"Give me neither poverty nor riches- Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:8b-9)
"The man who is not satisfied with what he has will not be satisfied with what he wishes he had". - Author Unknown
The economic crisis that the world is facing right now has led us once again to the question of money, riches and labor. Unbelievers have their own opinions about money and riches; and some, while not saved, have a better attitude toward money than believers.
Understanding riches, money, labor, enterprise, and good financial sense does not come packaged with salvation. Because of a weak understanding, or a lack of teaching, it is not uncommon today to see believers in debt and with poor habits in relation to finance, work and even wealth. Therefore, the goal of this message is not so much based on money and wealth in general as much as on believers putting to practice tried and true methods in order to become more balanced and healthy Christians.
1. GOD'S MIDDLE CLASS
I believe that God's will for the majority of believers is that they live economically in the so-called middle class. According to Agur's prayer, we can clearly determine that the "golden median" is the best.
Too much or too little money can be dangerous. Riches have their own trap, just as poverty. I am convinced that poverty can be very unhealthy and dangerous for our spiritual and physical health. If we examine carefully, we see in the newspapers and on the news that welfare communities more often see unrest than their wealthier counterparts.
On the other hand, the answer is not in wealth, because, as Jesus said, the rich man may have an obstacle in entering God's kingdom. "Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)
In Christianity there are two unhealthy polar divisions. One side is convinced that it is more spiritual to be poor and the other to be rich. The idea of poverty as a spiritual condition for the believer stems from Saint Francis of Assisi who was a man of good works. The problem was that from this came an entire teaching and movement, a covenant of poverty. While this was a personal decision, we can say with certainty that poverty is not God's plan for mankind.
Many verses in the Old and New Testaments clearly state God's plan for His people is to be fruitful and multiply materially and spiritually. From the very beginning in Genesis God promised to bless our forefather of faith Abraham. "Now the LORD had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.'" (Genesis 12:1-2) Not only did God bless his decedents, whom we read about in Genesis, in Proverbs we read about the richest king on earth - Solomon.
In the Proverbs we find counsel and verses that generally speak about wealth, money, and finances. Although I do not want to share a lot of verses, I am convinced that the golden median is intended for most Christians. We need to learn to be satisfied, as Paul was; we need to learn to live with little and with much. "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:12-13)
Moses warned about the dangers of wealth when he told the Israelites about the danger of forgetting God. For many, riches give the sense that we do not need to depend upon God because they have more than enough, which prevents them from sincerely crying out to God and living in passionate relationship with Him. "Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest-when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
We can see from the prophet Nehemiah's prayer that the people rebelled against God, but before that they had become rich. "And they took strong cities and a rich land, And possessed houses full of all goods, Cisterns already dug, vineyards, olive groves, And fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and grew fat, And delighted themselves in Your great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient And rebelled against You, Cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets, who testified against them To turn them to Yourself; And they worked great provocations." (Nehemiah 9:25-26) God spoke to His people through the prophet Hosea that riches are dangerous for believers because, if they acquire riches without a proper attitude toward them, there is the possibility that they will turn from God. "When they had pasture, they were filled; They were filled and their heart was exalted; Therefore they forgot Me." (Hosea 13:6)
Concerning poverty, the Bible is very clear: nowhere is poverty exalted as a spiritual preference. It is up to us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to learn to be satisfied in everything, but God never wanted His people to be continually poor. Poverty and removal of blessing are often tied with God's discipline and disobedience that cause a blockage in receiving blessing.Often, because of sin, God gave His people over to another nation that oppressed them, placed them in bondage, and robbed them of their riches. Remember their exodus into Babylonian slavery and the number of defeats they experienced because they did not trust in the Lord their God? During these events God's people were poor until they repented and turned back to Him; after which they once again experienced His blessing.
No one today wants to be poor and most motivational speakers claim that the poor are very negative people. The poor cannot afford proper medical care; healthy food, vitamins and minerals needed for good health, or proper rest. Yet, on the other hand I must say that every believer can fall on hard times due to poor financial decisions or simply difficult circumstances that lead to momentary poverty. This does not mean that it is God's will that believers be continually poor or that they are more spiritual or moral because they are poor.
2. WORK AND GOD'S KINGOM
"For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13)
"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." - Henry Ford
The situation was clear; the leading problem then, as well as now, was laziness. How many Christians do not succeed in their private businesses or workplaces simply because they are lazy and do not want to work? They are not only lazy and disinterested in working; they wonder why their co-workers do not come to Christ. Yet, how will they come to Christ when their bad attitudes do not show Christ in a good light? How many times have I witnesses this kind of believer who considers work a curse or a necessary evil to pay their bills.
One of the reasons why there are so many poor Christians with credit or unpaid bills is because of laziness that will not allow them to change their status or advance in enterprise. Do not deceive yourselves; money does not fall from heaven, even when we ask God to provide.
According to Sanjin Frlan, Croatian author of the book "Financial Revival" or "How to Become Rich in Croatia", many people lack action. Laziness holds many back by reasoning "No one can succeed in Croatia, its too much work! I don't have money! I don't have time, I don't have the motivation!" Soon they find themselves at 60 years of age without having accomplished anything of importance.
It's only a matter of time before the government will be bankrupt and many government benefits will disappear, such as government assistance, paid sick leave, paid vacations, reimbursements, etc. Many government employees will lose their jobs, or will barely get by. I strongly believe that the only key to success for what lies ahead is enterprise in which believers experience good economic growth and rise to a higher class.
Therefore, work is a good thing. If you are employed somewhere, how are you presenting Christ? Do shave and clean up for work and arrive on time with a good attitude, or do you arrive unkempt, late and with a bunch of excuses as to why you could not show up on time? Do you take sick leave often? When it comes time to handing out pink slips, who do you think they will lay off first? You! Whether or not you are a Christian, whether or not you pray in tongues. If you do not have a work ethic and if you are not careful, God will not help you regardless of how much you pray for more money. More money will only come to those who know how to work. It is impossible to have money without working for it. Yet many think that a work ethic has nothing to do with Christianity.
This was the situation in Thessalonica. Some of the believers wrongly taught that Christ was coming soon, so they left their daily responsibilities and did not plan for the future. This lack of activity and laziness led them to sin. They became a burden on the church, that was assisting them financially, and they became busybodies, which in the original language means that they were focused on other people's lives and gossiping. Not only that, they considered themselves to be more spiritual because they did not work. When you don't do anything, when you don't serve anywhere, you have to fill your free time with less valuable activities such as gossip because it makes you seem more interesting since you always have the latest news (which is often distorted and untrue).
The solution Paul gives is very simple: do not fellowship with these believers and do not give them financial assistance because hunger and poverty are often a good initiative to action. Of course, we must admonish our brother in love. "Yet count [him] not as an enemy, but admonish [him] as a brother." (2 Thessalonians 3:15)
We must direct them to the Proverbs in addition to 1 Corinthians so they can become balanced spiritually. Honestly, people in Croatia are hedonistic, lazy, and very negative. I believe this is partly because of the former socialist system, in which they expected the government to care for their housing needs, and sometimes their food and clothing. Those times are far behind us now and if our economic system doesn't pull together, we will always remain poor, unhappy, negative and bitter about everything around us.
How can we succeed? I believe in a couple of ways: careful work and determination. Therefore, we conclude that work is a spiritual thing because it enables provision and a testimony in many areas of life. We cannot separate a work ethic from our relationship with Christ by saying that it is not important.
3. PROGRESS AND WEALTH
"Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
"There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men." - Billy Graham
In the original Greek these verses refer to the wealthy believers of that time, not worldly people who had money. Ephesus was a rich city and there were wealthy members in the church. Paul instructed Timothy to teach the wealthy believers that they have a great responsibility, because those who have more ought to give, and not be arrogant toward others because of their possessions. Paul was not judging people who wanted to become rich; rather he was speaking of those who were already rich.
Wealth in and of itself is not evil, just as a 100 dollar bill is not evil.
Apart from the golden median, God's will is for a certain percentage of Christians to be wealthy. Many of us grew up under socialism, we learned in school, and later in church, that money and wealth were evil and that we could not be wealthy and spiritual at the same time. These erroneous ideas are still taught in churches and hold many in ignorance and poverty. Some go to extremes by despising wealthy people in the church, considering them to be less spiritual.
Nowhere in the Bible does it speak against money or riches, but it does speak about a wrong usage of riches. The Word tells us that the root of every evil is "the love of money". Wealth and money are material things and in and of themselves do not have the power of good and evil; it all depends on how they are used.
We can use money for drugs or for tracts, we can use it to buy a boat or to build a church, we can use it to buy a luxury car or something less luxurious, while using what is left to purchase a bicycle for an evangelist in India or Africa. Just because money and riches can be misused, or used for many things moral and immoral, does not mean that it needs to be avoided.
The kingdom of God is manifest through the local body, and the ministry cannot operate without money. Actually, money is an important factor in extending the work of God. The gospel is free, but conveying it to others requires an investment.
This is why we are called to give our tithes and offerings. Western Christianity is filled with many examples of wealthy Christians who gave their money and riches to the kingdom of heaven on earth and blessed local churches and ministries throughout the world because they recognized that everything they achieved in the end was because of the Lord; they did not lay up treasures for themselves like the rich man in the gospel of Luke, about whom Jesus told the story. This story is often presented as proof that Christians cannot be rich, when the story actually speaks about human greed. "And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses...So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.'" (Luke 12:15, 21)
In that day the Jews looked at whether or not wealth was used for self or others. This was the usual view of wealth among the Jews, who emphasized benevolence toward others.
Therefore, when Paul spoke to Timothy about riches, he did not define it as something negative, as the Gnostics did later, rather he said that everything, in and of itself, is created for good. "For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
Everything that God has made is good, what is important is how we use it. For example, gluttony and obesity misuse God's gift of food, lust misuses God's gift of love, and murder misuses God's gift of life. Material goods, such as money and riches, are not evil, they are passing. For Paul, people's needs were more important than material riches.
It is not a sin to be a rich believer, the question is are we accumulating material wealth for ourselves or ministering to others and honoring God. Do we think we are more spiritual if we are rich? It is not less spiritual to work and become wealthy when we have the right attitude and an understanding that we have a greater responsibility to give to God's kingdom. God's will for Christians is that we advance in the area of economics and that we at least find ourselves in the "golden median". Yet, if we wish to become wealthy, our wealth does not just serve our desires, rather with it comes with a responsibility to use it for God's work.