It’s not a sin to be rich. But it’s dangerous.
If we measure wealth in square feet and the number of digits on a paycheck most of us are safe. But there’s a better definition that puts many more of us in harm’s way.
After years of mulling this over, I’ve come up with a new definition of wealth.
Wealth – possession of more of an asset valued by the majority of society than the majority within that society possesses.
Johnny Manziel, the quarterback for Texas A&M, if he’s abiding by the rules, isn’t being paid millions to play football while in college. But, as the recipient of the Heisman Trophy, the star player on a successful football team on a campus that worships athletics, he is wealthy. He has a level of fame, adoration, respect, support and sexual opportunities that no other 20 year-old on his campus has. He has more of the assets valued by his peers than anyone else in his society. That’s dangerous.
Pastors have knowledge. Big bloggers and authors have influence. Senators and policemen and bosses have power. And, yes, successful individuals in all sorts of fields have exorbitant amounts of money. All of these assets count as potential sources of wealth if society places a high value on them.
What Society Values
What American society values most right is not money, houses, or cars. It’s not substantive accomplishment, difference making, wisdom, integrity or generosity. What the majority values most is fame.
It’s the number one aspiration of tweens in this country. Isn’t this why my children, who don’t even meet the age restrictions of Instagram and Twitter, asked me if they can open an account with each? They’re itching to broadcast their little lives to the world for the chance at low-grade fame. Isn’t this why most teenagers in the U.S. have a Youtube account now? So they can perform for an audience anytime they want, rack up views, feel famous, and maybe become the next Justin Beiber or Steven Spielberg.
And big people are no different. Watched a reality show lately? Why would anyone humiliate themselves on national television night after night? To be known. We don’t care why we’re famous, what for, as long as we’re known. Fame is the most prized asset in American society at the moment.
The Danger Of Wealth
Solomon was the most powerful man in his day. As king he dispatched armies, hired and fired thousands, issued decrees that shaped the lives of hundreds of thousands. He was regarded by many as the wisest man alive. His physical wealth was so great that kings and queens from Africa and Asia wrote about the opulence of his palatial estate. He was pleasured by a harem of hundreds of the most beautiful women chosen from many nations. Solomon was wealthy, having more of the assets valued by the societies of his day than most men.
And yet he, of all people, recorded this prayer…
7“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
We know about the dangers of poverty – that it tempts us to do whatever we can to escape. But wealth has it’s perils too. The temptation of the wealthy is two-fold: To forget about God and to behave like God.
Forgetting About God
It’s true that most of us pray more often when we’re in need. But when valuable assets are stockpiled we don’t feel that we’re in need of anything. We easily become convinced of our self-sufficiency and may acknowledge God’s existence but stop relying upon Him. Intimacy suffers, God feels distant. We can find ourselves believing intellectually that God exists but no longer in relationship with Him that has real implications on our values and behavior.
Behaving Like God
Dozens of athletes have been busted in recent weeks for breaking rules and laws. Everything from a college football player allegedly signing autographs for cash to a professional being accused of murder. Politicians are notorious for breaking the very laws they swore to uphold. What about musicians abusing those they work for and with? And remember that corporation tricking workers into slavery, and that other one polluting water sources to increase profit margins and causing birth defects across an entire community? The wealthy somehow come to believe the rules simply don’t apply to them.
Defining wealth in a new broader way makes we walk more carefully. I may not live in a mansion, drive your dream car or have money to burn but I have expertise, opportunity, influence, relationships, and a very limited and low-grade fame that still poses a threat to my spiritual health.
God, help us all to invest our wealth in the building of your kingdom on earth and save us from the dangers of our riches. Keep us in intimate dependent relationship with you. Amen.