And again I say unto you, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying: “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:24-26).
These words of Jesus were delivered to the disciples immediately following Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. Jesus had instructed him to go and sell everything that he owned, and to give the proceeds to the poor. The man went away sorrowfully (v.22). He did not respond in joy to Jesus’ words.
Why was the young man at fault? He did not respond cheerfully, and the Lord loves a cheerful giver (I Cor, 9:7). Is this the reason? Not likely. The tithe is to be given cheerfully, but Jesus called him to give more than the tithe. Why? To test the man’s commitment to take up a new way of life for Jesus’ sake. When Jesus called Levi (Matthew himself) to forsake his job as a tax collector (publican), he immediately abandoned his collection table and followed Jesus. He even threw a party for the other tax collectors and guests, a sign of good cheer and charity (Luke 5:27-29). He abandoned his source of income in order to follow Jesus, and eventually to write the first gospel. But the rich young ruler went away sorrowfully. He was not willing to drop everything and follow Jesus, or to adopt a new lifestyle that offered him a greater possibility of entering into God’s kingdom. Jesus saw into his soul, and recognized his death-producing attachment to his wealth. Again and again in the Bible, rich men are warned not to trust in riches (Ps. 52:7; I Tim. 6:17). Solomon, an exceedingly wealthy man, put it well: “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall in his own conceit” (Prov. 18:11). Men who trust in such walls for their defense are doomed.
Yet men of wealth appear frequently in the Bible as saints and men of great service. Abraham was one (Gen. 13:2). Joseph became rich in Egypt, and his service as the Pharaoh’s steward saved the lives of the Egyptians, not to mention Joseph’s own family. In the New Testament, the family of Maw, Martha, and Lazarus had to have been wealthy, for Lazarus had his own family tomb on his property, a sign of wealth (John 11:38). Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man (Matt. 27:57), donated his tomb to house Jesus’ body (27:60). (If Joseph knew the meaning of Jesus’ message concerning His resurrection, then this was a demonstration of his faith in Jesus’ words, not a sign of his own sacrifice. If it was sacrificial giving on Joseph’s part, then it was evidence of his lack of understanding or faith.) Wealth for an individual has the same sorts of risk attached to it as wealth for a whole nation: the temptation of trusting in wealth, of declaring one’s own autonomy (Deut. 8:17). To trust in wealth is suicidal, either on earth or in the final judgment.
So rich men have roles to play, both as faithful stewards and as unfaithful stewards. They have more to lose in the realm beyond the grave, for from him to whom much has been given, much is expected. There will be more penalties for the unfaithful rich man than for the unfaithful poor man (Luke 12147-48). Since the rich man has more at stake than the poor man, he must exercise greater care with his wealth than the poor man does.
This applies to both market stewardship and to heavenly stewardship. A man with great wealth can make huge mistakes that cost society a fortune. He can waste wealth in beginning disastrous economic projects. He can lure men to seek employment in his corporation, and then ruin their careers if he goes bankrupt. He can influence politicians in evil ways to gain special-interest legislation that hurts the general public. The greater his wealth, the greater his economic power; the greater his economic power, the greater his responsibilities, in time and on earth.
Property is always held in stewardship for the public. Whenever a man uses his property in one way, he cannot use it in some other way. His decision has economic consequences, no matter what he chooses to do with his capital. There is no escape from this economic responsibility. The market allows men to bid for the use of a man’s capital through the interest rate, or through partnership offers, or whatever. The owner must decide, and every decision means foregone opportunities-opportunities that might have paid him a return on his money, and all of which promised him the possibility of making a return. Ownership is a social function.
The Rich Man’s Competence
The late Dr. Ben Rogge, the free market economist and board member of a multi-million dollar foundation, once made this comment: “Rich men know how to make money, but they are seldom very skilled in giving it away. My job on the board is to see to it that the money is spent in ways that at least won’t produce more harm than good.”
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