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Finance: Wealth and Love

My focus today is not about how much easier it is for wealthy people to get others to love them.

What I am dealing with is the role our wealth plays in permitting us to express tangible love to those around us whom we know and to those far away from us whom we don’t.

A current example at the time of writing is the overwhelming outpouring of love and help and care and money Nepal received after the April 25 earthquake. If that tsunami of love from caring people and nations included your own contributions, I salute you.

Those who gave of their material abundance toward initiatives to help poor Nepalese did so without any thought of getting something back from these impoverished people. Instead, they gave out of love by proactively choosing to deplete their own coffers. The Bible says when followers of Jesus Christ act in such a selfless manner we lay up treasures in heaven that are safe from the ravages of time, moth, rust and robbers.

Regardless of whether you have given to Nepal, I’m sure there have been other times when you have used your wealth – be it great or small – to help others; to extend kindness; to alleviate suffering; to express love… specifically, agape love.

The Greek word agape means self-sacrifice aimed at helping others. The noblest instance of agape our universe has ever seen was Jesus’ proactive, conscious decision to live and die and live again for flawed humanity.

We have a far, far greater purpose and mission in this life, be it long or short, than accumulating the most ‘toys’ on the block!

As many of you know, the ancient Greeks used four distinct words for shades of love: eros, philia, storge and agape.

In English we are inclined to declare we love God and our family, yet in the next breath insist we also love dogs, chocolates and The Avengers! It seems the Greeks were wise in distinguishing different forms of love!

Eros refers to sexual passion or physical intimacy. Philia to friendship or loyalty amongst equals that is affectionate but dispassionate. Storge refers to family love most usually felt between parents and children.

The 13th century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas hit the nail on the head when he described agape as willing ‘the good of another’. That is what Jesus exhibited when He left eternity for Bethlehem, bled through his pores in Gethsemane, died on Golgotha, and rose again; all for our benefit.

At the core of agape is the willingness to give of ourselves to benefit others; but we should never forget:

We cannot give what we don’t have.

Now let’s zero-in on three practical principles of wealth that can help us express genuine agape:

1. Be kind to outsiders

2. Be generous to your employees

3. Avoid the delusion of purely material security

 1. Be kind to outsiders

Psalm 82:3 says: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”

Deuteronomy 10:18,19 is more specific: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

How many of us are guilty of thinking negative thoughts about the countless foreign manual workers who toil to keep things running in our countries? How often are we resentful of their presence even as we make it very clear we do not want their jobs?

I am as guilty of such thoughts as the next guy. We all need to examine our hearts and repent of prejudice that God abhors.

2. Be generous to your employees

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 states: “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

All around us are examples of once poor families of non-Christian backgrounds that have seen an inexorable improvement in their economic fortunes after they turned to Christ. Isolated examples may seem merely anecdotal but in my more than half century of life, thus far, I have observed countless such cases.

I believe the major reason for this process of economic uplift stems from God’s grace, His unmerited favour, released through Jesus. I also believe there are elements of this process that are tied directly to improved linguistic and communication skills, most notably in English, stemming from church involvement, as well as the presence of positive role models, also in church, who passionately reiterate the importance of education.

All that is good! Unfortunately, as God blesses many Christians with the means, connections and drive to climb the ranks of the corporate world or to start their successful businesses, a cold-hearted worldly streak seems to form in the hearts and minds of many such successful individuals.

A valuable litmus test is how we treat our employees at work or the maids, gardeners, drivers, electricians, plumbers and mechanics who ‘serve’ us at home.

3. Avoid the delusion of purely material security

1 Timothy 6:17-19 says: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

To succeed in this life, we must manage our money well:

We should spend less than we earn; we should save and invest the difference; and we should do so for a long time. If we do all that, then as surely as day follows night, we will grow wealthier.

But to succeed at pleasing God, we should also manage our money in line with His dictates. We should give generously and sustainably to allow us to help as many as we can, for as long as we can.

A far greater purpose

There isn’t any point growing too attached to material wealth. We are much more than our physical bodies. We are worth much, much more than the money in our bank accounts. And we have a far, far greater purpose and mission in this life, be it long or short, than accumulating the most ‘toys’ on the block!

You see, we are not mere physical beings with a spirit. We are spiritual beings with a body.

The Bible tells us we will live forever.

If we truly believe that, then isn’t it time we began living our lives, managing our wealth, and exuberantly giving of ourselves in line with the ‘true north’ of agape love?

© 2015 Rajen Devadason

Wealth & Love – Asian Beacon: Jun-Jul 2015 (Volume 47:3, pp. 32-33)​​​​​​​