Desire for Wealth; March 28, 2020

1 Timothy 6:9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

It’s the first part of the next verse that is so famous, but this verse deserves a lot of attention. The average person on the street will say, “Sure, I’d like to be rich!” That’s why lotteries are persistently popular. However, lotteries have been accurately described as “a tax on people who are poor at math.” The odds of winning are so low that entering them is essentially like throwing your money away, but people counter with, “But somebody has to win! I want that to be me.” The sad thing is, people who are comfortable financially seldom buy lottery tickets, so it is the people who can’t afford to lose money who throw it away chasing wealth. In Japan, at any rate, and I’m sure elsewhere as well, the people who run lotteries say they are “selling a dream.” However, here Paul is saying that the dream of being rich is itself a trap. It all comes back to priorities and goals. Jesus very famously said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) When our hearts are fixed on the ultimate prize of eternity with God in His kingdom, not only are our temporal needs supplied, as Jesus promised, but every other goal fades into unimportance – and specifically, the goal of being rich. A number of studies have been done that show that money certainly doesn’t equal happiness, but the reason the devil keeps feeding us the lie that it does, is that he’s so successful at doing so! Anxiety over finances certainly is destructive, and the current enforced unemployment because of COVID-19 certainly contributes to that, but there too the answer is what Jesus said about it. God is more than able to supply our needs, so if our focus is sufficiently on Him to let Him show us what our needs are, then we can have peace and joy regardless of our circumstances.

At the moment I find myself somewhat ambivalent, because as Social Security recipients we will almost certainly be receiving the “stimulus” money congress has agreed on, even though in Japan we are not under lock-down and our income is largely unaffected. I need to hear what God wants me to do about that. Our general income levels are so low that we haven’t had to pay federal income tax, to Japan or America, in quite a few years, but God continues to supply our needs, often with surprising abundance. I do have a material “wish list,” but it is pretty short, and I recognize that other things are of far higher priority. Again I benefit from the home in which I was raised, because my parents were certainly focused on God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Looking around me I am saddened to see so many who are focused on the material, whether they have much of it or not. I am not to look down on them but consistently speak the truth in love, lifting them up in prayer so that their feet may avoid the snares of the enemy and God be glorified in their lives.

Father, thank You for this reminder. At times it can be difficult being “in the world but not of it,” as Jesus said. (John 17:15-16) Help me keep it straight in my heart and mind so that I may in turn be an example and an encouragement to those who are watching me, and together we may destroy the works of the devil, for great blessing and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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2 Responses to Desire for Wealth; March 28, 2020

  1. Jnana Hodson says:

    I definitely agree with you on the lotteries issue. Staying clear of gambling, even raffles for good causes, is a longstanding point of practice for Quakers, who also saw wagering as trying to get something for nothing (which opens yet other spiritual traps and vices) or of getting rich at the expense of others or even trying to exalt ourselves above others.
    The verse you cite also points to the tangled values that lead some to argue that widespread human death and suffering is a small price to pay for the economy — that is, the profits and growing wealth of a few — during the Covid-19 spread.
    We go back to Jesus looking straight at the denarius. To ignore the material needs of many while praising the spiritual wealth available to us is also a slippery slope that can ring hollow very quickly. We can flip ahead to the Epistle of James for more on that. Do we use our money — individually and collectively — to advance Caesar or the wider creation of God?
    Thanks for reminding us that this is a time of opportunity and service, too.

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