Submitted by: Doris ParkerWhen Obama made his speech about 'share the wealth' he spoke with no knowledge of God's Word. Read and learn!
Righteous and Unrighteous WealthJesus speaks of unrighteous mammon. Mammon is a Syriac word for money and the idol of wealth. The wealth of the rich man was unrighteous mammon, because it had been gained by unrighteous means. The corollary of this is that there must be righteous wealth as well. Wealth that is earned by working hard to meet the needs of other people is righteous wealth. Any honestly earned money that is saved is righteous wealth. Any capital goods that have been paid with honestly saved money are righteous wealth.
In Jesus time, there was not much righteous wealth, because the only way to obtain wealth was to do deals with political and religious powers. There is plenty of unrighteous wealth in the modern world too, but it is possible to gain wealth righteously as well. People who work hard for their wages can gain righteous wealth. The owners of businesses that provide reliable goods and services that people need can gain righteous wealth.
Righteous wealth is not an obstacle to the gospel. Unrighteous wealth creates hostility, so it hinders the gospel. It can distract a Christian from God.
Leaving Unrighteous MammonJesus warned that unrighteous mammon can prevent us from serving God.
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13).We are servants of God. We cannot serve God and mammon. This creates a problem for wealthy people who become Christians. If their wealth has been gained righteously, it should not have a hold on them. If they are the owners of wealth that has been gained unrighteously, they have a serious problem, because they will be partly controlled by the spirit of mammon.
A new Christian is required to repent from all “dead works” (Heb 6:1). Repentance means turning around and going in a new direction. The old unrighteous life must be left behind. This means that the owners of unrighteous mammon must turn from their unrighteous wealth and leave it behind.
When rich people Christians repent and follow Jesus, they need to get rid of their unrighteous wealth. They cannot be servants of unrighteous mammon and a servant of Jesus.
Identifying Unrighteous WealthHow do we distinguish righteous from unrighteous wealth. The key is in the way it was acquired. Unrighteous wealth will have been obtained through deception, theft, manipulation or dishonesty. In Jesus time, it was often acquired through collusion with the political and religious powers. That problem has not changed, but the form will be different. Today the government will often give a group of people a monopoly power over an aspect of the economy that enables them to become wealthy.
Most unrighteous wealth will be obvious. If it is not obvious, we can leave it to the Holy Spirit. He will convict the new Christian, if his wealth is unrighteous and needs to be “got shot of”. We can trust the Spirit to do this task. Christian elders must not get into the business of forcing new Christians to give away their wealth, whether it unrighteous or not. (The Ananias and Saphira incident probably occurred because people were coming under inappropriate pressure to give wealth away (Acts 5:1-10)).
Repenting from Unrighteous WealthTo repent is to turn and leave something behind. There are four ways to repent from unrighteous wealth.
1. Restore Capital
The best way to deal with unrighteous wealth is to return the capital to the people from whom it was extorted. The shrewd steward is a good example. He had previously squeezed the rich man’s tenants hard by enforcing exorbitant rents that made their lives miserable. He put things right by letting the tenants change their written tenancy agreements to a more reasonable rental. By halving the payment to 500 bushels of wheat, the steward made the tenants wheat farming economic. By halving the payment of olive oil to 400 gallons, the steward was making the farming of the olive grove economic for the tenant farmer.
The best option for the repentant owner of unrighteous wealth is to return some wealth to the people that were de-capitalised when the unrighteous wealth was acquired from them. If the asset cannot be returned, the rent should be reduced. This has the effect of re-capitalising the strugglers.
2. Make Restitution
If the unrighteous wealth has been stolen from innocent people, the repentant owner should make fourfold restitution.
If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep (Ex 22:1).Zachhaeus the tax collector promised Jesus that he would fulfil this command.
Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold (Luke 19:8).He promised to make restitution for everything that was stolen. He could not identify all the people that he had stolen from, so he gave half his possessions to the poor as an alternative.
3. Give to the Poor
Sometimes the new Christian will not be able to return their unrighteous wealth to the people from whom it was acquired. The owners may have gone away, or died, or simply be unknown. In this situation, the unrighteous wealth should be given away to the poor and needy.
Jesus challenged the rich young ruler to give all his wealth away, because it was unrighteous wealth that had been acquired by unrighteousness.
Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).The book of Acts records examples of new Christians selling their unrighteous wealth and giving it to the poor.
Sometimes the repentant rich person will give the money away themselves. In most situations, they will work with deacons they trust. Deacons will have relationships with a many people in need, so they can help the person give their unrighteous wealth to deserving people.
Deacons will provide advice to new Christians. They will know about needs that could be met. They will handle money that is entrusted to them, but they must not tell new Christians what to do
4. Even Up Capital
The reason for the uneven distribution of wealth in the modern world is that capital is unevenly distributed. Yet Paul says that equality is an important goal.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality (2 Cor 8:13).This is a dilemma. Everyone thinks equality is a good idea, but no one knows how it can be achieved. Robin Hood tried to achieve it, by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Socialists try and achieve it by taxing the rich and giving benefits to the poor. Neither of these methods has worked.
The Christian answer to the dilemma of equality in an unequal world is radical sharing, particularly sharing of capital. Those who have plenty of capital should give to those who don’t have much. This was Jesus solution to the problems cause by inequality of capital.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12;33)Sometimes people will give food and clothing to the poor, but in many situations, providing the poor with capital (land, fishing boats, nets, tools) will help them more.
When helping people to give away unrighteous wealth, deacons should channel gifts of capital to poor people who have the capability to use it responsibly to be more productive. They would need to training in conserving capital and using it wisely. Transferring capital to the poor by giving and sharing will move the world closer to equality.
Christians should not hand out capital carelessly, as this would lead to serious waste. They should train up potential recipients, so they know how to care for capital and not dissipate it in pointless consumption.
Poverty and WorkWhen dealing with unrighteous wealth, there are several traps that must be avoided. The person who gives away all their unrighteous wealth might end up in poverty. The Christians around them will have to ensure that they have financial support. This will be quite humbling for the new Christian. They will go from a position of power and independence to a place of dependence on others. This will be had to deal with, but will be good for their character.
In the past, they have will have gained wealth by manipulation and control. They need to be taught how to earn their living by honest work.
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need (Eph 4:28).Making this change will be very difficult, so the new Christian will need strong support from Christian elders and friends.
Whoever is faithful with very little is faithful with much, and whoever is unrighteous with very little will also be unrighteous with much. (Luke 16:10)If the person has been unrighteous with much, they will need to learn to be faithful with a little for a while.
Common TemptationA common temptation is for the new Christian to say, “I will hang onto my unrighteous wealth, but I will use it for God’s purpose”. Christian leaders will often agree with this temptation, because they have some works that need financial support. This temptation is wrong for two reasons.
- The gospels say that unrighteous wealth should be given to the poor. This is just because the wealth was taken from the poor. The gospels never say that unrighteous wealth should be used to support Christian ministries. Support for Christian ministries should come through relationships, not through channelling unrighteous wealth.
- Unrighteous wealth is not neutral. It carries a spirit of greed and avarice. The new Christian needs to get free from these spirits that have controlled their lives. If they hang onto their unrighteous wealth, they will remain vulnerable to those spirits. They will be caught in an endless power struggle between their new master and their old master.
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus (Luke 16:14).Refusing to deal with unrighteous wealth is dangerous.
Belongs to Someone ElseParallelism is a poetic form that is common in Hebrew poetry. An idea is repeated in a slightly different form with the same message. Jesus used this method when interpreting the parable of the Shrewd Steward.
Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?The message of these two verses is the same. If we have not been faithful with unrighteous wealth, God will not trust us with true wealth.
And if you have not been faithful with another man’s wealth,
who will give you what is your own (Luke 16:11-12)?
The important thing is how Jesus described unrighteous wealth. In verse 11, he called it “unrighteous mammon”. In verse 12, he referred to it as “another man’s wealth”. Jesus is saying that “unrighteous wealth” really belongs to another person. The person with unrighteous wealth actually controls something that belongs to someone else.
The only faithful solution is to return that wealth to that other person. Often the “other person” will be unknown. However, if the other person has lost his wealth, he will most likely be poor. Therefore, the second best solution is to return the unrighteous wealth to the poor. This might not hit the right person, but at least it would go to “another person” who may have lost their wealth to someone else.