(This is part II of my blog last week. If you’ve not read it, you may want to, for it sets up this discussion.)
Here’s the first important question to ask about this teaching: Is Jesus disqualifying “the rich” from heaven, simply because they have wealth, or are many, perhaps even most rich people, disqualifying themselves? Let me rephrase that question: Is the possession of wealth the disqualifying factor, or is there something about wealth or money that keeps the rich from God and therefore, out of the Kingdom?
I believe it’s the later.
As I pointed out last week, there are many wealthy individuals in the Bible, Old Testament and New, who had great wealth and who also loved God and were loved, by God. So, clearly the two are not mutually exclusive.
I believe Jesus’ warnings on wealth can be boiled down to these three dangerous traps for the wealthy. 1. The pursuit of wealth can be another god.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
Just go to Bible Gateway and do a keyword search in the New Testament for rich, money and wealth and you’ll see what I mean. You can read Jesus concern for those who pursue wealth and the good life, and do not make the pursuit of righteousness and justice the priority of their life. There’s a reason the 1st commandment is “You shall have no other gods other than me.” Having other gods, and any other master was, and is a deal killer for both God and Jesus.
While I don’t know any rich Christians who believe themselves to have another god, that’s another one of the dangers Jesus is observing. That’s why Jesus called it “the deceitfulness of wealth” Mark 4:19. As I wrote in The 10 Second Rule, “whatever grips your heart, alters your behavior, that which you daydream about and talk about the most with your friends – that thing is probably another god!”
So, when Jesus makes the statement about the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven, he’s simply saying it’s because their heart’s allegiance is to another god, even if they say they love God. Their hearts reveal their true god.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
Therefore, I believe even if a wealthy Christian gives generously, if what truly gets him up in the morning and motivates him, is the accumulation of wealth, or the pursuit of the good life, I’d not sleep well at night. Their eternal destiny may be in question. Having said that, the same could be true of the “average Christian,” who has the same, or another “heart god.”
2. Wealth gives us the illusion of independence from God.
I’ve been involved in ministry to businessmen for over 30 years now. Generally speaking, the more successful a person is, the more gospel hardened they are. I think it’s because they have no perceived need of God, except when they get themselves into a jam – cancer, divorce, and financial loss. Their wealth and power give them the illusion of independence from God.
“And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21
3. Using wealth God has entrusted to you, for your own personal pleasure causes one to be indifferent to the poor.
This can be best illustrated in Jesus’ story of the rich man of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. It was Lazarus’ difference to the poor that demonstrated his violation of the second of the greatest commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” 1 John 3:17
The Holy Spirit, through John, is saying that it’s simply not possible to say you love God and be indifferent to the poor. I am not saying the rich need to give everything they have to the poor (although Jesus clearly believed that is preferable to risking loving another god). But it does mean if we know, or see a poor person and have the ability to help, and don’t, we may not have the love of God in us at all. The rich man passed Lazarus every day and did nothing. His indifference to a flesh and blood need, right in front of him, revealed he didn’t love God at all. He had another god.
Just read Luke 8, the story of the sower and the seed. There’s only one of the four examples of seed sown, that we know for sure will enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has this commentary about the third type of seed, “they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature…..” When Jesus said it was nearly impossible for a rich person to go to heaven, it was a sad observation, not a judgment.
Jesus meant what he said.
Two of my favorite books on this subject is Generous Living, by Ron Blue and The Treasure Principle, by Randy Alcorn.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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