Two Kinds of Mammon Folly

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There are two kinds of folly when it comes to our attitudes toward money and the poor. The first is the only one that is usually recognized — the supercilious “let them eat cake” attitude. Scripture clearly identifies this as a very basic folly. But the other is also very common, and loves to robe up in the garments of virtue. It is a more sophisticated form of folly, calling for — as history goes on — the muddle of more and more jargon. This is the attitude that gives without any comprehension of where the wherewithal to give is coming from. Money is just somehow “there,” and it is our duty to distribute it to the poor, period. And if the flow of money is ever threatened, the automatic reflex response is that hard-hearted nazis must be involved somehow.

But I would like to draw your attention to Matthew 25. In that place Jesus tells a parable (Matt. 25: 14-30) as His introduction to His famous statement of how it is going to come down at the day of judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). In that parable, one faithful servant received five talents and he traded with them. Another faithful servant received two talents and he traded with them. A third servant, a lout, took one talent and buried it in the ground because, as he reckoned it, his boss was a difficult man. The man with five gained five more, the man with two gained two more, and the man who stayed with one had it taken away from him and given to the man who now had ten. Now what did the men with ten and four talents have as a result of their trading that they did not have before? That is right — more resources.

And what did they do with those resources? Enter verse 31. With their resources, what had these businessmen been doing when the day of judgment arrived? They had been feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, and clothing the naked. What had the fellow with the buried talent been doing? Nothing — he had no resources.

Now, back to the first folly for a minute. Does the Bible contain warnings to the rich who have tens, hundreds, or thousands of talents, unlike this guy with just one? Yes, of course. Scripture is full of warnings to fools who want to build bigger barns though they are not rich toward God. Scripture declares against those who are so distracted by the getting of money that they are distracted away from the one thing needful. And yes, that is a warning we must always remember. When the man with five talents went into the world of trade, he was doing something risky, and the risk included a risk to his own soul. When the man with two talents did the same, he was taking spiritual risks as well. The man who buried the talent was doing so because he was risk-averse, but it turns out that he was actually taking the most profound risk of all. Cowardice, it turns out, is a vice that God punishes along with the rest of them.

The purpose of the warnings is that we might heed them along the way. The purpose of the warnings is not so that we might refuse to undertake the journey. Faint heart never won fair lady. Cowardly sailors never bring back spices from the east. Matronly generals never won the battle.

And so we need to spell it out. The resources that went into the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the visiting of the imprisoned are all resources that came from trade. Consider again the flow of argument from Matt. 25:14-30 to Matt. 25:31-46.

I may have given this illustration before, I don’t remember. Over the years I have worked with my father in the work of literature ministry — bookstores that have the spiritual interests of the folks who come into the store as the highest priority, whether the need is evangelism or spiritual encouragement. In our stores, we have employed business guys and ministry guys, and we have always wanted the ministry guys to be senior, but it didn’t always work out that way. And, depending on who was senior, we would have completely different problems. Take the example of giving away a book (instead of selling it) because it would be useful in bringing the customer to Christ. A business guy would know just how many other books we would have to sell in order to make up for the gift . . . and so he wouldn’t give it. The ministry-minded guy would have no earthly idea that giving such a book away could possibly have any financial ramifications whatever. Why would it? Mystery companies ship these books to our stores in boxes. Then we unpack them and give them away.

Our need is to understand that we cannot give what we do not actually have, and if we want to give it away (as we should), we must follow the Lord’s directions for acquiring it.

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