|Proverbs 19:13-22 · 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 · 1 Chronicles 26:20-27:34 · Read all|
|August 8 Day 220|
Poverty and Riches
Laurence was in charge of the finances of the church. He was also a deacon. There was a great revival taking place all around him. It was said that ‘All of Rome were becoming Christians’.
As a result persecution broke out under the Emperor Valerian in around the year 250 AD. Christians who owned property distributed all the church’s money and treasures to the city’s poor.
Valerian ordered all bishops, priests and deacons to be arrested and executed. He offered Laurence a way out if he would show where all the church’s treasures were located.
Laurence asked for three days to gather it into one central place. He brought together the blind, poor, disabled, sick, aged, widows and orphans. When Valerian arrived Laurence flung open the doors and said, ‘These are the treasures of the church’!
Valerian was so angry that he decided beheading was not good enough for Laurence. He ordered that Laurence be roasted on a gridiron. That is how he died on 10 August 258 AD. Apparently, this courageous man even joked with his executioners ‘You may turn me over. I’m done on this side.’ His courage made such an impression that the revival in Rome only increased with many people becoming Christians including several senators who witnessed his execution.
St Laurence had a profound understanding of poverty and riches. He understood that the poor were the true treasures of the church.
What should our attitude be to the poor? What about the rich? Is poverty a blessing or a curse? Are riches a blessing or a curse? Does the gospel promise prosperity?
Each of the passages for today has something to say on the subject of ‘poverty and riches’. Each of them has something to contribute as we wrestle with these questions.
1. Kindness to the poorProverbs 19:13-22
The book of Proverbs certainly does not seem to regard ‘wealth’ as something bad.
‘Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord’ (v.14). There is nothing wrong with houses or wealth, it is just that there are more important things in life. Finding the right marriage partner is far more important than having lots of money.
Wealth is not the most important thing in life. Nor is poverty the worst thing that can happen to us, ‘What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar’ (v.22). We need love far more than we need riches. Integrity of character is far more important than money. It is ‘better to be poor than a liar’.
On the other hand, this passage does not exalt poverty as a virtue. Sometimes poverty can be self-inflicted: ‘Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry’ (v.15).
Whatever the reason may be for a person’s poverty, we should be kind to the poor: ‘Those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done’ (v.17).
This is an extraordinary and wonderful promise. God is no person’s debtor. Every time you do something kind for a poor person, you are lending to the Lord and he will repay with interest. ‘He will reward them for what they have done’ (v.17b). There are not many things in life that are more rewarding than ministry with the poor.
2. Poverty of the apostles1 Corinthians 4:1-21
On the outside, people were rich, honoured and strong. But the church in Corinth was in a real mess. Paul points out that they were arrogant, proud and jealous. They tolerated sexual immorality, and they went to court against each other.
In this passage, Paul starts to tackle some of these issues. Paul is an apostle. He sees in their lives the arrogance of the rich. They are proud of their material wealth. Paul puts in a nutshell why no one has any cause for pride: ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?’ (v.7b). As The Message translation puts it, ‘Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle’ (vv.7b–8, MSG).
They are rich like kings: ‘Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign – and that without us!’ (v.8a). There is a hint of sarcasm here. They are not really rulers at all, ‘How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we might come to rule with you!’ (v.8b)
He contrasts their material wealth with the poverty of the apostles. ‘You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living ... We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better’ (vv.11–13, MSG).
Paul was one of the most influential Christians of all time. His ministry was one of the most ‘successful’ of all times. However, it did not lead to material prosperity. Quite the opposite. He was materially poor. He did not have enough food. He did not have nice clothes. He was homeless.
His poverty did not come about as a result of laziness, ‘We work hard with our own hands’ (v.12a). But, like many poor people today, he was subject to abuse. He did not respond in kind. ‘When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world’ (vv.12–13).
Paul writes with great love – not to shame them but to warn them. He sees them as a father sees his own children (vv.14–15). ‘I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up. It was as Jesus helped me proclaim God’s Message to you that I became your father. I’m not, you know, asking you to do anything I’m not already doing myself’ (vv.14–16, MSG).
Paul had a father’s heart. A father’s heart is gentle, kind, nurturing, training, persevering and never gives up on people. This should be the attitude of a pastor. All human fathers are less than perfect. But we can all be loved and nurtured by our perfect heavenly father and then seek to be a father to others based on his heavenly model.
3. Riches of kings1 Chronicles 26:20-27:34
When Paul wrote, ‘Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign’ (1 Corinthians 4:8), perhaps he had kings like King David in mind.
David was rich. He had great ‘treasuries’ (1 Chronicles 26:22), he had ‘royal storehouses’ (27:25), he had ‘vineyards’, ‘wine vats’ (v.27), ‘olive and sycamore-fig trees’ (v.28), ‘supplies of olive oil’ (v.28b), ‘herds’ (v.29), ‘camels’ and ‘donkeys’ (v.30b), ‘flocks’ and ‘property’ (v.31).
Finances are not ‘unspiritual’. For example, the worship of God usually takes place in buildings. Buildings cost money. Running the financial side of a church is an important role. The ‘Levites were put in charge of the financial affairs of The Temple ... They supervised the finances of the sanctuary of God’ (26:20,22, MSG). Shubael was ‘the chief financial officer’ (v.24, MSG).
Material wealth was often seen in the Old Testament as a sign of God’s blessing. It is still true that godly character – hard work, reliability, integrity and honesty – are characteristics which often can lead to success and material prosperity. However, as we have seen in the New Testament passage for today, this is not the whole picture.
‘A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.’
Before pointing out the mess any of my family may have made, I do think about this verse. I don’t want to be accused of being a dripping tap!
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