Who Are the Rich?
The topic of money and possessions is not always something we American Christians are comfortable talking about, unless the conversation is how we can get more of them. This unease is only exacerbated by the awkwardly prominent theme in Scripture of “the rich” being the bad guys. James polemic against the rich is startling to say the least, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire” (James 5:1-3).
But the Bible nowhere condemns wealth, rather, it cries out against the misuse of that wealth. Even James goes on to explain that the impending judgment of the rich is for the heinous acts they did with their money (withholding wages, living in self-indulgence, violence towards the innocent), not the fact that they had money (see James 5:4-6). In fact, the ministries of Jesus and Paul were funded by those who had financial resources (Luke 8:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8-9). Somehow, however, it seems that the two most common messages Christians hear about wealth is either that God wants us to have a lot of it or that it is always evil. A more balanced and nuanced view of finances could significantly help the Church better fulfill our mission.
There is another thing that we need to recognize if the American church is ever to have a healthy view of money. No matter our relative financial standing in our country, the simple reality is that we are all among the world’s richest inhabitants, and this doesn’t sit well with some of us. As Timothy Keller has noted, we often don’t think of ourselves as wealthy because we all have friends and acquaintances that our “better off” than we are. But as David Platt wrote in his popular work, Radical, “If you and I have running water, shelter over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and some means of transportation…then we are in the top 15 percent of the world’s people for wealth” (Pgs. 114-115).
The realization that we are some of the world’s richest inhabitants should give us all reason to pause. Having wealth means that we all have the potential to sin with how we use our money, just as James’ audience did. But there is also the great potential for good with our resources. If we commit to live sacrificially and give generously we can participate in the spread of Christ’s Kingdom in wonderful ways. In our era of globalization it is easier than ever to sponsor a child, fund a medical clinic, or make a wise coffee purchase. As we humbly accept the duties our wealth brings, let us celebrate the many opportunities we have to serve our Savior with our finances.