But as I studied it more, I realized that I am rich - simply by virtue of being an upper class, middle class, educated American, I am richer than most of the world, and so this passage does indeed speak to me - and maybe to you as well. Let me share what God has been showing me about things we need to be careful to avoid, and how it applies to us in the 21st century.
Hoarding wealth in the last days
We can certainly see that with physical goods, but I wonder if this can also be an attitude toward other privileges. How many of us enjoy the freedoms we have in this country, but it stops there - with us enjoying those freedoms, not using our freedom to bless others? Do we really believe we are living in the last days, and that we must be focused on eternal things, not on earthly blessings, whether that is physical wealth or even intellectual and spiritual growth? For example, as we homeschool our children, I find myself checking to make sure our focus is not only on building our children up academically, but especially spiritually. While we enjoyed the privilege of worshiping without fear today, I realized that this is not the case everywhere, and that we may not always have that either. And so my question to all of us is this: Am I hoarding physical wealth as well as the knowledge I have about the Bible, or sharing that with others?
Oppressing workers in the fields
First, as I said before, this didn't seem to apply to me. I am not a farmer with harvesters, and if I were, I would certainly pay them a fair wage. But I began looking at what else the Bible said about this topic of paying workers, and found it interesting that this theme comes up over and over in both the Old and New Testaments. In both Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 24, the people of Israel are told not to cheat someone of his wages at the end of the day, and in Jeremiah 33:13, the prophet chides Shallum, the king of Judah, for making his people work for nothing to build his palace. God takes this so seriously, in fact, that those who do not deal fairly with their workers are included in a list of evildoers in Malachi 3:5, along with sorcerers, adulterers, liars, and others who do not fear God.
As with many commands in Scripture, I believe we need to look at both the specific action and the attitude behind it. Clearly, those who hire others need to not cheat them out of their wages. To do so in biblical times was to both take advantage of a willing worker and to put that worker at risk, since he depended on his wage to take care of himself and his family.
But are there other ways that workers can be mistreated and taken advantage of, especially in 21st century America, with minimum wage and federal labor laws? These came to mind:
- not abiding by labor laws in whatever country you live in, whether about wages, benefits, overtime, or legal safeguards
- misclassifying employees because it is cheaper and easier to pay someone as an independent contractor than as an employee
- not paying a fair or legal wage to those who make your wealth possible
- encouraging and allowing people to “volunteer” for a business
- not treating your workers with honor and respect
- putting your workers at risk with either unsafe work environments, or by putting unfair liability on them
Up until this last year, when I began re-evaluating a business I was involved with, most of these are issues I never really thought about. Now, I am realizing now that these are things God cares about deeply, especially when the rich employers are those who claim to follow Him!
Since I'm not hiring people, though, maybe I can skip this after all? Not so fast. I believe another way this applies to us is when we buy goods and services from others. We have choices in using our money to support those who oppress workers or those who deal fairly with them, don't we?
If we learn that a company we support is not dealing fairly with those who make their success and wealth possible, I firmly believe that we should stop supporting them.
Now, when I have said that in a group, I’ve had people object to this idea because you can't know all of the details of a company, and after all, not all companies are run by Christians. And we can't just stop buying things! And what if I need what a company has to offer? What if it is providing something that is good for my family? What if it is essential for my health, or my homeschool, or my business?
In response to all of this, consider - especially in our nation, we have many, many choices. It is a rare circumstance where our only choice is a company that oppresses its workers. And no, we cannot know everything, but I believe that when we have become aware of a company not dealing fairly with its workers, whether it is running a sweatshop in a third world country or an office in the United States, we have a moral obligation to use our money as consumers to speak up in support of God's word - and clearly, this matters to Him.
Living in luxury and self-indulgence
Seeing people as disposable.
Summing it up
- Through Scripture and prayer, let us keep our focus on eternity, on the kingdom of God, and on trusting Jesus over riches. May we save wisely, but also give generously.
- As God makes us aware, let us refuse to financially support those who use unfair or illegal labor practices, even if it costs us financially or takes away some level of comfort for us and even our children.
- Let us humbly listen to others, holding our personal desires loosely, always secondary to God's word and God's will.
- Let us always treat others according to the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and never to see people as disposable in our pursuit of earthly goals, be those physical, educational, or even spiritual.