The Most Dangerous Pursuit – Ministry Spot

Ministry Spot

What is it that makes us different from most Christians in church history? What is the first thing our brothers and sisters from other times in church history would notice about us? Would it be the number of Bibles we have in our homes? Would it be all the technology and gadgets and white goods we use? Would it be how little time we spend working together, eating together, and praying together? One thing they’d notice is that we are rich. I’m talking about money. They would notice our wealth, and they would know something about wealth that we tend to suppress. Biblically speaking, wealth is not inherently good, nor is inherently evil. But it’s also not neutral, if by “neutral” you mean no big deal. In a word, wealth is dangerous. Our brothers and sisters from other centuries knew this, but we have largely talked ourselves out of it.

The danger of wealth is explicit in the Bible. In Luke 18:25 Jesus said, “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 knew what Jesus meant, that it was impossible for rich people to be saved, and so Jesus had to remind them that nothing was impossible for God. Rich people can be saved, but it will take a miracle. In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul writes about the most dangerous pursuit one can have: “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” James is kind of blunt in James 5:1 – “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” When pastors are courageous enough to preach the peculiar dangers presented by wealth, they pay a price: parishioners push back with a vengeance. If a pastor is “foolish” enough to preach the text faithfully, he will touch not just a nerve, but an idol. We will fight to keep our idols.

Here are the top six objections I’ve encountered when the danger of wealth is mentioned at church. These talking points function as self-justifying moves, keeping us in an infantile state in which we refuse to receive wisdom about handling our wealth well. To say that we remain as infants concerning the danger of wealth is not quite accurate because infants actually grow every day whereas our excuses keep us in a change-resistant state our entire life. We die with our opinions intact, unphased by the Holy Spirit’s convicting work on this subject.

If someone suggests that wealth is dangerous, our first objection is: “the Bible is interested in spiritual poverty, not physical poverty, in things that are in heaven above, not things that are on earth here below.” Perhaps such a person has been reading Plato’s Republic, but when we read the Bible, we’ll discover that God is quite interested in both the spiritual and the physical. When James 5:5 says, “you have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence,” he’s not talking about spiritual wealth.

The second excuse I hear in defence of a wealthy lifestyle: “I grew up poor, and I’m doing OK today because I’ve worked hard all my life.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the “I grew up poor” story, I’d be a millionaire. Most of us grew up poor, so it’s not exactly relevant to mention it. Our memories of childhood poverty sometimes form the foundation of a fear-based approach to life in which we stockpile, insure, and overprotect ourselves to death.

Third objection: “there were plenty of rich people in the Bible who were believers, so don’t try to make me feel guilty about being rich. Abraham, Job, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, and Lydia – these were wealthy believers.” This is true. And there should be no guilt attached to honest wealth. Remember, we’re talking here not about the sinfulness of wealth but about the danger of wealth. I’m teaching my fifth child how to drive a car right now and we are both increasingly aware of how dangerous the road is. That danger drives us to log 120 hours behind the wheel. Do I give my children 120 lessons in the handling of money? Do we give the adults in our churches a refresher course now and then on the simultaneous blessing and danger of wealth?

Fourth objection: “it’s only the love of money that is the root of evil, not money per se.” It’s good to know that people are paying attention to the precise wording of 1 Timothy 6:10, but we might be unaware of how much we actually love money. One way to find out is to suggest that someone give a substantial amount of money away and see what happens. This is what I’ve observed: you can march through the gospel of Matthew with your Bible study group, taking a different passage every week. You get to the story of the faith of the Roman centurion, and people will say, “That reminds me of the time when we prayed for my uncle and God healed him.” You get to the story where Jesus and Peter walk on the water, and people will try to relate it to their own life – “I’ve never walked on water, but I just feel that Jesus is asking us to step out in faith.” But when you get to the story of the rich, young ruler, where Jesus tells the man to give all his wealth to the poor and to come follow Him, people will say, “Jesus is not saying this to us; He said it to that particular man because that particular man had an issue.” We are quite good at contextual exegesis when our lifestyle is on the line.

Fifth objection: “giving resources away to the poor is foolish, because help of that sort usually hurts more than it helps.” One of my favourite books about mercy ministry to the poor is entitled When Helping Hurts. The authors acknowledge that a lot of well-intentioned schemes only perpetuate dependency. But their goal is to teach you effective ways of being generous, not give you an excuse to do nothing. When Jesus tells the rich young ruler to give everything away to the poor, Jesus isn’t so concerned about how it will impact the poor, He’s focused on what good it will do the rich man. We think poverty is the big problem to solve, so we are critical of Jesus’ command. Jesus thinks the big problem is the danger wealth poses to our souls.

Objection number six: “communism is evil, sharing all things in common never works, and capitalism has done more than anything to pull people out of poverty.” Fair enough. We don’t necessarily need to change our politics or our economic vision. We might need to change our relationship with wealth, so that it isn’t an idol, or a lover, but a mere instrument in the hands of a steward.

To protect against the danger of wealth, acquire these four things: a heart of contentment, a simple lifestyle, generous hands, and a strategic vision. Paul tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” According to the Bible, getting ahead in life is about being content, appreciating what you’ve already received from God’s hand. The biggest gift you’ve received is Christ Himself! Simplicity is about structuring your life so that you have practical guardrails and boundaries to help your heart in its pursuit of contentment. Generosity is a response to need, going beyond the tithe to love your neighbour with actual deeds. Strategic vision is not just a response, it’s a proactive plan to generate wealth for the glory of God. It’s about investing in institutions, in ministries, in missions, in people. What Jesus was most excited about with the rich young ruler was not the wealth redistribution or the downsizing; it was the part that the young man never got around to: following Jesus, being with Jesus. In Mark 10:21 it says that Jesus loved the young man, even as that young man walked away. It is that love of Jesus, a love that cost Him everything, that will draw us back, redeem us, and change our relationship with money.