Wealth, God and the Rich Young Ruler

How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Despositphotos Image ID: 1254235 Copyright:hsfelix
Depositphotos Image ID: 1254235 Copyright: hsfelix

In reading through the Gospel of Luke, the doctor, historian and traveling companion of Paul, two dialogues appear in chapters 18 and 19 about men of wealth. They are the stories of the Rich Young Ruler and Zacchaeus, the tax collector.

Both men are rich and are tied into the local power structure. They both seek out Jesus and encounter Him, but one turns away, saddened because of his wealth, while the other receives Jesus joyfully. And, then there is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They had become part of the early church, but wealth became their undoing.

All three stories deal with wealth and possessions and relationships with God. And more importantly, they deal with the heart. We will review each story in this three part series on wealth and relationship to God.

Continue reading “Wealth, God and the Rich Young Ruler”

Money in God’s Economy

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One pretends to be rich[1], yet has nothing; while another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth[2]. Proverbs 13:7

In God’s economy, things are often upside down and inside out, at least from our perspective, because we tend to value things differently than God does. Take money for instance. God says, “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10) This verse, along with the passage about the rich young ruler, cause most of us to pause and consider how different from our ways God’s ways are.

Money is not intrinsically bad. Money, by itself is neither bad nor good. The “love of money”, not money itself, is a root of evil. It is not the money, but how we treat it that is the problem. The “love” comes from us, not from money, itself. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts….” (Mark 7:21)

The fact is that money has no intrinsic value at all. Dollar bills are just pieces of paper. Coins are just inorganic substance. A rock might as well be just as valuable as a dollar bill. So, if money has no intrinsic value, we (people) are the ones who ascribe value to money.

The value of money comes from the value we ascribe to it. Some rocks we value highly, and other rocks we value hardly at all. Diamonds, rubies and precious gems we covet, but pebbles lying at our feet are not worth bending over to pick up.

In God’s economy, however, value is ascribed much differently than the values projected by people in the human marketplace. Because God is who is, the Creator of the Universe, God and what God values are the only things with intrinsic value. The values that people have given things are, ultimately, worthless in God’s economy unless God, Himself, gives them value.

We are God’s crowning creation. God made us, and not we ourselves. (Ps. 100:3) God values people who were made in His image above all things.

It should be no surprise, then that value in the economy of God is ranked according to the greatest commandment (to love God above all things) and to the second greatest commandment (to love our neighbors as ourselves). If we are going to be rich in God’s economy, we should value what God values.

While God may value us most highly, our greatest value must be in God Himself.

When we value money before God and other people, we are deviating from God’s what God values ans accepting something less. Money does, obviously, have value, but the value lies not in the money, itself. The value is imparted by us, by society, and the value is in what money can gain for us. Since money, unlike God and people, has no intrinsic value, it should be subordinated to those things that do have intrinsic value.

Money is not evil in itself. Evil is what flows out of the hearts of people. The value we ascribe to money can be at the heart of all kinds of evil that flow out of our hearts, but money is not the culprit – we are the culprits.

As always, throughout Scripture, the real issue lies with us. Our treasure is where are hearts are. If we do not value God above all things and love other people only second to our love for God, we have the world upside down and inside out.

God’s economy provides freedom from the pressures and the stress of being tied to worldly, fleshy fortunes. When we value what God values, we are free to live as God intends us to live. When we value what God values, we put our treasures up in heaven where the value will not rust, rot, fade or diminish.

The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat. Proverbs 13:8

Money, in God’s economy, has no intrinsic value, but it may be valuable to the extent that it can be used to the benefit of what God values.


[1] The action, “pretends to be rich,” is expressed with the hithpael verb stem.  It conveys a sense of acting on one’s self. The fundamental (“inside”) meaning of hithpael adds an inner layer of meaning beyond the literal sense of the verb – stressing the self-benefit (motivation) driving the subject to act.  This personal benefit is understood from the context (not the form itself) and metaphorically roots to the spiritual or psychological element moving the person to act.

[2] This term, 1952/hôn, implies freedom from pressures of life because enjoying surplus (accumulation).


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Rascals for God

Relationships are more important than the things we have

Young Girl with Pigtails Grinning - smWe visited a church today. The pastor invited some of local youth theater kids to lead worship. It was a small, but sweet congregation. The kids did a great job, just being themselves, and singing their hearts out, which is what they do. God has gifted them with musical talent, good voices and really good friends, and they aren’t afraid to share their talents.

Everyone in the church today was blessed.

The sermon was on a parable not often referenced found at Luke 16:1-9:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

What a weird parable! The manager is called “dishonest”; but he is commended for his “dishonesty”?

The clue to unlock the meaning is in the opening line: the rich man was critical of the manager for wasting “his” possessions. The phrase “his possessions” on first blush means the rich man’s possessions, but use of the pronoun, instead of “rich man” or “manager”, leaves open the possibility that they could be the manager’s possessions. Jesus doesn’t clarify.

The parable only makes sense when we understand that God is the rich man, and we are the manager. The possessions are God’s, but we are entrusted with them. We have nothing that doesn’t originate from God. The gifts (talents) we are born with are from God. Even the things we work hard to “earn” ultimately come from God. God created the universe out of nothing, and everything that exists, including the gift of life, was created and given to us  by God.

God gives everything to us; and, ultimately, we “can’t take them with us”, as the saying goes. We are only the managers of the stuff we have.

The manager in the parable is commended for using the “worldly wealth” to gain friends. The manager knew that he was only a steward of the things the rich man left him, and those things would eventually be taken from him, so he used those things wisely to build relationships for the future. Jesus commended the manager and said he will be “welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

A clear implication of this parable is is that relationships are more important than the things we have. The things we have are temporal. They are subject to rust and rot, but relationships are lasting.

The “moral of the story” comes several verses later:

“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.”  (Luke 16:13)

The most important relationship we have is with God, and a relationship with God is more important than money. We can’t take money with us when we die. Money and possessions will only benefit us while we live. They are ours to manage during our lives. If we use the things we accumulate only for our own benefit, the benefits are only enjoyed (if at all) during our lives.

This isn’t God’s purpose for us. God isn’t happy when we choose the temporal over the eternal.

He also gives us good things to share with others. Sharing our talents and wealth with others is what God wants us to do.

Jesus said it a different way when he told people to store up treasures in heaven where moths and vermin cannot destroy them and thieves cannot steal them. (Mark 6:19-20) If we use our riches for ourselves only, we have our reward, but it is a temporary reward. It’s of no use to us when we die. It is “here today, gone tomorrow”; or maybe more accurately, we are here today, gone tomorrow.

Using our money to bless other people, and thereby build relationships, is the eternal work of God. I don’t believe this principle applies just to money: substitute any other “possessions” (gifts) innate or “earned”, like musical talent, property, whatever it is. If we use what we have on ourselves, we have ultimately wasted and squandered those treasures away. If we use what we have to bless others, we have God’s blessing and we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!

As pastor Mark Flory Steury said in his sermon, the manager was a “rascal”. He used what the rich man left him to endear himself to the people who owed debts to the rich man. We all owe debts to the rich man (God). The manager collected payments that might not have been paid if the manager had not offered the “discount”. When we use our gifts for other people, we only build relationships with other people, and we “collect” from them thankfulness to God for the generosity that is shown.

Jesus told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. He said whatever we do for the least among us, we do for God. When people are filled with gratitude for the things we do and the generosity shown to them, are they not also being thankful to God ? Jesus said they would know us for the love that we show to one another, and that love points to God. When we use what we have for the benefit of others, we store up our treasures in heaven – we are rascals for God.