"Then He said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions'" (Luke 12:15, NIV).
This passage from Luke 12 seems almost counterintuitive, but that should not surprise us since Jesus consistently finds ways to disrupt the “normal” patterns of our culture. The cultural message with which we are most familiar goes something like this: Work hard, accumulate possessions, defeat the competition, and enjoy all the lovely perks of wealth.
However, Jesus does not advocate for that approach in this passage. Jesus is not “anti-success,” but He does remind us that financial success should come with a warning label: “Watch out!” as the NIV translation interprets it.
Why would there be a warning label on success? Isn’t financial and numerical success the name of the game?
Here’s why: The more we “succeed” by the world’s definition, the easier it becomes to rely upon ourselves rather than upon God.
Since our worldly success often protects us from accountability and sacrifice, it allows us to come up with shortcuts in regard to the plans of God.
Jesus, the author of life (see John 10:10), reminds us that the life God intends for us does not consist of how much money we accumulate. While it is not a sin to have possessions or to succeed financially, it can be dangerous if we let it pull us away from the needs of others and cause us to think that our ways are somehow smarter or more effective than the ways of Jesus.
This warning message about success is not uncommon in the teachings of Jesus, and it is often a source of frustration for those receiving it. Remember the “rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18-30 and parallels)? This young man walked away from Jesus sad and frustrated because Jesus pointed out that the only way the young man could gain eternal life was to sell all he had, overcoming his addiction to power and possessions.
In the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon for the wealthy to be treated as if they were gods. They were seen as the wisest simply because they had accumulated the most wealth. Judaism in Jesus’ day struggled with this as did the early Church.
American Christianity struggles with this, too. Many Americans tend to think that wealth and worldly success are the measuring sticks for godly wisdom. Sometimes they coincide, but we all have been warned by Jesus that no amount of wealth or success is worth exchanging Jesus’ ways—though they may sometimes seem inefficient—for the ways of the world that ultimately lead to destruction.
Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, we thank You for Jesus,
Your Son and our Redeemer,
who came among us to show us the way to eternal life.
Jesus was the perfect steward of Your gifts,
showing that complete trust in You is necessary,
and that giving of self is a most important part of following Him.
May the offerings of our time, our talents, and our material resources
be made in the same spirit of sacrifice that Jesus taught us by His life and death for us.
Amen. (adapted from The Diocese of Salisbury)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today.