By Michael E. Brooks
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14 NKJV).
2008 in Nepal was a year of shortages and insufficiency. Taxi drivers told of waiting in petrol lines for 24 to 48 hours and then receiving only the rationed ten liters of fuel. Electricity blackouts, planned to ration the limited supply of power, averaged 8 hours per day throughout the country (where there is electricity available at all; much of the nation still lacks power infrastructure). Food and other necessities were similarly restricted and prices often placed them beyond the reach of the majority of the people.
Visitors from the West, including myself, are shocked and saddened at such obvious poverty. Most of us have never experienced anything remotely approaching these conditions. It is difficult not to feel compassion for the people, and, upon returning to our relative wealth and prosperity, feeling guilt for what we have. But is that the appropriate response? The Bible does not condemn prosperity. Rather it teaches the prosperous to be responsible with their blessings (1 Timothy 6:17-19). A proper response to the contrast between the blessed and the poor includes the following.
First, those who have been blessed with material prosperity must be grateful. “Nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). These words specifically refer to all types of food, which are clean and may be eaten if one is first grateful to the Maker and Giver. The principle, however, applies to all gifts which he provides. Guilt over our possessions implies that the one who gave them to us has erred in some way. Obviously, if what we have was obtained dishonestly or immorally, we should feel guilt, but if God has bestowed them freely to us, let us be thankful and use them appropriately. He has his purpose in all that he does.
Second, the prospered must act generously and compassionately with what they have been given. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus taught that whoever stores up his harvest selfishly sins, because “he lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). The prosperous please God when they “do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
Finally, those with plenty of this world’s goods must be alert to the dangers of materialism and covetousness.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8).
An older preacher often stated, “You have money; that’s good. Money has you; that’s bad.” It is not the possession of material things that condemns us. Rather, it is our devotion to those things, at the expense of what is eternal and of true worth. The Holy Spirit commands, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Some wealthy persons are spiritual in spite of their prosperity. They treasure the things of God; they are involved in his work and are obedient to his laws. Such wealth is a glory to him and is a means by which his purpose is fulfilled.
By Michael E. Brooks