Liberals are generous to the poor. Conservatives despise them. Or so goes the logic of the mass media. Why? Because liberals believe that money is the answer. They believe that government has a responsibility to provide for the poor by giving them the necessities without personal investment or sacrifice. Conservatives believe in providing opportunities for all who desire success.
The most immediate passage from the Bible that comes to mind is from Luke 10:7. "…for the labourer is worthy of his hire." This is the quote that most people are familiar with. According to some Bible scholars, there are over 2,000 references to wealth and money. The problem is much deeper than this passage or an equally popular one that states that
"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16:13).
How to reconcile one biblical teaching with another that is seemingly a contradiction? We must look at the issue more carefully.
Money is morally neutral. It is a means of exchange that has positive and negative repercussions. Money can be used to buy harmful narcotics or beneficial medicine. Wealth is necessary for many things that have had great impact on our local, national, and world communities. One only needs to examine the philanthropy of many wealthy people to understand the positive impact of wealth. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is an example of a philanthropic organization founded by a man who earned billions of dollars as the founder and CEO of Microsoft. Bill Gates was a man driven to be successful, driven to garner wealth. Not only does he now give away substantial sums of money, the products his corporation created have fuelled the information culture we now enjoy.
Fire is a tool that is morally neutral. Correctly used, it can preserve and enhance our lives – and has for thousands of years. Incorrectly used, it is one of the most destructive forces in nature. The apocryphal fires in London and Chicago are perfect examples of the latter. It is the intent of the user, the possessor, that is the issue. This holds true with money as well as fire.
Those of us who live in the United States enjoy opportunities that are available in few other nations. There is no legal limit to the amount of wealth one may accrue. The immigrant coming ‘off the boat’ can – and historically has – died a millionaire. Andrew Carnegie is the example that most immediately comes to mind. He desired wealth and attained his dream. The methods he used in garnering his millions could be argued as morally suspect in many instances, but we are using his life as an example for opportunity. With easy access to education, tremendous public and private support, and a economy that caters to the entrepreneur, there is no resident of this nation that cannot achieve wealth. The only limits are desire and – hopefully – moral restraints.
The issue truly is the stewardship of the gifts we have been given by the grace of God and the application of our gifts and efforts. Matthew, Chapter 25, is familiar to many readers. It is the parable of the talents. In this parable, a man gives three of his servants a sum of gold. One invests and doubles the money, the second invests and realizes a more modest profit, and the third buried the money for safekeeping. The master rewarded the first two, and rebuked the third. How does this parable relate to this essay? Simple. We have talents that God expects us to use. God wants us to be self-sufficient, He wants us to be in a position to serve our brothers and sisters, He wants us to raise our families in comfort and plenty. Those who do not work to realize their potential are the ones who displease God.
Wealth is not evil – it is greed that is the sin. As a teacher in an urban public school, I see appalling avarice – among the ‘poorest’ of my students. Children living in public housing have Playstations, Ipods, cell phones, big screen TVs… They have more ‘toys’ then I do! Instead of saving and investing in means to improve their lives, they squander their wealth on nonessentials – because they ‘want them’ and think that they deserve to have these things. This, my brothers and sisters, is the greatest sin.