Friday 12 October 2007

The love of money and paths to destruction

The Bible has many warnings about greed, avarice and the love of money. Probably the best known of the passages is Paul's word to Timothy that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils..." (1 Tim 6:10a). Paul's words just before this verse help to make sense of what he is saying to young Timothy: "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content" (1 Tim 6:6-8). Timothy was to be content with what was necessary and beware of the temptation to want more than is needed.

Renee Rivkin's story is a tragic testimony to what can happen when wealth creation and all its trappings dominate one's life. A successful entrepreneur, multi-millionaire, investor and stock broker, he was convicted and gaoled for insider trading in April 2003 and ultimately took his own life on the 1st May 2005. Born in China to Russian-Jewish parents, he had been seen as the model self-made man. And yet his life ended in sadness and tragedy.

The auction of some of Rivkin's personal possessions this week provides a sad insight into a life where money and the things it can buy were seemingly in over abundance. His 37 specially made Swiss dress watches being auctioned are expected to bring prices of up to $20,000 each. Like the 3,000 pairs of shoes of Imelda Marcos, (the former first lady of the Philippines and wife of 10th President and dictator Ferdinand Marcos), such excesses provide a lesson to guard against the temptation to want more than we need.

But I don't want to judge Rivkin, for while his wealth allowed him to spend large sums of money on watches that I could never afford, I need to look for parallels in my own life. In what parts of my life do I demonstrate the tendency to horde and collect more than I need? How can I avoid the temptation to give too prominent a place to money, and to avoid the excesses that can flow from it? Once again, the Bible has wisdom on this that should give direction to my life. Jesus shared this parable (Luke 12:16-21):

"The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

We need to avoid the temptation to build 'bigger barns' or to collect up things for ourselves well beyond our current needs. The Bible teaches that this is to one of the marks of the child of God. The preacher in Ecclesiastes understood this well:

"He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity" (Eccliastes 5:10).

The Bible also teaches that we are to be generous with what God has given us. Paul also encouraged Timothy to be generous with God had given him (1 Tim 6:17-19). It isn't having money and possessions that is wrong. Rather, it is the place they hold in our lives, our attitude to them and what we do with what has been entrusted to us. It is only in relationship to God that we find ultimate satisfaction, not the things of this world. When Jesus spoke to a Samaritan women as she drew water from a well (John 4:13-14) he said:

"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


Anonymous said...

Good post, thanks Trevor.

I'd go further and affirm - with 1 Timothy - that how we use the things of this world is a very strong indicator of our relationship with God. A large part of what it means to be "rich towards God" is to be generous, responsive to the poor, and actively sharing with the needy. It is not simply a matter of doing without, but what we do with, resources and money..:

"Command those who in the present age are rich to... do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share..." (1 Tim 6:17-19)

Scripture does not urge us towards an ascetic quietism, but demands that we topple the idol that is greed through abundant generosity and a just redistribution of wealth in order to address the needs and rights of the poor.

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the poor. Make for yourselves... an unfailing treasure in heaven." (Luke 12:32-34)

"Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and will be repaid in full." (Proverbs 19:17)

Challenging words for most Australian Christians who are, beyond doubt, counted among those who are rich in this present age.

Trevor Cairney said...

Spot on! Thanks Ben, appreciate the comment. Paul's words are challenging for all of us. Fostering generosity and fighting against the desire for more are forever in tension and opposition and just as much a challenge for the 'poorest' of Christians in this country as the wealthy (in the world's eyes).