According to an analysis that excludes pensions and social security, the richest 1% of the American population in 2007 owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth.
This post is not about wealth inequality or wealth redistribution.
The difference between the rich and others is something that is a part of life in America today. That same analysis cited above reveals that the bottom 80% owned 15% of the nation’s wealth.*
I want to be clear; wealth is not an indicator of greed. It is how one views money that reveals the sin of greed. The most oft-quoted “misquotation” of Scripture is “money is the root of all evil.” The actual quote is “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” [1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version].
Pay attention to these words from the Book of James “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme…to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” [4:1-4]
Pastor Bevere calls out James with these words “don’t be so negative!”
But is James being negative or merely speaking a truth? In America we live in a society that rewards people who are innovative, hard-working and intelligent. We have a free enterprise economic system that is based on freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance. If someone has enough savvy to provide something that people need or want, there is a chance that a person will become wealthy.
There are notable examples in America today of very wealthy people who have thrived in the free enterprise system and they are giving their wealth away. The ceo of “5 hour energy” has pledged to give away 90% of his wealth to charitable causes. Warren Buffet has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth and so far has given 21.5 billion dollars to charitable causes. Richard Branson of Virgin Group has given 80% of his wealth away to charity. The list goes on and on. The Microsoft computer I am typing on was developed by a company owned by Bill Gates and he has given 27 billion dollars away to eradicate disease throughout the world.*
Maybe these people are so generous that the words of James don’t seem to apply to them. They have made a lot of money but they are willing to use it to help others.
What about those of us who are not wealthy but we covet the wealth of others? When money comes to some people, they cannot handle it; it changes their lives. People suddenly are tempted to use it to fulfill their desires, passions, appetites, fame, status, popularity and financial lust. They quickly put money above God and everything else.
Sounds like most of us would be exempt from this temptation. “I am not wealthy” we say. I am not a Buffet, Branson or Gates. We can’t put our wealth above God.
But the big question is how do you feel about what you have? Are you satisfied with God’s blessings or do you have a strong desire to have more? God promises to bless us, help us be successful and prosperous but do we pervert that message? I am afraid in America we can easily twist God’s intentions for us. The quest for riches is a temptation that is too strong for many.
Before you think that I advocate wealth distribution or moan about income inequality, I don’t. Pastor Bevere certainly does not feel this way either. It is not sinful to be successful. It is not sinful to be wealthy. What he does do is warn of the trap that anyone can fall into, a warning we need to heed.
Money is not the root of all evil…the love of money is…
*Wikipedia “Wealth Distribution”
**From “Business Insider” Melissa Stranger “Nine Billionaires Who Plan to Give Away the Majority of Their Fortunes”