Money is a tricky thing. In the last few weeks I've referred to Deuteronomy 28, which teaches that those who follow God's commands will be materially blessed. It was this rule of life that caused Job's friends to argue that his loss of wealth and other problems were due to Job's failure to obey God. Even Job believed this, for in Job 31 he recounted his obedience and demanded a hearing in which God would have to answer him. On the other hand, in Matthew 19:24 Jesus equates money with an inability to get into heaven. How can obedience lead to wealth, but then wealth keeps you out of heaven? Let's jump into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
WITH THE RICH AND FAMOUS -- FEBRUARY 22, 2014
Key Thought: Materialistic persons, rich or poor, cannot serve God and money. We cannot allow the deceitfulness of riches to draw us away from Christ.
1. Have a volunteer read 1 Timothy 6:10.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Why or how does the love of money cause many to depart from the faith?
c. Personal Application: What is your attitude toward rich people? Do you hold on to any stereotype that people have toward rich people? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your relatives states: I guess poor people don't have to worry about getting in trouble over riches being their downfall. They don't have any. How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Matthew 9:10-13.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. What people wouldn't you want to witness to or even believe you shouldn't? Child molesters? Perverts? Liars? Thieves? Egotistical? Murderers? Drug dealers?
c. Personal Application: Think of someone you despise for something they have done. What if you had a chance to witness to them? What would you say? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, Is Jesus telling us here that He didnt come to save good people, but only those who were really bad sinners and knew it? Does He or doesnt He distinguish between really bad people and good moral people in society? How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Mark 4:18,19.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What practical advice and spiritual warnings are found in the seed sown among thorns?
c. Personal Application: Share an example of when you felt valued based on the way you were treated? Does it happen often? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your friends states, I may not have riches, but I sure would like to have some of the things that rich people have. But then, the more we have, the more we want it seems. We never have enough. If you live in North America, you are considered richer than ninety percent of the worlds population even if we don't really consider ourselves rich. So what is rich anyway? How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Matthew 19:16-23.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Why is there tension between the rich and the poor? What guidance does the Scripture give us in dealing with that tension?
c. Personal Application: How is your church developing evangelistic strategies to reach the well-to-do in your community? What specific things could they do? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this weeks lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(NOTE: Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared. Ministry of Healing p149)
With the Rich and Famous
Commentary for the February 22, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’” Matthew 19:23-25, NIV
This story is often watered down by those who would assert that there is a gate in Jerusalem called “The Eye of the Needle” where camels actually go through, but only be kneeling and shedding all of their cargo. This story is preposterous on its face because no merchant would normally choose to go through a gate with his camel if he had to leave the cargo behind when there are several serviceable gates nearby. Also, the Disciples appear to have understood Christ’s allegory to mean that entry was impossible not simply difficult.
However, for those who may persist in such an explanation of this allegory, it may be hard to refute the simple fact that such a gate does not exist and never did anywhere in Jerusalem.[i] When we add to this fable the fact that the “needle” referred to in the Greek text is rafidos, which is literally a sewing needle. Juxtaposing huge and miniscule objects in hyperbolic statements was not uncommon for Jesus. For example, there is also the “grain of a mustard seed” faith capable of moving humongous mountains.[ii]One cannot help but wonder why such a myth that altered the story’s meaning came to be. Perhaps as the church left behind the persecutions of the Ante-Nicene era and under the aegis of imperial favor began to accumulate wealth and power, it became necessary to re-interpret the narrative in a manner less confrontational to those changes.
A serious problem for the rich is that they entrust their security for themselves and their families to the riches they have procured. They do not know how they can survive in this world without that security. Anxious about every cloud they see looming on the horizon, both real and imaginary, their minds are filled with fears and justifications why what they have even now is not enough. They may not be able to see that they are held in a golden cage, promising security but in reality entrapping them in such a way that they find it impossible to ever fully trust in God.
In spite of this there are many who would gladly exchange places with them. Millions cast their meager funds to the many lotteries hoping to do just that by overcoming the incredible odds and win a fortune. They fail to understand that often the anxieties only multiply along with the riches. Like a golden Sword of Damocles, their wealth hangs perilously over their lives. Perhaps it was to these that Jesus spoke when he urged them to lay aside these anxieties and place their trust in God.[iii] Those who rely on their wealth witness to the poor that they should do the same. They perpetuate the very cycle of worry and anxiety that Jesus sought to deliver us from.
Sadly, these wealthy individuals could do far more to relieve the worries of the impoverished by using the blessings they have obtained to bless others. All too often, this is not the case. Instead they begin to see themselves as more deserving of what they have than others might be. Such arrogance denies the true source of their wealth. It is God who pours His blessings upon the just and the unjust day by day.[iv] Perhaps this is why there are so many who deny God’s claim on their lives as their Creator when they are well off. Maybe they find it easier to part with God than to share their blessings with the poor. In this way, it truly would seem impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom.
At this point some might challenge whether or not they are wealthy as such a term is relative to one’s culture. This is very similar to the lawyer who asked Jesus when told to love his neighbor, “Who is my neighbor?”[v] To even ask such a question is to acknowledge that the term is not an absolute value such as “he who lives in the house next door.” The story Jesus shared with the lawyer demonstrated that a neighbor is anyone in need of our help. When we apply that principle, we are wealthy when we have two pair of shoes and our neighbor has none. We are wealthy when we have so much to eat we have leftovers and our neighbor must skip meals due to his poverty. We are wealthy when we have multiple vehicles and our neighbor must walk everywhere. Lest we belabor the point, wealth is relative, but not to one’s culture so much as to one’s neighbor within and without their culture.
The allure of wealth is based on a commonly and perhaps erroneously held belief in a hypothetical. This being that it is entirely possible to one day attain enough wealth to be able to sit back secure and snug in the knowledge that nothing can threaten one’s idyllic lifestyle. Even though no one knows anyone who has actually achieved it, this golden “carrot on the stick” persists and keeps many chasing the mirage. To what end? Jesus spoke to this very issue. He said that just when you feel you have finally made it and can kick back and take things easy, it may all be snatched away.[vi]
We may be like Job, and see our wealth destroyed by those who would take it from us, or by natural disasters.[vii] Or like in the story just referred to that Jesus told we may simply run out of life. Then the financial vultures who have gathered, sensing the pending expiration of someone of means, will pick over the corpse of their legacy. Like runners in an endless relay race, they pick up the baton and start running, not really understanding why, only that they must pursue the same carrot, and so the baton moves forward to the next runner.
When we consider all of this, perhaps we can understand that wealth based security is a myth. Instead the possession of wealth fills our hearts with fear. In virtually every city around the world, there are areas where the wealthy cannot travel without strong security because their wealth would be in such contrast to the poverty in those areas that it would make them a target. Sadly they become that target because the poor buy into the same lie as the rich, the lie that wealth is the answer, the way out.
All day long, seven days a week, the myth is spun like spider’s silk, entrapping the unwary. Television, radio, movies, books, social media all tell the story of how hard work in pursuit of wealth will pay off in complete security one day. Never mind that at poverty wages that day may never happen in our lifetime, the myth encourages us to continue to pursue it so our children or their children may one day have the security that eluded us. After all when we look around us, we see people richer than we are, so isn’t it true? Better perhaps to ask them if they have achieved that ultimate security.
Maybe this is what Jesus wants us to understand. That the elusive dreams of wealth and security are just that—only dreams. True security may lay instead in the love and support of family, neighbors and friends who compassionately care for one another and provide a foundation of support for the entire community. The movies often portray the stereotypical cowboy hero as a rugged individualist who rides off alone to seek fame and fortune. The historical reality is that the person who tried to go it alone often did not survive long in a hostile land. There is a reason why settlers grouped together in wagon trains to move westward from St. Louis during the nineteenth century. They may not have been rich, often carrying everything they owned in the wagons they drove, but when they got sick, they nurtured one another to health and continued moving westward. When food became scarce they hunted and foraged and shared the results with one another.
Jesus wants us to live lives like these settlers, giving without expectation of return. This is because the return is intrinsic to the giving.[viii] To share our blessings as we are able without expectation of return carries within it the promise that we will not go away empty. Like the widow who cared for Elijah, sharing her meager store, she found that in her act of caring for another with even less than she had was hidden a blessing that sustained her and all who depended upon her.[ix] She didn’t need to chase the carrot to get there.
[i] "The Myth of the "Eye of the Needle" Gate"
[ii] Matthew 17:20
[iii] Matthew 6:25-34
[iv] Matthew 5:43-45
[v] Luke 10:25-37
[vi] Luke 12:16-21
[vii] Job 1:13-17
[viii] Ecclesiastes 11:1
[ix] 1 Kings 17:7-16
"With the Rich and Famous"
February 22, 2014
Texts: Deuteronomy 8:17-18; Genesis 13:5-6; John 3:1-15; Luke 19:1-10; Mark 4:18-19; Matthew 19:16-26
"I'd be much happier if I just had more money." Have you ever had this thought? It's tempting to think that money can buy happiness when you look at what some wealthy people do with their fortune: large houses, fancy cars, dream vacations, and guaranteed college funding for their kids.
Although there are happy rich people, it's not true that money can buy happiness. Read a few facts and quotes from wealthy people in an article from Business Insider:1
Having a lot of money makes you want to make more.
"I thought, if I could make 10 million dollars then it must be too easy. In fact, I honestly thought, everyone else had probably already made 11 million dollars. So then I felt poor again. I now needed 100 million dollars to be happy." - James Altucher
When rich people start dying, they become less proud of their wealth.
"After she attained what she thought was success, [my mother] was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She spent the days up until her death regretting almost all the choices she made and beat herself up day after day. One of her last journal entries included reflections on how unappreciative she was with the things in front of her, and finally realizing happiness does not lie within superficial matters a little too late." - Mona Nomura
Sometimes, you feel like you are God.
"When I was little, I used to take kids aside and explain to them that I was indeed God. 'Psssst, you know I'm God, right?' Obviously that feeling has left me, but it hasn't left my father, who used to tell me that we have blue blood. He now sits in his room in a constant depression, and is the most miserable person I know." - Igor Atakhanov
After you are rich, you take it for granted, like you take having great parents for granted.
"[Being rich] feels like all the other blessings we have in life when times are tough - we know that they are blessings, strive not to take them for granted, but can forget we're blessed when we're feeling down. It's like having a beautiful kid or a wonderful spouse or great parents. And for me, at least, I can say with absolute certainty it has not made me any happier." - Rick Webb
Why is it that being rich and famous doesn't make a person any happier? Because at the very heart of one's soul is the deep desire for something that money can't buy. Nicodemus was searching for that something when he secretly came to Jesus. And he found out that what he really needed was a new life--to be "born again."
Discipling the rich and famous shouldn't be intimidating. Nor should we envy them, become jealous, or shun them. They need to hear about Jesus just like everyone else. They need to hear that their sins can be forgiven and that a better world is coming. And if we don't tell them, who will?
Additional resource: youtu.be
With the Rich and Famous
1. Richly Blessed. How well do you know the wealthiest people in your church? Your community? Have you ever pled with God to make you rich? And promised to be faithful in your giving to God’s cause if you were? Have you attended workshops, read books, or signed up for on-line classes in how to get rich? Were the Israelites wealthy after they entered the Promised Land? Can a person be rich in material blessings but poor in spiritual wealth? Is it possible to be rich in both areas of life—material and spiritual?
2. Night-Time rendezvous. Does the Bible tell us that Nicodemus was rich? What is the evidence of his wealth from Scripture? From historical sources? Did Nicodemus immediately accept the timeless wealth of a Christian life? Why or Why not? If you we listening to the dialog between Nicodemus and Jesus, what would you conclude about Nicodemus’ chances of becoming a converted Christian? What does it take to reverse the chances and bring a wealthy man like Nicodemus into a life-giving relationship with Jesus?
3. Rich and Infamous. Poor Zacchaeus. Nobody liked him. Why? What did Zacchaeus and Levi-Matthew, a disciple of Jesus have in common? What would you think if it were discovered that a church or conference treasurer had taken money for his or her own use from the offerings of the people? Should that person ever be allowed back into the fellowship of believers? Why do you think Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’s house for a visit? How would fellow members in your church react to your being good friends with people from the IRS or other tax-collecting agency?
4. Gold-plated Message. Because the wealthy have little incentive to forsake all and follow Him, shouldn’t we just focus on the impoverished? Why not? If God gives us more than we need, what does He expect us to do with this surplus? Is the worship of material wealth confined to the wealthy? Can a person “worship” earthly wealth even though impoverished? What can we point others to beyond possession of valuable assets?
5. Terms of Endangerment. What are some of the ways that money and material possessions can be dangerous? What is it that turns a blessing into a curse? Was the rich young ruler satisfied with all aspects of his life? Why? What was it that turned off the rich young ruler’s desire for salvation? What about you? As wonderful as physical blessings may be, what is the cost for pursuing them instead of eternal life?
In reply to this post by Noey
JoAnn King on February 20, 2014 at 4:43 am said:
Is that what Jesus meant that it would be easier for poor people to enter heaven than the rich? Do we poor people not hold on to things of this world? I believe more than the love of money will keep us out of heaven. I believe just the love of things could be a problem.
Tyler Cluthe on February 19, 2014 at 9:08 am said:
God has never condemned money; what He condemned was the, “love of money” because it “is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10 NKJV). For the rich young ruler money was his god which controlled his life. It was that kind of relationship that Jesus wanted to change.
As a general rule I don’t think God asks people to give everything they have. Certainly Job, Abraham, his sons, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and many others were very rich but there is nothing said in the Bible where God ever asked them to give it up. I think of Oskar Schindler who started out a greedy businessman in Nazi Germany but who turned out in the end to be a tool in the hand of God to save over 1200 Jews from certain death. In doing so he spent his entire fortune saving those people and when the war was over he remained relatively poor the rest of his life. Nicodemus was like that too. It is estimated that he could have supported the entire population of Jerusalem for a year with what he had. Instead of using it for himself he used his wealth for the benefit of the church and reportedly ended up poor because of it. He volunteered his means because that is what he wanted to do – it wasn’t because he was hounded and forced to give it all up.
I think it is dehumanizing for church leaders to treat people with means as automated bank tellers doling out money at their request. When I got some inheritance, which wasn’t very much, there was an attempt to get it and I felt that was all I was worth to the conference – just so much money. I might as well have been a machine, a robot without a heart spitting out the green stuff.
Not all wealthy people treat money as a god or a weapon to get their own way. Many of them want to be part of something bigger than themselves and would like to fit in as part of the group. The same goes for people with education which are quite often automatically made elders in the local church and venerated to the status of super being. They make mistakes too just like the rest of us yet they are expected to be so much more.
I wish we would treat everyone equally as real people who make up the kingdom of God rather than a cold statistic on some report.
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