Not long ago I was sick. I felt awful. I object to the idea of the “man cold”. I fight through sickness to prove my mettle, but this time I felt like there was nothing I could do to change my situation. Truth is, there wasn’t. I put on my “sick hoody” (you got one of those?), climbed into bed, drank a bunch of water and tried to sweat it out.
All I could think was…
“Man, I wish my wife and kids were sick. That would make me feel better about my situation.”
“If only there were more sick people in the world, this would be more normal.”
“I hate when people are well. They’re so selfish.”
Of course, I didn’t think any of these things.
It was my wife’s health that allowed her to care for the kids while I wallowed in my sickness. I was happy that my kids maintained their health. I avoided well-people so that I wouldn’t make them sick. I was sick, but I didn’t need another sick person to make me feel better. I needed someone who was well to care for the things I couldn’t do on my own.
Vow of Poverty is not the Christian Ideal
Some Christians think that a vow of poverty is the pinnacle of Christian finance. They believe that to follow God should come at the cost of their own financial health. They feel guilty if they maintain a good salary or stable finances. After all, doesn’t Jesus tell us to “sell all we have and give it to the poor?” Are we serious about following Jesus if we maintain any wealth? How can we claim to care about poverty while our financial situation is strong? Is it fair to be financially “well” while so much inequity and disadvantage creates financial “sickness”?
It’s no secret that the world’s systems are built on injustices. Some Christians grew up in an environment where they benefited from those systems due to the color of their skin, socio-economic status or opportunities available. They recognize the inequality of their environment and wish to create some amount of equity. They know that heaven is a place where people of every tongue, tribe and nation have the same status in the kingdom. They pray “on earth as it is in heaven” and want to see the equity here on earth.
Others overcame their environment and wish to reach back and save others from the decay of similar environments or rewrite the system entirely. They want Jesus to heal their communities, and they want to be a part of it.
Whether you are someone who grew up in privilege or has come through the crucible of injustice, Jesus has offered you grace in your situation. God calls us on a mission, then provides for that mission. When we turn down income potential, family wealth or entrepreneurial skills for the sake of “identifying with the poor”, we misallocate funds and talents that God gave us in exchange for a religious duty that looks holy, but does little.
The poor and despondent in our communities don’t need another sick person. What they need is a person who is well to reach into their world and bring healing. This is what Jesus did. He used his position of power in the Holy Spirit to reach out and heal the people around Him. Although He became a man to dwell with us, He identified with our sin, without joining us in our sickness.
Refusing to attend to your financial health or taking a vow of poverty while simultaneously praying “on earth as it is in heaven” is akin to contracting a sickness for the sake of healing someone. It doesn’t help. It deteriorates your capacity to do the good works God prepared in advance for you. Worse, some choose poverty as if poverty IS the Kingdom. The Kingdom does not look like poverty, so why would we choose less than God’s Kingdom on earth?
Money is Better Than Poverty, if Only for Financial Reasons.
I often argue against the excesses of prosperity preaching and “me first” finances, but poverty glorification is an equally dangerous ditch to fall into. While much of the Christian church uses “godliness as a means of gain” a growing contingent is eschewing riches for the sake of the cross. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely should choose the cross over riches, but to intentionally avoid money as a means of grace is works-based righteousness that causes more harm than good.
We need Christians with money. We need business owner ministers. We need the resources of this world deployed for Kingdom purposes.Christians with the ability to generate high incomes, who were born into riches or who otherwise come across wealth should not push it aside as something evil but recognize it as an important call on their life.
In the immortal words of Woody Allen, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
To seek riches is against the call of Christ, but to take a vow of poverty that you haven’t been called to is still the pursuit of status over pursuit of mission. We must learn to accept the identity, mission and calling God has given us and not believe the shame associated with wealth or lack thereof. As Paul says, “I have learned to be content with much or with little.” (Phillipians: 4:12)
Becoming poor will not alleviate poverty.
Refusing a living wage will not advance the Gospel of Christ..
Foregoing a dignified retirement will not advance your mission..
There is a finite amount of money that can ensure your financial health. There is a stopping point where you can say “I’m working from a place of health. Now, let’s strategize how to advance the Kingdom with the rest.”
The need of this world is unlimited. There will never be a point where you say “We’ve put adequate resources towards the poor. Now there’s some left for me.”
The key is to get clear about your finish lines.
You’re only one person. You can’t make the world well by being sick. Christians who work from a place of financial health avoid burn-out and recognize everything they have as provision for their mission. They’ll reach their hand from a place of strength and pull others out of environments of injustice, instead of being trampled on in a stampede against a locked door to which they hold the key.
The cost of serving God is not your financial health. Christians can advance the Kingdom of God while earning large salaries, running successful businesses or being wealthy. Few are called to a vow of poverty. When the status of wealth or impoverishment becomes more important than following the call of Christ, we’re missing it.. Christians should model “on earth as it is in heaven” by maintaining their financial health, not sacrificing it at the altar of voluntary poverty. However, financial health shouldn’t come before obedience. It’s a tension to hold, which is why a vibrant relationship with God is so important.
If you truly care about advancing the Kingdom of God, don’t push away riches God provides. He gave them to you for a reason. To be sure, He is likely calling you to give some away, but your financial capacity is essential to the longevity of your mission. Take care of your financial health, have gratitude in all circumstances and Get on Mission.