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Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

Hebrews 13:5


Awhile ago, while visiting my grandmother, there was an article in the paper about a television show who had built a house for a local family. If I remember correctly, the mother was disabled, the father had died, and there were six children. The house that was built was enormous, and the comment my grandmother had was something to the effect that although it was good that the family had a more suitable house, did they really need a house that was so extravagant.

My grandmother's attitude about this is hardly unique; furthermore, there are many religious groups in America, such as the Amish, who regard plainness and simple living as some of the greatest virtues a person can exhibit.

However, the flip-side of that is that many live with an inherent distrust of those who are quite wealthy. They tend to believe that when somebody has a lot of money, it must be the love of money that drove them to amass their wealth, and therefore these people worship before a false god.

I would argue, though, that Hebrews 13:5 has less to do with being successful than it does with being covetous. "Be content with what YOU have" hearkens back to the Ten Commandments, where it is spelled out "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." If your neighbor is doing well enough to have any of those things, it's none of your business; that he has these things does not harm you in any way.

The ironic thing is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is probably regarded as the closest thing to a modern-day saint for many Protestants, despite the fact that he was a very wealthy man from one of Germany's most elite families. The difference is that even from early on, Bonhoeffer's wealth was not what consumed him, but was a means for him to be able to do many of the things that he did. As a young man, working with impoverished youth in Berlin, he realized that as many of them were ready for Confirmation, they could not afford suits for the occasion. Upon realizing this, Bonhoeffer bought material and had a suit made for every one of his students. Furthermore, for whatever wealth that he had here on earth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is still known primarily as being a man who lived by and died for his faith in God.

Yes, the Bible has many special admonitions geared toward the rich. However, as in the parable of the servants with the talents, God is not happy with those of us who are content to do nothing with the talent that He has given us. As in the parable, the servant who was given ten talents and comes back with twenty is praised, as is the servant who is given five, and comes back with ten. It is only the servant who is given the least - and, I'd imagine, was pretty upset with being given the smallest sum - who does absolutely nothing with what he was given, with whom the master is upset. Does the servant who now has twenty really need that much? What about the master? Surely one who lends money to his servants has more than enough to outright give some to his servants to do with as they wish!

There are many, many people in the US and elsewhere who have lived good and upright lives being "plain people". I believe that these are the type of people who make up the backbone of civil societies. Nevertheless, out of everything we must be careful to excise the demon of pride. When we begrudge others of successes and good fortune, it crosses the line into envy. Jesus has a special place in His heart for the poor, and He showed that especially in His ministry on earth, however as long as wealth does not become one's god, He has never commanded anyone not to do the best that he can.

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September 2013

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