"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep."
And I could quote a dozen more passages and parables saying essentially the same thing. In fact it's hard to find any New Testament passages that give any comfort to any wealthy people. Wealthy Christians often deal with that by asking "What is the definition of wealth?" They and others lean to the view that by third world standards almost all western Christians are wealthy. Even if that's true, it still doesn't answer the question of why Jesus gives no comfort to the rich. It just means there are a lot more of us rich Christians, who need to examine their lives.
"Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" -James 2:5-6
So is Jesus making a judgement based on economies? Is he favoring the poor over the rich simply based on income or net worth? I don't think so.
I believe Jesus is simply making an obvious observation that apparently many wealthy people, including those who think they are Christians have already chosen "another God", based on how they acquired wealth and what they did with it once they had it.
"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
Jesus knew well the dangers of wealth to distract a person from God. Almost every time Jesus talks about riches, it's not ever about how much wealth a person has. It's almost always about how they used it once they had it, or withheld from others what they professed belonged to God.
"But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheme the noble name of him to whom you belong?" -James 2:6-7
The key word here is blasphemy. In Matt 12 we read that the unforgivable sin is blasphemy. When Jesus cast out a demon the Pharisees said it was the work of the devil. Jesus told them attributing a work of the Holy Spirit to Satan was blasphemy. These verses in James teaching in James appears to be the corollary but in reverse. Anyone who claims the name of Jesus, but whose life indicates they do not love Jesus and others as much as they love themselves, or money, dishonors, and shames Jesus. Blasphemy. They claim one God, but love another. In doing so they make a mockery of Jesus.
Jesus says repeatedly that you will know my followers by how they live, not by what they say. One of the major "markers," of true Christians is their fruit. "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful." -Matthew 13:22 But that begs the question, "How unfriutful does someone have to be to fall into the unfruitful," category? No fruit? The Bible does not say, but based on the parable of the Talents, we can make a safe guess that the answer to that question, is in relation to the gifts entrusted to each Christian. "To whom much is given, much is expected." And that teaching of Jesus wasn't limited to money. It's the sum total of all your spiritual and natural gifts, intelligence, opportunity, life experiences, and yes money.
Here's a question every Christian must ask of themselves. How much of all I have been entrusted with belongs to me and how much belongs to God? If you truly believe it all belongs to God, which is the correct biblical answer, then you run straight up against this teaching. Christian are called to be Stewards. The very definition of a Steward is someone who manages assets he/she doesn't own for the sole benefit of the owner. If anyone of us hired a steward and they kept 25%, or 50% for themselves we'd fire them! Why? Because they have no right to take what does not belong to them and use it for their pleasure.
I know many wealthy Christians who are incredibly generous. They live modestly, considering their wealth and look for ways to bless others all the time. However, I also know many more rich Christians who may also be generous, but if you look at how they spend their discretionary, time and money in the pursuit of pleasure and leisure, killing time pleasantly in warm places as I like to say it, I fear for them. They may be robbing God. If it "all belongs to God," then God isn't only intrested in what we give. He's just as concerned about what we have kept for ourselves and therefore denied it from others who need it more. Christians will have to account for why we withheld what we did not need from those who desperately need it.
I spoke with a wonderful wealthy Christian man a few months ago in his late 60's living in Arizona. He has 10 times the net worth that he'll ever need, yet he's still investing his money in industrial buildings. "Why?" I asked him. "This is what I do. I want to put this money to work," he replied. "Isn't that good stewardship?" I reminded him of this parable and the one about the "rich young ruler."
"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 to himself, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and big bigger ones, and there I'll store my surplace 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 of you..." This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21
Apparently this man's sin was thinking like a Christian capitalist and not like a follower of Jesus. Then in this parable Jesus again warns about loving "another God."
"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." -Luke 18:22-25
"Clare, every wealthy Christian I know continues to invest until late in life. My wife and I plan to leave most of our wealth to ministries in our will."
There are two problems with this man's thinking:
The fact that all his wealthy Christian friends continue to "build bigger barns" whether it's more investments, or more houses and bigger boats, doesn't really negate Jesus warnings. It's just following the pattern of this world.
I'm not sure Christians get any credit from Jesus for giving their wealth away after they die. Why? Because there's no sacrifice in that at all.
In I Chronicles 21 we read about David wanting to make a sacrifice to the Lord. The owner of a threshing floor offered it to David for free. But David would not accept it saying in verse 24, "... I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that cost me nothing." In other words a gift that does not require a sacrifice is not be acceptable to God. Jesus drove home that idea when he gave this example;
"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” -Luke 21:1-4
In that last half of James 2 we have the famous "faith without works is dead" teaching. How we live is the best indicator of what and who we truly love, regardless of what we say we "believe". It won't be their wealth that keep rich Christians out of heaven. It will be that God knows they've already chosen another "God".