As a young Christian, I grew frustrated whenever I heard something preachy or sermony. To me, a church sermon on Sunday meant nothing unless it could be applied to my busy work life on Monday. And so for many years, I was starving for practical application: Ways I could know if I was doing it right, or missing the mark. Later I learned that the first thing was to abide in Jesus and not to worry about being perfect. But even now, it’s always good to have a litmus test to see where we are in our walk.
There was one part of Scripture which gave me a special headache. It was the part where Jesus says that Christians should be in the world but not of it. Sure, I figured I could easily join a monastery. Or perhaps, I could give up drinking and become a missionary deep in the heart of Africa. But I didn’t want to do any of these things! I actually liked my first world comforts. I wanted to pay off all my law school debt, join the middle class and to feel totally guilt-free about it.
I looked forward to staying at a classy hotel or eating at an upscale restaurant-all without fearing they would see me as a fraud and throw me out because I could never afford such. I also wanted a high salary. And I wanted to be respected in my profession. But deep down, I also wondered if I was selling out. Had I opted for the world instead of Jesus?
To be honest, this is still a bit of an ongoing battle. As a first world Christian, the things of this world can exert a pull on us. But how do we know when it’s OK to enjoy “the good life?” And when do we cross the line into idolatry?
What Does It Mean To Be Not of the World?
When Jesus spoke of not being of the world, it wasn’t just about abstaining from sin. Yes, He certainly wasn’t encouraging drunken orgies, adultery or other immorality. But being not of the world means far more than this. For even an atheist or a Buddhist can abstain from these things.
What Jesus meant, was that Christians should have His heart and His desires. And to avoid conforming to the world’s desires which oppose this. Indeed the two greatest commands-the ones closest to Jesus’s heart-are as follows: 1. To love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. And 2. to love our neighbor like ourselves.
Loving God does not mean to mechanically obey Him like a robot and then do your own thing. God spells love T-I-M-E and D-E-V-O-T-I-O-N. We must spend real time abiding and communing with Him. This includes reading and meditating on His word to get to know Him better. It also includes confessing, repenting, praising Him for His qualities and sincerely thanking Him for all He’s done for us. If you do this, you are not of this world, for the world ignores or reviles Him. The world does not have this personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.
Likewise, we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The world talks a nice talk about love. But in practice, the world knows very little about love. True, you don’t need to be a Christian to love your children. But by and large, the world encourages hate. Just look at the news and you’ll find that it’s OK for the Democrats to hate the Republicans, the Republicans to hate the Democrats and the Vaxers and anti-vaxers to hate each other. So copying the world on love is a non-starter. Being not of the world means being different, the way Jesus was different.
But What Does It Mean To Have Wealth?
When we think of wealth we’re almost always talking about how much money someone has. But wealth is far more than money. True wealth is all about what you have to give in life. It’s your time, your talent, your $, your physical and mental resources, your vigor and also your influence over others.
Some people have more monetary wealth than others. But even poor people have smarts, or special skills or unique talents. And then there are those with huge followings, such as pastors, politicians, actors and YouTube influencers. Having connections and the ability to influence people…this too is a form of wealth.
Can I Have Wealth and Still Not Be of the World?
That depends. For some, being rich is worse than terminal cancer. The reason is they forsake their God and instead, fall in love with the gift over the Giver. You can see these people by their fruit.
Regardless of what they profess, their time is spent mostly on their things, their projects or their crusades. They let their passion consume them and it eats away with their abiding in Jesus.
This isn’t just a warning for rich businessmen. It’s also a warning for the overzealous environmentalist, the workaholic pastor, the evangelist who ignores his family and the street preacher of social justice. Even if the cause is good, it becomes idol worship when you spend more time on your cause than with your creator.
It’s like the mechanic who falls in love with his Allen wrench. Or the captain of a ship who worships his engine room. Wealth is just a tool. It is not something to fall in love with. And it’s never an excuse to become so self sufficient, that it hurts your intimacy with the King of the Cosmos.
The Giver is always more worthy than the gift.
This is why Abraham, Moses and David could handle their wealth, power and influence. Yes, in spite of their numerous failings, they knew deep down their life purpose was to use wealth for God’s will, not their own. And God blessed them for it. They were allowed to be lavish with their wealth. They were encouraged to be generous and smart with their wealth.
It wasn’t about being cheap or extra miserable or extra holy in their poverty. Nor was it about trying to be the person who died with the most toys. As long as God was their focus, wealth was an added benefit. And so like David and Abraham, we too can enjoy wealth IF WE CAN HANDLE IT.
Litmus Test: Do We Use God’s Gifts As Tools or to Dig Trenches?
As I noted above, wealth is just a tool. And when it’s used right, we and those around us become more like Jesus. So wealth is wonderful when it’s used to love God and love our neighbors. But it becomes an idol when we use it merely to acquire physical belongings. All wealth is meant to be shared upwards and outwards. It glorifies God and it uplifts Man.
Tools Vs. Trenches
Are you using your wealth for God? Or are you just building a trench for you and your family? Which of these statements below is most like you?
- I get excited to use my $ to bring people together.
- I get excited to use my $ to buy new things.
- When I get a new boat I ask God how to use it in a way that honors Him.
- When I get a new boat, I do what I want and rarely ask God for anything.
- My things give me joy but I also like to see others lifted up by them.
- My things give me joy and I worry I’m going to lose them.
- As my wealth grows, I am amazed at how blessed I am and it draws me closer to Jesus.
- As my wealth grows, I find that for some reason my joy in worship is less and less.
- Over time, people tell me I’m more slow to anger and quick to listen.
- Over time, people just seem to fight with me more; it’s obvious they don’t see what I see.
- As I grow older, I find I have more compassion for people unlike me.
- As I grow older, I realize I’m glad to live away from those weirdos who vote, think and act unlike me.
- I get a lot of joy spending quiet time with the Lord and watching what He does in people’s lives.
- I get a lot of joy planning my next trip, being the head of the family, and accomplishing things that are for me and mine.
- As my 401K gets fatter, I still yearn to please God and ask Him for direction.
- As my 401K gets fatter I can’t wait to have enough $ so I can retire and take it easy.
- As I grow older, I look for more and more ways to uplift those who are hurting.
- As I grow older, I make sure the things I’ve worked hard for go to the right people.
- Over the decades I find I have more peace.
- Over the decades I find I have more worry.
A Prayer About Wealth
Jesus, please help me use my time, talents, resources, money, experience and influence all for your glory. I admit that sometimes my things take a hold of me and I don’t like that. Please open my heart to love what you love. And to use my wealth to make you smile. Show me how to be creative in using all I’ve got to love you and to love my neighbor. No matter what you give me, let me always seek to please you first. Thank you my King!
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Practical giving during a world wide pandemic.
Can We Handle Prosperity?
Are we too small minded to receive God’s worldly blessings?
How to be a cheerful giver. Knowing who to give to and what to give them!