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4. Poverty, Spirituality, and Lordship

– Chapter 4 –

Poverty, Spirituality, and Lordship

Why is it that we cannot be righteous or spiritual without being poor? If you are at all serious about the spirit­ual life, you may find the quest­ion disconcerting. When Jesus told the rich young ruler of the high cost of inheriting eternal life — “sell your poss­ess­ions and give to the poor” and “come, follow me” — the young man could not take it (Mt.19:21-22). It got stuck in his throat. He wanted eternal life but the price was too high. Maybe it is too high for some of us too.

But I can’t make it any easier for you because I don’t have the auth­or­ity to say, “Enter the kingdom of heaven by the back door because it is hard getting in through the front door.”

Yet it is fair to ask: What is the scriptural basis for saying we can­not be righteous or spiritual without being poor? This is what we will be look­ing at in this chapter, especially in the light of Jesus’ teach­ing in the gospel of Luke.

Right from the start of Luke’s gospel, we read, “He has filled the hun­gry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Lk.1:53). Hence, already in the first chapter of Luke, there is a certain rejection of the rich. The rich are sent away empty with no spiritual blessings from God. This is hinted in Luke 4:18 from a different angle:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to pro­claim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim lib­erty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. (Luke 4:18, ESV)

The gospel is preached to the poor rather than the rich. One could say that the gospel has the poor as its specific object. This is seen again three chapters later:

Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind re­ceive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Luke 7:22, NIV)

The rejection of the rich is seen also in Luke 6:24-25:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your com­fort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hun­gry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. (NIV)

A woe is a curse, the opposite of blessing. The contrast between woe and blessing is brought out in the immediate context: verses 20 to 23 are add­ressed to the blessed where­as verses 24 to 26 are addressed to those un­der judgment. The “woe to you” condemn­ations will be fully realized on the day of judg­ment.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Continuing in Luke’s gospel, we come to the parable of the rich fool (Lk.12:16-21). In the parable, a farmer is getting richer and richer. His harvest is so plentiful that he has run out of space to store his crops, so he pulls down his barns and build bigger ones. Here is the first half of the parable:

The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to my­self, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” (Luke 12:16-19, NIV)

In your mind it must have been God who blessed him with riches because a good harvest is a blessing from God. This is not a problem. The pro­blem isn’t with the rich man’s harvest but with what he does with his wealth: he stores it up for himself (v.21). The problem does not lie in having a good income but in what one does with it.

The rich man looks at his wealth with self-satisfaction and says to him­self, “You have plenty of good things laid up for years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. Little does he know that he will die that very night:

God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for him­self but is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20-21, NIV)

The problem with the rich man is that he stores up riches for him­self and lives for himself. What Jesus says in Mt.16:26 is entirely rele­vant here: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

In England, when rich people die, their estates are often listed in the newspapers. Person so-and-so has left behind £100,000; another has left behind £500,000. For those without heirs, presum­ably their wealth will be transferred to the state. So why did they store up riches that they could no longer use? Everything is left behind when they die, as in the case of the rich fool. Indeed God says to him, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Lk.12:20).

Sell your possessions

A few verses later in the same chapter, the Lord Jesus again draws the contrast between earthly riches and heavenly treasure:

32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Pro­vide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a trea­sure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth des­troys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34, NIV)

Verse 33 (“sell your possessions and give to the poor”) is the part that sticks in our throats, as it was in the case of the rich young ruler (Lk.18:22-23). What Jesus required of the rich young ruler — to sell his possess­ions — applies to us too because v.33 is addressed to the “little flock” in v.32, that is, the disciples.

So far we have been staying in Luke’s gospel, yet in that one gospel we have already seen much penetrating teaching on the subject of riches. Let us continue in Luke’s gospel, to yet another passage about riches:

He also said to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they can­not repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the right­eous.” (Luke 14:12-14, HCSB)

Give to those who cannot repay you. In Chinese custom, if you give me something worth $100, it would be proper of me to give you back some­thing of similar value. But Jesus says that when you give, seek out those who have no means of giving back. Seek out a poor man and invite him to lunch because he won’t be able to return your gener­osity.

This is irrational by the standards of the world. But the whole point is that “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the right­eous” (v.14). Again we see the matter of storing up treasure in heaven. If the one you invite for lunch gives you something back, you have already gained your reward. But if he cannot give you anything back, you are going to have an eternal reward. Do we understand this way of think­ing? It takes a lot of faith and commit­ment to fulfill this teaching because it touches our wallets.

In the same chapter we see yet another statement on possess­ions: “No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his posses­sions” (Lk.14:33). This statement is so clear as to require no further expos­ition, so it is up to us to take it or leave it.

The true riches are eternal

Continuing in Luke, we come to another passage about riches. Note the important words “true riches” and “of your own” (see the italics):

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trust­worthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:11-14, NIV)

The Pharisees were highly religious people. In fact Pharisee means “pious one”. In the days of Jesus, they were the defend­ers of the Law. Yet these religious leaders loved money as do many Christ­ians today.

When the Pharisees heard what Jesus said about riches, they scoffed at him because they considered his teaching to be too radical to be taken serious­ly. His teaching on riches is indeed hard to swallow, as we have seen throughout the gospel of Luke.

Yet in this passage Jesus also talks about the “true riches” which are eternal and do not pass away, in contrast to the earthly riches which will pass away. I know someone who made a lot of money investing in stocks and shares, but when the mar­ket crashed in Hong Kong, he lost every­thing! He was a millionaire one day, penni­less the next. That’s why Jesus says earthly treasure is not the “true riches”. You came into the world without a penny, and you will leave the world without a penny. In the intervening years of your life, you are only a stew­ard of the money put into your hands. One day you will leave everything behind. If you don’t give up your riches now, you will give them up in the future. You might say, “That’s fine with me, I’ll give up my riches when I die.” But then you won’t have the “true riches” either.

To have the true riches, you must prove your faith­fulness in hand­ling what is in your hands right now. If you have not been faithful with un­righteous mammon, how can you be entrusted with the true riches that God is ready to give you and which are your own? This is an ex­hort­at­ion to manage our income and possessions as faithful stewards.

Transient treasure

There was an incident in USA in which many had their safety deposit boxes stolen. The thieves dug a tun­nel under the bank, breached the walls of the safety deposit area, and emptied all the deposit boxes. Everything was gone, from jewelry to bond certifi­cates. In this world, nothing is safe.

I myself came from a fairly well-to-do family but we lost every­thing when the communists took over China. My father came out of China with one suitcase and so did I (separately). But everything else was gone. Being a young man at the time, I didn’t really lose much because I hadn’t earned any­thing. But everything that my father had acquired by hard work over the years was gone. We were hardly alone in this situation, for there were millions who had lost everything in China.

Putting one’s trust in transient riches is the mistake Jesus warns us not to make. We just read in Lk.16:12 that your earthly riches don’t belong to you per­manently; they only pass through your hands. At the present time, they are yours in trust. God allows you to have the riches as a stew­ard, and He can take them away any time, as in the case of the rich fool.

Our life is from God

The life you have, even the breath you have, is yours only because God allows you to have it. Psalm 36:9 says, “With you is the fount­ain of life”. Your life is not your own, and God can take it away tonight, tomor­row, or the day after. We have no power to hold on to our lives, and when God decides it is time for us to go, no one can stop that.

In Liverpool I got asthma from the air pollution there. When I got my first asthma attack, I didn’t know what the problem was. For the first time it dawned on me that I depend on just one breath to live. When I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was fighting to get one breath of air into my lungs. Asthma sufferers would know the horror of this situat­ion. It seemed that every breath I got might be my last. I was wonder­ing if I was going to survive the night. I didn’t wake up my wife because she needed her sleep, so I struggled through the night by myself. When she saw me in the morn­ing, she was horrified because my face had turned blue. She immed­iately rushed off to get a doctor.

We live one breath at a time. If someone is strangling us, we would be dead in a minute or two. Our life hangs on one breath. If our lives are given to us in trust, how much more our possessions. On that Day when you and I stand before God, we will have to give an account of how we lived this life and used our possessions. We need to realize that our possess­ions do not belong to us. On the other hand, the life and the riches in the kingdom of God that will be given to us at the judg­ment will truly belong to us. Once God gives them, He will never take them back. These riches will be entrusted to us as truly our own (“your own,” Lk.16:12).

Through the eye of a needle

Continuing in Luke’s gospel, we come to a well-known passage in Luke 18:24-25:

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

If you are rich, just how hard will it be for you to enter the kingdom of God? The biblical answer is: harder than for a cam­el to go through the eye of a nee­dle! In other words, impossible! You cannot get into the king­dom un­til God does the impossible in you: slim down the camel until it becomes a strand of thread.

The disciples are astonished at this statement, saying, “Who then can be saved?” (v.26). Jesus answers, “What is impossible with men is possi­ble with God”. God can transform a rich man into a poor man, slim­ming him down so that he can go through the eye of a nee­dle. We see this in the case of Zacchaeus:

There was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collect­or and was rich … And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house to­day.” … Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of any­thing, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salva­tion has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” (Lk.19:2ff, ESV)

Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus! How has this come about? It is seen in his pledge to give half his possessions to the poor. This is a miracle that makes a rich man a poor man! You might say that Zacchaeus still has the other half for himself. Not quite so, because the problem is that he had cheated many. He will give half his possess­ions to the poor and use the other half as restitution to those he had cheated. In fact he offers them a fourfold repayment. By the time he is done with the restitu­tion and has nothing left, you could say that the camel has slimmed down into a strand of thread. Now he can go through the eye of a needle.

Abraham’s wealth

Some will argue that God wants us to be rich because Abraham was rich, and more than that, Abraham was a man who walked with God. This argu­ment gives no end of comfort to those who wish to salve their con­science over their riches. But the argument runs into obstacles.

Firstly, the Old Testament functions by a different standard from the New Testament. It was an earthly standard in which all bless­ings were earthly blessings whereas in the New Testament, all bless­ings are spiritual blessings. In fact the whole Ephesians chapter 1 elaborates on the wonderful truth that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spirit­ual blessing in the heavenly places” (v.3). By contrast, the Old Testament bless­ings were mainly those of health, riches, and long life. Israel was promised earthly pros­perity and a good harvest under the con­dition of obeying God. These earthly blessings were promised to Israel, the earthly people of God.

Abraham was rich, yet he also waged war against kings. This kind of thing is not permissible for Christians to do as a church (cf. Mt.26:52, “those who take up the sword will perish by the sword”). We cannot as a church and for the church take up literal arms against un­righteous­ness. But Abraham did some­thing like that. It is exeg­eti­cally invalid to argue for riches from the case of Abraham because he belonged to an earlier age and covenant. If we say that we can in the matter of money take Abraham as a standard for the New Testament, then it would be permiss­ible for the church to go to war and kill. But if it’s not right for us as a church to wage war as Abraham did (to rescue Lot), is it valid for us who are un­der the new covenant to base our view of riches on the old covenant?

Secondly, Abraham did not pursue riches. It was God who gave him his riches (Gen.24:35). Even if God makes us rich today, it doesn’t mean that under the New Testa­ment we are entitled to store it up for ourselves, as we see in the parable of the rich fool. The problem with the rich fool was not that he became rich (it was God who gave him a good harvest) but that he stored up riches for himself.

If one day you become rich through an inheritance, you could rightly say it was God who made you rich. You didn’t work for it and it wasn’t your fault that you are named the beneficiary in the deceased man’s will. It’s not your fault that you suddenly received a few million dollars. The question is what you do with it.

Thirdly, unusual for a rich man, Abraham never cared for riches, as we see in Hebrews 11 (vv.9,10,15,16). He was not in­ter­ested in the things of the world but was looking to the eternal city with foundat­ions, whose architect and builder is God. His heart was set on a better country, the heavenly kingdom.

This God-centered attitude was characteristic of Abraham. He was so devoted to God that when God asked him to offer up his son Isaac, he was will­ing. His son meant more to him than all his riches, yet he was willing to give up everything, even his own son, for God. If we have that kind of devotion to God, then perhaps we could start talking about using Abra­ham as a standard.

Riches: A source of security

We see from Scripture that we can­not be spiritual or righteous with­out being poor. The danger of riches is that we are go­ing to depend on them for our security. Why do people want to get rich in the first place? The main reason is security.

How much do you trust in God? If God told you to, would you dare walk through a forest populated by wild tigers while trusting only in God? You might say, “I trust in God but tigers have teeth, so I am not sure if the arm of God is strong enough to protect me from the teeth of tigers.” You would feel more secure with a high-powered rifle in your hand. Then you can keep your finger on the trigger while trekking through the forest. Where are you put­ting your trust? In your weapon.

We might say: “We mustn’t tempt God. Trusting solely in God is to tempt Him. You shouldn’t make God do for you what you can do for your­self. So before entering the forest, I will buy a powerful rifle with a telescope and rapid repetition for if I misfire, reloading could be fatal!” So you put your trust in your rifle. If God tells you to go without it, you will say, “Lord, the world is just too dangerous.”

Most households in the United States own guns. The right to own fire­arms is written in the constitution of the United States of America. Some people own so many guns that they practical­ly run an arsenal. During a visit to Florida, when I was looking for swimming and div­ing gear, I walked into a shop that sold not only what I was looking for but also firearms. It carried machine guns, rifles, and pis­tols of every des­cription. I was looking at these weapons with much fascin­ation, some of which I had never seen before. A salesman came up to me and asked if I would like to buy a gun. I could even try it out at the back of the store!

I once visited a friend in Los Angeles. When evening came, I said to him, “How about we go for a walk in the park?”

He said, “A walk in the park? It’s already evening. No one in his right mind goes out for a walk in the park at this time!”

“What then is the purpose of a park if you can’t walk in it?”

“We walk at daytime, not in the evening.”

Seeing my disappointment, he said, “Okay, we’ll go for a walk. But if you don’t mind, I’ll take along my gun.”

“A gun? Just for a walk in the park? But if it makes you feel safer, bring it along.”

So he brought his gun along. I was relaxing in the park while he was getting nervous. Every time someone walked behind us, he would look back with his gun ready. So I said, “If this is going to make you a ner­vous wreck, let’s go home.” Anyone who wants to rob me must have poor eyesight. He can have the $10 in my pocket if he wants it.

Jesus as our Lord

To understand why the Bible says we cannot serve riches, we need to con­sider the meaning of the title “Lord”. It is a frequent title of Jesus in the New Testa­ment. Jesus is Lord because “God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

When I address someone as Lord or Master, what does it say about my relationship to him? That I am his servant. Christians address Jesus as Lord, but in what sense is he their Lord? Do you see yourself as a servant? Most of us have never been servants, so we use terms such as “servant” with little under­standing of its meaning or signifi­cance.

The title “Lord” expresses power and author­ity — not physical pow­er fundamentally but the power of control. If you call someone “Lord” you are acknowledging his authority to control your life. Conversely, if you don’t acknow­ledge Jesus’ right to control your life, you shouldn’t call him “Lord” or you would be making it an empty title, much like what we said earlier about a constit­utional monarch. Many Christ­ians call Jesus “Lord” as a courtesy or traditional title but without giving him control of their lives.

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1Cor.12:3). It is the Spirit’s inner work that transforms our lives. Just as the rich young ruler cannot enter the kingdom unless he is trans­formed by God’s pow­er, so you and I cannot call Jesus “Lord” from our hearts except by the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word for “Lord” (kyrios) also means the owner of a slave. That is why a slave would call his master “Lord.” You cannot rightly call Jesus “Lord” unless you are his servant or slave. In the New Testa­ment, “servant” and “slave” are the same word in Greek (doulos).

What is a slave? Oxford Dictionary defines a slave as “a person who is owned by another and has to serve him.” Apply­ing this to us in regard to the Lord Jesus, it means that you can rightly call Jesus “Lord” only if he truly owns you; otherwise he is not your Lord. Harper’s Bible Dictionary defines slavery as “the total sub­jection of one person to another.” If you are not totally subjected to Jesus, you cannot call him “Lord”.

Slavery in New Testament times

Slavery was common in New Testament times. Socially and econom­ic­ally, Roman society was built on a system of slavery. Slavery was the foundat­ion of that society. All kinds of people could become slaves. A slave may be skilled or un­skilled. He may be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, or a common laborer. Slavery covered the whole spectrum of society and all profess­ions, from the skilled to the unskilled.

There are three ways a person can become a slave:

1. Captured in war

The first way one can become a slave is to be cap­tured in war. Many slaves in New Testament times were prisoners of war. Anyone could be cap­tured and become a slave irrespective of his profession or social standing. The Romans would tie three lances together to form a yoke (an arch­way), and the pris­oners of war were made to pass under it in a ceremony called “passing under the yoke.” In the cere­mo­ny, all who passed under the yoke became slaves.

The Roman army, like most armies at the time, would take their pris­oners of war back to Rome or some other city, and sell them as slaves to civilian buyers. The profit they made from selling the captives helped to fund the army. The captives were taken to the central market in Rome or some other city, and sold at a fixed price or auctioned to the highest bid­der. The buyer would then own them as his slaves. The slaves had been bought with a price, and they now belong to someone.

2. Born of slave parents

The second way a person can become a slave is to be born to a slave. If one’s mother is a slave, he would be born a slave.

3. Sold into slavery

The third way a person can become a slave is to be sold into slavery. If the parents of a boy or girl are poor, they might sell their child into slav­ery to repay debts or earn money for necessities. Some poor fam­ilies had lots of children and they would sometimes sell their children into slavery. If they had no children to sell, they would sometimes sell themselves into slavery.

Three metaphors of slavery

In the New Testament, all three ways of becoming a slave apply to us meta­phorically: First, we become slaves of sin by being captured into sin. Second, we were born of parents who were themselves slaves of sin. Third, we sold ourselves into slavery to sin, willingly or unwilling­ly.

The first metaphor, becoming a slave through captivity, is men­tioned in 2Pet.2:19 which speaks of us being overcome by sin and becoming slaves of sin. We likewise become slaves of the devil by being cap­tured by him (2Tim.2:26). But there is hope for us because God has freed us from slavery to sin by defeating Satan and the domain of darkness (Col.1:13), moving us from being under Satan’s ownership to Christ’s owner­ship.

The second metaphor, slavery through birth, is ex­plained by Paul in the whole section in Galatians 4:21-31.

The third metaphor, being sold into slavery, is seen in both the Old and New Testaments. Exodus 21:7-11 discusses the case of a child who is sold into slavery for debt repayment. Exodus 22:3 tells of a thief who was sold into slavery because he had no money to repay what he had stolen. First Samuel 2:5 (and similarly Lev.25:47ff) tells of one who sold him­self into slavery because of poverty or famine.

The third metaphor, being sold into slavery, is prominent in the New Testament, notably in Romans 6, especially verses 16 to 22. But verse 22 gives us the hope of freedom: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

We were formerly slaves of sin, but in the new life we are slaves of God and bear fruit for right­eous­ness. Our earlier state­ment, that we can­not be right­eous with­out being poor, brings us to this crucial point about slav­ery: Under the law, a slave owns nothing. Every­thing a slave has, including his own life, be­longs to his master. If you are a slave of Jesus Christ, everything that you have, down to the last penny, belongs to him, not to yourself. A slave is poor for the very reason that he doesn’t own anything, not even his own life.

Slaves in Roman society were given provisions

Yet in Roman society, a slave would often be given money for personal use. He could use it to buy personal items such as clothes. A master would not want his slave to walk around in rags because that would dis­grace the master’s name. He wants his slave to be pro­perly clothed so that his friends would say, “His slave is well looked after.” The Romans are like the Chinese and the Japanese in attaching importance to “face”. The mas­ter doesn’t want to be known as a bad slave owner, but as one whose slave is diligent, well fed, healthy, and properly looked after.

The master would give his slave some pocket money that he was free to use as he pleased. He could buy himself a cake, or invest the money, or loan it out to others. A slave was free to use the money, yet strictly speak­ing and un­der the law, the money still belonged to the master. Anything he bought with the money, perhaps a garment, belonged to his mas­ter, not himself. Strictly speaking and under the law, any profit he made by invest­ing the money belonged to his master. In other words, a slave was poor by defini­tion because he owned nothing under the law.

Yet in Roman society you couldn’t always tell a slave from a free man if he walked by you in public, not even by the way he dressed, for there was often no mark to identify him as a slave. In Hong Kong to­day where many Filipino wo­men work as domestic helpers, you often cannot tell if one is a maid or a tourist or an investor just by her appearance.

We are slaves of God

What is the basis for saying we cannot be spiritual or righteous with­out being poor? The answer is that we cannot be spiritual or righteous with­out being a slave of God. Everything we have, including our lives, belongs to God. True commitment involves a total surrender of our lives and every­thing we have to God.

If you are a committed Christian, you would acknowledge that every cent in your bank account, every cent you earn, belongs to God, and that you are not at liberty to do with the money as you please. When you give God full control of your life, you will ask Him what you are to do with the money. Perhaps some­one has a financial need. When I give to a needy person, ultimately it is not I but God who gives him the money, through me. I take no self-satisfaction in giving to the needy, nor do I say to myself, “I am righteous for giving him $100.” We have noth­ing to boast about because a slave has nothing to boast about. There are no grounds for self-righteousness. Yet you will be commended by God when He says, “You did the right thing. Giving that $100 was in full accord with my will.” You will receive praise from God even though you have nothing in yourself to boast about.

Total commitment requires the willingness to be a slave of God. “You have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1Cor.6:20); “You were bought with a price” (7:23).

Slavery and friendship

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his mas­ter’s busi­ness. Instead, I have called you friends, for every­thing that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15, NIV)

Jesus redeemed us by laying down his life for us (Gal.3:13). In the passage just quoted, John 15:13-15, when one lays down his life for an­other, he is not treating the other as a slave but as a friend. Jesus treats us as friends, not slaves. While it is true that we are his slaves because Yahweh God had redeemed us with the blood of His beloved Son, that doesn’t mean that Jesus treats us merely as slaves. The next step is that we, as his friends, are put into a special relation­ship with Jesus and his Father. Everything he hears from the Father, he makes known to us.

It is possible to be a slave and a friend at the same time. In the Bible, friendship is sometimes a deeper relationship than sonship. The father-and-son relationship is not necessarily the closest relationship between two per­sons. One can be a son yet an enemy, as in the case of David and Absa­lom. At a certain point in his life, David’s worst enemy was his son Absal­om who tried to take David’s life as well as his king­dom. It was one of the most painful inci­dents in the Old Testa­ment, so sonship is not necess­arily a good thing in itself. But when one is both a friend and a son, that is truly beautiful.

A final question

Is it correct to say that one doesn’t have to be literally poor in order to be righteous, provided that he has the right attitude towards riches, namely, that he acknow­ledges that what he has belongs to God and not to himself? Yes, provided we are not playing games with God, saying, “It all belongs to God” when in fact “it all belongs to me”. In Scripture, the use of one’s possessions is something volun­tary, for obedience is voluntary. But if we play games with God, then we are back to a constitu­tional monarchy in which the Lord is not really our Lord. The same can be said of His son: If Jesus is not our Lord, neither is he our Savior, in which case we are play­ing games with our eternal salvation!

But the one who is honest about God’s lordship over his life and poss­ess­ions will soon discover that God will instruct him on what to do with the riches. If you are ready to obey His instruct­ions, more will come to you in a steady stream.

A closing remark: We must not recklessly throw away everything we have. We have to proceed in a scriptural manner so that all things are done properly, carefully, and according to God’s will.

(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church