Reformed pastor John Piper has warned that riches are dangerous, and said that the most important thing is to love people, not money, after a middle-class American listener admitted they fear Judgment Day for their lifestyle.
"Riches are dangerous; that message is everywhere. Simplicity for its own sake is worthless because love is what counts. Doing good, and not going without — that's what counts. I know there are people who've given themselves to way more simplicity than others, and they're loveless, while people that have more are very more loving and good is coming from their lives," Piper said on Monday on his desiringGod.org website.
"Immerse yourself in the New Testament summons to love people, not money. It calls us to love simple beauties, not luxurious status symbols. This is so crucial," he advised.
"The world is begging us constantly to love status symbols instead of simple beauties. Learn with Paul the secret of such profound contentment in Jesus that you know how to be abased and how to abound."
Piper's comments were directed at an anonymous woman who says that she is a middle-class American, and has been "filled with fear for the Judgment Day" due to the passage in James 5 in the Bible.
The passage reads in part: "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."
It continues later on: "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."
The anonymous woman says that even though she would not be considered "rich" as she lives in a "small house in a modest neighborhood," she still enjoys many comforts, such as vacations, more clothing than she needs, desserts, and other things.
"I tithe regularly and give to some charitable organizations, but it is always with me that I could give so much more by giving up many comforts. I struggle with feeling peace with God when I feel that he will judge me harshly for living as comfortably as I do. I am wondering if God wants me to give up the pleasures and comforts that this country offers?" she asked.
Piper noted in his explanation that the Bible does not actually explain how much people should own, or how much they should give.
"I don't think the tithe is an answer to anything. That's just a starting point for Christians, I think, and lots more than that should be on the table — like everything," he said.
"It seems to me the New Testament doesn't give one prescription; it doesn't give one line; it doesn't make the answer easy; it doesn't answer it in quantitative numbers. It gives a relentless push. This is really something to take into consideration. The New Testament gives a relentless push toward a wartime simplicity and economy for the sake of the kingdom — away from luxury and affluence and finery," he explained.
The preacher defined "wartime simplicity" as a "spiritual war" where "the battle is not only against the sins of materialism, consumerism, and self-indulgence — which it is — but also the battle is for reaching the neighborhood and the nations of the world with the gospel."
After listing out the many passages in the New Testament talking about giving away material possessions, Piper noted that the Bible does not set "a clear line between wartime simplicity and peacetime luxury."
"Therefore, my approach both in preaching and in my own life is to return again and again and again, just like we've done now, to the relentless thrust of the New Testament toward loving, fruitful, others-oriented, sacrificial simplicity for the sake of kingdom advance," he argued.
Piper has talked a number of times on the subject of how money and riches are addressed in the New Testament, and in another desiringGod.org article in January 2016 noted that Jesus "spoke more about money than He did about sex, Heaven, and Hell."
He argued that although many rich people may argue that it is love of money, rather than money itself, that is bad, he pointed to Matthew 19:24, where Jesus says that "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."
Piper noted that the warning is not about just rich people who love money, but rich people in general.
"Money is dangerous. If you have it and depend on it, it will kill you. If you don't have it and crave it, it will kill you. Money can kill us, because it reveals our hearts," he warned.