There seems to be a simmering class warfare between Christians these days.
On one side there are folks who say that God wants you to be rich and healthy. “Come follow Jesus and leave your pain behind!” they shout as they gather followers like a kid hunting Easter eggs. They pull verses out of scripture like Proverbs 10:22
The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.
The God-wants-you-rich crowd tends to look down on poor people because they believe the poor must be far from God because they don’t have His material blessings.
On the other side are the folks who say that the rich are just greedy and selfish. “Don’t you know?” they holler, “Jesus said it is hard for a rich person to get into heaven. Give all your stuff away and that will prove that you are on the team because God loves the poor.”
So which side’s right?
The short answer, for those of you with short attention spans (and want to skip past a long explanation), is neither extreme is right.
But didn’t Jesus say that stuff about rich people and heaven? Yep. He sure did. But let’s look at the scripture passage in context.
The story that the God-loves-the-poor-and-hates-the-rich crowd clings to so much is actually found three different times in scripture in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is repeated three times so it must be important. Let’s look at the story in the book of Matthew.
Jesus just had an encounter with a rich guy who wanted to know what he needed to do be acceptable to God. He was asking Jesus how he could be good enough to get into heaven on his own merit. At the end of the conversation Jesus tells him to sell everything he had, give to the poor, and then follow after Jesus. The guy wasn’t willing to do that and went away sad.
Apparently he was very rich.
Now let’s pick up the story in Matthew 19:23-26
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again–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!”
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
In each of the three versions of the story Jesus repeats the line about it being hard for a rich person to get into heaven. That makes at least 6 times the bible records Jesus saying it. The idea must be important!
On the surface it sounds a lot like Jesus is firmly in the poor, God-hates-the-rich camp. But that quick superficial look misses Jesus’ point entirely.
The people Jesus was actually speaking to at the time had a slightly twisted view of God. They were at the extreme end of the God-wants-you-rich spectrum. They firmly believed that wealth was proof that people were favored by God. They looked at the whole of scripture through a lens like the example from Proverbs I mentioned. Through out the gospels you see time and time again that the followers of Jesus had that view of God.
Jesus had to do some radical communicating to break through all of their misunderstandings. It wasn’t time for pruning back the branches. He had to cut down the tree all together.
He completely removed financial status from equation as far as what it took to please God. His point was not that being rich is bad in God’s eyes. His point was that being rich (or being poor) was totally irrelevant and completely missed what was important.
What God wants is for people to put Him first. The rich guy Jesus was talking to right before that story wanted to keep all his stuff ahead of God. Jesus said that didn’t cut it. Jesus was crystal clear throughout his teaching: God first. Everything else comes after that.
When he was asked what the single most important thing was for people to do, Jesus could have answered, “Sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor and become poor yourself.”
But he didn’t.
Instead he answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”
You do that, Jesus said, and love other people as much as you love yourself, then you are covered. Everything else is secondary.
All the junk that Christians bicker over is incredibly petty. Rich or Poor? Makes no difference. Christians need to get over themselves, their need to be right, and get out of God’s way.
The bottom line is simple. Do you love God? Do you love others?
Where do you stand?
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