I am building a course for Mid-South Christian College on Eschatology. And part of the preparation for this course is to do in-depth exegesis into particular biblical passages related to the field of Eschatology.
One that I did recently was the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
If you’re not familiar with the story, take a moment to look it up in your Bible. It’s about a wealthy man (who is unnamed in the story) who lives a luxurious lifestyle and a poor man named Lazarus who lay at the rich man’s gate hoping to get the scraps from his table so he can eat. The poor man dies and is carried by the angels to the side of Abraham. The rich man dies and goes to a place of torment. The story hits on one of Jesus’ favorite themes, which is reversal. Abraham explains to the rich man:
“Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:25, NLT).
When I read things like this in the Bible, I must confess that I get a little frustrated. Not because of what the story says, but because of how people apply it. Many illegitimate assumptions are made and, as a result, people are confused about how to apply this teaching.
1. First, it is assumed that, if Jesus were here today, he would be a Marxist (or at least lean heavily to the left).
To link Jesus to Marxism in any form is blatantly anachronistic. Marx didn’t come around for another 1800 years.
But aside from that, history has proven again and again that the leftist solution for raising people out of poverty just doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is that its foundation is false because it focuses solely on the equal distribution of physical resources and totally omits the spirit dimension of humanity.
Historically, what has proven to be the most effective system for raising people out of poverty is the Free Market system—with some government regulation to protect people from the ravages of unrestrained greed, because it challenges the human spirit to rise up and seek a better life for oneself.
2. It is also assumed that poor people are generally more righteous simply for being poor.
The second erroneous assumption is that poor people are somehow automatically more virtuous because of their poverty. This is the opinion of those who has never worked with people in poverty. The fact is that the poor can be just as greedy, just as violent, just as self-indulgent as the president of any large bank.
I was with a group of students in Aguaray, Argentina, and among several work projects we were doing, was to dig a well for a family that was without water. As we were working, my son asked me why these people were so poor. The professor from a midwest university, who was working with us, said something to the effect that poor people may not have much but they are generally better people. I had to speak up. I said, “That has not been my experience.” While working in the poorest barrio of greater Buenos Aires, I found the people to be just as imbued with sin as all the business executives I have ever met.
3. The third erroneous assumption is that wealth is automatically a sign of greed and corruption.
Regarding this third assumption, I have personally known some very wealthy people who had a heart of gold. One man in particular stands out in my mind. He started out with nothing and, when he first learned the concept of tithing, he tithed faithfully. But he wanted to do more, so he decided to start a business and dedicate its proceeds to the mission of Christ in the world. It’s a long and wonderful story but basically he found that he could not out-give God. The more he gave the more God blessed his company. I visited his factory once—he made industrial suction cups—and it was like walking into a cross-section of all the cultures of the world. He hired people from all over and treated them generously.
So, what does this all have to do with leadership?
Well, one could say these examples I give are exceptions to the rule. This may be true, but it does prove that wealth is not necessarily an evil. In fact, it can be used to help people in need.
And that is really the point in Jesus’ story. The rich man in the story was not condemned because he was rich, but because he failed to use his wealth to help those in need.
All who seek some level of leadership—and who experience some degree of success in that endeavor—must ask ourselves: “What kind of leader do I want to be? The self-indulgent kind or the giving kind?” Power can be used for good or evil. What kind of leader will you be?
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.