Monday, March 24, 2008

Judging and the Wealth of Christians.

My wife posted this question on this blog: “I am interested to hear what you believe the Bible says on judging others. What made me think of this is your comment in the relevance blog about Christians owning a lot of nice things (like cars and multiple houses). You said that it troubles you. What troubles you about it? Is it our place to judge others from an outward appearance?”

The answer is Yes. “What?” you say completely flabbergasted. Let’s work on it.

The Bible says in I Timothy 2 that women should not be adorned in costly clothing. We know that the prohibition of braided hair and the types of clothing came from the societal norms of the time being that those so clothed were identified as prostitutes, but the prohibition of costly clothing is not tied to any time or place. Why is there a prohibition of costly clothing, and a more important question is how do we know if the clothing is costly so we can warn our brother or sister in Christ to avoid sin? It seems to me that there must be a judgment of how things look on the exterior, in fact, it is necessary because clothes ARE on the exterior. So, essentially yes, we must judge others from an outward appearance, but I must delve into that much more further down. At this point, it’s just for shock value.

It is things like this in the Bible that bother me about wealthy Christians. I must repeat that I have no problem with wealthy Christians, it is how they spend that wealth that gives me pause. I also must remember that in a worldwide sense, I am quite wealthy. No, I don’t have loads of expendable cash, nor do I drive a brand new car (now.) But I do eat when I want to, and generally what I want to, and I have a home that is heated, and a car that works, wear clothes that are warm and fit, and am in no present danger of starving to death or dying of dehydration or cold or disease. In a world wide sense, I am quite wealthy. But for now, lets take a Biblical look at judging.

The classic verse on judging, now quoted perhaps more often than John 3:16 is Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that you be not judged.” I’ve heard this more often that not to excuse aberrant behavior. I have personally witnessed persons of the attitude that this verse gave them license to do whatever they want. But we must remember to never read a Bible verse, anything less than a chapter on either side of the verse in question is asking for trouble. Jesus says that you should take the plank out of your own eye before you look for the speck in someone else’s. What he is condemning is hypocritical judging which is naturally the kind that rears its ugly head so often because Christians are imperfect. But we must see the end of the story as it is in context. Jesus says “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” That’s right, once your vision is clear, then you must seek to right your brother.

Judging, in the correct sense, is a caring loving Christian brother or sister noticing a problem in the life of someone they care about. These are not simple little petty accusations about what someone says or wears, but sin that cannot hide. The person I mentioned above was the leader of a Christian band that I was a part of, but he was also into porn. Now I’m not saying here that I was a good kid and rebuked him for his sin, and I am also not saying that I had the same sin so I kept quiet to avoid hypocrisy. Either of these would be acceptable, though the latter tends toward apathy and is technically more true. The situation should be remedied in a “brothers struggling with the same sin” kind of way. The truth is, I just kept quiet.

We know the very familiar story of the woman caught in adultery. John 8:7 says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” This is another often quoted verse regarding judging. But again, if we look at the verse in the proper context, a different meaning emerges. The last verse of this passage says: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus judged her. He judged her guilty. The accusation leveled against her was legitimate. But Jesus, as we should be in our judgment, sought not to condemn or sentence the offender with some punishment, but rather to lift the person out of their shackles of sin and set them free to a new life. He said “go and from now on, sin no more.” His forgiveness was the pinnacle of the story, but he commanded her to stop what she was doing and change her ways.

To see something that is wrong, as we are called to do, we must make judgments. We must look upon the exterior (the actions, the words, the fruit) to discern sin. But unlike the hypocritical judge, we must not condemn the person, we must look upon them with love and exhort them to change their ways. However, we must first judge ourselves to see if we are afflicted by the same sin so as not to fall into hypocrisy. We must not judge perceived motives or any other aspect of the person that we cannot with our own eyes see. Remember, God looks upon the heart and for us to take on God’s responsibility is for us to attempt to supplant him, which is blasphemy. Judging in the correct context is not sin, but blasphemy always is.

Ok, back to wealthy Christians. I guess the over arching problem I have is the disparity between those who have and those who do not. I just got back from Mexico where guys brave morning rush hour traffic to sell newspapers and windshield washes window to window at stop lights. I have been to Honduras where people still cook over open fires in smoke filled grass roofed huts and walk around in muddy filth between the days where they work steep hills trying to have enough food to feed their family. The early church had all things in common. Those who had needs had those needs met. Those who had extra gave it to those who had little. To me, an Escalade is extra. The base price for one is
$54,670. That’s half the price of my house, and I have a thirty year mortgage. The worst part is that it is unnecessary. Far cheaper vehicles fulfill the need just as good. No one I have ever known with an Escalade needed it to haul around a family. And even if they did, a minivan would have done the job.

I guess my conclusion is that I can’t see spending that much on a car when my Christian brothers and sisters the world over are suffering. The hypocrite test question is the obvious one, what I am I doing right that I should point out the wrongs of others. I don’t know because I don’t read their bank account statements. That’s why it bothers me. Could I live simpler? I am sure I could, but I already to as best I can. I have a house that is smaller than American average and bills likewise, cars too. And I have these smaller things by choice because I believe it is better for the world if I don’t live to my limit. Better if I don’t spend all my money just because I have it. But it still bothers me that what I have is so nice even though it is in many ways below average.

I think that Jesus was here to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.



Anonymous said...

so are you basically assuming that wealthy christians are purchasing things they don't need w/o the approvel of God? I know a lot of people who have unnecessarily large homes that are nicely furnished and drive new cars that are living in God's will and sought confirmation before they purchased any of the big things. What say you???

WiredForStereo said...

How is an "unnecessarily large home" in the will of God? If it unnecessarily large, then why is it necessary to have it?

If someone is seeking confirmation from God for their own decisions, then they are not really seeking anything from God are they? However, if you seek to make God's decision, God's will will be done.

God's will lies in helping the poor and downtrodden, the ones who he promises justice. I don't see how an "unnecessarily large home" fits into that.

Lisa said...

I think ultimately the definition comes down to what an "unnecessarily large home" is. For instance, there is a couple in our church who has what from an outsiders perspective would be an "unnecessarily large home" for two adults and one college age daughter; however, when they purchased the house, they felt God telling them to buy a larger house so they could host people. That is exactly what they have done. It ultimately comes down to your motives of why you are buying something. If you are buying a large house, or anything else, because you want to show off what you have, then that is wrong. The Bible says that we should do everything to the glory of God. I believe this goes from our actions to what we buy. It is hard for us to judge a person's motives from the outside.

WiredForStereo said...

I understand from your perspective what you mean by doing everything to the glory of God, but what about 1 Timothy 6:17 "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."

They are to be rich in good works, and generosity. Where in the Bible does it say that Christians should buy anything they want so long as they believe they have God's approval? That is a perversion of the gospel. Not setting our hopes on riches means giving them away. God is generous to us so we will be generous to others, but if we are not, he curses us. There are over 2000 verses in the Bible involving the poor and injustice. This is not something God was ambiguous about.

WiredForStereo said...

“It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” -Mother Theresa

Lisa said...

I understand what you are saying; however, you can be rich in good works as well as rich in monetary value. Also, from another perspective, have you ever considered that God allows some to have extensive wealth in order to reach the rich who are unbelievers? There are some unbelievers who will only associate with others who are of the same social status as them. While I would say that it is a very rare scenario, I do believe that God blesses some Christians with wealth in order to reach the wealthy. I think this topic is one of the gray areas. It is not cut and dry.

WiredForStereo said...

I never said you can't be rich. If you wish to get well educated so you can make a good living, or if you wish to start a business and make money that way, then by all means, show a good witness and work hard at whatever your hand finds to do. However, we must realize that the opportunity to make money is from God, therefore, we should use this gift of God to do whatever God wants us to do with the gift.

WiredForStereo said...

I think I'll have to write a full post to make some concrete conclusions and explore some more rabbit trails.