Monday, April 21, 2008

1 Timothy 6:17-19

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.

'From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs' is a Marxist principle that Karl Marx derived form the early church (his parents were Christians). In Acts 2:44-45 we read that the church sold, pooled and shared their resources. Alas, Romans 15:25-27 tells us that, like the Eastern European states that adopted this policy, the Jerusalem church became penniless and dependent on aid. It was probably their belief in the imminent return of the Lord that prompted them to act so recklessly, but later, when Paul was writing to his young colleague, Timothy, he still stresses the need for the wealthy to be generous.

A pastor friend of mine, early in his ministry was caught up in a previous housing price collapse. His house became worth less than his mortgage. If he sold it he would be left with an unsecured debt, so the bank called him in to examine his finances. They were astonished to find that 10% of his salary was remitted back to the church that employed him. Now that we have minimum wage laws they might have told him that this was an illegal practice, an employer cannot use this technique to get around minimum wage provisions. But there was no compulsion about it, He tithed voluntarily out of gratitude to God. The church as a whole had no knowledge of what he gave. Many people give through an anonymous Trust to keep it secret between themselves and God. Otherwise it might become a matter of boastfulness. I heard of churches in South Korea, where part of the service comprises the reading out of who gave what at the previous week's services. What can be the point of that except to gain the praise of men.

Someone recently left this comment on an earlier article on the blog: "According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, United States Government, the average salary of a general practitioner with more than one year's experience is $156,010 per annum. An anesthesiologist with more than one year's experience averages $321,686 per year. No matter who you ask, those salaries are way above average; some may call them extraordinary".

I agree. Doctors earn far more than they need to live on. But then, compared with similar over-achievers who go into finance, the law, or big business, the financial rewards are less than average. Perhaps unfortunately, if you are fishing for big fish you have to cast your nets into a deep pool. But having accumulated all this wealth, what's a rich man to do with it? It is certainly true that he can't take it with him when he dies, and if he dies a rich man, then he has worked hard for the reward of some writing on a piece of paper.

He might decide to leave it to his children. It is a true saying that where there's a will there's an argument. A sure way to spoil your children is to give them something that they haven't worked for. Of course, it is useful to help them onto the housing ladder and give them a good education, and you must cater for any special health needs or handicap, but why would they want to be afflicted with your money in their fifties or sixties?

Therefore, Paul's advice is sound. Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. The reason to do this is not to gain merit for yourself. It is not to buy your salvation. It certainly not to obtain the praise of men. I urge you do your good deeds secretly. It is to 'take hold of the life that is truly life'.


Terry Hamblin said...

These quotes from Sam Johnson are apt:
'A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.'

'He who has money to spare has it always in his power to benefit others: and of such power a good man must always be desirous.'

'It is better to live rich than die rich.'

'Getting money is not all a man's business: to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.'

And here is a quote from Francis Bacon: 'Money is like muck, no good unless it is spread.'

And from Seneca: 'Money has never yet made anyone rich.'

Anonymous said...

As someone who has benefited from a bequest of a fairly large sum of money (at least to me, perhaps not an anesthesiologist) in middle age, I can attest to the fact that greedy siblings reveal their true nature to you; I can also attest to the help it provides in paying for an expensive disease such as CLL.

Even with insurance, I've spent over $30,000 on treatments, carfare, second opinions, doctor's visits, MRIs CT scans, drugs, airplane trips, hotels, and more. The housekeeping I cannot do anymore, home repairs I cannot do anymore are not included.

Cures for more cancers (including CLL) will come after my death. Once that happens, perhaps my heirs who are at greater risk for CLL could spend their money on their children and (even) on themselves.

I'm not complaining, just relating that an inheritance can pay for more than life's pleasures. It can pay for necessities as well.

BTW I agree with the ideas listed here. I give to my church and I enjoy doing it.