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"If I Were a Rich Man"

Stephen D. Doe

Do you remember Tevya's song "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof? Tevya was dreaming what his life would be like if he could escape his existence as a poor milkman. His dreams included a big house, servants, plenty of food for his family, and also time to study the Torah.

For his book Chazown: A Different Way to See Your Life (Multnomah, 2006), Craig Groeschel interviewed some fifty Christians to see what they would do with the rest of their lives if they were wealthy. The responses he received were dismaying, because these Christians, like Tevya, wanted to quit work, buy expensive things, have servants to care for their homes, etc. Groeschel concludes with this telling comment: "Do we really think that God sent His Son so our greatest life goal would be a new boat?" (p. 50).

We remember the wisdom of Proverbs 30:8-9:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the Lord?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

The biblical writer is certainly not inveighing against wealth in and of itself. The patriarchs were marked out for their wealth, and King Solomon was blessed with enormous wealth, as God promised him (1 Kings 3:13; cf. chap. 10). Rather, in contrast to both Tevya and our modern fellow citizens, if we are wise we come to see that we need a wise and sovereign God to care for us and give us what is right, so that we might have a balanced life.

How easy it is to sing along with Tevya and dream of quitting work and paying off the mortgage, as if those were the things in which we would find our dreams fulfilled. Christians must resist the powerful tendency to hunger for the superabundance of money and the things that it could buy. Without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, we too would look for the freedom that we think would come if we were rich men or women. The gospel, however, tells us that we can find satisfaction only in the saving work of Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:10-13; 1 Cor. 3:21-23).

In Proverbs 30:8, there is an interesting request: "Feed me with the food that is needful for me." The writer urgently beseeches the Lord to provide for him his daily allotment of bread (see Matt. 6:11). In place of the dreams of Tevya and our society, wisdom looks to the hand of the Lord for his sufficient care (Ps. 123:2).

Yet, in our age, when we have more than we need, it is increasingly hard to think biblically. This is where the discipline of regular, consistent, and thoughtful giving to the church is so vitally important. Support of the work of the kingdom through our local congregation, our presbytery, and Worldwide Outreach redirects our dreams. Suppose across the OPC we began longing to see the work of the kingdom of God grow, instead of longing for greater comforts and pleasures in our own lives. Suppose we sang "If I Were a Rich Man" as we kept in mind the need for new tracts, a greater presence on the Web, the training of men for the gospel ministry, churches planted in our major cities, a second missionary family in Suriname, or any of the literally dozens of opportunities before the OPC. And if we joined that with a prayer for more discipline, sacrificial giving, and God's blessings, wouldn't we find more joy in that than in unsatisfying dreams of simply having more?

The author is pastor of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg, Va. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2006.

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