My mum reckons the first thing I ever said was “cloclut biskit”. I probably did learn a few other words before those two but didn’t feel a need to use any of them until the cloclut biskits ran out and crying no longer worked.
One of the first words most toddlers say is “mum” or “dad”. They call out for comfort, food and love. So far so good. However, not much later, another two words seem to worm their way into their vocabulary: the words “no” and “mine”.
I once noticed my friend’s children fighting over toys. Although it was quite normal I realised how absurd their petty bickering was. It wasn’t just that they had more toys than they could both play with at once, but what struck me was that they hadn’t earned a single toy, their parents had given all of them completely free of charge. The red tractor didn’t belong to either of them any more than the sun belongs to me.
No one’s ever needed to be taught how to put themselves first, it just comes so naturally. Whatever particular arrangement of DNA we’ve each been blessed with we’re all born hardwired with two innate ideas: ownership and fairness. Our whole lives these two senses both reinforce and grate against each other. This is a war between what’s fair and what’s mine. You could say this is the underlying story of all politics, all revolutions, all history.
Most babies are born with their fists clenched, but Jesus was the only human who was born with his hands completely open, metaphorically speaking. He turned up in a society that saw wealth as a blessing and poverty as a curse for sinfulness and he spoke a radical message. When he taught “blessed are the poor” it probably sounded to his disciples like he was saying “lucky are the unlucky” (Matt 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-23). He went further, cursing the rich with woes (Luke 6:24-26) and saying it’s impossible to live for both God and money. His words about money were very clear; broadly speaking they were “it should be used to become rich in good deeds” and “woe to the materially rich”.
This is certainly not a popular message in mainstream Christianity today, but throughout the generations, men and women disgusted at the corruption and injustices of gross wealth have read the words of Jesus and become firebrands. They became inflamed with a vision of the new kingdom society Jesus came to establish, a place where “no one considers anything they have to be their own” (Acts 4:32).
Jesus came to earth to bring God’s heart desire into flesh and blood existence. The triune God is community, and He creates community wherever He goes. In Him there is neither male nor female, rich nor poor, neither slaves nor free, neither white nor black, neither old nor young (Gal 3:28), just his sharing family in all its diversity and freedom.
A wealth-gap is a love-gap, and because God is working to reconcile everything, storing up wealth opposes God. Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof communities had some pointed things to say about the destructive power of holding onto personal possessions:
“Private property destroys the relationships we have with each other and with God… our entire economy is based on greed, on the profit motive, on the individual’s urge to self-preservation and his craving for greater power.
Privare means to steal. Thus private property is stolen property – property stolen from God and from humankind!
Unless our justice is greater than that of the moralists and theologians – and that of the Bolshevists [communists] – we cannot enter the kingdom of God. The justice of Bolshevism is inadequate because it does not come from the heart, nor from spiritual fellowship; it is forced down people’s throats. And that is no way to build community.” – Eberhard Arnold
Money is a necessary part of our lives, but it should be a foreign object to Christians, held with open hands and used with caution. Later Paul repeats Jesus’ teaching in his letter to Timothy:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
(1 Timothy 6:17-19)
So, is it possible to be a rich Christian? Certainly. Jesus said it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom on their own merit, but with God’s help it’s possible. It seems the rich can be saved in spite of their wealth, though if we store up wealth while the poor go hungry we’re pushing our luck.
“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
On wealth Jesus said “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”, so if we’re going to aspire to something we should aspire to be “last” in the eyes of this world.
I believe God looks after us, we can trust Him. I believe God will be happily generous to a happily generous church. I believe that as we live with open hands, not considering anything we have to be our own, the kingdom will be fresh to us, visible among us and the king will be pleased.