Having (and not having) Stuff

Had a great conversation with great friends last night.

We discussed two passages with two (apparently) conflicting messages. In the first, Paul is instructing Timothy regarding possessions. In the second, Jesus is discussing possessions with his disciples.
"But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." - 1 Timothy 6:6-10
And then:
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." - Matthew 19:29-30
And let's assume the givens of the over-arching story of Judeo-Christianity (a literal, physical resurrection at the end of the age into a literal, physical kingdom with real physical bodies that eat food and can be touched but cannot get sick or die).

So is Paul basically saying that the material world is evil and that we should merely seek to scrape by in "this life" in order to have a blissful, disembodied "spiritual" existence in the next? If so, does he contradict Jesus' statement that those who've given up things now will receive many more things plus a body that won't get sick and die?

Are Jesus and Paul at odds here or is there a way to reconcile both statements?


lowell said...

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” Matthew 19:21

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

Here, just a few stanzas before Matthew 19:28 we have Jesus being pretty hard line about material things. I think these verses coralline with 1 Timothy 6: 6-10. Maybe Jesus is bringing it into perspective with mentioning the renewal of all things, and those with houses and such will inherit a hundred times more. Perhaps Paul and Jesus were warning against those who put financial gain at the top of their priorities. Look at 1 Timothy 6:5 “……..who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” before this Paul was speaking on the characteristics of those who preach false doctrines. Then Paul goes into saying that being contempt with basic shelter are in the green.

So the gist of what I’m getting between Jesus and Paul is seek first the Kingdom of God. Then,… whatever comes your way should be received like a gift. Whether that be a one bedroom apartment in Prague, LOL! Or a decent pad in Springfield. Both should be looked at as mansions in the eyes of the beholder. For its our privilege to receive such things and not our right.

Mike Aleckson said...

I agree, Lowell, that Jesus was actually saying that when the Kingdom comes in its fullness (the renewal of all things) - we can expect cool lodging and land, etc.

So Christianity is not about calling material things evil. Rather, it's about laying down certain things now to take them up fully when He comes...

Joel said...

“As for the money making life, it is something quite contrary to nature; and wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search, for it is merely useful as a means to something else" Aristotle "Nichomachean Ethics”.

As Aristotle mentions it's when we treat money as the “end” (the pursuit/purpose) things aren't "normal". However wealth, as a “means” for a desired “end” is quite acceptable, if not commendable or encouraged, in this life. The more resources we have, the better equipped we are to further the Kingdom. Obviously, this is where stewardship plays an important role :)

I think Jesus' comment in Matthew 19 supports this view without any controversy. For Paul's comments, I think we need to look at the issue of possessions and evil. To restate your question, is Paul really calling the material world and everything in it evil?

If the answer is yes, then he doesn't live up to his own statement with his regular comments about material assistance: I Corinthians 9, Philippians 4, II Corinthians 8, and so on. Why would Paul mess around with an evil thing like money unless he understood a practical/useful element to it?

Secondly, I would ask how can an inanimate object be inherently evil? That doesn't make sense just as it wouldn't make sense to say, "Hey don't sit in that chair, it's evil..." or "don't eat that sandwhich it's evil, eat the salad instead".

Even a nuclear weapon that could be perceived as evil really isn't evil until a human being does something with it. And then, it’s the effects the nuclear bomb produced and the men who used them which would be considered evil. Let me mention that I am in no way arguing against the existence or reality of evil. Also my comments are within a Judeo/Christian view where I wouldn’t agree with a Pantheistic one.

It's when we, as humans with wills and abilities to make choices, place value on something that the object’s meaning changes (even then I would still question the issue of materialistic evil as an object’s meaning/value only changes in our mind and peoples’ perceptions around us). Even a piece of wood covered in gold and shaped like a creature for idol worship, I don't think, is inherently evil. Its use obviously is, but the evil is self inflicted.

The issue boils down to what I think is the operative phrase in I Timothy, "those who ‘want’ to get rich". That statement reveals the desire of at least one aspect of the "end" these people are pursuing, the love of money. When people attribute love, a quality only living human beings can express, to possessions then they, by their own admission, "plunge themselves into ruin and destruction".

That's the beautiful yet dangerous power of free will and choice. The punishment or reward for choices we make can't be blamed on things but how we used those things for or against the Kingdom of God.


Mike Aleckson said...

Well said - no, very well said, Joel.

I agree with you completely. In fact, I see the literal, physical coming Kingdom to be obvious evidence that God is still in love with his world, and will ultimately refresh the whole thing.

So in my view, the physical world is not something to shun - but rather, since God will ultimately make it even better than it now is - we should enjoy it as fully as we can...

Thanks Joel!