There is no individual and no group the Bible does not address. Through its pages God speaks to husbands and wives, children and adults, masters and slaves, Jews and Gentiles. As we read the Bible we often find ourselves wondering if and how a particular instruction applies to us. How do I, as a man, deal with a passage targeted at women? How do I, as a Gentile, interpret a passage meant specifically for Jews? What do I do when I read a passage that isn’t really meant for me?
Just as the Bible addresses husbands and wives, children and adults, and so on, it also addresses rich and poor. God wants us to know there are particular challenges that come with being poor and particular temptations and responsibilities that come with being rich. Where do I fit on that scale? Where do you fit? Are we rich or poor? Most of us would say we are poor. After all, we know who the rich are, don’t we? The rich are those two or three families in the church who drive the nicest cars and own the biggest homes. The rich are the people who seminary presidents keep on speed dial for when they need funding for a new library or dormitory. They are the people who go down in history for their great deeds of philanthropy. The verses targeted at rich people are not for you and me, but for them, right?
What makes the scale of rich and poor unique is that it demands comparison. We are either fathers or not, husbands or not. These are binary categories with no comparison to make. But rich or poor? That all depends. None of us is really rich or poor, but rather richer or poorer. A person who is wealthy in one location may be impoverished in another. The person who is dirt poor at one time in history may be fantastically rich in another. When I compare myself to my neighbors and the other residents of my city, it’s clear that I’m poor. But the more I broaden my view through history and geography, the more I see that I am rich. In fact, the more I see that we are all rich. And if that is the case, there may be parts of the Bible we’ve been convinced are meant for other people, not for us.
Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). I expect these words apply to nearly everyone who reads this article. There are few of us who do not have more than enough, few of us who are utterly destitute, and especially when compared to brothers and sisters in so many other nations. Even the poorest of us in the Western world have access to rights and perks others can only dream of. The temptation to pride and false hope is our temptation. The temptation to rely on our wealth instead of on God is very real. The God-given response is for you and me: To do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. This is for us, not for “them.”
Paul continues: “But 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” (6-10).
Here, too, we encounter sober warnings. We are exactly the people who can crave wealth, who can take it as our due, and who can follow it to ruin and destruction. We are the ones prone to experience all kinds of evils that have the love of money as their root cause. These words are for “the rich in this present age.” In other words, they are for rich folk like you and me.