Recently, a young Christian friend, Mike, came to me to discuss an issue he was having with his faith.
“Matt,” he said, “I’ve been reading the Bible, and I noticed in 1 Corinthians 6 it says, ‘Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ And here’s my problem: I’ve realised that, well, I’m greedy. By world standards I’m really rich, and I like it.”
“Hmm, that’s a real struggle, Mike.” I replied.
“But, Matt,” Mike continued, “You have to realise, I’m really good at making money! I was born with this innate ability and desire to be rich. Surely, if God made me this way, it can’t be wrong!”
“The thing is, Mike, while God did make us with certain character traits, the Bible also talks about us being born with a sinful nature, too. I was born with a short temper, but that doesn’t make it okay to lose it at somebody. We’re all born that way, with sinful tendencies, so none of us are better than everyone else. But the good news is that Jesus has died for those things, and through His Spirit He’ll help us to overcome those things, together.”
“Yeah, well, I still don’t think that the Bible is right on this one. I mean, our culture has changed from back when Paul wrote that – back then, it wasn’t okay, but our culture deeply values greed now. So surely we can dismiss that bit.”
“Well,” I said gently, “the thing is, cultures always change their ethics. That makes them rather unreliable measurements of right and wrong. The Bible gives us a constant – even if it’s inconvenient to our culture right now.”
“But we’ve changed our understanding of the Bible on lots of issues, thanks to culture – like the role and status of women, and slavery, too. Why not change our interpretation of the Bible on greed?”
“Actually, Mike, in both those issues, a strong case can be made for the Bible changing wider culture, not culture changing the Bible. While there were certainly exceptions, Christians were often at the forefront of emancipation from slavery, and women’s rights, too. In fact, even where there are Biblical passages that seem to support slaves and subordination of women, there are equally loud passages that emphatically support emancipation (such as Philemon), and women’s rights (such as Junia in Romans 16). There are none – absolutely none – that support greed in the same way, at all.”
Not willing to back down yet, Mike continued, “But I just think that’s a massive impediment to people becoming Christians – in a lot of ways, that’s pretty offensive, given that our wealth isn’t seen as a problem in our culture.”
“Discipleship is always costly.” I said, “Jesus made this abundantly clear. While Jesus was very welcoming, He also was not afraid to tell people hard truths, like that they would have to sacrifice some aspects of their lifestyle, for the sake of the Kingdom. But He also assured them, the Kingdom is worth it!”
“Frankly, Matt,” Mike said as he got a little frustrated, “This all reeks of being a little prejudiced against people like me.”
I nodded and said, “Y’know Mike, I understand how it might seem that way. I guess the thing is, every belief system comes with restrictions for its followers. Many people who are vegetarians, for example, believe that it’s unethical to eat meat. Even if they respect non-vegetarians’ right to eat meat, they are still inevitably implying that they think their meat-eating friends are wrong. But would you think it fair to call those vegetarians ‘bigots’, though?”
“No, that seems a bit much!” Mike laughed.
“Same here. It comes down to why Jesus calls us to this high ethic, with all its sacrifices of our innate tendencies. He does it because it’s part of being conformed into His likeness – Jesus resisted those tendencies in Himself, too. To sacrifice those things is to trust that He has something even better, waiting for us.”
“Hmm, it’s kinda hard to trust Him enough to sacrifice those things.” Mike mused.
“You’re not the first to think that, Mike.” I said, “But that’s what Jesus calls us to.”
Then Mike walked away, a little sad, thinking about how much he had to lose. I hoped he’d eventually start to think of how much he had to gain.