Get Rich and Give It Away
This is the second in a blog series about pastor Robert’s trip to Togo, Africa. You can read the first one here.
Typically Americans react one of two ways when they visit a third-world country. Either they are laden with guilt and return to the States disgusted by their wealth and prosperity, or they are disgusted by the poverty and return to the States more in love with their wealth and prosperity. In other words, some return ready to protest American culture; others return ready to indulge American culture. Probably because I experienced a bit of both, I returned dreaming of another way—redeem American culture.
Nobody can argue against the brilliance of American Capitalism and its ability to produce unimaginable wealth for any and everybody within that system. At the same time, what is not spoken of enough within the conservative evangelical church (of which I gladly identify with) are the inherent dangers of a system that in many ways is fueled by greed and consumption. Free market capitalism is unrivaled as an economic system, and it is also, like every system of this fallen world, dangerous. When you consider the stern and multiple warnings Jesus offers about money, I would say it is exceedingly dangerous.
Now let me clear; I’m not a socialist. I don’t like being taxed. I don’t like big governments. I think working hard with the freedom to accumulate wealth is a really good thing, and I really love being a part of a society that offers that opportunity to every single citizen, especially after visiting a country where it is nearly impossible for almost every single citizen.
Now with those qualifiers, let’s talk about redeeming capitalism. I returned from Africa keenly aware of the unique roll the American Church has to play. The global Church is a body, and each culture has a gift to offer that body. I think God has called us to be the wallet of the Church. And we need not be ashamed of that role; we need to embrace it for His glory and the good of His Kingdom.
Let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be. What we have that Christians around the world don’t have is wealth. We are all rich, and we all have the freedom to get even richer. So let’s do it! Let’s make use of the brilliance of capitalism, and get filthy rich … so that we can then resource the Kingdom of God. I think that is how capitalism is redeemed. We don’t spend our days railing against the system (liberal stereotype), and we don’t spend our days in bondage to the system (conservative stereotype); we use the system for the glory of God (Christian).
Rick Warren puts it like this, “Socialism says what’s yours is mine. Capitalism says what’s mine is mine. Christianity says what’s mine is yours.”
The Apostle Paul says it like this, “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. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”
Notice that he doesn’t condemn them for being rich. And he even says that God provides wealth to be enjoyed. But he also makes it clear that they are called to do something with their wealth that goes way beyond enjoyment. They are to be “generous and ready to share.” I love the description “ready to share.” It has the feel of someone eagerly looking for an opportunity to be generous. I want to be known as a person ready to share. I want TCPC to be known as an institution ready to share. That doesn’t happen with status-quo philanthropy that every good moral person does; that happens when people are so enthralled by a giving God that they are eager to bear witness to divine generosity. Giving like that is prodigious and costly, but that is precisely the point.
Not only does every culture have a gift to offer the Church, every culture has cross to bear—a unique way to embody the cross. Ours will probably not take the form of imprisonment or martyrdom. But that doesn’t mean we are exempt from the cross. So what is our unique cross to bear?
Let me suggest generosity that hurts—I mean really hurts. We are familiar with mortgage payments that hurt, car payments that hurt, college tuition that hurts, lavish vacations that hurt, retirement that hurts, weddings that hurt, why not generosity that hurts? We get rich to live in nice homes, why not get rich to give?
Nothing would be more honoring to our crucified Lord and encouraging to our suffering brothers and sisters than for us to renounce legitimate pleasures and comforts that very well could be ours in order to fund the purposes of God’s Kingdom. I believe this is a unique testimony that only the wealthy of the world can make. We have in our very grasp what 90% of humanity can only dream about; we are living their fairytale. Recklessly conceding that dream for the sake of the mission would be such a beautiful picture of a Savior who did not consider the riches of heaven as a thing to be grasped but humbled himself all the way to the cross for our sake.
We live in America, the land of opportunity and wealth. Don’t feel guilty about that and protest a good system, but don’t feel smug about that and uncritically align with a dangerous system; thank God for it and use it for His glory and kingdom.
So in the name of Jesus, go get rich and give it away.