Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 3, 1949
NUMBER 26, PAGE 5,6c

The Wrong Use Of Wealth

Roy E. Stephens, Brownwood, Texas

Probably every preacher has preached many sermons from the familiar story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). Many times and many places I have preached a sermon I call, "A Message From Hell, To Those Who Are Going There", with this story as a text, having gotten the idea from a sermon by Bro. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Another good thought can be developed from this text on "Death, Then What?" showing that after death the dead are (I) still alive, (II) still themselves, and (III) still remember. Still a third sermon possible for this text might be "Modern Error Refuted By the Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus". This story refutes the theories of direct operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion; of hereditary total depravity; of materialism; of predestination; and of spiritualism and universalism.

While all of these things are certainly legitimate lessons from this story, there is another that is just as emphatically taught, and that is the wrong use of wealth. Consider the story with that idea in mind.

The Contrasts

In life. Here is a man in a home of luxury and selfishness, expending everything on his own enjoyment. That which is unusual and exceptional to other men, fine food, purple and fine linen, are but common place things to him. In contrast to him there is the beggar—a miserably poor man, wasting with want, laid at the rich man's gate, full of sores. At the gate of abundance he desired but crumbs that fell from the table; but he received them not.

In death. There is one thing that comes to all alike. Death makes no distinction between the palace and the hovel. There are few tables around which there is not an empty chair. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, there are a thousand entrances into death. We sometimes speak of the flimsy spider web—it is massive and ponderous when compared to the thread of life. So, both of these men died. No notice is taken of the beggar's death. He was probably rushed away to the potter's field. But the rich man died and was buried; in all likelihood he had an ostentatious funeral with his body laid in a magnificent sarcophagus.

In destiny. Christ follows these men into the state of disembodied spirits. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man is in the place of torment. He had left Lazarus uncared for outside his door on earth, now he is left outside the door of heaven. No one had power to give even one drop of cool water to relieve the anguish of his parched tongue.

The Rich Man's Sin

What was the sin of this man that had brought him to such a state? It was not the having of riches. Riches are not evil; neither is there any virtue in poverty. There is as much sin and evil among poor people as there is among rich people. Riches test faith one way; poverty tests it another. Only the character that stands the test, regardless of which way the test comes, will be approved of God. If the man of wealth esteems God above his wealth, and uses his money as God requires, he will be accepted. If the poor man hardens his heart, becomes rebellious and turns away, he will be rejected. So far as we know the rich man was not a vicious man. It is not affirmed of him that he was immoral, a drunkard, or a thief. In fact, there is not one charge that can be sustained against him from the way the world usually looks at sin. He was condemned, not for what he had done, but for what he had failed to do.

1. He kept all for self and distributed nothing. He did nothing more for the rest of the world than he did for Lazarus. He simply did nothing. Thomas Hood wrote the following lines of a character who had never thought of doing any good until one night in a dream he was confronted with a vision of death:

The blind and the cripple were there, And the babes that pined for bread;

The homeless man, and the widow poor Who begged to bury her dead.

The naked, alas! I might have clad The famished I might have fed.

Each pleading look that long ago I scanned with heedless eye Each face was gazing as plainly there As when I passed it by.

Woe, woe, for me if the past should be Thus present when I die.

The Wounds I Might Have Healed

The human sorrow and smart—

And yet it never was in my soul To play so ill a part.

But Evil Is Wrought By Want Of Thought

As well as want of heart.

2. He failed to live up to the light he had. When he wished that Lazarus might be sent back to warn his brothers, he implied that had he known what awaited him after death, he would have acted differently. And now he desires that some warning be sent to his brothers. But God holds men responsible not only for what they know, but also for what they can know. He holds men accountable for all he has the opportunity of learning. The rich man's brothers had Moses and the prophets. The rich man himself had had these advantages in his lifetime. No doubt he was a worshipper in the synagogue, and had heard the law read. If a person does not respond to the little light he has, the reason for neglect is not lack of light, but lack of desire. No amount of light will cure or correct a lack of desire.

His Punishment

Not only was the punishment of the rich man a judgment of eternal torment in a place of shame and contempt; but there was also the punishment of memory.

Memory in another world is indispensable to the sadness of the sad, and to the gladness of the glad. Unless there is memory, you know not even if you are yourself. There cannot be personal identity unless there is clearness of recollection. There can be no sense of reward or punishment unless there is memory. Reward for what? You don't remember! There can be no such thing as reward or punishment without memory. Think of an eternity with nothing to do but to suffer, and remember.

For the lost there will be the body of sin bound to them by remembrance—all wrongs inflicted, all opportunities to become a Christian lost. They will recall every evil thing and every pleading that was offered for them to turn to the Lord. What a punishment that will be when God says, Now go into everlasting punishment; take your wasted life with you. Read it over. See what a mess you have made of it. What misery is the lot of that man who is shut up for eternity with only the memory of a wasted past, and with not one ray of hope to brighten the future.