Money and Possessions

The Bible is neutral toward riches. It is our attitude toward riches and the way in which they are used that is celebrated or condemned. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says:

"Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed."

There is no requirement for the rich to divest themselves of wealth. In fact, the wealthy are instructed to enjoy their possessions. But they are also instructed to do good with it, sharing and helping others. The opposite of hoarding. By doing so they are making an eternal investment, laying up treasure in heaven.

How does this reconcile with Jesus' instruction to the rich young ruler, whom He told to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor? In that young man's case, he asked Jesus what he might do to inherit "aionios zoe", usually interpreted as "eternal life." Aionios speaks of time that spans an entire age. Zoe speaks of a quality of life. So the phrase could be interpreted "the highest quality life possible."

In the New Testament, the Bible speaks of the "highest quality life possible" in two ways: relationship and reward. Relationship comes by gift. By believing in Jesus, we become children of God. God is our inheritance unconditionally (Romans 8:17a). This is based solely on belief. Jesus is clear that inheriting the gift of eternal life comes only through faith.

The reward of high quality life comes through God's favor based on what we do. It is often the consequence that comes from obedience, but also includes rewards in the next life. The rich young ruler asked what he might "do" to inherit the highest quality life. Because Jesus answers the "What must I do" question with things to do, this must apply to inheriting the reward or experience of the best life possible. In this young man's case, Jesus first told him to walk in obedience to God's commands. The young man answered that he already did this and asked if there was more he could do.

Mark 10:21 says, "Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'" Note that Jesus "felt a love" for the young rich man. Jesus did not contest that he followed God's commands. He just answered the rich young man's question whether there was an even greater reward of life available.

King Solomon addressed the futility of hoarding riches in Ecclesiastes 5:13-17:

"There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. 14 When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. 15 As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? 17 Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger."

Solomon calls miserly behavior a grievous evil, literally a "sick" evil. He uses the phrase under the sun as a recurring description of life on earth. This wounded wickedness is riches being hoarded by their owner to his own hurt. Someone is amassing riches and the riches lead to self-destruction. In this case, the self-destruction comes about through hoarding. The word for hurt is "ra'," the same word used for evil earlier in the verse.

Hoarded riches is typically a symptom of a warped perspective that we can control circumstances. Believing that having a pile of money or possessions makes us safe or happy. All the while declining to actually enjoy the wealth or do any good with it. It is noteworthy that Solomon declares hoarding to lead to our own hurt.

Applying the New Testament principles to Solomon's instruction, it seems the path of wisdom is to enjoy and share wealth, but also to hold it with an open hand. To recognize "It is not ours" and be willing to give or lose our possessions at any time. Every possession we have is or will eventually pass through our hands. We are merely a steward for a time.

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