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Money is the root of all evil and blessed are the poor?

The Prosperity Gospel versus the Poverty Gospel.
By Catholic Evangelist, Eddie Russell FMI

Whenever I have asked a group of people, "How many here believe that money is the root of all evil?" Nearly everyone in the room has raised their hand.

There are many Catholics (and perhaps other Christians too) who seem to believe that success and wealth are evil. Consequently many Christians can suffer guilt and considerable anxiety due to their wealth and success. Sadly, there seems to be many contradictions regarding wealth and poverty and, dare I say there are double standards. I have called these "Poverty Consciousness" and "Prosperity Consciousness." I believe that both these views are unbalanced from a Scriptural viewpoint.

Money is the root of all evil?

2 Timothy 6:10, does not say that 'money' is the root of all evil. It says that the 'love' of money is the root of all evil. There are many people who think that the rich will not enter the Kingdom of God. They seem to believe in a Gospel where only the poor are blessed and do not seem to understanding the fulfilment of Isaiah 61:2. Jesus read this text at the beginning of his earthly ministry when he declared that he was anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor. (Luke 4: 18-30). Good news for the poor presumably meant that the poor do not have to be poor any longer.

Blessed are the poor?

Many of those who believe in a gospel of poverty often have no idea what it is like to live on the streets freezing in winter and going without food for days on end. A case in point is Julie, a young lady who asked me for a lift one Saturday afternoon. She was spaced-out on drugs and was looking for a fix. She made her money by prostitution and was on her way to a hooker area for the day.

I noticed that she was in pain with severe bruising over her legs and face. She was totally confused but managed to tell me what had happened: She had been beaten mercilessly by her girlfriend and sent out to earn money. I spoke about what Jesus could do for her, but confusion and the desire for drugs were too strong. I gave her a contact number and dropped her off at the park. To see Julie was to see real poverty, and I can tell you, Julie was not in any way blessed by it. There is a world of difference between 'real' poverty and 'elected' poverty.

Are the rich damned, and the poor really so blessed?

Matthew 19: 16-26, tells about a rich young man who came to Jesus one day, "a man came up to him and said, 'Teacher, what good must I do to possess eternal life?' Jesus questions him about what is good and says, "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." In a nutshell, that's it! There is no mention about his money! However, the rich young man tells Jesus that he has kept the commandments since his childhood and he asks, "What more do I need to do?" Up to this point his eternal salvation is not in question.

This rich young man could have walked away with his wealth and eternal life. It is only when he begged the question that Jesus said to him, "If you seek 'perfection' go sell all your possessions, and give to the poor." That's when the young man is downhearted because of his wealth. Jesus was now referring to perfection, not just his salvation.

There are two values here.

Only after the young man questioned Jesus did he challenge him regarding 'elected' poverty. It is then that Jesus turned to his disciples and said, "I assure you, only with 'difficulty' will a rich man enter into the Kingdom of God. I repeat what I have said: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." This overwhelmed the disciples and they asked him who can be saved? Jesus tells them, that for man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible, which, of course included this young man in spite of his wealth.

A wrong conclusion.

Many will read this text and imagine a tiny hole in a sewing needle compared with a huge camel. Naturally, the word, "impossible" comes to mind and they mentally reinterpret the text to read, "It is impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." Of course this is not what Jesus said at all! He mentions nothing about it being impossible, in fact he says that with God it is possible, Jesus simply said that it would be difficult. I see this misinterpretation as one of the root causes of a 'poverty consciousness'.

What did Jesus mean when he compared the eye of a needle with a camel?

The "eye of the needle" was not referring to a sewing needle, but to the trade entrance in the city wall through which the merchants would bring in their camels laden with merchandise. If the camels were overloaded, they couldn't get through the gate, so the merchant would have to unload some of the goods enabling the camels to continue.

Jesus seems to be saying that success is not the problem. Rather, if it is going to keep you outside the City of God, then it is better to dump the 'love of money' so that you can enter in freely. To have a 'love' of money is to place it above the first commandment and you cannot serve two masters. The rich man could have kept his wealth and still had eternal life. Jesus seemed to have no problem with that. He was warning about wealth because it is the 'love' that is the root of all evil, not the money itself: The poor can love money just as much as the wealthy.

To illustrate the point: Jesus' attitude to money.

Jesus says in Luke 16: 9-13. "What I say to you is this: make friends for yourselves through your use of this world's goods, so that when they fail you, a lasting reception will be yours." He was referring to money and goes on to say that if we cannot be trusted with this world's wealth that is elusive, then we cannot be trusted with everlasting wealth. We are asked to be good stewards of the things we have in this life, including money.

The parable in Luke 16:19-31, about the 'Rich Man and Lazarus' does not seem to be an indictment regarding the rich man's wealth. It is because he did not share it with Lazarus. The rich man knew what was expected of him under the Abrahamic Covenant relating to giving Alms, Tithes and Offerings that was still in force at the time. He ignored his responsibility and caused Lazarus to starve. That seems to be why

he was severely dealt with, not simply because he was wealthy.

Born in a stable yes, but was Jesus really poor?

When we look at the life of Mary and Joseph we may accept that they lived in humble circumstances but we cannot conclude that they lived in poverty. Joseph ran his Carpentry business and his major client was most likely the Roman army as well as others. When they were coming home from Jerusalem after the census, they stopped at Bethlehem for the night. The first thing that Joseph did was to book a room in whatever Inn had a vacancy.

The Inn was the equivalent of a hotel today. They ended up in a stable because there were no rooms available in the town. It was not because they couldn't pay their way. Obviously Joseph had enough money to pay for any hotel in town, One Star, or Five Star. Jesus' parents were not poverty stricken and neither was Jesus. He was born in 'humble' circumstances not 'poor' ones.

Jesus elected poverty.

Saint Paul tells us that Jesus laid down His Godhead, taking on the form of a slave and becoming as men are but without sin. (Phil 2: 6-8). Christ, the King of the universe, laid down his Godhead of his own free will, and, by his own free will, he took it up again. This is what I call 'elected poverty'. It is not that poverty which comes through deprivation, misfortune injustice, greed or pure laziness.

On earth Jesus had a full time job. He worked for Joseph in the family business. I am sure he received payment for his work because Joseph would have adhered to the Biblical principle that the workman is worthy of his hire. "Sell everything that you have, give it to the poor and come follow me" is a call to those who are not necessarily poor and who are called to the consecrated life through 'elected poverty'.

Saint Francis also elected poverty.

Saint Francis of Assisi was a rich young man who enjoyed life in the fast lane. By an act of his free will he gave up his wealth and devoted his life to 'Lady Poverty.' Saint Francis 'elected' poverty as a way of life and yet it was Saint Francis himself who pointed out that his way of life was not for everyone. He said that a married man cannot live that way because he must work and provide for his family. That was his first responsibility. Never-the-less, in spite of his love for lady poverty, Saint Francis finally admitted at the end of his life that he had been too hard on brother ass: His attitude to poverty had caused him considerable ill health and blindness.

Elected poverty is when we, like St. Francis, and many others, freely choose to leave behind our wealth and the security of a well paid job, take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ in the service of the Gospel.

How blessed are the poor?

Death squads stalk the streets and shoot street-kids like vermin. In some places people live on garbage dumps, and others sleep on the streets and in cardboard boxes. Even in the most affluent countries the poor are obvious even with the most cosmetic disguises to the contrary.

Can we honestly say that these people are blessed? When we see children with their bellies swollen with malnutrition, can we say these are blessed? When a derelict falls in the gutter, addicted to alcohol or drugs and sleeps in his vomit on an icy pavement, can we say he is blessed? Children sell their bodies in prostitution because their families are so poor, are these blessed? Was Julie blessed? No dear reader, the poor are not so blessed! Poverty is the most disgusting evil on this planet! This is real poverty, and bye and large, it is caused through the 'love' of money which selfishly ignores the plight of the poor, just as the rich man did with Lazarus.

If the poor are not blessed, who are the poor that are?

What did Luke really mean when he says, "Blessed are the poor"? because Matthew says of the same beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." What is the difference? The key word in both Gospels is the word 'poor.' To understand what this means, we need to look at the original Greek word used by Matthew and Luke. The "Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible" identifies the Greek word used here as "ptochos" which means; "trembling, poor." In the "Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words" it tells us that "ptochos" is an adjective that is used "metaphorically".

According to "Websters International Dictionary of the English Language", "metaphor" means; "a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance, such as: she is the flower of my life."

The "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible" says, "The poor in spirit are happy. These bring their minds to their condition when it is a low condition. These are humble and lowly in their own eyes. They see their want, bewail their guilt, and thirst after a Redeemer. The Kingdom of grace is of such; the Kingdom of glory is for them." This is talking about anyone, rich or poor, who understand their need of God; these are the truly poor in spirit.

The poor in spirit: in the Old Testament, the poor (anawim) are those who are without material possessions and whose confidence is in God. See Is. 61,1; Zep 2, 3:

In the NAB the word is translated lowly and humble, respectively, in those texts. "Matthew added in spirit in order either to indicate that only the devout poor were meant, or to extend the beatitude to all, of whatever social rank, who recognise their complete dependence on God. The same phrase "poor in spirit" is found in the Qumran literature
(1QM 14, 7)". (NAB Study Bible Footnotes). It seems clear therefore, that poverty is not the criteria for salvation, but rather the trembling, lowly and humble of heart who know their real need of God, regardless of their wealth or social class.

God tells us to put him to the test.

Malachi Chapter 3 is the only place in the Bible where God challenges us to put him to the test and it is relating specifically to money. Malachi 3 is a reproach to us when we, like the Rich Man to Lazarus, defraud the worker of his wages, reject strangers, deprive the widows and orphans, and, who do not fear the Lord.

We may well ask 'how have I done this?' and the Lord's answer will be the same, "Dare a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! And you say, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings! You are indeed accursed, for you the whole nation, rob me." This is a powerful indictment that could be ignored at their peril. Sadly, the Prosperity Gospel preachers have used this quote to impute guilt and condemnation on their hearers so they will give more and more in spite of their personal poverty, and yet few, if any, have ever seen a wealth-increase due to tithing as preached, and there is a good reason for this.

What is a tithe and what is an offering?

The word "tithe" means a tenth. In other words 10%. In biblical terms it relates to the 10% of the gross income that is given into the work of God; the tithe is the Kingdom tax; an investment stored for times of lack. For the Israelites this meant giving 10% of their gross income and produce.

This was first collected for a famine in a time of abundance. It didn't make sense at the time, but some years later famine struck. The whole lands including Egypt were literally starving. The Israelites of course had more than enough in store. So much so that they were able to feed the Egyptians, their former slave masters. The Blessings of Abraham said that by keeping the Covenant they would "lend to nations and borrow from none."
(Deuteronomy 28: 12).

In Malachi 3: 10 it says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and test me in this says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessings upon you without measure?" The Blessings of Abraham belong to you because you have a Covenant through the Blood Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary
(Galatians 3: 7-14). This gives us a key to releasing these particular blessings in our lives too.

Many people tithe on the premise that it will bring them an increase. It is certainly preached loud, long, and strong in the prosperity churches, and yet many do not see it. There is a simple reason for this: The tithe belongs to God; it is his portion and so it is not a gift or sacrifice from us and hence no increase comes to people from their tithe. The purpose of the 10% tithe is to bless the 90%, and so it is the sacrificial generosity in our offerings from the 90% that causes the increase. God's rebuke in Malachi was to those that failed in their covenant duties; if people failed to tithe, the 90% was not blessed and so all were robbed including God. It is the same if churches that store up the tithe for feeding the pastor and not using it to feed the poor and sharing provision with the needy in their congregation.

If you tithe at all, you should not consider so much that 10% is a lot of money and so a sacrifice it to gain more, but that we profit in the 90% increasing under God's blessing. Under that blessing, we have more than enough to put into every good work through our gifts and offerings; it is in the giving that we receive, and so it would seem that it is this portion under God's blessing that causes the increase. While a tithe remains fixed at 10%, the offering and gift can be any amount.

In the case of a gift, we can give as often as we wish and to any amount we wish, and so it is understood as one off offering. In the case of an offering, it can be any amount and it is given regularly, and commonly held that whilst the tithe is to maintain the church and not the pastor; the offering is for the minister's work as we see in the case of Saint Paul in his letter to the Phillipians. At this point, it is worth noting that in the New Testament, tithing is not mentioned; neither Jesus nor the Apostles spoke of tithes, they did however emphasize generosity in giving as we see next.

According to God, money is an indescribable gift.

Incredibly, two whole chapters (eight and nine), in Saint Paul's 2nd Letter to Corinth are devoted specifically to "Offerings." There is no room here to quote two chapters. I recommend that you read them for yourself. God's attitude to money will surprise you.

Towards the end of chapter nine Saint Paul says, "Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." This was a divine spiritual law which Jesus had taught them when he said, "Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you".
(Luke 6: 38)

Saint Paul continues, "Each must do as already determined, without compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work." "Every good work" is referring to the work of preaching the Gospel from which works of charity come and, to which Saint Paul was committed. Offerings are given over and above the tithe and are for the ministers of the Gospel.

Saint Paul values this so highly that he calls it an "indescribable gift". This is because, "The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness." According to saint Paul it is an act of righteousness to give generously into the preaching of the Gospel for which God, who cannot be outdone in generosity, will more than supply all of our needs when we do so.

A fragrant aroma, acceptable to God.

Have you ever considered your giving into the "Love Offering" as a "fragrant aroma" which God will receive as an "acceptable sacrifice"? In Saint Paul's letter to the Philippians, this is exactly what he calls it. In this letter we find that the church in Philippi had been the only ones who had ministered to him in the manner of giving offerings as well as his material needs whilst he was with them. The fact that they had done this on more than one occasion makes this significant: the Philippians had actually taken to supporting a ministry that they believed in.

"You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in account of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once. It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account. I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus, "a fragrant aroma," an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accordance with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.".

Did you realise, that every time you support the ministry of the Word (that is, the ministry of the pastor, preacher, teacher and evangelist) by your tithes and offerings, you literally share in every grace and blessing that is credited by God for the salvation of souls? By doing this, you become, as Saint Paul says in Philippians 1: 7, "Partners in Grace." Every time someone accepts Christ because the Gospel is preached, you share in the blessings for their salvation just as much as the evangelist does.

Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money that is the evil root.

If we love money so much, we will hold onto it and become stingy in our offerings, and we could well reap a harvest of poverty upon ourselves. Whereas, if we trust God's Word and his attitude towards money, we will receive abundant blessings because of it. There will always be more than enough for giving into every good work, especially to the preaching of the Gospel. However, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven lame, than to lose your whole self to the fires of Gehenna. Therefore, if your money and success causes you to sin, then you really must reconsider their true value.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of preaching around Uganda and have seen great poverty. Because I am in full time ministry, I rely entirely on faith to supply my needs; this has been especially so in funding a mission to Uganda, a mission that costs $17,000.00 on average. If it were not for the generosity of those that gave unselfishly, those mission would not be possible and we could not have responded to their invitations.

At a 5 Day Conference in Buhimba; a rural poor parish in Uganda, there was no electric power or lighting, no showers, and the toilets were just holes in the ground. The church had no windows, had a cracked concrete floor, and the tin roof was precariously held up on tree branches. It was a new experience preaching the Gospel at night with only one oil lantern to light up the church. It was also a new experience to eat the local food consisting predominantly of bananas, a little rice and peanut sauce. However,thanks to the generosity of people in Perth and Florida that supported this mission financially, we were able cover all the expenses and also, with our last $600, purchase an electicity generator, wiring, and light-fittings for the church and presbytery before we left.

It was the same when invited to Mexico - Due to the funds raised in Perth, Australia, around 25 million people heard the Good News preached through international television broadcasts from Mexico City, and this subject was one they asked for. The sad thing however, is that 90% of the wealth in Mexico is owned by only 10% of the total population, and so we can see that the poverty of the rich, is their wealth, and the poverty of the poor, is their lack of it. God's promised provision is only held up by those that won't release it.

If you are doing well, enjoy your wealth, but do not neglect your gifts and offerings. If you are not well off or on Social Security Payments, do not neglect your offerings either - God cannot be outdone with generosity and he desires to bless you so that you will not have to remain poor. "Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your produce: then will your barns be filled with new wine and your vats overflow" (Proverbs 3: 9-10).

You see dear friend, the poor may well be able to help the poor, but only a man with bread can feed the hungry. After all, you cannot give what you do not have.

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