Money and Others
Last week we asked the question: “what stops us giving £100 a month more away than we currently do.” I wonder how you found asking yourself that question. Some of us may have done just that. Those of us who didn’t have hopefully committed to paper the reasons that prevent us doing this. The whole process may have raised many questions, including: how much should I give away? How much can I keep? What is an acceptable standard of living for a Christian?
Last week we explored the first principle that underlies Jesus’ teaching on money: God can be trusted to provide for our needs. This week we explore the second…
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
There are many comments that could be made on this passage but the main point I want to draw out is this: the rich man was not condemned for being rich; the rich man was condemned for living a luxurious lifestyle while poor Lazarus sat at his gate. It was not the objective ‘level’ of the rich man’s standard of living, or wealth, that condemns him. It is the relative level of his wealth and standard of living.
This principle is found again and again throughout the Bible: there is not some objective amount of money that it is immoral to have. There is not a particular standard of living that is wrong. The question is not “do I have too much?” The question is, “what do I have compared with others?” We see this implied in the way God provided manna to the Israelites in the desert: everyone had enough, but no-one was able to hoard more than enough. In the New Testament, we are not told how many tunics we are allowed (!) but that “whoever has two is to share with him who has none” (Luke 3.11). In Acts, it is never described how much property one is allowed, but it is noted that when others had need those who had property sold it to meet that need (Acts 4.34-7). The principle is found clearly in 2 Corinthians 8.13-14: “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”
We can ask “how much am I allowed to have?” But the question the New Testament answers with is “how much do others have?”
But to apply this we need to confront one very human, deceptive tendency – that is, when asked to think about relative wealth we tend to think about those who have more than us and feel poor. When we think about Lazarus and the Rich Man, where do we put ourselves in the parable? Possibly the Rich Man’s friend who has dinner at his every so often but doesn’t quite have as big a house and only feasts twice a week?
But the truth is that almost all of us who live in the UK are amongst the top few percent of the most wealthy in the world, at the wealthiest time in history. Someone who works full time for the minimum wage in the UK is in the top 4% of the world in their earnings. And that is with currency purchase-power adjustments made (see www.globalrichlist.com for more). The average global income, adjusted for different currency? £1000 per year.
We are the Rich Man.
What are we meant to do about that? Should we all live at £1000 per year income?
Well, perhaps frustratingly, we will defer that question to next week (we will definitely address it then!). For this week, I suggest we try and get a realistic view of our personal relative wealth. If we do not do this, then we have little chance of making obedient choices with our money. We will move on too quickly and hold the various ‘principles’ we’re discussing in the wrong balance.
So the challenge this week is to leave the questions open and make a deliberate effort to deeply meditate on and grow in understanding in our relative wealth. Here’s a number of practical suggestions for how you might do that:
After we’ve done this, we’ll be in a position to explore the final principle and (by God’s grace) have some balance from which we can start to address the ‘rubber hits the road’ practical questions…