October 4, 2010
We had a message at church regarding how "rich" we are in the USA in comparison with other countries. No amount of money ever seems to be enough. Greed will always be a sin! Mark 7:21-22
Gordon Gekko and the Apostle Paul may be similar in a way. The trait of envy, lust, jealousy, greed and coveting can be good or bad depending on the object of ones attention. James says, â€œYou lust and do not have; so you commit murder.â€ The word he uses for lust is â€œzelooâ€, the same root word that Paul uses when he says in 1 Corinthians 12:31 â€œBut covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.â€ It is the same word that used in 1 Corinthians 14:1 â€œFollow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesyâ€ and in 1 Corinthians 14:39 â€œWherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.â€ In Hebrew, the word "covet" or â€œchabadâ€, is defined as "desire, lust, carnal excitement, greed, avarice, grasping, envious, as well as pleasant, charming, beloved, lovely, delightful, and desirable.Deuteronomy forbids coveting â€œthy neighborâ€™s wife,...thy neighborâ€™s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass...â€ This is the greed and coveting we usually think of. Yet we are commanded to have a strong desire to acquire spiritual gifts. In fact, the Greek word zeloo has the connotation of being heated to the point of boiling over, as in being hotly jealous. Paul is not just commanding us to cultivate a desire to prophesy or have spiritual gifts, he is urging a burning desire to pursue the subject. Gordon Gekko, in his single-minded zealous pursuit of money has misplaced the healthy object of his affection. He has resorted to idolatry.The difference between the negative use of coveting and the positive use of coveting also has to do with the beneficiary of coveting. We lust purely for selfish reasons and accumulate excess money and belongings strictly for ourself.The positive use of coveting has the benefit of the church in mind. The degree of emotion may be the same, but in the positive sense we desire the abundant spiritual wealth of others. â€œforasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.â€ Sorry for taking this is a little different direction but sometimes when the answer is obvious its fun to take a little side trip.
So is $75,000 the magic number? If we desire to earn more than that, are we being greedy?I don't know about a "magic number," but I do think that everyone who calls him- or herself a follower of Christ should adhere to an income cap, which they decide on prayerfully as the amount of money they (and/or their family) truly need to have the means to live a modest lifestyle and save some for the future.I once met a man from another country who told me about a shocking experience he'd had with American Christians. He'd been living in the States for a little while, and gotten involved in a Bible study. When they got to the passage in which Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give it to the poor, he was absolutely shocked to hear them all interpret the passage as a spiritual metaphor rather than an economic challenge; he told me that everywhere else in the world where he has heard that passage expounded on, it's been understood as a literal call for the wealthy to forgo wealth and give the bulk of their wealth to the poor.I think American Christianity in particular is guilty of ignoring the Bible's call to modesty as a lifestyle, and the Biblical mandate for God's people to be involved in the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. (Whether or not we agree that government should be involved in said redistribution is immaterial; there is no way one can perform an honest reading of the Bible and not come away with the conclusion that God believes wealth should be redistributed.) We celebrate those who flaunt their wealth, those with fancy new things, rather than celebrating those who live within their means and who make the most out of everything they have.I believe that every American Christian should search his/her heart and consider exactly how much he/she needs for a modest lifestyle and a nest egg for the future, and decide on an upper limit for his/her income, above which 100% of money taken in will be given to social justice and anti-poverty causes. I believe that every American Christian, and every American church, should be involved in prophetically telling the wealthy, both within the congregation and outside it, that it is a mandate from God that they live modestly and redistribute the vast majority of their wealth to the poor - and that to hold on to wealth while others suffer in poverty is a grave sin against our Creator.
I do not think Americans have the monopoly on greed although Hollywood & Televangelists might give that impression. I have noticed that when a pastor is calling his flock to greater giving it is almost always to 'the church' ! meaning of course that particular denomination or fellowship. Jesus never called for greater giving to the Temple but always to the poor. No matter what income we have, our giving to those in need should be sacrificial & God led then we can't go wrong.
How much is enough? I've heard it said a rich man on his death bed answered the question this as to how much is enough: "one more dollar..."
You might be interested in the shift that occurred in the history of Christian thought on the relationship between wealth and greed. It is indeed surprising the bredth of views on it within the religion. In my essay (see link below), I discuss this shift from the standpoint of Christianity as a potential normative constraint on the greed we saw in the financial crisis of 2008. In short, the shift went from anti- to pro-wealth, and then the Reformers sought to return to the anti-wealth stance. The question is whether they succeeded. If you or your readers are interested, please see http://thewordenreport.blogspo...
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