“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.” (Heb. 13:5)
Reviewing Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of the Revelation, one cannot escape the pattern concerning the mix of where He said He was “for them”, and where He was “against them”. This encouraging of strengths and calling out of weaknesses was a common theme in Jesus’ messages to His churches, and when you think about it the One who came “full of grace and truth” was that way with pretty much everyone He encountered. No one who came in close contact with Jesus was spared the full measure of both His incredible love and His dismantling admonitions. A guy named Peter could tell you some stories on that topic.
As I began preparing for the message Jesus gave to Smyrna, the second church of the seven, it occurred to me that this group was different than most of them. I could not find anything Jesus had “against” them. As I read and re-read it, four words in Rev. 2:9 jumped off the page at me: “but you are rich.” That sounded strangely familiar to another church in Revelation I have written extensively about – the one at Laodicea. I believe we have essentially become the church of Laodicea here in America. We have deceived ourselves in to thinking we are “rich, wealthy, and have need of nothing” while Jesus, along with the rest of the world, looks at our deeds that are the true measure of faith and replies, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” In stark contrast to His message to Smyrna, which had no “against you” in it, His message to Laodicea was a stern admonition with nary an “I’m for you” to be found.
Comparing the messages to these two churches, we find a mirror image between blessing and cursing—encouragement and warning. Jesus opens His message to Smyrna by saying, “I know your tribulation and your poverty [“but you are rich”].” The mirror image of that in His message to Laodicea is they think they are rich because they are wealthy from a worldly standpoint [“but you are poor”]. As I have come to see in all things, this comes down to understanding another concept I have written about frequently over the past year, and that is the difference in the two kingdoms we confront here on earth as believers: the kingdom of men and the kingdom of heaven on earth. The church Jesus had nothing but encouragement for was rich in the kingdom of heaven on earth because of their poverty in the kingdom of men. The church He had nothing but admonishment for was bankrupt in the kingdom of heaven on earth, though they were considered rich in the kingdom of man. As is true with the war that rages between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:16-24), so also it is true that the two kingdoms have absolutely nothing in common, and what represents one paradigm in one represents the complete opposite paradigm in the other.
As we move forward into what many believe are the last days before the judgment of earth, I believe these two messages in the book of the Bible describing what this judgment will look like make it crystal clear how vital it will be for those who follow Jesus to forsake the love of money that has become the foundational motivator of most of what goes on here in America/Laodicea. The bondage of addictions to alcohol and other drugs so many men I minister to struggle with pales in comparison to the greatest addiction in modern American Christendom. That title is reserved to the idol we have made of money.
From individuals whose lifestyles, material possessions, and ever-increasing debt rivals any the kingdom of man can boast, to temples displaying wretched excess replete with technology and finery matching any Las Vegas could produce in its casinos or wall street could display in its skyscrapers, modern Christendom has bought in to the love of money hook, line, and sinker. Most of what her members boast of today: the impressiveness of their facilities, the amounts they donate, the number of missionaries they send out, and the support they send to various missions around the world boil down to one thing…their ability to raise and spend money. I’m not saying supporting ministries is a bad thing (Rom. 10:14-15), nor am I saying having money in and of itself is bad, for I believe God gifts certain people with a giving spirit and then blesses them for His glory. But its about the motivations of the heart with God, and in the vast majority of cases those funds come forth from abundance, and not sacrifice. When I see Christians living in the splendor of kings and princes, regardless of the amount of money they donate, I have to wonder.
Soon an ever-increasing evil secular society ruling over the affairs of the kingdom of man, along with its government here in America, will spread its tentacles to take away all of our finery, and the buildings we now see as the evidence of our faithfulness. God will use them to strip any bold enough to claim allegiance to Jesus Christ of their material wealth and possessions. Soon the entire world will be offered only one way to buy and sell, and to find their constant financial “fix”. Will we passively receive the mark of the beast in the form of a computer chip surgically inserted within our flesh, so we can go on feeding our addiction to money? Will our “churches” bend the knee to ever increasing secularism so they can hold on to their coveted 503(c) status, as our seminaries already do? Will we be prepared for this onslaught in the kingdom of heaven on earth, like the 5 virgins who had their lamps already trimmed when the bridegroom called? Or will we be unprepared when the call to the kingdom of heaven in heaven comes? The moral of that story is we cannot so quickly change our paradigms from those we have lived under all our lives. I believe only those who begin now to wean themselves from such worldly desires, and discipline themselves to live on less and pursue Jesus more, will survive those times.
There is one church in the Revelation Jesus had only encouragement for, and that was the church that lived in worldly poverty yet whom He saw as spiritually rich. There is one church in the Revelation Jesus had only warning and woe for, and that was the church that lived in worldly wealth, yet whom Jesus saw as spiritually destitute. There was one difference between them: the environment, love for, and deception of riches. We, as those who claim to follow Christ, should be living lifestyles that lead to discomfort in this world. The Bible says those who do follow Christ will be hated by the world because of their message, and different from the world in their lifestyles. They should be a people who understand friendship with the kingdom of men equals segregation from the kingdom of heaven on earth, and a people who count all worldly gain as refuse for the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil. 3:8). If we are living for and in comfort, perhaps it’s time we do a spiritual gut check and consider what truly counts.
And while we’re on the subject of “what Jesus would do,” I would ask those who seek riches in the name of blessing from God why Jesus didn’t seek them? Do we think for a minute Jesus couldn’t have asked untold riches from His Father and it would have been granted Him? If wealth was such an important indicator of God’s blessing, why not the God-man? He had three short years to change the church, the world, and the course of history with His life and His message. Well, doesn’t the world respect wealth? Why then did Jesus not set Himself up as Solomon so the world would listen to Him? Why did the man who deserved more “blessing” from the Father than anyone who ever lived choose to live the life of an itinerant carpenter and teacher? Perhaps we should re-examine not only “what Jesus did,” but give some thought to why He did it.
The time is drawing near when we will need to make critical decisions that will impact our individual eternities. It is naive to think we will make the right ones then if we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated in to the wrong ones all along the way. Change will begin with spending less time laboring in the pursuit of money, and more time working in those fields so white for harvest Jesus spoke of – of spending less time seeking the temporary rewards of the kingdom of man, and more seeking the eternal rewards of the kingdom of heaven on earth. We need only look around us to see that this is certainly not the current condition of American Christianity, where “the love of money has become the root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), and the fruit it has borne.