When you think about Christianity, you might consider that it has nothing very encouraging or positive to say about wealth, rather the reverse. Surely Christianity preaches that it’s wrong to be rich? Didn’t Jesus tell a rich man to go away and give all he possessed to those who were poor?
It’s certainly true that when a young man approached Jesus to ask how he should discover this magic which allows you to live forever – the secret of eternal life - Jesus did eventually tell him to give away his possessions, but this wasn’t where Jesus started. When the man first approached Jesus we learn that Jesus simply told him to keep the commandments. The man explained that he had done his best to keep the commandments all his life, and at this point in the story Mark tells us that Jesus “looked at him and loved him” (Mark 19:21). So great wealth certainly doesn’t prevent Jesus from loving the owner of that wealth.
It was because of Jesus’ great love for this man and his desire to help him to have an even more complete life that Jesus mentioned the obstacle which was preventing the man’s whole fulfilment. Jesus knew that the man was so attached to his wealth that it was preventing God from penetrating fully into the man’s soul. The man desired God. He craved the kind of peace and happiness which grows in the lives of those who have a close relationship with God, and he wanted to live forever. But somehow, despite all that he did in keeping God’s law, that depth of peace and happiness was just out of his reach.
Jesus knew why it was out of his reach and he knew that to realize that peace and happiness and to live forever, we must let go of everything which holds us back. Jesus referred to this as “losing your life in order to gain it” (Luke 17:33). For this particular man, it wasn’t his wealth which was holding him back, but his attachment to that wealth. And he couldn’t let go. We’re told that he went away sadly because he couldn’t bear to part with his money.
Jesus then astounded his friends by observing that it’s harder for a rich man to find God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
This is because money is very seductive. But it’s not wrong in itself. St Paul observed that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), not the money itself. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, provided you sit lightly to it; that is, provided you’re able to be generous and to give it away freely without agonizing over your loss and without hoarding it all to yourself and your own family.
It’s the attachment to money which is so dangerous, but there are many other attachments – power, influence, status, sex, drugs, alcohol – and so on.
Anything which is so important to us that we can’t let go, will prevent God’s love from fully flooding our being.
But it’s true to say that almost all those things which so often grab at our thoughts and our hearts - power, influence and status - are associated with money.
I don’t believe God wants us to be poor. I believe that God wants us to enjoy money and the good things money can buy. But there’s an interesting principle enshrined throughout the Bible, from the earliest days. It’s such an early principle that it’s written down in early Israelite law.
Unlike the other tribes all around them, the ancient Israelites cared for the widow and the fatherless, strangers within their gates, and their aged parents. All of this was enshrined in law and was, you might say, the first welfare state. People were expected to play their part individually by sharing what they had and later, they were also required to pay a minimum of one tenth of their income as a voluntary temple tax.
This was the basic minimum and the basic principle. Give one tenth of your income to charitable causes. The result of doing this was that God ensured that you had enough to make ends meet. Those who did more, who gave away more than the basic minimum, were commended by Jesus, as was the widow who gave her last coin for God’s work.
The principle still holds good today, for both individuals and churches. The Good News is that if you willingly and generously give away a minimum of one tenth of your income, you will never run out. Somehow or other, you will always make ends meet.
There’s more Good News about Christianity and wealth. It’s this. Christianity itself offers huge wealth.
It’s a different kind of wealth, but once you’ve begun to experience it, you’re hooked and you never go back. Once you’ve experienced the wealth Christianity has to offer, money and its sidekicks no longer grab you so intensely that you can’t let go, and it then becomes easy to give money away.
Christianity offers the wealth of God’s love, poured directly into your soul. This is Good News.
It offers the wealth of the freedom to do exactly as you wish to do, with nothing holding you back, because Christianity enables you to develop to a stage where you’re not tied to anything unless you choose to be tied to it. This is Good News.
It offers the richness of health and happiness, and it also enables you to live forever, the secret which eluded the rich young man in the Bible story. This is Good News.
So if wealth is near the top of your wish list, be encouraged. We have Good News – Christianity offers you huge wealth. It’s yours for the taking.
Great wealth doesn’t prevent God loving us.
Money itself isn’t wrong, but the attachment to money prevents God reaching us.
Attachment to anything – wealth, status, power, influence etc. – prevents God reaching us.
Basic principle – if you freely and willingly give away one tenth of your income, you will never run out.
Christianity offers great wealth – God’s love, poured into your soul, freedom to do as you wish, health, happiness and eternal life.
It’s all yours for the taking. You just have to let go of your attachments in order to allow God access to your soul.