Are compassion and money incompatible?
Let’s learn how important God considers our care of the less fortunate.
Let’s discuss Luke 16:19-31, an unnamed rich man and a famous beggar, Lazarus. We will learn about the dangers of the hard-hearted, selfish use of money and God’s Great Reversal.
1. Coveting Wealth (Luke 16:19-21)
National leaders should hate covetousness (Exodus 18:21) and government excess (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Don’t covet what covetous people steal (Micah 2:1-5); they are the losers (Luke 12:13-21). The Rich Man withheld help from poor Lazarus. Covetousness causes conflict (James 4:1-4), false religion (2 Peter 2) and can’t exist in God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
b. Works Salvation
The social gospel is showing love towards our neighbor, our social responsibility towards others. The rich man was hard-hearted towards poor Lazarus. This passage does not teach works-based salvation. Rather, saving faith is evidenced by good works. Social responsibility towards others is seen among believers. It is a fruit of repentance that Jesus demanded of the Pharisees (Matthew 3:8-10).
c. Famous Homeless Man
Our passage is one of the most famous stories of a homeless man of all time. History usually immortalizes the brutal, the powerful and the wealthy. The destitute poor are usually anonymous. They come into this world in filth and squalor and depart leaving unmarked graves. Folklore names the rich man Dives, but the the rich man has no name in heaven.
d. Judgment Day for a Bully
Terrorists, overbearing governments, corporate cock-a-doodle-do’s and union tough guys can be bullies without compassion, using others to serve them. They may not serve others. Their leadership style is the opposite of Jesus’ sacrificial leadership. The rich man is a bully, who even in hell continued to bark orders. Without compassion on the weak, we too are no better than bullies.
e. Great Failure
By worldly standards Dives was probably a great success. He was a great failure in one of life’s most important areas, the care of those less fortunate. A life without compassion is a failure. Salvation is something we share, both physical salvation for this life and eternal salvation for the next. Lacking compassion, is one of life’s greatest ethical failures.
2. The Great Reversal (Luke 16:22-24)
a. The Last Shall Be First
Our story indicates consciousness after death, contradicting the soul-sleep theory. Jesus told the thief on the cross, that today he would be with him in paradise (Luke 23:43), absent from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) departing this flesh (Philippians 1:21-24). Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of slain souls in heaven crying with a loud voice.
b. Hell & Wealth
Here Jesus used the pagan legends of Hades to explain the afterlife. Greek mythology closely linked wealth and hell. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus also linked the two. Wealth and luxury deceive us into thinking that we have no responsibility towards the suffering. We build walls which shut them out. Walls cannot erase our guilt.
c. Questions about Hell
Is hell fire literal or symbolic (Matthew 5:22)? Is hell eternal suffering (Luke 16; Revelation 14; 20)? Is hell annihilation where people perish (Luke 13:3-5), experience destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9), become ashes (Malachi 4:3) in a second death (Revelation 20:14)? Many questions remain unanswered. Heaven is good. Hell is bad. So, let's choose heaven!
d. 3 Reasons not Go to Hell
Thanks to Ed Hill, 3 reasons not to go to hell. 1) I don’t want pain and suffering. 2) I don’t want bad company. Hell is full of people who hate you and will hurt you. 3) I’d rather be with the one who loves me, died for me and gave up everything so I could live with him forever.
e. The Great Reversal
Life after death is sometimes called the Great Reversal. Possessions and status are unimportant. What was the rich man’s problem? It was not his wealth, but what it did to him. He neglected his obligation under Moses and the Prophets to look after the less fortunate. He knew Lazarus by name and therefore had no excuse for letting him suffer.
f. Deluded to the End
Saddam Hussein, the mad butcher of Babylon was deluded about his guilt even when confronted with his atrocities. A rich man who failed the poor was unrepentant even in hell. He still saw himself as superior to Lazarus, wanting him to serve him. Wealth and power delude us into thinking we are superior. Yet, we must all serve one another.
3. A Great Chasm (Luke 16:25-26)
a. The Gulf
Abraham reminded the wealthy man that he had the means to make a difference. Wealth and power are not tools for self-indulgence, but for service to others. Relief of suffering was the neglected responsibility of the rich man. The rich man who humbles himself and takes his responsibility seriously to join the needy to care and relieve suffering, will be blessed.
b. Overcoming a Hard Heart
The problem of the rich man was not his wealth, but his hard heart. Throwing a few dollars at the poor is a small step. Long term solutions to poverty are needed. The Good Samaritan got involved. The Christian life is easily counterfeited. God is seeking a compassionate people who will get involved in relieving the suffering of the poor.
c. Rich & out of touch
When the British royal family asked for money from poor funds to heat their palaces, it highlighted how out of touch the rich can be. Lazarus was reduced to passively accepting his plight. In the Greek it says that he was dumped at the rich man’s gate to beg, indicating his immobility. His only hope was in compassion from others.
d. Dividing Rich & Poor
There is a divide between rich and poor. Gates, walls and separation. God may enforce our decisions in the next life. Lazarus was too poor for health care and could not tend to his sores. He was also forced to beg for second hand food. After he died, the gulf between them continued. But this time, the tables were turned.
4. Listen to Moses (Luke 16:27-31)
a. Old Testament
Moses and the Prophets taught an obligation to the poor. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 records a poor tithe. Isaiah 3:14-15 warns against plundering the poor. Jeremiah 5:26-28 says to defend the poor. Ezekiel 18:12-18 warns against oppressing the poor. Amos 2:6-8 warns against denying justice to the oppressed. Zechariah 7:9-10 says not to oppress the needy.
The extent of human knowledge and the trustworthiness of human reasoning limit how evidence is believed. Even outside religion, faith determines what is believed. The rich man wanted someone from the dead to warn his brothers. If they don’t believe the Bible they won’t believe someone rising from the dead. More evidence cannot convince a hard-hearted person against their will.
Hard-hearted selfishness leads straight to hell. Let us take whatever wealth that God has entrusted to us and use some of it to love our neighbor as ourselves.