What about Christians owning diamonds, nice jewelry, fancy cars, homes…?
Q. What should be a Christian’s attitude toward money and material possessions? Can (should) Christians have nice material possessions (things) like cars, houses, jewelry, diamonds…? How are Christians to help the poor and needy, including the Christians in the Sudan region of Africa who are being murdered, exiled, raped, enslaved, etc.? Will we be judged at the Bema according to how selfishly we lived, whether we helped the poor and the outcasts, or whether we didn’t?
A. There are a number of passages of Scripture that direct us to help the poor and needy, and some are in the context of the future judgments. Jesus speaks of the judgment of Israel when he says the following in Matthew 25:41-46 (NRSV):
(41) Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me…;
(42) for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
(43) I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
(44) Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
(45) Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
(46) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We know that Jesus was speaking to people before the Day of Pentecost, and therefore before the time when salvation was offered by grace. The time of judgment of which he speaks is the “sheep and goat” judgment of Israel. For the Christian Church, the future judgment at the Bema is for rewards only, not salvation, because we are already assured of that.
But we can and should apply the truth of this passage to the judgment for the Church, and recognize that taking care of the poor is one of the things that matters very much to the Lord. That is one reason why Christians need to be a part of a community, because the many things that can be done to help the poor are best offered by a community pooling its resources.
For instance, Spirit & Truth Fellowship International is able to distribute more than 10% of its resources to help our poor brethren in developing countries because of the financial provision that comes in to support our vision. Our supporters can participate in an organized effort to support those poor Christians who we know are deeply committed to the Gospel and who are working hard to benefit their fellow countrymen.
It would be hard for our supporters to develop their own relationship with the poor in other countries through their own travel and research, but we have been to the Philippines, Africa, Haiti, etc., and have reported back on what we have found and who we believe are good people to invest in. In this way the Body of Christ works together to benefit all. The poor are helped and the wealthier are given an opportunity to help.
Regarding the tragic situation in the Sudan, we are trying to keep people in our community informed about it, but we have not yet heard of any specific organization that we could recommend that is able to help the Sudanese Christians. We are sure there are such groups, but we have not heard of them yet.
The same conditions exist for many Christians in countries with Islamic governments, and in the few remaining Communist countries. These people all need help and support from their Christian brethren, especially prayer support.
But we know that it is not enough to just offer prayers for the needy. As 1 John 3:17 and 18 (NRSV) says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Throughout Church History, the compassionate Christian response to human need has been one of the best advertisements for our faith. No other religion has given so much to so many for so little in return. Hospitals, schools, shelters, food, and clothing have been provided by Christian relief efforts since the first century. There should be no question in our minds about the value of these works and how they please the Lord who inspires them.
Nevertheless, there is a balance involved—a balance between the social aspects of the Gospel and the doctrinal aspects. If all we do is feed the poor, but never preach the Word, we keep people alive for a while but do not give them the opportunity for everlasting life in the Age to Come. If all we do is teach and preach to poor people without helping them with the practical necessities of life, we are not really serving them in a godly way. Both are needed.
In our travels overseas, we have seen firsthand the intense and pervasive poverty among the people in developing countries. Despair envelopes those who suffer the daily indignities of such brutal conditions, and also overwhelms the visitor. Where does one even begin to help? We have come to the conviction that we must start by helping them understand God’s Word that feeds their faith and helps them begin to overcome their circumstances.
As we keep building the Word of God in the lives of leaders, we see more and more ways that we can help them. At first we thought that we could help them only by giving them money to live on, so they could devote themselves to their ministries. But we found over time that we were not strengthening them or helping the leaders to lead their people by example as much as we might. So on our last trip to the Philippines we instituted a new program of encouraging entrepreneurship among the leaders associated with us. We are encouraging them to think of ways they can start businesses that will earn money as well as provide jobs for their fellow believers. So far, the program, limited as it is has been, has been a success. If anyone would like to contribute toward this effort to empower our servant – leaders to start businesses, let us know.
The long-range vision of our work in developing nations integrates both the doctrinal and the practical, teaching the Word and helping people with “the world’s goods.” Both are necessary to help lift people out of spiritual and financial poverty and enable them to get the Word out in their countries.
You asked about the proper attitude toward money. Again we see a balance, and I recommend you listen (or read the transcription) to Dan Gallagher’s January 2003 teaching of the Month on the stewardship model of handling finances.
There are two extremes between which the stewardship model is suspended. One is the “poverty model,” which elevates poverty as the ideal state for a Christian because only in poverty are we truly dependent upon God. The monastic movement of the Middle Ages was based upon the idea that the most spiritual lifestyle centered around the renunciation of all material goods in order to concentrate on spiritual things. Ironically, the monasteries often became very wealthy landowners, and monks were typically very well fed, prompting an exponential growth of the monastic movement. Monasteries were viewed as the surest way to salvation and a secure place to live with one’s basic necessities provided.
The other extreme is a product of 20th Century Christianity, mirroring the expansive economic growth of the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age. That is the “prosperity model,” which assumes that financial prosperity is the ideal state of being, and argues that God’s will is financial prosperity for every believing believer.
The poverty model does not do justice to the nature of God as abundant provider. It is not wealth, per se, that presents problems for believers, but trusting in it, as it is written:
1 Timothy 6:17 (NRSV)
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not … to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
The prosperity model does not do justice to the wonderful faith of many believers through history who lived in dire economic conditions with extreme disparity between the rich and the poor. The poor have little recourse in economies that favor the rich, and they have no access to capital or assets that would help them work their way out of poverty. Christians who are raised in such conditions cannot be told that they are poor because they are failing to believe God. Perhaps in America this is true to an extent, because if a person is truly motivated and has a little luck or providence, he or she can sometimes lift themselves out of poverty.
Even in a prosperous country like the USA, however, many Christian poor are often without much recourse economically, and work at jobs that barely allow them to survive. Though they may not have much in the way of money, they can be abundant in all the things that money can’t buy, like the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22 and 23). God’s Word plainly warns us against thinking that financial abundance is an indicator of spirituality or faith (1 Tim. 6:5-11).
The stewardship model is a balance between the two extremes, recognizing all finances and material things as belonging to God. Our part is to steward what He has given us, and “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48 — NRSV).
Scripture directs us so succinctly to work hard “to have something to share with the needy” (Eph. 4:28 — NRSV).