn’t have fallen into the hands of just a few people.

What did this rich man do that was so wrong he was sent into torment? He appears to have lived the ‘high’ life, all that’s said of him is he was rich, well dressed and ate well but we don’t know he was a scoundrel. Was he wicked to Lazarus, did he have him removed from his gate, did he kick him as he walked past, did he deny him the crumbs from his table? No.

There’s more to this than poverty versus wealth or in order to get to heaven all we need do is be poor or suffering. The story shows Abraham, who was very wealthy, in heaven so that can’t be true. (There are several wealthy men in the Bible, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Boaz, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas and Philemon. These enjoyed God’s blessing and were godly men. BUT they were all generous men who lived in light of eternity.)

Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). Our eternal life in heaven depends on our relationship with God. The rich man must have evaded that relationship. He had masses of everything, none of which could be taken with him but was what he chose to live by. His selfishness and lack of compassion reflected his godless focus on life. His security here on earth shut his eyes to Lazarus’ suffering and his ears to the word of God.

This is the only parable Jesus told where one of the characters is given a name. Lazarus means ‘God is my help’. This is important, both to the story and us, because, when Lazarus dies, he’s able to take with him the only thing he has, his dependency on God.

Death is the beginning of a new existence in another world. For the Christian, death means being with God. For the unbeliever, death means being away from God’s presence and, according to this passage, in a place of torment and loneliness. It’s not an eternal party where sinners have a good time together.

Sobering thoughts. Someone told C.S. Lewis about a gravestone which read: “Here lies an atheist – all dressed up and no place to go.” Lewis quietly replied, “I bet he wishes that were so!”

From John’s gospel we know of another Lazarus who came back from death, as Jesus did too. Neither event converted the whole world and for all we know this rich man would have still determined his own destiny by leaving God out of his life. We are given free-will to make our choice.

Which leads me to ask you a question about this story. Who is Jesus trying to make His hearers identify with?

Isn’t it the rich man’s five brothers? Isn’t this a warning to them?   And if we are Jesus’ hearers perhaps we need to hear clear about His warning too?

We need to hear that what God says we need for salvation is to be wholly dependent on Him and not on things of this world. The Bible and Jesus, gives us practical advice about ways of living this out. God makes it plain that we’re not to allow money to be our security or what drives us. Just keep remembering Lazarus’ name means ‘God is my help’. Similar to the motto on American money: ‘In God we trust’. I haven’t mentioned this before but both Jesus and St Paul said that we should do several things with our money: firstly, give to government, i.e. pay our taxes. Christ said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

St Paul went further saying we should pay taxes gladly, giving obedience, honour and respect to those in authority. So, complete your tax forms as truthfully as if Jesus were looking over your shoulder, as indeed He is!

St Paul also says we should provide the necessities of life for our families and ourselves (1 Tim. 5:8). Our Christian testimony depends in part on a proper management of money. The Christian who doesn’t pay his bills or whose finances are a fiasco is poor testimony to the wisdom and guidance of God.

There’s nothing wrong with living comfortably, right equipment can help free-up time for God, ‘things’ become a problem when they control us, instead of us controlling them. The rich man didn’t share his wealth with the poor man lying at his gate as he should’ve done, but this life is not all there is.

The wicked can live luxuriously here, never helping others, with seemingly no consequence. The test comes at the final judgment in eternity. This is a matter of faith. You either trust in the money you see now, or in the God you’ll see then. If you trust in Him, you’ll be a good steward of all He entrusts you. He owns it all; we must give account to Him of how we’ve used it.

Jesus knew that the suffering of this present life was as nothing compared to the glory of the next. This world will pass and it is important to help people prepare for what’s to come. Many of His stories about giving are actually about our giving, be it time or money, to help others come to faith and know eternal life. The Lazarus story aims to help those who don’t know that the riches of heaven are worth more than any riches on earth.

Lots of people don’t know this and think they have to cover every possible contingency on earth themselves rather than trust God to do it. I can say that it’s a truly great adventure to trust God to supply our needs!

Let’s end by asking if we’re being faithful in storing up riches in heaven. Do we recognize all we have is Gods and not ours? That we’re His manager, accountable to Him for how we handle all He entrusts us with?

A man who sold wood to his neighbours always took advantage of them, cutting logs a few inches short of his advertised four feet. One day the word spread that he’d become a Christian but no one believed it. One man slipped quietly out of the discussion going on about this. He soon came running back in excitement shouting, “It’s true! He’s been converted! I just went home and measured the wood he sold me yesterday - it’s a good four feet long!” That convinced everyone!

Jesus once said: 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:24)! That doesn't mean we must give everything away to be saved. It's not having riches that prevents us from entering the kingdom of God, it's the position they occupy in our hearts.

What convinces us our money in the place God wants it to be in? Primarily it must be when you rate your relationship with Christ as far more important.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

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