The Itch To Be Rich

The Itch To Be Rich                                                    I Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19

The story is told of a mighty and benevolent king, who took in a poor, old beggar to live with him in the castle as an act of goodwill. 

The beggar lived there many months, dressing in the king’s clothes, eating at the king’s table, and getting to know the other members of the king’s court. 

After some time had passed, the king sat with the beggar one evening after a feast, and they started talking about power.  The King told the beggar about how powerful he was, how he could have anything he wanted in the whole kingdom, how he could do anything he wanted to do and go anywhere he wanted to go. 

He offered to give some of that power to this beggar, by giving him an official position in the king’s court.

The beggar refused the offer, and went on to tell the king that he had more power even than the mighty king.  He told the king that if he accepted his offer, the beggar would be losing a great deal of power. 

The king thought maybe this poor man was a little bit crazy, but he played along. 

“How can I get such power as you have?” the king asked the beggar. 

The beggar replied, saying he would gladly give the king all of his power if he wanted it.  That all he needed to do was follow the beggar the next morning.

The King agreed, and they started off the next day on this quest for power.  After they had walked for most of the day and covered a great distance, the King recognized where they were heading, and he stopped. 

“Wait—stop” he said to the beggar.  “We’re now on the border of my kingdom.  If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from the castle that I’ve ever been.  I won’t be safe if I keep going, my enemies will take over my kingdom and my riches will be lost!”

The poor old beggar winked at the king and said “I told you I have power you can only dream of—the power to walk away!  All you have to do is follow me, and all this power will be yours also!” 

With that, the beggar turned and continued on his way.  

 

Money and power are seductive, elusive things as the world defines them. 

We live as kings today, safe and secure as long as we stay put and do what’s expected of us. 

We have a great deal of power to do what we want to do, to go where we want to go. 

Most of us have never been hungry.  I mean Really Hungry.  Thanks be to God.

Most of us have never gone without clothing, shelter, or shoes.  Thanks be to God.

Most of us have never seen a human being die from not having clean water. 

Thanks be to God. 

We do live as kings. 

But that’s somehow not really enough, is it?   We still feel a certain drive to succeed, to make a name for ourselves.  

It’s maybe not real important that we are the best at what we do, or have the most of anything; but at least we want to be better than someone, have just a little more than others.

I want to be a little bit better Pastor than the one down the road, I want a little more security at night than I know people have in other parts of the country…I want to be respected a little more than some people for how I handle my lifestyle, or I want to have just a little more money for whatever the reason might be…. 

I’ve never needed to be the best or have the most; but I’ve always sought to be just a little bit better or have just a little bit more, you know? 

Can you relate?  Do you know what I’m talking about? 

It’s just part of our human nature, to somehow need to measure our progress compared to other people. 

It’s all part of what I want to call this morning ‘the itch to be rich’.  

Paul speaks to it in the passage for this morning.  He says 

those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

 

Now, that’s a little harsh, isn’t it?  Doesn’t Paul understand that none of us want to be rich–we just want a little more than we have right now!  None of us want to be rich–we just want to have a little more than others! 

There’s no harm in that, is there? 

Let me clarify this morning that I’m not saying material wealth is evil.  I don’t think it is–and I don’t think the Bible says it is. 

But the love of money is one of evil’s roots.  It’s a question of priorities and attitudes–do we find our power and our security in our money?  Are we pursuing money to the exclusion of other pursuits in life?  Or are we turning towards God in each of our decisions rather than the pursuit of mere money? 

Let me try to explain what I mean. 

…While I was in college, I took a lot of social work classes, since I was studying to become a social worker.  So we studied human behavior, seeking to understand how human systems work, so we could eventually work with groups of people and steer them towards wholeness and healing. 

Anyways, one class that was a favorite of mine was called ‘Human Behavior in the Social Environment’. 

One day in particular, the professor brought a game in for us to play. 

Using nothing but different colored poker chips and just one rule, he succeeded in creating a completely socially, politically, and economically divided classroom in twenty minutes or less. 

Emotions ran high as we played his game, it got kind of ugly. 

And, in less than twenty minutes, our class of around 30 students had illustrated I Timothy 6:9 to a tee. 

The game wasn’t complicated.  He gave each of us five randomly colored poker chips from one big bag.  White ones were the least valuable, then blue were worth a little more, and the gold ones were the most valuable. 

…And you might think that the professor was pretty heavy-handed in that class, that he somehow intentionally led us through steps to arrive where he wanted us—but like I said, after he passed out the poker chips and gave us just one rule, he said and did very little. 

Do you want to know the rule he gave us? 

The only rule we had to go by was something like this—that those who have the highest value (based on the color of the chips); they make the rules for how this currency circulates the room. 

That’s all it took for a class of maybe 30 young adults to divide themselves neatly into class-groups—upper class, middle class, and even the poverty-stricken. 

We didn’t need the professor to tell us how to trade, or how often, or to impose any kind of rigid structure on our class time. 

All we needed was a form of currency and a way to measure power. 

We did the rest ourselves.  And all that was at stake were pieces of plastic that weren’t even ours!  We demonstrated this itch to be rich that I’ve been talking about, we were trapped by many senseless and harmful desires, like Paul writes to Timothy, desires that plunged us into virtual ruin and destruction. 

All for poker chips…blue, white, and gold pieces of plastic.. 

Of course, since college we’ve all learned our lessons and matured immensely.  🙂

We’ve moved on from playing that game for pieces of plastic; and now we play for pieces of paper–all colored green.  🙂 

All we need is a form of currency and a way to measure power. 

The rest is up to us. 

So what’s it look like to win?  How is success defined? 

We are the people of God—And as our understanding of success changes; so we begin to seek kingdom-alternatives to power and wealth. 

Instead of our income, our homes, or our cars being measures of our success, we rather seek to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, not only with our lives but with how we use our money too. 

For freely we have received and freely we shall give.  Rather than strive for things of this world that will not last and are worth very little, we need to relearn our lives; taking hold of the eternal life to which we were called when we made our confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

It doesn’t mean wealth is evil; but how we get it …and how we use it make all the difference in the eyes of God. 

So what if we are rich?  Paul goes on…he says

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

If you’ve heard or read any kind of news over the past year or so, then you’ve learned that our economy can offer very little real security. 

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living; it’s not guaranteed. 

Rather, our security comes from God, who gives everything for our enjoyment. 

I have a friend I’ve talked about before who lives in Virginia and used to own a restaurant in kind of a rough neighborhood.  His restaurant did pretty well and they were never really bothered by crime; he commented that he thought maybe it was because when you feed the thieves, (sometimes for free), then they’re less likely to steal from you! 

Isn’t that a better picture of security?  Both for the haves and the have-nots? 

Do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and be ready to share. 

This is how we begin to take hold of this eternal life that we have been so freely given!  It’s an alternative economy, one way to avoid the endless heartbreak that comes whenever we play the game expecting to win. 

It does take creativity and some risk. 

But no one ever said following God was safe. 

So as I close this morning, I want to leave us with a few questions to think about during the coming week. 

The questions are ‘whose game are you playing?’  And what’s success look like? 

God loves each of us so much that he sent his only Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it; to reconcile it, to bring each of us closer to Him. 

It’s to this end we are called to use our time, our money, and the health that we have. 

God loves us.  There can be nothing left to prove by anything we acquire or accomplish. 

Freely we have received, and Freely we shall give.

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