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June 18, 2010

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It still comes down to this. You cannot love your neighbor as your self and look the other way, amassing wealth while they have needs your wealth would help alleviate.

What if, after giving away 10% or more of his earnings, he uses his great wealth to create and run an honest business that produces something of value to people--one that values human beings and treats them well, giving 100,000 formerly poor people across the world the opportunity to have jobs, giving them the dignity to provide for themselves and their families and the satisfaction of being productive in their societies, and as a result, his wealth grows economies around the world, but he continues to reap the rewards of his hard work and make money? What then?

Dave,

>>”It still comes down to this. You cannot love your neighbor as your self and look the other way, amassing wealth while they have needs your wealth would help alleviate.”

I wouldn’t say “it comes down to that”. Personal charity (I assume you are talking about personal noncompulsory charity) is very important, but sometimes what we give can actually cause greater harm than abstaining from giving.

Amy,

Who in business does this without lavishing the profits upon themselves? If the employer loved the employees as much as self, they would all receive a cut equal to his or hers.

KWM,

Love needs no law to force giving. Anyone with this much of God's love would no doubt pray for wisdom in giving.

Giving people money doesn't make them happy or show them love.
http://www.google.ca/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=win+lottery+become+miserable&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&ei=Hj8cTJHDGMihnQffmN36DQ

The people who have worked hard, invested their money, built companies, employed people and caused the tide to rise for everyone have done far more for the world than they would have if they'd impoverished themselves by equally dividing their money between all the people they happened to know.

If you are stingy with a little you will be stingy with a lot

>>Who in business does this without lavishing the profits upon themselves?

So even after risking his wealth and working endless hours to provide 100,000 jobs in a business where people are honored and where they are providing something valuable to the world, he is not allowed to enjoy what his hard work has earned?

>>If the employer loved the employees as much as self, they would all receive a cut equal to his or hers.

It's not loving to give people what they haven't earned. I know business owners and how hard they work and what they're risking. They receive the just reward for their work and risk in what they earn. Their employees also receive a just reward by receiving the value of their work in payment. They also will often receive a profit share.

My final point: You are that man! Compare yourself to the rest of the world. Would it solve poverty or help the rest of the world if you equally divided your wealth among all the poor of the world? Daron is exactly right--wouldn't they be much better helped by benefiting from a collection of capital that creates jobs and gives them the dignity of providing for themselves and their families?

Great thoughts, Amy. I have struggled with this question as well and come to similar conclusions, having studied this issue from the perspective of Orthodox Christianity.

St. Gregory Palamas, in one of his sermons on the Rich Man and Lazarus, points out that there are TWO rich men in Christ's parable: the Rich Man is one, and the righteous friend of God Abraham is the other. The difference between the two is not in their wealth, but in their approach to wealth. The Rich Man faired sumptuously every day, lived in luxury, and was absolutely merciless when it came to the poor people he was confronted with at his own gate. Righteous Abraham was fabulously wealthy, and yet was not a slave to luxury and worldly pleasures. He was kind and generous to all people, including strangers, so much so that the Lord Himself visited him by the Oaks of Mamre.

It is the Lord who "maketh poor and maketh rich" (1 Samuel 2:7), and our wealth is a sacred trust that God has given us to use for our benefit and the benefit of others.

Why the use of "warn" in the first Biblical reference but "condemn" in the second? The language isn't any stronger in the second reference.

Amy wrote: "So even after risking his wealth and working endless hours to provide 100,000 jobs in a business where people are honored and where they are providing something valuable to the world, he is not allowed to enjoy what his hard work has earned?"

This attitude, I think, sums up better the real motive of this post--the idea that working hard entitles you to a certain standard of living. The fact that God owns everything is passed over in favor of a "a man is entitled to the fruits of his labor" view. (The quote also involves an exaggeration of how hard the person worked. No one works "endless" hours, and plenty of people who don't make much money work very hard.)

The example of Paul teaches us that our primary motivating concern should be the gospel--that this--and not our "rights" should be our focus. If the businessman in question really is motivated by this (and sees providing jobs as a means to this), then no problem with not giving to charity and instead investing in the business. But--and here's the key--if that's truly his goal, then his lifestyle will reflect it. He won't be using his income to live the high life because living the high life does not further the gospel.

One other thing: Paul took up a collection. Apparently direct giving is not such a terrible thing.

Anon,

>>”This attitude, I think, sums up better the real motive of this post--the idea that working hard entitles you to a certain standard of living. The fact that God owns everything is passed over in favor of a "a man is entitled to the fruits of his labor" view.”

One could easily say, being poverty stricken doesn’t entitle you to anything either.

KWM: agreed.

My point is not that the poor are entitled to the property of the rich, but that the rich aren't entitled to it either. It all belongs to God and should be used in the way that best furthers the kingdom.

Now, of course, that does not mean that the government should get involved in making sure that the rich use their money in this way--there are a number of reasons that such governmental intervention is a bad idea. But there's a big difference in thinking "the government shouldn't redistribute wealth" and thinking "there's nothing wrong with a rich person using his wealth to enjoy a high standard of living." The former is fine; the latter goes against the Christian call to seek first the kingdom of God.

Anon,

Then the question becomes: In the land of the rich, what is too rich? My gut tells me it’s always the “other guy”.

Close. The real question is "how best can I use my wealth--whatever it is--for the kingdom of God." The challenge for Christians is to honestly face that question rather than hiding behind, on the one hand, what the other guy is doing or, on the other hand, the self-satisfaction of having tithed and having a governmental-recognized property right to what one owns.

Few Christians do this, but note that we shouldn't use fellow-Christians' failure as a justification of our own failure. The Christian calling as set out in the beatitudes, among other parts of scripture, is hard, but we should hardly change our theology simply because we realize that it's hard and we don't currently meet it.

An easy way to avoid being a hypocrite is to adjust your standards down to a level easily achieved, but the 'victory' thereby achieved is hardly a moral one.

Replace 'beatitudes' with 'sermon on the mount.'

But it seems (I could be wrong) you, Anon, would have your mind made up about a rich man’s use of his wealth as an outsider looking in. How can one do that if there are no criteria? In other words, when is someone’s “best” not enough?

Anon wrote, "My point is not that the poor are entitled to the property of the rich, but that the rich aren't entitled to it either."

Jesus said, "The worker deserves his wages." (Luke 10:7) By what basis do you say the worker does not deserve what they have received as remuneration for their work?

Sage S: If you're using Luke 10:7 as a justification of the claim, "If a person P is paid $Y for doing X (where X is some instance of work), then P deserves X and may use it any way P pleases, provided P is not purchasing pornography, paying off a hitman, buying illegal drugs, etc." then I suggest that...

(1) you work on your exegesis. You're clearly taking the passage out of context. I don't suppose you'd appreciate me using Luke 6:24 as a proof-text for the claim that being wealthy is, in and of itself, sinful.

(2) think about the ramifications of that claim. It means that tithing can't be required (It's my stuff--I worked for it, so I deserve it, so God can't take it from me!) and all taxation is wrong (Again, it's my stuff, so the government has no place taking it from me). It also means that there's no problem ignoring the plight of the poor and simply saying "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but keep your hands off the stuff that is rightfully mine."

We know from scripture, however, that God does have a right to require us to give what we have, and we also know from scripture that the government has a right to require us to pay taxes, even if it comes from wages that we "deserve." I think we also know from scripture that God has a right to tell us to give up all of it, if he wants to, and that God in fact calls us not to give it up but to use it for his kingdom.

So, if you prefer...
We have a legal right to (most of) what we earn, but...
We are not entitled to use it however we please; we are to use it to further the kingdom.

And to answer your specific question:

1. All wealth belongs to God.
2. Therefore we are not entitled to any wealth, including wealth that we have acquired through compensation for work.

Of course, legally neither premise one nor the conclusion is true, but I assume Christians ought to care about more than what they can legally do.

KWH: I don't understand your question. What do you mean by "no criteria" and why do you think I'm committed to there being none?


If you're looking for formal, legalistic criteria for what each person should do with his/her wealth, then I can't give you those, but the same could be said about how we are to act in a number of areas of life. The Christian calling is high, but for all that not all of it is easily captured in a short list of rules. It doesn't follow, though that there are no criteria for evaluating whether or not a person fulfills that high calling.

Anon,
That was odd of you to speak for me then refute something I hadn't said...
You wrote, "We are not entitled to any wealth, including wealth that we have acquired through compensation for work."

Again, Jesus disagrees with you. Luke 10:7 records him saying the worker deserves his wages. The worker is entitled to his wages. The worker has the right to be paid for his work. The clearest meaning of Jesus' statement is that the worker is in fact due what he has earned. I still don't know why you think God's ownership of all the wealth supersedes the just entitlement Jesus identifies for workers to receive their wages.

Here's a second point: What specific use of money fits the definition of 'being used for God's kingdom'? Where does this delineation come from? Does the Bible exclude personal 'discretionary spending' from godly stewardship? If so, where do you find this precept? Is discretionary spending a falling short of God's glory, for which Christ died to save us? Is it a sin to buy a soda? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Anon,

Maybe this will help.

1. All wealth belongs to God.
2. People deserve to receive payment for their work.

You need to include both of these statements in your syllogism before you come to a conclusion. Keep in mind that Jesus' statement renders your initial conclusion false, that a worker does not deserve their wages.

Your concern up above was with rich people who use their surplus money on things you claim are not directly for the Gospel. ("The example of Paul teaches us that our primary motivating concern should be the gospel--that this--and not our "rights" should be our focus.") Are you defining spending money on anything other than direct ministry expenses or physical needs as being at odds with the Gospel? Or do you presume to know that the heart of any person who spends money on anything other than ministry or needs must surely be doing so in a sinful manner? In other words, in what sense does buying a soda, or a second car, or a boat, etc, contravene the Gospel?

Of course I probably need to ask at this point what you mean by the Gospel.

Anon,

>>”If you're looking for formal, legalistic criteria for what each person should do with his/her wealth, then I can't give you those….”

But previously you wrote:

>>“A rich person using his wealth to enjoy a high standard of living goes against the Christian call to seek first the kingdom of God.”

So the elusive criteria that you can’t identify weren’t met in this example? That’s why I mentioned your comfort level in assessing a rich man’s spending habits. I don’t have that level of comfort.

I am not going to get in an argument about whether or not buying a soda could serve the Gospel (and, more significantly, whether the pattern of behavior associated with regular soda purchasing, as generally and actually practiced by Christians, is GENUINELY motivated by or at least done with sufficient deference to the cause of the Gospel, as Paul appears to be understanding that cause)...however....

I take it that THE question we should be asking is whether our spending habits are GENUINELY reflecting the sort of attitude toward the cause of the Gospel that Paul clearly models. If you're willing to agree that this should be our attitude toward our wealth--all of it, not just 10%--then we are in agreement, as far as I wish to pursue agreement.

I take it that the Bible recognizes property and payment rights/obligations in the following way: The worker has a legal right to his wages, so if he works for you, you have a legal obligation to pay him, so (given that Scripture teaches that you have a moral obligation to obey the law except in extreme cases) you have both a moral and a legal obligation to pay him.

I do not take it that Scripture teaches that the Christian worker, who owes everything he has to God, has a moral right to dispose of his wages as he chooses, regardless of what would best serve the Gospel, provided he sets aside 10% for explicit church use and does not use any of the remaining 90% on activities that would be sinful even if free.

This, I take it, is the upshot of recognizing ALL of the following:
(1) the teaching that God owns everything; (2) Paul's various pleas/ Christ's comments about seeking the kingdom 1st, etc.; and (3) the Biblical recognition of various legal and property rights.

I will add one other qualifier: I am sympathetic to the view that Scripture teaches that working is a necessary and sufficient condition for a moral right to food, but I'm not sure how to cash that out, and I still think it's true that God has the authority to ask you to give up even this. (As a matter of fact, I don't think God typically exercises that authority, and I also think feeding yourself is in line with Paul's example).

KWH: Do you think there are criteria for fulfillment of the command, "Seek first the kingdom of God"?

What are those criteria?

Or...
Can you cite examples that do and do not fulfill that command? What are those examples? Do you think your own attitude toward and use of your wealth fulfills the command?

I will tell you right now that my actual practice with my own wealth does not fulfill it, but that is not a reason for you or me to talk as if (1) the command does not exist or (2) the command is so vague that for-all-we-know-we-really-are-fulfilling-it, after all, we can come up with great stories about how spending our wealth as we do serves some good (stimulates the economy, enables us to relax in certain ways, enables us to practice a very particular sort of hospitality, etc.)

Anon,

I don’t understand why you’re asking me about criteria. I’m asking you because your comments lead me to believe you have them. Specifically:

>>“A rich person using his wealth to enjoy a high standard of living goes against the Christian call to seek first the kingdom of God.”

This is criteria (I’m not talking dollars). Why? What is a high standard? How do you know the rich person that bought the boat didn’t first seek the kingdom of God? This is why I asked about the criteria in the first place. If this is just an exercise in stating we all fall short on this front – I’m fine with it. But your comments lead me to think you feel otherwise.

I asked you because I assume you believe that the command in question has determinate content. Tell me what determinate content you believe it has and we can have a discussion.

More generally, when Christians spend 90% of their money the same way the world does, given (among other things) that I know the world does not seek the kingdom first, I start to doubt that Christians do as well.

Amy,

You mention the concept of 'earning' money. What do you mean by it?

RonH

Anon,

How does "the world" spend money?

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