Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: honesty

Should we aspire to be poor?

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When there are so many warnings and examples in the Bible of the dangers of being rich, why does it seem that many Christians think it is desirable to be rich?

Luke 18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. / 1 Timothy 6:9-10 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. / James 5:1-2 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. / Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. / James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

So, it is well nigh impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, but God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom. Have we got our priorities wrong?

Some Christians interpret these verses as referring to those who are poor in spirit. Hmmm. Honestly now: does it really seem like those who make that interpretation are poor in spirit? Or are they trying to justify their riches, in their own eyes at least?

The middle class was created by Christians who were honest and diligent in work and business and not wasteful and self-indulgent in their spending. That kind of living is right and good and inevitably leads to a measure of prosperity. Therein lies a snare. People who were converted under the preaching of John Wesley quit spending money and drink and rather took it home to feed and clothe their families. Their children grew up never having known poverty, many of them forgot God.

This is the danger when Christians grow smug in their prosperity and forget that their prosperity has more to do with the grace of God than with their devotion to their work. When we despise the poor, say that their poverty is their own fault, they should be wise and have a work ethic like we have, we have become too rich.

Most Christians are not hypocrites, hungry for money and status. A few may be, but there is far too much good being done in little and big ways to say that all is lost. But perhaps most of us would benefit by examining ourselves to see if we have the right balance between the spiritual and material aspects of our lives.

How much time do we take for Bible reading and prayer? Something more than a few verses of the Bible and a one minute prayer? How much time do we make to help a neighbour in distress? How much time do we have for a friend who wants to talk? How much time do we have for our family? Our Lord is probably much more interested in these things than in the state of our bank account, we should be, too.

Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

It’s not that we are doing everything wrong. But it is worth taking stock every once in a while and honestly asking ourselves if the kingdom of God is our first priority. We should not aspire to be rich, or poor, but to be faithful citizens of the eternal kingdom.

The integrity factor

Hugh Edighoffer was a highly regarded businessman in the town of Mitchell, Ontario, the proprietor of a clothing store. His son Robert was managing the store at the time we lived near Mitchell.

Mr. Edighoffer served a term on the town council and a term as mayor, then entered provincial politics as a member of the Liberal Party. He was soundly defeated in 1963 by the Conservative candidate. He ran again four years later, against the same Conservative candidate and just squeaked in. He was re-elected six times after that, by steadily increasing margins. After the first few elections, Hugh Edighoffer always won his seat with the highest margin of victory of any candidate in Ontario.

In the 1987 election, the Conservative candidate went all out to take Mr. Edighoffer down with a mud-slinging campaign. He couldn’t find fault with Mr. Edighoffer in matters of uprightness or honesty but tried to paint him as an incompetent who accomplished nothing for his constituents. Hugh Edighoffer did not respond to the accusations and made none of his own against his opponent. He simply promised to do his level best to serve his constituents. When the votes were counted he had won by the largest margin ever.

In 1985 he was nominated to be Speaker of the Ontario legislature by the leaders of all three political parties in the legislature. He was regarded by all as fair and impartial and continued as Speaker until he retired from politics in 1990.

This is how politics is supposed to be and hardly ever is. A man of integrity has no need to boast of all he has done or will do. Nor does he have any need to point out the faults of others, real or imagined. The more people know about such a man, the more confidence they have in him.

Business and Church

I grew up in a small Saskatchewan town with four grocery stores and three churches. One store was owned by a cousin and another by an old friend of the family. Another was owned by a Catholic family and the fourth was the local Co-op.

The three churches were the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. The United Church was the largest and the Anglican the smallest. My family was Anglican. Sixty years ago there were enough mouths to feed in the town and the surrounding farms to support all four stores. Cut-throat competition was unheard of.

As the years went by things began to change. Gravel highways were paved, and travel to the city became more common. Young people went to the cities to further their education and stayed to work. Small farmers sold out to their neighbours and moved to the cities. Families had fewer children. As the population of the town and the surrounding countryside slowly shrank, the owners of the grocery stores began to feel pressure on their profit margins.

One day a fire started at one store. The bell on the town hall was rung, the town’s fire engine and water wagon rushed to the scene, and in true small town neighbourliness every able bodied man and youth converged on the scene to fight the fire. In their zeal to help, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them straightened out and were able to pour water on the fire the store was past saving. It was not rebuilt.

The other stores could breathe easier for a time, but the trend toward a shrinking local market continued. One day a lady came to my cousin’s store to ask him to buy an ad in a Catholic periodical. He was not interested. She told him that if he did not buy an ad the Catholic people would be told to stop buying at his store. He didn’t take it very seriously, but one by one his Catholic customers stopped coming into his store. Some of them were among his best friends, and they remained friends, but the priest had told them they should support the business owned by a Catholic and they felt pressed to do so.

The United Church and the Co-op were both products of the social gospel movement, resulting in a similar commitment from the United Church people to support the Co-op. That left my cousin with the Anglicans and the people who were of other religious persuasions, or none at all. He began to reduce the shelf space devoted to groceries and to stock clothing and dry goods, items where he had no competition from the Catholic or social gospel people. This provided a livelihood for a number of years. I believe the town is now down to two churches and one store, the Co-op.

Thinking over this little bit of history has raised a question in my mind. When I go into business, should I feel that my brethren are obligated to do business with me? Should I expect the deacons to drop a few gentle hints that brethren should support my business rather than a “worldly” competitor?

Having a captive market may sound like a sure road to success in business. But does it work that way in real life? I think I know myself well enough to admit that the quality of service to my customers would tend to go downhill if I could take it for granted that most of them would deal with me even if I made no special effort to see that their needs were being met. A captive market begets mediocrity.

We operate a business to earn a livelihood for our family. In most cases, we could not make a living by serving only the members of our own church community. This is a good thing. Our neighbours are predisposed to see us as closed, inward-looking people. Operating a business in the community can give people a better picture of what we are like. Our business is not a mission, but the way we run it shows what is important to us. When we are open, honest, friendly and fair to all, that is a witness of what our faith is. When we and our employees work together harmoniously, when there is no foul language, and no racy pictures on the walls, that is a witness. When we patiently and kindly attempt to meet the needs of customers who are old, frail and a little confused, and customers who are angry and demanding, that is a witness. When we show no evidence of prejudice or favouritism, that is a witness. Honesty in our dealings with governments is also a witness.

The purpose of a business is to serve our customers and support our families, not to bring salvation to our neighbours. Yet we should remember that as these neighbours observe us, they will form impressions about the church to which we belong, the faith we profess and the God we serve.

“Finders keepers” would have been the wrong choice

Noah Muroff, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, and his wife Esther went shopping online for a desk for the study in their home and found a cherry wood executive desk that they were able to buy for $150.  When they got it home, they found it would not fit through the door of the study.  The only option seemed to be to take it apart and then reassemble it inside the study.

When Rabbi Muroff pulled out the file drawer, he noticed a plastic shopping bag had fallen behind it.  Inside the bag was $98,000 in US $100 bills.  When they bought the desk the middle-aged woman they bought it from said she had bought it at Staples and assembled it herself, so there was no doubt where the money had come from.

The Muroffs say they didn’t need any time to discuss what they were going to do.  Although it was 11:30 at night, they called the woman right away.  She was shocked by their honesty.  She told them that if they had decided to keep the money she would have been none the wiser.

The money was an inheritance from her parents who had died, one shortly after the other.  She had been too overwhelmed to make any decisions about the money at the time and had simply stuffed it away in a safe place.  Later she had looked in the desk and it was not there.  She reasoned that it must be somewhere else in the house and put the desk up for sale, not realizing the bag had fallen behind the file drawer.

The next day the Muroffs returned the money, taking their children along to show what to do when one finds something that does not belong to him.  The woman gave them $3,500 for their honesty and also returned the $150 they had paid for the desk.

Rabbi Muroff is 28, a Torah teacher at the Yeshiva high school in New Haven, Connecticut.  He and his wife have four children.  The oldest is six.  The Yeshiva cannot afford to pay a big salary and the family is used to careful budgeting.  Still, the money they found in the bag was not even tempting.  “If God wants us to have the $98,000,” Esther said to her husband, “He’ll make sure He gets it to us in some other way.  God is not limited.”

A peaceful farmer

This is a story I heard many years ago.  It was told as an actual happening, I think the location may have been in Ontario and the time at least 100 years ago.

A Mennonite farmer, we’ll call him Samuel,  one day noticed a large quantity of grain was missing from one of his bins.  Being a peaceful man, he told no one about it, not even his wife.

Months passed, then one day a neighbour dropped by to pass the time of day with Samuel.  During the conversation, he casually remarked, “Say, I heard you had some grain stolen a while back.”

Samuel replied, just as calmly: “Well, if I were you I wouldn’t tell anybody about it, because you and I are the only two people who know it happened.”

I never heard what the neighbour did next, but evidently his troubled conscience had pushed him into revealing his guilt.

 

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