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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Church, Riches and Responsibility

Nov 20, 2015

That the Bible speaks about riches and wealth, often in the form of a warning, is of course perfectly clear. We cannot escape the fact that riches can have a corrupting impact on so many people, and it can become a real wedge to drive us away from God. Scripture repeatedly makes these assertions.

Of course money and wealth in themselves can be quite neutral – it is how we use them or what value we attach to them that becomes critical. And I really need to preface my remarks by saying a few things:

-The best proven method of raising millions of poor people out of poverty is still by means of the free market (even with all its faults).
-Socialism is not only historically a proven failure in terms of economic success, but it cannot be sustained or justified from Scripture (even with dodgy interpretations of Acts 4-5).
-Wealth can at times be seen as a blessing of God, but not always. And poverty is not to be viewed as somehow being sinful or always against the will of God (thus I have little good to say about the prosperity gospel).
-Money, riches and material goods can be used for God and his glory, but they can also easily lead us away from God (again, this is a question of what are our values and priorities).
-There is nothing wrong with being quite wealthy. What matters is what you do with the wealth (lavish it all on our self and a selfish lifestyle, or use it for Kingdom purposes).
-We are to be in responsible control of the resources God has entrusted to us (but too often money and things can take control of us).

All this – and more – of course needs to be spelled out in much more detail, supported by the relevant biblical texts, and so on. But that I have sought to do elsewhere, for example in many of the articles found here: billmuehlenberg.com/category/economics/

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But I want to now just look at one particular nation, and discuss a few matters about Christians’ responsibility when it comes to money matters. It is not my intention of course to pick on Singapore. But since I happen to be here at the moment, it might be worth briefly discussing these issues in the context of Singapore and Christians who live there.

This is now my third trip to Singapore in a year, and I am so very impressed about so many things about the nation – in and out of the churches. It is of course a mega-miracle story of economic transformation. Anyone visiting here cannot but be impressed with what they find.

A country with no natural resources and a typically low Asian standard of living just a short while ago has managed to transform itself into an economic powerhouse, and one of the safest, most prosperous, and most successful nations on earth.

It really is a phenomenal place in so many ways, and so much of the credit must obviously go to Lee Kuan Yew who passed away earlier this year. He made Singapore what it is today. And what an incredible success story it has been, especially economically.

A recent report found just how successful it really is: “Singapore is the third-richest country in the world, ranking behind only Qatar and Luxembourg, according to Forbes magazine. Using the most recent International Monetary Fund data available, Forbes said Singapore ‘thrives as a technology, manufacturing and finance hub with a GDP (PPP) per capita of nearly US$56,700 (S$71,200)’.”

And so many of the Christians here are also fabulously well off. There are so many wealthy Christians and numerous wealthy churches. God has blessed them big time. But of course the question needs to be asked once again: what are believers doing with all their wealth?

Are individual Christians using all this wealth to just support a lifestyle of the rich and famous, ever going after bigger homes, larger big screen TVs, fancier cars, and more exotic vacations? All these things within reason and in moderation can be quite alright.

But if these riches are just focused on the Christian, to support a lavish lifestyle, with little or no thought for others, then the blessing of God can quickly become a curse. There are so many struggling Christian ministries in Asia and beyond which so much need financial help.

And there are of course countless millions of poor people around the globe just wondering where their next meal will come from. Do these rich Christians spare a thought for these sorts of needs? I am sure many do, and I thank God for them. But I am sure that many do not, and I speak this to their shame.

In a conference I am in the middle of speaking at here, there are hundreds of mostly well-to-do Singaporean believers in attendance. We have also been really blessed to have a few brothers here from the Philippines and Pakistan. These are of course among the poorer countries on earth, and Christians there can really struggle.

I felt led twice this week to encourage those in the audience to not just introduce themselves with a handshake to these brothers, but to make sure there is some cash in that shake. I can easily afford to fly here from Australia, but these folks had to make real sacrifices to get here.

So we all have a responsibility to use our riches wisely, and to always consider those who are far more needy than we are. But let me mention a second thing in closing. Just hours ago a Singaporean Court handed out sentences to six convicted church leaders who had been found guilty of misappropriating $24 million in church funds.

While this was front page news here, I will not mention names. All Singaporeans know who I am referring to and which church it was. Outsiders can easily enough find it out as well. I am not here weighing into what the courts decided.

I simply want to state the obvious. Every single Christian church, Christian ministry, and Christian worker must be 100 per cent transparent and above board when it comes to finances. Money is one of the surest ways of bringing down a church, a leader, or a ministry.

It happens all the time. We all should know better by now. We must be utterly scrupulous when it comes to all things financial. The church has enough of a lousy reputation and image in the eyes of the world. We don’t need more examples of things to be blasted for.

The whole world is watching the churches. They, like individual believers, must be without blemish or spot. We must be so very careful here. When these things happen we do so much damage not just to our faith, but more importantly, we drag the name of our Lord in the mud.

So individual Christians as well as churches must be so very prayerful and careful here. Wealth is a great blessing of God, but if used unwisely, it can become a real trap. And of course none of it will last.

The other day I had a quick tour of Singapore, and at night it looks even more majestic and remarkable. Places like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel are just mindboggling to behold. But as I told the folks at the conference today, all this will soon enough be no more. No manmade object will last. Only God remains, and only our relationship and service for him will last.

We must put our hope in God alone, and not in financially prosperous cities which could at any time come crashing down, either economically and physically. What are our priorities? What do we put our trust in? What is it that we most highly value?

As the old poem by C. T. Studd put it, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Or as the martyred missionary Jim Elliot once put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

What is your treasure my friends? What do you value most? What do you put your trust in? Where does your security lie? All of us need to carefully answer these questions. Will you do it now?

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2 Responses to The Church, Riches and Responsibility

  • With so much prosperity, corruption is inevitable.
    It is very sad to hear your talk about such deep fraught in the church of Singapore. Let’s presume that this will place much heat on the leaders of all churches and that wealth is shared freely. Generally speaking the locals are extremely generous.
    I should hope and pray they also give freely of their wealth to the surrounding nations. Locking at the missionary work the church supports offers a good yard stick.
    Bill Heggers
    Bridgetown W.A.

  • Just as you have taught us in previous articles Bill that it is our responsibility to choose the recipients of personal gifts wisely especially considering the plethora of organisations seeking our donations, so I believe it is important to spend every dollar purchasing our own goods as wise as we can for the kingdom of God. If there is a choice between companies supplying phone services one of which supports ssm and one doesn’t, then choose the one that doesn’t. Likewise with Halal and made in Australia. It has certainly made the range of products we are happy to purchase quite narrow, and the process of changing insurance companies and the like is tedious and as yet incomplete, but God has always opened another door and lead us to find small enterprises which supply that product or service. And yes, it invariably is more expensive, but since it is God’s money, not ours, we may trust He will always supply if we do with what is His that which pleases Him.
    I have approached my pastor to teach the youth group these principles, but have been ignored so far.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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