Monday, March 13, 2006

money, happiness and repentance

Some of the comments from Scott Adams blog (see my previous post) are revealing, indeed, when you consider how important our attitude towards money is in the Kingdom of God.

The Gospels and Acts show repentance and one's attitude towards money as inseparably linked. The story of the rich young ruler is probably the best place to start.

If we begin with Yeshua's conversation with the rich young ruler, take in some of His other comments on discipleship, and work our way into Acts, and observe how the earliest believers responded to the call to repent, we definitely see a pattern. While no one told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, "Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow Yeshua", as Yeshua told the rich young ruler, that's exactly what many of them did.

Before we go on to some of the more obvious hang-ups some may have with this pattern, let's consider two more aspects of this:

Consider the proverb, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim 6:10): If conversion is defined by deliverance from evil, then the early believers certainly proved it by showing that they were no longer controlled by the love of money.

If we defined it from a positive viewpoint, we could say that the life of Messiah is characterised by the commandment, "love your neighbour as yourself". What obvious characteristics would you expect of someone who truly loved their neighbour at least as equally as they loved themselves? How could such a person fail to be lavishly generous? That's exactly what the early believers in Jerusalem exemplified, and it's exactly the intent of Yeshua's answer to the rich young ruler. Remember, that Yeshua built up to this answer by listing those of the Ten Commandments that would relate to loving ones neighbour.

The above description obviously doesn't describe the average Christian of our day. I won't even say it describes me, but I hope I'm on my way there. Because it is such a high ideal, and people don't tend to like measuring themselves by what they're not, this isn't a very popular train of thought.

Most believers today would choose not to associate Yeshua's answer to the rich young ruler with Christian conversion. That's "Old Testament dispensation", they say. They'd rather look to Paul's answer to the Phillippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you'll be saved...".

I believe that Yeshua's answer to the rich young ruler is just as relevant to Christian conversion and the born again experience as Paul's answer to the Phillipian jailor. Despite some popular theology that says otherwise, there is no scripture passage in the Bible that says that Yeshua'a teachings are not meant for believers living in the "age of grace", which Yeshua came to innaugerate. The first New Testament church began on the foundation of Yeshua's teaching. Paul's epistles came later. To truly understand Paul, you have to know where he was coming from, and what his listeners already understood. In most cases, he was writing to churches that already had a solid foundation in Yeshua's teaching. When he talked about faith, they knew what it meant.

So, why didn't Paul tell the jailor in Phillippi to sell everything he had?

Because the Phillippian jailor was coming to Paul with a different attitude than that of the rich young ruler. He was trembling under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, whereas the rich young ruler was following a half hearted desire to be spiritually "with it". Up to that time, in the prison, Paul and Silas weren't just singing some nice little ditties to keep themselves happy despite their circumstances. They were doing spiritual warfare, which had begun with the exorcism of the spirit medium, and climaxed with the earthquake. The loosing of the fetters was symbolic of what was happening in the spirit realm. There was an atmosphere in that room like there was in Jerusalem, while Peter was preaching during Pentecost. He didn't have to tell them to sell everything and give it to the poor. The Holy Spirit did that.

It's also interesting that after such a start, the believers of Philippi were also noted for their generosity. Paul comments on that more than once in his epistles (II Corinthians and Philippians).

When Yeshua told the rich young ruler to sell everything, he wasn't laying down an Old Testament type law. He was giving him a tailor made plan to prepare him for the Kingdom of God, just like the Holy Spirit will do for each of us, if we let him, and like the Holy Spirit did for the early believers. Yeshua knew what his hang up was. He was probably saving him from a fate like that of Annanias and Sapphira.

We know it wasn't a hard and fast rule (selling all), because a few verses later, Zakkheus was so turned on that he announced he was giving half of his riches away to the poor. Yet, Yeshua didn't say, "Not enough, give it all". No. He said, "Salvation has come to this house".

I believe that if we had the discernment and the boldness that Yeshua had with the rich young ruler, that Peter had with Annias and Sapphira, Simon the sorcerer, etc., we'd begin to see the same power that the early church saw.

But are we willing to pay the price?

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