The Rich Life Is A Simple Life
Brethren talk about the simplicity of the Gospel, and some do not really realize the full significance of the statement. The simplicity of the Gospel is not that it is easy to understand (witness the confusion of the religious world). Rather, simplicity is singleness. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto thee" (Matt. 6:33).
In Matt. 6:22 Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." To seek the Kingdom of God first, means we must have a singleness of purpose, rather than a diversion of action in various directions at one time. Or more simply put, the Christian has a singleness of purpose of life, uncluttered by running off in ten directions at once. Divided loyalties, demonstrated by "whom we serve," destroy the "single eye" set upon a goal, a single goal. I am reminded-of a genius I knew in college who had so many interests he could concentrate on none of them, and so felt frustrated and stymied all the time. The solution to his problem would have been to concentrate on one thing till he had mastered it. As it was, even with great ability, he never accomplished anything.
Jesus showed us the opposite to simplicity of purpose in the same passage. "But if thine eye shall be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness" (6:23). Purity of heart is to seek one thing. When we will the righteousness of God, we will one thing, for only in good is there unity. Evil is a "double mind" - a mind seeking good, yet following after other things. Jesus called such a divided mind "Evil." It is not difficult to recognize, though it seems to be hard to admit. Jesus disclaimed the hypocrisy of the generation of His day that outwardly appeared like a whitewashed tomb, but inwardly was filled with corruption. The single minded men of Acts 19:18-20 readily destroyed whatever gain may have been theirs, that they might prove the simplicity of purpose they sought. They sacrificed wealth to make a point. What men say and what they do are often, two different things. People can justify any action, and then decry other's efforts to "judge" them. But, when one profits so readily by his action, he protestations of piety are hard to accept (Jn. 12:6; Acts 16:19; 19:24).
The Christian and Economics
One economic system has become wedded in the eyes of many to the principles of Christianity. "Free Enterprise," "Capitalism," and the "Profit Motive" have become very firmly entrenched in many minds with "sound" thinking. It is not our point here to debate one economic system over another, merely to point out that under God's scheme of things there is a divine economic system in which all Christians are to abide, regardless of what culture they happen to live in. God's system requires that the Christian "think not on his own things, but on the things of others." "Regard others more highly than oneself." "Lend, give again, with no hope of recompense." "If one ask of you your cloak, give him your vest as well." Common capitalism is based upon an economic system which is not to provide goods and services for the consumer, but to keep the system going and produce profit. It is a common mistake to believe that the purpose of free enterprise is to provide better goods and services. Quite simply, it exists to produce a profit. And, a truly free enterprise system ultimately produces monopolistic expansion till the resources and capital of the system are controlled by a few holders. This does not require a degree in economics to understand, just an evening playing Monopoly with some friends will illustrate the mechanics of capitalism in a closed system. Our economy survives only by constantly expanding production and markets. Without this expansion and increased consumption the economy will ultimately wind down and crash.
To maintain and increase consumption, the "product" must continually be marketed to produce profit. Before our present economic system arose, man produced what he needed, and what he could not produce he gained by trading services or products. Value was placed upon the production of quality, utilitarian products which were purchased seldom and maintained frugally. By necessity, a product was worthless if it was disposable. But as this culture moved away from a utilitarian economic system to an industrial capitalistic one, value was placed upon the consumable item. The market grew, profits grew, and the system grew. Today we live in a world that is based upon the disposable and rapidly replaced consumable. There is no value to the producer in making a product which will never be replaced.
This view point of economics also permeates the thinking of people caught up in it towards their values in life and relationships. The commodity culture sees everything, including people as commodities to be bought, sold, manipulated and then thrown away. Even sex is reduced to a means for selling something, an opportunity to exploit another's body, or just something to do for fun.
The Bible has a great deal to say about the Christian and economics. How we use our money and our possessions, our concepts of value and worth, what and how much we consume, our economic relationships with other people and the church, our frugality, thrift, and concern for other's rights are all very much a part of God's revelation. There is such a thing as a Christian economic system. It is not a national system, and cannot be practiced by the world; it is an individual system that can only be practiced by the free-will of the child of God.
First of all, the single life, seeking first what the Kingdom of God requires, demands that we do just that. Jesus, as King, is not to be compartmentalized out of reality. a is our President, Chairman, Editor, Leader, Coin ander-in-Chief, and King. We must follow Him in the way that we live. To intellectualize the Lord out of our daily living is to deny His Lordship. Christianity is an attempt to adopt a social life that is conformed to the truth of God's revelation (cf. Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-37; 2 Cor. 9:5-13, et. al). To do this does not require the tearing down of existing economic systems, but living and teaching God's way. Christians need to be a "counter-culture," i.e. a body of people who live within a society, yet apart, living by a standard different than those round about them. Artificial enforcement of any economic system is foolish. We can leave it to God to take care of the world, and concentrate our efforts upon our own lives and those we touch. Consider a few aspects of God's economic system.
The Role of Possessions
The right of personal property is nowhere denied in the scriptures (Acts 5:4 for one). But then on the other hand, it is evident from the Bible that God takes nothing from any man, and never has. It is for man to sacrifice, and God to receive. As David put it, "I will offer nothing in sacrifice which cost me nothing." Psalms 24 teaches us that all property ultimately belongs to God, and for the Christian all property is a stewardship (Luke 12:35-38, 42). The Christian does not view personal property as an end, but as a means. The Christian as a servant of God cannot say, "this is mine, and mine to use for me." It is no man's right to tell another, or to demand of another sacrifice of personal possessions - but God certainly requires such singleness of devotion.
I question the morality of a Christian using wealth to continually acquire more wealth. Wealth, again, is a means to serve God, by the spending of that wealth for the Kingdom of God. Wealth is not to be used for indulgence. "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they alone might be placed in the midst of the earth" (Isa. 5:8). Affluence is depicted by God as evil when it causes man to put his dependence on wealth, or when it is obtained at the economic expense of others (Deut. 8:l0ff; Mic. 2:lff). Abundance is meant to be enjoyed and used, not hoarded, or invested for further abundance. Illustrative of this principle, the Lord institued the Passover meal, as both a memorial and a remembrance of what God had done for Israel. The meal was of common, and bitter foods to remind the Jew of the terror filled night that they waited upon God's mercy. The Manna, given freely by God in the wilderness, was not storable. The Jew could only gather enough for himself for one day, to remind him that his life depended upon God, and not on man's ability to plan for the future. Jesus' words remind us in our prayers to petition God "for our daily bread." The man who tears down his barns to build bigger barns to store away his abundance, that he might spend it in indulgence, confident that he has provided for his future is called a "fool."
Possessions are not evil. God looked upon His creation and declared it good. But men develop a perverted view of the material and refuse to acknowledge the place such things have in God's purpose. Hence, people take what is good and use it to their own hurt. That which God gave us for our good is abused to bring about such evils as greed, envy, suspicion, covetousness, exploitation, and alienation. The love of gain is still the root of all evil. Therefore, possessions are only good when they are used, shared, or given away.
In Luke 18:24, 25, Jesus did not say that it would be impossible for the rich man to enter heaven, but that it would be very difficult. It can happen, but the rich man who goes to heaven is the exception rather than the rule. They are about as rare as camels going through needle's eyes. The rich young ruler was told how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: divest yourself of your wealth, give it to those who are in need, and follow the Kingdom of Heaven first, and all your physical needs will be cared for by God (Luke 18:22; Matt. 6:33). The rich young master was lost, because his affluence held him so tightly that he could not let it go, and he went away sorrowfully, but still rich and indulgent. Today, I doubt seriously that any of the wealthy brethren will sell their Cadillacs, Mercedes Benzes, and second and third cars. I doubt. they will sell their lands and houses and purchase a modest and utilitarian home. I seriously question whether the rich among us will clean out their assets, stocks, bonds, investments, or savings accounts and give the money to preachers in needy fields, indigent brethren, struggling churches, or any other necessary and needy cause in the Kingdom of God. They will not, for the same reason the rich young ruler did not.
Too often brethren compromise God's reality by claiming the world's reality. How many times have we heard, "That is all very well and good, and we would all like to see such sacrifice, but we live in a real world. I can not be expected to live like everyone else just to prove a point. I have a right to my wealth." "We live in a world of consumption!" they cry, "I can't be expected to give up all I have worked for and `follow God'!" It is interesting how we negate such plain Bible teaching. What was the reality of Jesus life?' Did God forsake his needs? What was the reality of John the Baptist's life? Did God fail him? What kind of life did Paul live, or any of the other New Testament worthies that we are to follow as an example? God does not require us to be ascetics; He calls for something far better: a thoughtful, single-minded, service of all we possess for God! Abundance is only a blessing when it is freely given away.
Singleness of Heart
The single life is one uncontrolled by things. The only way we can sever our being controlled by things is to divest ourselves of them in service to God. This does not mean that the Christian must become poor (though it might: Luke 9:23, 24; 2 Cor. 8:9; Luke 1:53; Matt. 25;31-46). When our wealth is in wealth, then it is not in God (Matt. 6:21). There is no inherent value in poverty, but there is wealth of spirit, treasure in heaven, for the one who gives up what he has to be used for God. Practically speaking that means giving it into the church treasury, direct support of preachers and preaching, helping indigent churches and brethren, doing good socially as we have opportunity, or whatever. There has never been a lack of opportunity to do good with our wealth. The demand of the Kingdom has always far outstripped the supply in my experience. At this moment there are men who are giving their all to preach the gospel in difficult places. They have no money, barely enough for groceries and rent. Their children go without, his wife wears old clothes, and he has not bought a book for months. There are brethren without food, shelter, or clothing, who depend daily upon the benevolence of brethren hardly better than themselves. There are countries where the Gospel has never been preached, and men willing to go, but for lack of money. There are churches struggling to establish their presence in communities who meet in front rooms because they cannot find a place to meet in they can afford. And at the same time there are brethren who spend enough money for an auto they do not need except to gratify their own desires, to feed an indigent family of Christians for a year. The difference in cost between a Cadillac and a more modest-priced car with equal room, and better gas-mileage would support a Gospel preacher at $550 a month for a year. Indeed, "How hardly shall they who have riches enter into the Kingdom of God!"
Truth Magazine XXIII: 26, pp. 428-430