A second question comes in from Rick Segal, who serves as the Vice President of Advancement and Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He asks, “Pastor John, is it sinful to be a ‘high net worth individual’ — someone who has assets minus liabilities greater than one million dollars?
Here’s the scenario: God blesses a Christian’s personal industry with fruitfulness in the form of a large annual income. The biblical wartime lifestyle, as I may be admittedly misunderstanding it, would have this person use a portion of that income to meet modestly constructed needs, including the setting aside of similarly modest rainy-day reserves, and then give the rest to ministry, especially for the care of the poor. This person would not accumulate assets in such a model, and therefore would neither be, nor ever become, a high net worth individual — only, by God’s grace, a highly-paid one during certain seasons.
On the other hand, what about a Christian investor, the person who doesn’t immediately give to Christian charity all of the difference between a modest lifestyle and a large annual income, but who keeps it and with great attentiveness, accumulates assets that may produce future income — and charity — beyond the immediate fruit of his annual labor? What is the difference between ‘desiring to be rich’ (1 Timothy 6:9) and skillfully, faithfully managing one’s wealth in this manner?”
Let’s get the powerful warning against the desire to be rich out on the table and then clarify a few things about wartime lifestyle, because there is where the rub is. So Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6,
Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
That is about as strong a warning about the desire to be rich as I could imagine. So let me clarify what I am talking about with wartime way of life.
“Building up resources to accomplish great and costly acts of love is not sinful.”
The answer to the question is “no.” A wartime lifestyle does not mean that, after providing yourself and your family with modest housing, food, clothing, now you are obliged to give all the surplus away immediately. That is not what wartime lifestyle says. Rather, the call for wartime way of life says with a lot more nuance and complexity, that the remainder of our resources — so after you have provided those necessities for yourself, which might be ten dollars, or might be ten million dollars left over (and that is the case that is being asked about) — is managed and stewarded for the good of others, the glory of God, and the advancement of his saving and sanctifying and healing purposes in the world, rather than for personal aggrandizement.
So that may mean a huge and immediate sacrificial gift. You may give all your surplus away when profits rise or you get a windfall or whenever. Or it may mean no, you don’t give it all away. You build a large capital reserve for starting a foundation or for accomplishing some larger, longer term goal for the good of the culture or the society.
Wealth to Win the War
Wartime way of life, as opposed to simple lifestyle, is meant to call attention to the kinds of choices that are made when tanks and rifles and grenades and B-52 bombers are needed to defeat the Germans and Japanese in a war of aggression in World War II. Think of the complexities of constructing tanks and rifles and grenades and airplanes — they were enormous and expensive. Factories for parts had to exist, along with a massive paid labor force and logistical systems for transportation and delivery — all of it hugely costly.
So, no. The answer is no. Building up resources to accomplish great and costly acts of love is not sinful. And it might be helpful just to draw this out a little more, not in relation to any particular war, but rather ordinary business life in America.
“What Paul is warning against is not the desire to earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others.”
We live in a society in which many legitimate businesses depend on large concentrations of capital. You can’t build a new manufacturing plant without millions of dollars in equity. And therefore, financial officers in these big businesses have the responsibility to build those reserves. For instance, they might sell shares to the community. And when the Bible condemns the desire to get rich, it is not necessarily condemning a business that aims to expand and, therefore, seeks larger capital reserves.
Now, the officers of the business may be greedy. They may be greedy for personal wealth or for power. But they may have large, noble motives of how their expanded productivity will create jobs and benefit people with products and services. So it is not necessarily a greedy thing to want to amass that capital for the expansion of a new plant or something like that.
Love Others with Your Wealth
Let’s get it down to the individual: Even if a person, because of his or her competency in business, is offered a raise or a higher paying job and accepts it, that doesn’t automatically mean that he or she is driven by the desire to get rich. They may have accepted the job because they don’t crave the power or the status of luxuries, but rather, they want to do good. They want to build an adoption agency or give a scholarship or send a missionary or fund an inner-city ministry or something like that.
So what Paul is warning against is not the desire to earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others. He is warning against the desire to have more and more money for the security and the ego boost and the material luxuries it can provide with no plan for loving other people with your increase. That is what my effort to teach a wartime lifestyle is aiming to avoid.