“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24 NIV
I grew up singing a short little song called “Bugs for Lunch” in my Lutheran elementary school. Although I’m 23 now, I remember it vividly. The song begins, “Jesus said John the Baptist was great// The greatest man who ever lived//And if old John was with us today//he’d tell us something like this” and continues, “If you’re on the wrong road//Go the other way!//If you’ve got two coats give one away!” This references Luke chapter 3, when John the Baptist gave commands to those seeking baptism.
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same,” he said, “don’t collect any more than you are required.” In essence, if you have enough, you are obligated to give what is left over to those who are in need. This command, and many more like it, seem to have been forgotten or ignored by modern Christians. God’s commands to be generous and compassionate seem to be interpreted, by even the most generous wealthy Christians, as limp suggestions to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or donate a few dollars to a charity while they hoard wealth and decry public welfare. They hope to confine these commands to parts of their life they feel comfortable applying it to, rather than to everything, as intended. Anyone who thinks this comforting hope is founded in John’s teachings, or any of those following, is lying to themselves. John did not command that the man of two cloaks donate a bit of money to get the uncloaked closer to buying his own, nor did he command that we interrogate those in need before we decide if they are worthy of whatever food we deign to give them.
I think it would be a great act of insincerity to think John meant that your obligation to help the poor ends with your desire to live extra comfortably, or that it shouldn’t apply when it’s a policy you can vote to be enacted by your government. Choosing to ignore these commands is no small sin (though yes, they are viewed equally to our Father), it is one that underlies and innervates the entire message of God’s holy book, and that will be demonstrated below. The verses below are drawn from across the entire Bible, NIV, and I challenge you, reader, to pick a doctrine of Christianity you would deem important and attempt to find more explicit, repeated references to it than these: verses in reckless generosity rather than careful hoarding, necessities of life freely given without interrogation into need, compassion for those imprisoned by the state, and the scorn of profit from the exploitations of others.
These are not suggestions, or praises for certain holy individuals. Often, it is easy for Christians to say these traits are admirable, or good. But these are not optional. They are commands, as binding as prayer and baptism. Simply calling yourself a Christian will not save you from judgement, and I ask whether you believe in your heart that, when we meet God, He will excuse your lack of action in light of that title you gave yourself. For “what good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” James 2:14.
God’s instructions against capitalism are not subtle, nor are they debatable. He is clear: extracting profit, neglecting to give freely and without interrogation, hoarding wealth and doling it out only so long as you remain comfortable in excess–these are damning offenses. Rich people are inherently and explicitly said to have a nearly impossible route to enter heaven, and if you have wealth, I challenge you to think every single day about whether you truly, honestly believe that you are so uniquely righteous among your wealthy peers that it will be you who have risen above and beyond to justify salvation. You have been blessed with money and power unimaginable to vast swaths of the globe, including this very country. What about your stewardship of this blessing, what about your extreme generosity and deeds entitle you to a spot in Heaven with the poor brothers and sisters you knew of but neglected on Earth?
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Why is it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to heaven? First, note that no other sin in the Bible is treated this harshly—a murder can simply repent and go to heaven, there is nothing unduly difficult about that. Wealth is different because it is a continuous sin. Repentance requires three things: (1) admitting you did something wrong, (2) taking steps to stop doing that thing, and (3) asking for forgiveness. While you can repent relatively easily from murder or adultery because they are discrete sins, riches and disproportionate wealth are continuous sins. Most people of vast wealth can’t even bring themselves to think of that wealth as a bad thing, and even if they do they do not think to take steps to remedy their misdeeds. And I have yet to find any examples of a rich person giving all their riches away as they are instructed to do. No, capitalist “Christians” love to quote verses like Matthew 6:26-34:
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
This demonstrates, of course, the idea that capitalist “Christians” like to believe. The world can’t be that bad for those without their vast wealth. After all, does not God care for the birds and the lilies of the fields? But this widely cited verse of God’s love, to these hypocrites, applies only to the poor. Not them, of course. They need their wealth, and even if they have enough, they need to keep their wealth ever-growing, even if that is the very definition of greed. Those with vast wealth do not trust God to provide for them if they were to give away what they have–they instead groan and clutch at their hoards, whipping themselves into a frenzy and frothing at the mouth in attempts to justify why they need it all. This verse does nothing for capitalist Christians but keep them feeling good about having far more than enough while people without their fortune live on streets, neglect their physical and mental health needs, and have less opportunity overall because they simply have too little.
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?“
“‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Job 31:16-25, 28
“If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless— but from my youth I reared them as a father would, and from my birth I guided the widow— if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or the needy without garments, and their hearts did not bless me for warming them with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things. “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained… then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.”
He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Leviticus 25: 35-38
‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.’
Proverbs 28: 3-28
A ruler[a] who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. // Those who forsake instruction praise the wicked, but those who heed it resist them. // Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully. // Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. // A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father. // Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor. // If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable. // Whoever leads the upright along an evil path will fall into their own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance. // The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are. // When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding. // Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. // Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. // Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a helpless people. // A tyrannical ruler practices extortion, but one who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long reign.// Anyone tormented by the guilt of murder will seek refuge in the grave; let no one hold them back. // The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit. // Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. // A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. // To show partiality is not good—yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread. // The stingy are eager to get rich and are unaware that poverty awaits them. // Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue. // Whoever robs their father or mother and says, “It’s not wrong,” is partner to one who destroys. // The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper. // Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. // Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. // When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.
Hypocrisy and Inaction
It is true, as you’ve probably thought by now, that “all have sinned all fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:24. The Bible goes through great lengths to remind the reader that they cannot achieve perfection. But God nevertheless insists that you try. Many lean on Romans for comfort to believe that, no matter what they do, they are still in good standing with the Lord. But that is not so. Paul tells the Romans that they do not have to achieve perfection, but neither he nor any other disciple even implies that a Christian is absolved of the duty to follow God’s instruction. Let’s take stock of what the times the Bible speaks on the importance of acting in accordance to one’s purported belief in God. First, let’s turn to the famous parable of the house on the rock. In this story, Jesus Himself instructs that one must not only believe his teachings, but also enact them:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49
You are not absolved of your Christian responsibilities because you know your soul is saved. In fact, resting upon salvation to justify laziness in enacting the Lord’s will demonstrates that your soul is not in fact saved. Consider the words of Jesus himself and his followers:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
“what good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” James 2:14.
“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” Titus 1:16
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” 1 John 1:6
“For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.” Isaiah 32:6
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” Jeremiah 7:8-10