Four Lessons From Some Wealthy Beggars

by Joe Plemon on July 9, 2010

You see the man staggering down the sidewalk. He stumbles, falls, gets up and meanders haphazardly before falling over the curb into the street. As you extend a helping hand you realize that he is nearly naked, his tattered clothing leaving little to the imagination.  Turning your head, you say, “Grab my hand and I will help you up.”

Why would I need your help?” he barks indignantly. “For your information, I am a very wealthy, prosperous man. I have no needs!” He gets back up and lurches off, bouncing into a light post on his way.

You have just encountered a member of the Laodicean church: a wealthy man who didn’t realize that he was a beggar.

Allow me to explain:

The city of Laodicea was a center of wealth. Known for its black wool and carpets, it also had a medical school famous for its eye salve. The historian Tacitus notes that the city was so affluent that they refused government aid from Rome after the earthquake of A. D. 60. Can you imagine ANY U. S. city refusing FEMA aid after a natural disaster?

They were industrious and innovative, creating a stone aqueduct system to bring water from the hot springs of Hierapolis some six miles away. By the time this water reached Laodicea, however, it was tepid and distasteful.

Yes, they were wealthy, affluent people, surely the envy of all who visited their city. But was Jesus impressed? Not a bit. He called them “pitiful, blind beggars, threadbare and homeless” Rev. 3:17. And he follows up with this command, “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.” Rev 3:18.

What are the lessons for us?

1. You can have lots of stuff and be very poor.

If you base your life on attaining the highest net worth possible, you are still very poor. Why? Because life is more than the size of your portfolio. Jesus said to buy gold which has been through a refiner’s fire; gold that has all of the impurities burned out of it. Real wealth for us means having the impurities burnt out of our lives. Faith in Jesus Christ may throw us directly into the fire (1 Peter 1:7) or it could mean simply allowing God to refine us bit by bit. Either way, He will make sure that we are refined.

2. Independence can stifle dependence.

Independence is normally a good thing, but not when it creates a prideful attitude that says, “I don’t need anyone’s help. I can do it all by myself.” Reality is that we all need each other and we all need God. The Laodiceans had a prideful independence. They didn’t need Rome’s help after an earthquake and they didn’t need help from God. Do you see the irony here? They prided themselves in their wealth, but they were poor spiritually. They prided themselves on the fine clothing they sold, but they were half naked spiritually. They prided themselves on their famous eye salve, but they were spiritually blind. Their prideful independence prevented humility and dependence on God. It can do the same to us.

3.  Their wealth was not evil.

Nowhere in this passage is the slightest indication that the wealth was evil. Having the wealth is not the problem, but allowing the wealth to become predominant is. God wants his children to have the riches of this world, not so we can be caught up in our stuff or become prideful, but so we can help those who are less fortunate.

4.  There is always hope.

In spite of their misplaced priorities, their prideful independence and their spiritual blindness, Jesus never gave up on them. He makes these same people this promise,  (Rev 3:20)  “If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.

If you ever think that God has abandoned you, look again. He hasn’t moved. You have.

One more thought

The site of this wealthy metropolis now lies in ruins. Yes, there are remnants of a great theater and part of the aqueduct still exists, but time and nature has reduced the greatness of the city to rubble. These ruins are an object lesson for us…whatever we gain in this world will not last. Only treasures in heaven will. Aren’t those the types of treasures you would like to have?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Yoni Lerner

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely July 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Interesting post. I agree that wealth only goes so far, and that if wealth is all you have then your existence will be a little hollow.

I have to disagree with the conflation between refusing government aid and “we all need each other”. The difference between government aid and Christian charity is that charity is voluntary and given by willing people to those in need. Government aid is simply pooled wealth that has been collected at the point of a sword. There is a moral difference between the two.

We are dependent on each other, but the best way to promote a healthy balance between that dependence and individualism is by respecting property, encouraging voluntary interdependence, and mutual respect for each other.

Great post!

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joeplemon July 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Invest it Wisely,
Wow. I appreciate the thought you put in your comment. But you need to help me out here. I agree with everything you said, so I am fuzzy about exactly where we disagree. Admittedly, I did not know what the word “conflation” meant (I looked it up: “to bring together, meld, fuse”) so my confusion may be one of semantics.

If you were saying that I consider government aid and voluntary aid to be synonymous, I will quickly state that I do not…I completely agree with your explanation of the difference. I used government aid (help from Rome after the earthquake) as an example in my point 2 to show how the Laodiceans had become prideful in their independence, but I never intended to equate government aid with voluntary help.

Any thoughts you can add to this discussion would be greatly appreciated.

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Invest It Wisely July 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Hi Joe,

I was perhaps sloppy in how I phrased my sentence. I don’t think we disagree at all, but it might seem that we’re placing undue weight on their refusal of government aid, when government aid and charity (or help from God, for that matter) possess different moral qualities.

For example, in this paragraph, you say: “Independence is normally a good thing, but not when it creates a prideful attitude that says, “I don’t need anyone’s help. I can do it all by myself.” Reality is that we all need each other and we all need God. The Laodiceans had a prideful independence. They didn’t need Rome’s help after an earthquake and they didn’t need help from God.”

By putting the two together, it conflates the moral qualities of accepting help from the government and accepting charity, or help from God. See, one is taken from other people at sword point, and the other is given out of the good will of the heart.

I suppose that what I am saying, is that it’s one thing to reject government aid, and another thing to reject both government aid and help from God because you are prideful in your independence, and it’s important to keep that moral distinction in mind lest people equate the two.

Thanks for the clarification!

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joeplemon July 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Invest it Wisely,
OK. That explanation helps. I hadn’t considered the moral distinction between rejecting (or accepting) government aid versus voluntary aid.

Sounds like a good topic for you to write a post on! For example, do you think it is always/sometimes/never wrong for people to accept government aid (after all, it is “taken from other people at sword point”)?

Reply

Invest It Wisely July 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Hi Joe,

If I asked you if it is OK to accept charity from a thief, what would you say? ;)

I believe that when it comes to the government, it is a morally gray area. Whether people like it or not, they are forced to pay their taxes.

Some of these taxes go to things like blowing up people in other countries. Some people would take offense to that, but they are forced to pay regardless. Some taxes go to things like providing welfare for the poor. Again, some people take offense to this, and others support it.

When it comes to accepting government aid, you need to also accept the fact that people were forced to give up some of their wealth in order to provide that aid for you. Some of those people might not necessarily agree with that, but they had no choice in the matter.

The best you can do is ask yourself if the money will be put to better use than it would have had the government spent the money on something else, since the money has already been taken from the people. What you can’t do though is ever compare it to help and money given voluntarily, by a willing person, out of the kindness of their heart.

For that reason, voluntary giving will always be superior to government aid, because it is given out of the freedom of the will, rather than taken from people who may be willing or not. Nothing can beat the feeling of voluntarism, whether you are the giver or the receiver. Indeed, being the giver can be the best feeling of all.

Interesting stuff, indeed!

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Financial bondage July 10, 2010 at 7:44 am

Sounds like most Americans today. Lots of stuff, but broke. Little or no money saved. Living paycheck to paycheck.

good post Joe.

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joeplemon July 10, 2010 at 8:04 am

@Invest it wisely,
Preach on brother! I love the discussion. Volunteerism always trumps government aid. I can’t remember where I read this, but long before FEMA there were highly organized volunteer groups who would travel wherever needed to help their fellow Americans in times of natural disaster. My brother in law’s church organizes volunteer efforts all of the time (he is one of the volunteers) to help victims of natural disasters.

One element of volunteerism that is totally lacking in government assistance is the four letter word “Love”. With volunteerism, the giver is offering love and the recipient feels loved. With government aid, the giver feels like he has been hi-jacked and the recipient feels entitled.

So … when are you going to write a post on this topic?

@Arthur,
Isn’t is amazing how times change but people don’t? That is why the bible is so relevant today.

Reply

Invest It Wisely July 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

“So … when are you going to write a post on this topic?”

I’ll keep you posted ;)

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Barb Friedberg July 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Hi Joe, Loved the opening story. Always enjoy the reminder that true wealth cannot be measured in $$ and cents. Best, Barb

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joeplemon July 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

@Invest it Wisely,
Good! Looking forward to some great reading!

@Barb,
Thanks. I am a sucker for a good story, so I try to use them when they seem to fit.

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James July 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

God is good.

So is hard work and giving back to others when you have seen success in life.

i am convinced that God wants all of us to be happy and will bless certain people who work hard with exceptional wealth to share with the less fortunate to share his glory.

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