Trade And The Christian

Most systematic theologies don’t discuss money or markets but money and markets are also an urgent and pressing theological issue, and with over one hundred New Testament references to money and wealth it makes up a fair percentage of the teaching, especially in places like the Sermon On The Mount and 1 Timothy.

For The Love Of Money

Imagine someone trying to pursue trade who was not at all eager to be rich and was completely without any love for money. It would be difficult, if not impossible. Being a successful trader means being very eager to get rich, its almost part of the job description. Yet being eager to be rich and loving money are both forbidden for Christians.   

(1 Tim 6:6-10 NRSV) Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless  and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.   For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their   eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and  pierced themselves with many pains.

These verses tell us that a   Christian is to be godly and content, they are not to " to be eager   to be rich" or to "love money" and that these attitudes are spiritually destructive. The Psalmist King David, who was a king and rich and elite saw how riches affected those around him and warns that riches create a feeling of "high estate" which is delusory and intoxicating.

(Psalm 62:9,10 NRSV) Those of low estate are but a   breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they   go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

For David riches did not make the person. No matter how rich they were “in the balances they go up” – when weighed by God they had little mass, little substance, in fact they were “lighter than a breath”.  Wealth and the love of money cannot make a person great but they can lead people far from God so they are, in Paul’s words, “pierced with many a pang”. Covetousness is the sweaty scheming that goes on to acquire someone else's goods cheaply or for free. It is forbidden throughout Scripture but is at the very heart of successful trading and underlies many of the “clever” take-over bids.

Trade and Our Personal Values

The market places minimal value on the internal life of the person, or on the eternal, the sacred or the ethical aspects of life, instead trading conforms our minds to value only the material, the profitable and the measurable. It is as if only matter matters. When only matter matters then God, who is Spirit, is automatically excluded. The knowledge of God is thus reduced to being an inconvenient ethical restraint on making a dollar. When the knowledge of God is minimized and marginalized, and material things are the source of personal meaning and value, then people “have exchanged the truth of God for the lie”; and God’s judgment is certain. (Romans 1:18-31)

Trade as it is practiced today will not stop to worship God and seeks to trade on Sundays and even in church. It seeks to be without any external restraint by religion and is therefore profane and without a proper respectful sense of the holy. This is hardly a modern problem. Nehemiah had trouble with traders trying to enter Jerusalem on the Sabbath and had to threaten to lay hands on them (Nehemiah 13:20,21) and Jesus had to clear them out of the temple with a whip (John 2:14-16).

By its nature trade makes money the guiding rule. The expression "the bottom line" indicates that when push comes to shove its money that counts, that the bottom line is making a profit and that requires “tough decisions”. Now making “tough business decisions” is necessary, even pastors have to make tough calls. What is wrong is the basis on which those decisions are made. If money is the final criterion or even in some cases the only criterion then it has become supreme. It has become a demi-god, and an arbiter of human behavior. In the more iniquitous areas of trade financial considerations outweigh respect for the laws of the land and the will of God. When trade places financial gain above the laws of the land, it is lawless. And when trade places financial gain above the will of God, it is rebellious. And when trade sees money as the one good thing to be desired, it has become idolatrous.

Over the last few decades profit has come to outweigh all other reasons for corporate promotion such as being loyal or godly. Trade operates in an atmosphere of competition and the perfect trader is "highly competitive" and frequently ruthless. To be called " a complete predator" is actually a compliment in some circles. To say that this is contrary to Christian faith and practice is an understatement!

Firms and even societies have been organized around “the doctrine of economic rationalism” which basically just says that the only reason for anything is economic prosperity. It has become a kind of razor slashing away at “excess fat” (such as faithful employees) and phrases such as “user pays”, “lean and mean” and “downsizing”, have become a dreaded part of common parlance. The problems with economic rationalism are many. Firstly it is manifestly unethical and unmerciful with little regard for covenant relationships such as workplace agreements or election promises. Secondly it reduces a society to its economy, an attitude that is increasingly coming under fire. Thirdly it is actually basically an error in logic and judgment known as a Procrustean bed. Procrustes was a rather nasty legendary Greek tyrant who only had one bed, which all visitors had to use. The bits of the person that hung over the bed were chopped off, and the bits that were too short were stretched to fit. Economic rationalism tries to make something as complex as a nation or a firm fit into a profit and loss balance sheet. It chops off some things that later turn out to have been rather essential and grossly distorts others into the perfect economic shape. Thus economic rationalism is an unethical, unmerciful and illogical form of tyranny.

Money has a spiritual quality about it and tries to assert that it is of ultimate importance and that financial considerations outweigh all others. To a modern materialist to lose your possessions is to "lose everything". I have worked professionally in the area of counselling, career guidance and human resources and seen first hand the commodification of labour, the temporary contracts, the measuring of human beings in terms of their "value to the market".

Civilizations dominated by trade and commerce are universally condemned in Scripture. They include the Ishmaelite traders that bought Joseph, and Tyre and Babylon. All these are used as metaphors for the World. As part of the judgments on Tyre and Babylon they are

called "the nation of trade" (Ezekiel 16:29, 27:14ff.) Sodom and Gomorrah were rich civilizations condemned to destruction for their neglect of the poor and their haughty attitude towards God.

(Ezekiel 16:48-50 NKJV)  "As I live," says the Lord GOD, "neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. {49} "Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. {50} "And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

Trade prospers those who are ruthless (Proverbs 11:16) and leads to a belief that "everything has a price tag" and can be bought including "the souls of men". (Revelation 18:11-13)

This arrogant ruthlessness results in an attitude of boastfulness and independence from God (James 4:13-17) and produces a person whose security is in their riches rather than God. (Isaiah 47:8-10, Ezek 28:5) This corrupted even "the guardian cherub" Satan and caused his fall from heaven because (Ezek 28:16 NKJV) "By the abundance of   your trading You became filled with violence within, And you sinned;..."

This ruthless aspect of trade can especially seen in the misery caused by currency trading and the results of the Asian economic crisis. According to the Prime Minster of Malaysia, Dr. Mahatir, ninety-five percent of world trade is the trade in money - only 5% is in goods and services. I also confirmed this extraordinary statistic by visiting Cook’s website (Cooks’ is a main player in the currency trade.) This huge trade can devalue a small nations currency overnight and cause numerous bankruptcies and untold poverty and hardships yet the people who make these decisions are simply making a heartless speculative profit from currency fluctuations.

Trade, Prosperity and Contentment

Trade - as in the pure buying and selling of goods, stocks and shares or money creates nothing. It does not even create wealth but simply redistributes into the hands of the rich and powerful.  God's created order for mankind is productive labour that participates in His governing of Creation. Work that benefits neither the body nor the soul and only blesses the bank accounts of the already rich is not His plan for the saints. The Kingdom runs on the service motive not the profit motive that runs trading empires. A valid business serves people and meets needs for food , clothing and actual products. Pure trading such as money exchange and share trading is not aimed at genuinely serving anyone or meeting real human needs but is deeply selfish and avaricious. Neither is it spiritually desirable to generate avarice and covetousness yet trade could barely function if everyone was content with what they had.

Advertising aims to arouse the desire to purchase and produce a large number of people who are increasingly acquisitive in nature. To do this it attaches status and meaning in life to certain products investing them at times with almost religious significance. Contrary to this Christian discipleship involves renunciation of the world and the  "boastful pride of life" and cannot co-exist with an acquisitive spirit or one that greatly values possessions. Jesus teaches that it  is harder for a rich man to be saved than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (1 John 2:15-17, Matthew 19:19-24).

Trade and Spirituality

Despite the multitude of Jews who were merchants none became prophets or were spiritually significant.  Jesus plainly taught that we cannot serve both God and Mammon  (Matthew 6:19-34) and the merchants are frequently the targets of   prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel (Is 22:1-4, Ezekiel 27:13-36, Proverbs 11:1)

The conflict between the "market mentality" and the Kingdom is seen in Jesus' expulsion of the traders from the Temple precincts. He calls the traders a "den of robbers". (Matt 21:13, Mk 11:17, Lk  19:46) Trade has no sense of the sacred and wishes to trade on the  Sabbath (invasion of sacred time) and in the Temple precincts (invasion of sacred space). It covets any time or space given over to God. (Nehemiah 13:15, Matt 21:13)

The market mentality causes discriminations in the body of Christ based on wealth. (James 2:1-17)  The rich were the persecutors of the church. (Jms 2:6,7) When the Church has embraced trade and prosperity it has always gone into rapid decline - from Laodecia onwards. (Rev 3:15-20) This is because it says in its heart "I am become rich and need  nothing". (Rev 3:17) James goes so far as to say that if you are a friend of the world you are an enemy of God. (James  4:4) .

Trade marginalises Christ, Christians and the gospel. As we have seen Christian virtues are ridiculed as uncompetitive. In the modern temples of Mammon - shopping centers, banks, stock exchanges etc. the atmosphere is purged completely of the gospel and of all traces of God while accepting paganism and pornography. Thus the Market rejects the Kingdom.  The final Babylon of Revelation is a vast trading empire.   (Revelation 18:13-15) and  the ultimate decision in the end times will be a tough choice - to be "a part of the Market or a part of the Kingdom" (Rev. 13:16-18)

All this is to say as the "market" metaphor rapidly becomes the dominant metaphor in society and wealth, not character, the sole measure of social status then faithfulness, justice and truth are disappearing from the workplace. As they disappear from the workplace they also disappear from the home and from friendships and as Scripture says "the love of many will grow cold". Increasingly people are only being treated decently if it is profitable to do so and this is being viewed as "wisdom".  A great darkness is taking over our society and intruding into the Church. It is a darkness that views saintliness as folly, character as old-fashioned and mercy as a flaw. The market marginalises those who are truly Christian and one day it will reveal its true nature and reject them altogether unless they worship Satan - the prince of Trade.

The Heart of Darkness

 Joseph Conrad in his novel "The Heart of Darkness" examines the relationship between trade and darkness - the darkness of corporate London and the darkness of unregulated trading in "darkest Africa" - trade at its rawest and most corrupt, trade let go as far as it wanted  to. In the climax of the book the dying trader in Africa peers into his soul and cries "the horror, the horror". The thesis of the book is that trade is essentially "the heart of darkness".  More recently the modern American philosopher Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and The Art of  Motorcycle Maintenance) wrote a second book called "Lila - An Exploration Into Morals". Though not a Christian and certainly only vaguely aware of "principalities and powers" he describes "the spirit of trade" dominating New York in vivid detail. He calls it "the   Giant"

“That is what the Giant really does. It converts accumulated biological energy into forms that serve itself. ...Phaedrus had  suddenly seen a tentacle of the Giant reaching out and he was the only one who could see it. ...So here was this Giant, this nameless, faceless system reaching out for him, ready to devour him an digest him. It would use his energy to grow stronger and stronger throughout his life while he grew older and weaker until, when he was no longer of much use, it would excrete him and find another  younger person full of energy to take his place and do the same thing all over again.”

Pirsig sees New York and its culture as predatory on those who participate in it. The city grows but it uses up the people that live there. The Bulletin magazine (in Australia) ran an article called "the Golden Treadmill" which talked about how highly paid corporate executives were living a life of fear and insecurity, long   hours and little family life if any - on a "golden treadmill" - well paid but being devoured and used up. "The Giant" of Robert Pirsig's New York is alive and well everywhere – including in Australia.

Trade does not readily accept moral restraint and when trade is let go without effective restraint -as it was during the colonial era and in many Third World countries today great abominations are committed - the quite recent systematic slaughter of tribes in the Amazon  opposed to the development of their rainforests is just one example. The Chinese opium m   wars for British control of the drug trade, and the Americans using gunships to open up Japanese ports for trade in the 1800's is another.

It could be said that all human activities can go wrong and have their dark side and to some extent that is true. However even large areas of human endeavour such as sport, education, entertainment and science do not commit evil to anywhere near the same extent as trade -  at least until money gets involved. For some well hidden spiritual reason the love of money is able to be "the root of all kinds of evil" and the source of untold amounts of crime and human misery.

Christian Participation In Trade -Where does the balance lie?

Despite all that I have said Christian participation in trade is perhaps possible for a while under some fairly strong constraints. There are ethical pockets of trade in which a Christian can find some refuge such as the "ethical investment funds" that have recently appeared which do not invest in the arms industry, tobacco or alcohol or in environmentally unsound propositions. However as  yet these are much less than 1% of the market and would represent a fraction of one percent of the job opportunities in trade.

If a Christian can pursue trade without loving money, being eager to be rich or becoming ensnared in the status, delusion and power games of the trading world and if they can say "if the Lord wills we will do this or that.." and remain dependent on Him and focused first and foremost on the Kingdom then they are fine. However the track record of Christians down the years show that this is rare indeed. Many who have tried it have "pierced their souls with many a pang ". (1 Tim 6:6-10) Jesus quite bluntly says that we cannot serve both God and Mammon and that if we are to serve God  we must despise Mammon (Matthew 6:24) – that is it must be a minor factor in our decisions and certainly not the “bottom line”

Certain common areas of world trade are absolutely forbidden for the Christian - such as the currency trade, drugs trade, sex trade, slave trade, illegal wildlife trade and the arms trade. The devastation these areas wreak on smaller countries is absolutely profound. The Christian participating in trade must look at the ultimate logical consequences of their actions without denial or pretense. Currency trading, especially where it involves massive transactions in the currencies of smaller countries, is like deliberately driving a bulldozer over a child.

The Christian cannot say "well we just have to do that to make a profit" or "well that's just my job and those are my orders.."  they are not excuses that will stand in the courts of Heaven. There are generally much better and more constructive things to put your energy and your "life's time" into though that may involve some retraining and the earlier comments on priorities, contentment and not being eager to get rich should be noted.  The Christian must actively seek the ethical regulation of their area of trade and should campaign for the elimination of diabolical areas of trade such as Wilberforce did with his efforts to eliminate slave-trading.

The Christian must not get caught up in "the game" and in leading an unbalanced and highly competitive life that does not build committed relationships or reflect gospel priorities. Even in trade the Christian is primarily a servant and must not live life for  dominion, ego or the boastfulness of life. Also the Christian must refuse to define their personal status in terms of wealth or possessions.  Those who do so are called “the rich” in the New Testament and lets see what the bible says about them in contrast to ”the poor” who see the things of this world as not meeting their needs – because their greatest need is God.

The Rich and The Poor In The New Testament

There have been three classic views about Christians and wealth:

(a)    That material wealth is a sign of God's favor and blessing and that Christians should pray for it and pursue it. Christians should be prosperous and "the head and not the tail".

(b)    That holy poverty and simplicity of lifestyle is preferable for Christians and Christians should be world-renouncing, joyous and free.

(c)    That riches and poverty are internal spiritual conditions not material and that the materially rich can still be poor in spirit if they practice renunciation.

Lets see what the New Testament teaches about the topic of the rich and the poor:

The poor -  are the primary recipients of  faith and the gospel:
 Jesus primarily came to preach the gospel to the poor (Matthew 11:15, Luke 4:18, 7:22, ) and declared that poor are blessed because they inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3, Luke 6:20). James the brother of Jesus and the author of the epistle of that name writes that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith (James 2:5) and the angel of the Lord representing Jesus in the early chapters of Revelation says to the church of Smyrna that even though they suffered tribulation and poverty they were rich in spiritual things (Revelation 2:9)

On the other hand the rich have great difficulty entering the Kingdom:
 In direct contrast to His statements about preaching the gospel to the poor who inherit the Kingdom of god Jesus says that entering the Kingdom is almost impossible for people who define themselves in terms of their wealth like the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:23,24; Mark 10:23-25, Luke 8;24). This is due to the fact that anxiety over money chokes their ability to pay attention to spiritual things and they become unfruitful (Mark 8:14, Luke 4:19) and because the desire to get rich leads people into many “foolish and harmful lusts” that end up plunging them into destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6:9). Thus identifying yourself with wealth and elitism and seeking to get rich, is extremely spiritually hazardous. Unfortunately personal identification with the rich and elite and seeking to get rich is the normal culture of world trade. Therefore, world trade, as it is currently practiced is spiritually harmful for Christians.

The poor are invited to God's Feast and should be invited to ours as well but the rich are not to be invited to our feasts:
 In the New Testament the Feast is the place of joy and intimacy with God (Rev 19:7-9) and who is going to be invited to the wedding feast (of the Lamb) is of a primary concern that runs through many of Jesus’ sayings such as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. In Luke 14 Jesus uses the occasion of  a dinner at the house of a prominent Pharisee to teach about who will be invited into God’s fellowship and who will not.  In this parable the rich exclude themselves from intimacy with God by pursuing business interests ahead of personal piety and spiritual formation and so God invites the poor into His fellowship and they gladly accept (Luke 14:1624). Before Jesus tells this story He talks about elitism and wealth and how scribes and others seek the best seats. He teaches that humility means taking the lowest social place and identifying with the poor and how the pride of the rich and elite will cause them to be humbled lowly (Luke 14:8-11). Jesus goes on to say that there is no spiritual reward for inviting the rich to our feasts but great spiritual reward for inviting the poor and the disabled and those unable to reap us. He goes so far as to say “do not invite,…the rich” (Luke 14:12-14). Thus intimacy and fellowship with God I denied to those who are rich, self-sufficient and preoccupied with this world and inviting them into our fellowship brings no reward for us. Rather we should identify with the poor and outcast who will gladly accept Christ and enter into fellowship with Him.

 The poor are filled with good things while the rich are "sent away empty" by God:
 In the Magnificat in Luke chapter one Mary exclaims (Luke 1:53 NASB)  "He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. In his gospel Luke goes on to say that the rich are receiving their comfort in full in this life (Luke 6:24) and that the selfish rich later enter into torment (Luke 16:19-31) and in the parable of the Rich Fool,  Jesus says that it is the height of spiritual folly to lay up treasure for one’s self in this life and not be rich towards God. (Luke 12:16-21).

The rich cannot purchase spiritual things with money because these things are free in the economic sense; they are received through spiritual disciplines such as repentance, seeking God in faith and enduring in good works. Their money is useless in Heaven. Also the rich and elite often have a deceptive sense of entitlement that blocks them from the humility necessary to come before God to receive the things of the Kingdom. Those whose personal value is closely attached to their bank accounts cannot receive from God but the poor who seek their value from God through faith are “filled with good things” and these are Kingdom things, things that endure.

Giving to the poor is a basic part of the Christian lifestyle.

Jesus and His disciples had a moneybox out of which they gave to the poor and it was this moneybox that Judas pilfered from to his own eventual damnation. (John 12:5,6 13:29) The early church had organised distribution of food to widows (Acts 6:1-5) and Christians sold land and goods and laid the money at the apostles’ feet for distribution among the poor. (Acts 4:34-37). Paul took up a collection for the famine in Judea which was the early church’s first attempt at overseas aid with the Gentile churches assisting the Jewish churches. (2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9) and numerous verses in the gospels talk about selling possession and giving to the poor (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22, 19:8). The only thing the apostles in Jerusalem laid on Paul was that he should “remember the poor” and Paul says that was ”the very thing that I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). Jesus himself is seen as giving to the poor in 2 Corinthians 9:9. Thus giving to the poor and being concerned for their welfare is absolutely basic to Christian living. Christians who so identify with wealth and elitism that they show little or no concern for the poor and severely compromised in their faith.

In the after-life the poor receive heavenly blessings to compensate for their earthly misery while the selfish rich receive punishment as compensation for their luxurious living
In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 the selfish rich man ends up in torment while the beggar Lazarus is comforted in Abraham’s bosom. The clear teaching of this parable is that the selfish rich do not go on to enjoy the comfort they had on earth in the after-life. Rather their selfishness stores up judgment and torment for them while the suffering poor who have depended on God for their consolation receive that consolation in abundance.

(Luke 16:22,25 NASB)  "Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.....25  "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.

The rich and prosperous in world trade who ignore the poor “Lazarus” communities who are suffering the effects of unjust trading relationships, and which long for even a “crumb from the rich man’s table” will be judged, and I believe tormented for eternity. James puts this quite clearly when he says: (James 5:1-6 NKJV)  Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! {2} Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. {3} Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. {4} Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. {5} You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. {6} You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

 Christ became physically poor that we might become spiritually rich and true Christ-like and apostolic ministry follows that pattern: 
In his e[istle to the rather worldly Corinthians Paul points out that Jesus sacrificed privilege, position, power and wealth in order to minister here on earth.
(2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB)  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. Paul followed that pattern in his own personal ministry and says that though he was poor he made many rich ( 2 Corinthians 6:10). In the gospels the poor widow is commended for going even to the point of total destitution in order to give to God. (Mark 12:42-43). In classical spiritual literature this is called “renunciation” being able to renounce the world and its riches and even live in poverty for the cause of Christ. In Hebrews Moses is commended as an example of faith for sacrificing the riches of Egypt for the reproach of Christ (Hebrews 11:25,26) and the epistle closes with an exhortation to suffer in the same manner of Christ, going “outside the gate” to bear His reproach and to seek not a material and earthly city but one that is to come (Hebrews 13:12-14). Renunciation is very much part of taking up our cross and following Christ and frequently involves financial sacrifice as it did for Moses and Jesus and Paul. True Christian ministry will involve embracing the cross and being prepared to be physically poor that other might be made spiritually rich.

True riches and treasures are spiritual and eternal

When the New Testament talks about Christians becoming rich it is always in the context of becoming spiritually rich in the things of God. Our daily needs are supplied by God (Matthew 6:33,34) but our wealth is in Christ and our treasure is not to be on earth but in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The riches that Jesus and Paul distribute are gospel riches known as the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) and are else where defined as “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). They are not material riches for they themselves were poor as we saw above. These gospel riches flow from “the riches of His glory” and include things such as God’s goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering (Romans 2;4) and His mercy (Romans 9:23). This mercy saves us and brings us heavenly riches (Ephesians 2:1-7) . The riches of  His glory result in strengthening the inner man (Ephesians 3:17) so that Christian maturity results (Ephesians 3:17-20).  The hardening of the hearts of the Jews resulted in the gospel riches going to the Gentiles instead. (Romans 11:12) These riches include the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:30-32), a deep understating of the knowledge of Christ and the Father (Colossians 2:2,3) and the word of God (Colossians 3:16). Paul sees the treasure is Christ in Him, and this treasure is stored in earthen vessels ( 2 Corinthians 4:7). Jesus talks about the treasure of the heart as where people store that which is good within them (Matthew 12:35) including their teaching of the Scriptures (Matthew 13:52) and is where our true adornment lies (1 Peter 3:4). Clearly the treasures and riches that Christians are to put their energy into are spiritual and internal not outward and material.

Rich Christians must never become self-sufficient or see themselves as superior or take more honored positions in the church or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, rather they should pursue humility and repentance aiming to be rich in good works and generous in sharing.

By the end of Paul’s ministry, as he was writing to Timothy, the early church had increased in wealth and this had begun to cause a few problems. So he instructed Timothy to instruct the rich in how to hope in God in the midst of their wealth.

(1 Timothy 6:17-18 NASB)  Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. {18} Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

The church James wrote to seems to have had some unscrupulous rich people who pushed their way into prominence and the church seems to have given way to this and given rich people higher and pore prominent positions that poor people and this is roundly condemned (James 2:1-10). In Revelation the church in Laodecia was rich and self-sufficient and Jesus says this self-sufficiency was going to cause Him to spit them out of His mouth in utter rejection.  The rich must see their riche sin God not in their own social status. It is clear that the rich man and his pursuits are “passing away” (James 1:10,11) and that only eternal things really count ( 1 Corinthians 7;31, 1 John 2:15-17). The final words about the way the fleeting riches of this world disappoint us are recorded in the book of Revelation as the merchants see their wealth go up in smoke:

(Revelation 18:14-19 NKJV)  "The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all. {15} "The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, {16} "and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! {17} 'For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.' Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance {18} "and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What is like this great city?' {19} "They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.'


The clear and unambiguous teaching of the New Testament is that the fervent pursuit of material wealth is not to be a Christian occupation. Our hope is to be in God and the riches we are to pursue are to be in Christ. Now to answer the question who are the “rich”? Some Christians such as Joseph of Arimethea, Barnabas, Nicodemus, and Philemon were clearly quite wealthy. It is possible to be wealthy and be a fine Christian. However such wealthy people sought their riches in Christ and did not perceive themselves to be among the rich and elite and they were not filled with pride, self-sufficiency or contempt for the poor. Barnabas sold his lands and gave the money to the poor while Philemon was noted for his hospitality. There was no pride or selfishness or independence in their use of wealth. The rich in the New Testament are those people whose great material wealth has become their identity so that they identify themselves as rich and their bank balance is their source of self-image, not God. The poor are generally the materially poor but also includes those who have wealth but have fixed their hope on God not on riches. Those who are “poor in spirit”, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Thus the first proposal at the start of this section, that Christians should actively seek material prosperity and make it their spiritual focus, is completely erroneous in the light of the NT evidence. The second proposal of holy poverty is half-right. The NT certainly commends simplicity of living and identification with the poor but it does allow some Christians to be wealthy. Certainly we are to not to be tangled up with the cares of riches and holy poverty and simplicity may the only cure drastic enough for many such as the rich young ruler and this was the case with St. Francis who was a spoilt young rich man and needed drastic spiritual surgery on his materialistic way of life The holy poverty kept him focused on Christ. However the third proposal is the most correct of the three. While the rich that the NT condemns are always materially rich, the spiritually poor seem to be belong to any socio-economic class and consist of those who are empty before God, detached from the world and seeking Christ as their true riches.

The consequences of this survey of the NT for Christians involved in the culture of trade are obvious. The pursuit of money, the seeking of one’s self-image and status in material wealth, the  laying up of earthly rather than heavenly treasure and the way trade ignores the plight of the poor make it completely contrary to the NT vision of the Christian life.

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