The first recorded disagreement within the Christian church is about money:
“A man named Ananias … sold a piece of property, and … kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it” (Acts 5:1).
The second recorded disagreement within the Christian church is also about money:
“A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution”(Acts 6:10 ).
And the third disagreement?
“when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power”‘ (Acts 8:18).
Clearly the word of God is telling us something here. In this edition there are appeals for funds but also concerns over funding. Brother David Smith in his article on the Democratic Republic of the Congo states it very clearly, “The way funding is used always seems to cause problems.” As Bible students we should not be surprised by this. We could probably all quote Paul’s words to Timothy: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).
The difficulty, of course, is that we need money. We can turn off the television and all its distractions; we can choose not to read a book if its content conflicts with Biblical values; we can avoid the company of colleagues whose conversation corrupts our minds. But we can’t live without money and so we can’t avoid its temptations.
“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 ).
The problem of course is that, to a greater or lesser extent, we all “desire to be rich”. If our mind is tuned to the things of God we will probably not desire great wealth. Looking at the world from the perspective of scripture shows very clearly that extreme riches do not bring the kind of long-lasting satisfaction that leads to “godliness with contentment (which) is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The issue is not a temptation to become a millionaire. The temptation is much subtler than that: squeezing a little more money out of a deal with a customer; putting in a little more overtime; asking for a modest rise to cover the increased cost of living.
The culture of money I’m sure most of us would agree with the previous paragraph but here is another issue here to be considered: the culture money creates. As a community we are very good at giving money to the poor around the world. However, in and out of an ecclesia, money creates problems. The desire to be rich permeates our society. Capitalism has harnessed this natural impulse and, as a result, many of us live surrounded by comfort. However, we are also surrounded by a sense of discontent perpetuated by the promotion of new and better merchandise.
The values which shape our society are the values of money, not the values of scripture. Is it a good idea, then, to export these values to less developed economies? Many, many writers in this magazine have commented that as economic wealth waxes, interest in the gospel wanes.
We have to ask ourselves a hard question: if riches are deceitful (Matthew 13:22) should we be trying to make people rich? But perhaps this is an over-simplification. The Welfare Fund of the CBM is not designed to make people rich but to bring them to a level with the rest of their community. Does even this, however, create a ‘dependency culture’ in society where the impulse to fend for oneself is blunted? As a South American diplomat put it, the problem is this: giving a beggar a few coins is good for the beggar but bad for society; denying a beggar a few coins is good for society but bad for the beggar.
Jesus said, “The poor you always have with you” (John 12:8). This is not a call to action, nor an excuse to ignore the needy. It is a statement of fact: poverty will not be abolished before Jesus returns. So what are we promoting: a culture of money that causes problems in the ecclesia, just like the one in Acts, and denies the teaching of Jesus by trying to fix a problem that he said will never go away? Or a culture in which we have the freedom to look forward to the coming of the Lord where the sorrows of poverty “have passed away”. This is not a dilemma with an easy answer, but it is a dilemma of which we should be aware. A balance needs to be struck:
“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-g ).