Author Ted Gibbons passed away after a long battle with cancer. In honor of his memory and the wonderful insights he shared here on Meridian, we will continue to publish his work periodically.
One of the wonderful things about serving a mission, and one of the hidden blessings, is first-hand experience with the law of consecration. Each missionary has as much money as everybody else has. They dress the same. They eat at the same restaurant. They do the same work. This training is not an often-mentioned benefit of missionary service, but I believe that among those who one day live in a Zion society, missionaries will have a great advantage, because they will know what it is all about.
Money is such a trouble-maker. What follows is a message from the New Testament about the Savior’s teachings regarding wealth.
We start with Mark’s version of the story of the rich young ruler. The record indicates that he was a pretty good young man. He ran to the Savior and knelt before him and asked the great question: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
When the Savior told him to keep the commandments, he responded at once that he had kept them from the time he was a young boy. He asked another question: “What lack I yet?” (Matt. 19:20). Then the Savior said to him,
“One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21).
One thing? He only lacked one thing? I think if I were to ask the Savior what I lacked, he would need about 8 days to go through the list.
This young man seems to be a good person. But he could not comply with this last requirement. He wanted to, but he was unable and went away grieving (see Mark 10:22).One of the lessons here is that money can corrupt good people. And the scriptures are clear about how it happens. This rich young ruler is the perfect example of what happens when you switch the sequence taught in Jacob 2:18,19.
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good‑‑to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (emphasis added).
Jacob specifies a before and an after. Before seeking for riches, we must “seek . . . for the kingdom.” We must obtain “a hope in Christ.” Then, after that, if we still want to, we can seek riches. The wealthy young lord got the sequence backward. He got the riches first, and then, when he was asked to use them in the way Jacob said a real disciple would use them, he could not make the sacrifice. He could not give up his riches “to do good‑‑to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
Mark did a nice thing in these chapters. He introduced us to someone who got the sequence right.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples [Notice that Jesus is always ready to teach. I hope you are like that too], and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:41-44). The young man in Mark 10 had a tighter grip on his silver than on his salvation. The widow only had a hold on her salvation. This story makes it perfectly clear that Christ does not do his math with a calculator. For him to say that two mites is more than the abundance cast in by others is compelling evidence that Jesus does not care about how many spaces come between the dollar sign and the decimal. He only cares about how much space there is between our hearts and our pocket books.
Jesus taught this principle over and over again. Too much reliance on riches can be a deterrent to entrance into the Kingdom of God. In fact, after the meeting with the young and wealthy man in Mark 10, he taught this in three consecutive verses. Here they are:
(1) “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).
It is hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of God!
(2) “And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24).
In verse 23, having riches is a problem. In this verse the Savior defined the problem with more clarity. It is difficult for one who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom. Footnote 27a at the bottom of this page gives more insight:
The disciples were worried that under these restrictions, no one could be saved.
“And Jesus, looking upon them, said, With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible” (JST Mark 10:26).Men must trust God and be willing to “leave all” for his sake. This is a reminder of what Jacob taught. Real disciples who seek riches seek them for the intent to do good. They do not want bigger houses and faster cars and more exotic vacations. They want do good and to bless their fellow men. When such men are asked to leave their riches, they can do so without flinching because their hearts are not set on those things.
(3) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).
Quite simply, it is not easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Brigham Young said,
“The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth” (“This Is The Place,” Tambuli, July 1977, 25).
In Luke 12, Jesus had more to say about trusting in riches.
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
One of his followers (“one of the company”) thought his brother was cheating him and wanted the Master to intervene. He refused. “Man, who made me . . . a divider over you?”
And then Jesus taught more.
“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
How interesting it is that Jesus would refer to a man’s desire for what already is his as covetousness. In Doctrine and Covenants 19:26, the Lord warned Martin Harris: “thou shalt not covet thine own property . . .” The problem of trusting in riches is defined clearly in this concept of coveting what is already ours. The Lord made it clear in Luke 12:15 that our lives are not defined by what we have, but by what we are.
After being asked to supervise the division of an inheritance, the Lord gave this parable:
“The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” (Luke 12:16-17).
I have a lot more than I need. What shall I do with my surplus? Jacob could tell him. The Lord could tell him. Use it do good. Sell it! Give the proceeds to the poor. But this man found another solution:
“And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:18,19).
He decided to rent a whole row of storage units and put all his stuff where it would be safe and where it would be available if he ever needed it.
“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:20).
Hugh Nibley related the story of a man much like this one.
“I think of Hisham, the mightiest palace an Arab ever built, just outside of Jericho . . . the prince took twenty‑seven years to build it, and it was going to be the finest palace in the world. It was the finest palace; it was magnificent. We have no idea how expensive and luxurious it was. The night he was to enter it for the housewarming, there came a great earthquake. He had a heart attack and died, and the palace was completely destroyed…After twenty‑seven years, poof, that’s what happened” (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 5,6).
All of us will one day experience “poof.” God will require an accounting from each of his children. What then of those storage units? I think many of us are like a person invited to be owner of the greatest treasure in the world. He knows that to claim his property he must come quickly and he must not be distracted, but he cannot resist the urge to stop and gather the pennies that he finds along the way.
“So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
This need to be “rich toward God” is important counsel about the price of exaltation. In order for us to get into the kingdom, we must be unencumbered by love of riches and worldly things. We must be willing to joyfully lay all that we have and are on the altar of our covenants. We must be sure as much as we are able that while we fill up our barns, other’s barns around us are not empty. As the Lord said,
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).