We Are Better People When We Pay Attention
to the Poor and to the Scriptures
We are better people and our future is much brighter when we take the Scriptures seriously. After death, a rich bloke who ignored Scripture in life and ignored a sick beggar suffocating in unrelenting poverty at his gate, was confined to Hades; from his irreversible position, he negotiated with Abraham to spare his family from future torment. “Give my brothers something spectacular. They’ll pay attention to God if they’re entertained.” “Not so,” said father Abraham. “If Scripture is too passé for them, chills and emotional thrills won’t topple the materialistic idols in their hearts.”
There was a Rich Man
Luke recorded two stories, back-to-back, about the use and abuse of our wealth. Each story begins with, “there was a certain rich man…” The first story, Luke 16:1-13, urges us to use our wealth shrewdly. The second story, Lk 16:14-39, shows how poverty-gate proved to be the undoing of a religious man.
The story of poverty-gate compels us to test ourselves: are we paying attention to the poor people God placed at our gate? The rich bloke’s Scriptures commanded him to care for the poor within his gates.
If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your gates in the land the LORD your God is giving you, you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has. Deut 15:7-8
But he ignored the sick beggar because he was not disposed to take Scripture seriously. The millionaire’s family budget—hijacked by his Middle Eastern pursuit of the equivalent to the American dream--showed no signs of Torah impact. His fat family budget failed to include financial or medical assistance for the poor. The man never believed what he professed to believe. Poverty-gate was his undoing.
The story should be finished. So, the second half (Lk 16:29-31) of the story is unexpected. Lazarus, the poor beggar, is comforted after death in the coveted bosom of Abraham. But the faithless millionaire suffers eternal agony in the fires of Hades; it was his very own fault; no excuses. His own unbelief created the great chasm between his position in torment and Lazarus’ position in comfort. So, the game is over, right? Well, no. The wealthy guy takes father Abraham into overtime.
The wealthy bloke realized his case was hopeless. But he still had a family, five brothers who remained alive. He tried overtime negotiation. Can Abraham, he begged, send Lazarus (resurrected) to his five brothers and warn them to pay attention to the poor at their gates (16:27)? Then, they’ll not have to suffer torment with him.
Give Them Something Sensational
The rich bloke assumed that while his case was terminal, there was still hope for his brothers; sounds reasonable. So he requested a spectacular sign, a resurrection from the dead. The millionaire knew that, like him, his brothers did not take God seriously. So, they, too, were disposed to ignore the Scriptural call to care for the poor. But, he assumed something sensational, a religious Six-Flags-Over Jesus-event, would attract their attention. His five brothers would queue up and buy tickets if they were promised some spectacular Christian entertainment. “All they need is an emotional liver shiver. That’ll get their attention. My five brothers will repent, you’ll see.”
Chills and Thrills
But father Abraham shoots down his flawed assumption. The five brothers have no excuse if they remain unrepentant. “They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.” (Lk 16:29). His five brothers also had a Torah. Let them listen to God’s Word about paying attention to the poor. The Scripture—the highest authority available--is enough. So, finally, game over, right? Not yet. It’s double-overtime.
“No,” the rich man protests. By Jove, Bible teaching has no television appeal. If only his brothers could watch an entertaining, occultic apparition from the dead; that kind of performance would persuade them to pay attention to the poor at their gates, and thus avoid future torment (16:30). “Come on, father Abraham, my brothers’ need something spiced up, some worship bells and whistles.”
Abraham shreds such popular church thinking. Even a resurrection from the dead—as breathtaking as it might be—is no better than spitting at an armored tank (16:31). Even if Lazarus did rise from the dead, his miraculous presence among the five brothers would achieve zero change. The emotional thrill of seeing a dead man now living would be short-lived--about as long lasting as emotional chills and thrills from an entertaining Christian concert.
The millionaire’s flawed mindset is, frequently, today’s Christian mindset. Whilst the highest possible evidence—God’s radical Word—which calls for the mind to take God seriously—did not bring them to repentance, entertainment apparently will make the difference. Do we really believe that Christian entertainment—performance designed to make us feel good--can actually break up the rock-like human heart and cause a turning aside from all ungodliness? Thoughtful people might consider the question.
Granted, the spectacular might titillate feelings; the five brothers might shed (emotional) tears and even walk an aisle, but the spectacular fails to crack heart desires anchored deep in the hardened concrete of greed. If they don’t take Scriptures seriously (“Moses and the prophets” Lk 16:31) that neglect of God is serious enough to land them in torment. But the five brothers won’t make any life-changing U-turns, produce fruits worthy of repentance, or pay attention to the poor at the gate. The five brothers don’t need a car wash; they require complete engine overhaul. And the Scriptures are God’s machine shop for that grueling but thorough job.
The catastrophic failure of the millionaire and his five brothers was that they failed to take their Bibles seriously. They failed to pay attention to the authority of the Scriptures which called for a generous response to the poor at their gates. Unsurprisingly, they did take themselves too seriously; their high-dollar wardrobes, gourmet menus, and fine wines were irrefutable evidence of that extreme self-love; but they were not disposed to take the Scriptures seriously and its requirement to care for the forgotten, the destitute, and the poor folks at the gate.
Like the wealthy bloke’s brothers, we too have everything we need to teach us to use our wealth for God and pay attention to the poor at our gate. We have the message of the inspired Scriptures. Luke says that’s all we need. But if our moral judgment is so irresponsible that it can blow off God’s warning of our guilt, then show-business Christianity is impotent to invade and overturn the idols in our heart. Heart idols thrive and grow on a sugar-coated diet of Christian entertainment.
God will perform no miracle to bring us to our knees. God is not a shock therapist who stimulates our nerves or a Christian celebrity on stage who performs for the sake of audience applause. The millionaire’s fiery fate was not determined by his failure to be entertained by stars on stage, but by his failure to take God’s Scriptures seriously.
Faith Comes By Watching?
For the millionaire and his family and for many today, the Scriptures are too boring and unimpressive. Bible teaching is passé, unspectacular, and so non-entertaining. American Christians are consumers and crave the spectacular; amuse us or else. Give us something orgasmic, not organic. They’ll pay money and attention to a Christian performance on a vaudeville stage, concert-like, but narcissistic and trivial. Promise them pictures of the Garden Tomb, the Loch Ness monster, or amber waves of grain and they race to the queue to buy tickets. Faith comes by watching a performance, doesn’t it?
But ditch the show business atmosphere, the odorless smoke and artificial lights—cheap imitations for God’s indescribable glory--the slick pictures on a larger than life screen, the Super Bowl half-time feel, the cotton-candy Christian songs and performance-oriented sermonettes, and the theater style seats will remain empty. Ticket sales will sink like a stone. Amuse us with Jesus, please.
But we are better people when—sans the manipulation of show-business Christianity—we pay attention to Jesus’ Bible, when we take seriously its call to pay attention to the poor at our gate. We are better people with a cooler future.
Who is at Our Gate?
Who are the men and women or boys and girls languishing at our gate? Are we put off by the smell of poverty? Are we judgmental of their low condition? Are we scared of getting close to poor immigrants? Are the poor man’s sores repulsive to our decorum? Are we—with our well-showered, perfumed bodies, and manicured haircuts—put-off by the sights and smells of poverty?
Christian entertainment, by its very self-gratifying nature, motivates us to avoid poverty with its guts and gore; today’s Christian music often consists of a diet that views the Christian life as an endless birthday party—theologically and pastorally disastrous, when the reality of broken people is acknowledged. Rarely will music ask the hard and needed questions. But Scripture asks: Are we paying attention to the poor at the gate? Or will poverty-gate and show-business pearly-gate be our undoing?
Tell them (Rich Christians) to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life. 1 Tim 6:18-19
Hymn for our Hearts
Fred Pratt Green’s refreshing hymn weds music and word so as to evaluate our worship (songs included): does our worship, like cocaine, drug us to forget the poor—the alien, the orphan, and the widow--at our gate, or does it awaken us to their presence? Savor the depth and embrace the gripping message of the lyrics—twin-like to Luke’s Gospel, so heart-ransacking, compassionate, and Jesus-like.
When the church of Jesus shuts it outer door (gate),
lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer:
may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware,
that the world we banish is our Christian care.
If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry, suffering world of ours:
lest the hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.
Lest the gifts we offer, money, talents, time,
serve to salve our conscience, to our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us by the way you give;
teach us, dying Savior, how true Christians live.
Prayer: “Lord Jesus: in your mercy, give us grace to pay close attention to the Scriptures--which speak of You--and to the poor languishing at our gates. May our budgets, schedules, and hearts, be used to bring relief to their pain and suffering. We ask for your name’s sake. Amen.”
Thank you for reading.
Tim Cole, May 2017
For further strategies to understand Scripture as it written and to follow Jesus by faith in the 21st century, check out,
Facebook: New Testament Greek Language Studies in Pinellas County Florida
And also for bite-sized help, see:
 Money is God’s number one competitor in both Old and New Testaments.
 A highly ornamented gate, luxurious in construction, found at temples and palaces.
 Deuteronomy is from the Jewish Torah, the Book of the Law.
 “Hades” is the place of the dead. In this parable, hell is foreshadowed. The wealthy bloke experiences one dimension of hell: he is forced to see the glory of God and the comfort of the redeemed (Lazarus), but yet, he has no access to it. He sees it but cannot have it, the very opposite of his earthly life. He is compelled to endure a state of misery to which he is confined forever and, to see a state of bliss, which he also sees, but has forfeited forever. That is some kind of existence.
 “Moses” refers to the Pentateuch (meaning “five sections”) also known as “the Book of the Law”; the “Prophets” refers to the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings) and the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor prophets). “Moses and the prophets” constitutes two of the three sections of Jesus’ Bible. The third section is called “the Writings” or “the Psalms” (Lk 24:44) because the Psalms stood first in the third section.
 The verb is an aorist imperative, the form of a command suited to a story. The five brothers must respond to the Scriptures. God commands them to.
 The resurrection of Lazarus (a different Lazarus) from the dead in John 11 engendered a plot to kill Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead in Matthew’s Gospel resulted in a cover-up, sealed with a bribe (Matthew 28:11-15). The raising of Samuel from the dead, via the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28), failed to persuade Saul to repent. Consulting a witch was his coup de grace. He crossed over a forbidden boundary by involvement with a witch (occult; 1 Sam 28:3). God put him to death the next day. Involvement in the occult shows, that, a person (like Saul) who professes faith, in fact, he has reached the bottom of a moral and theological abyss.
 Entertainment, whether secular or Christian, always gives birth to fandom. Entertainment, Christian style, transforms worshipers into an audience (groupies) and spawns idolatry. It’s the nature of the beast.
 Luke (Lk 3:7-14) uses the phrase “produce fruits worthy of repentance.” The idea is that true repentance will produce practical evidence in life that shows that the life-change is genuine, worthy of the name. Trees are not assessed by their botanical labels but whether the visible fruit is good or bad. Unfortunately, the popular idea that “repentance” only means “a change of mind” without change of life is not only false, it is also faulty Greek. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, though done without mal-intent, makes this egregious misuse of the etymology of the word “repentance”; Greek scholars have pointed out the repeated error in Vine’s Dictionary because of its rampant misuse of etymology. The meaning of Greek words is not drawn solely on the basis of the etymology but on the use of the entire concept of conversion in the OT and NT. A housefly, for example, has nothing to do with houses that fly. The individual pieces that make up the word (“house” and “fly”) do not define the meaning of the word. Vine’s dictionary, alas, repeatedly makes this false and misleading assumption. Repentance “means turning aside from everything that is ungodly”…a turning away from evil…and turning towards God.” Representing an accurate understanding of “repentance” in the NT and representative of NT Greek scholarship, see Johannes Behm’s article on repentance in the 10 volume, TDNT, Vol 4.
 “The heart is deceitful—the Hebrew word for deceitful is bqo[';, literally, ‘Jacob,’ meaning ‘trickster, crooked, bent, heel grabber, deceiver’—and incurably sick. Who can understand it?” So, the verse reads as follows: “The heart is Jacob, and above all things, incurably sick. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
 Fred Pratt Green and other select hymn and contemporary songwriters (women and men) are to be commended for giving Jesus’ church quality lyrics based upon the message in the Scripture text. Both in the past and increasingly in the present, it has been the Biblical scholars, Teaching Shepherds—such as Isaac Watts--and theologically astute poets who have crafted engaging hymns and songs that spread good theology. I am not persuaded by the ever increasing charge today (from the Reformed camp, especially) that all contemporary music—congregational or solos by Christian pop artists--is hopelessly Baal-like in its self-focus or just blatantly Philistine, feel-good music. While the critics have correctly pointed out the Scripture cherry-picking and twisting by Nashville’s high-profile, touring Christian artists and vocalists in the 1990’s and first decade of 2000, there are signs of change and hope. I am encouraged by John Frame’s reasoned conclusions in his Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense. Frame writes as a theologian and musician. A small but growing segment of younger contemporary musicians demonstrates their understanding of Scripture. The long-awaited sign of theological growth in the Christian music industry is refreshing.
 “When the Church of Jesus.” We sing it to the tune of “King’s Weston” (also used with the familiar song, “Like a River Glorious”).
 The Greek and Hebrew words rendered “Amen” (άμήν) in our English Bibles are not handled with consistency. For example, at the conclusion of a prayer, the word (άμήν) is left untranslated (alas) and rendered as “amen,” Eph 3:21; but the word is translated when it begins a statement (such as in John’s Gospel: “Truly, truly…” or, “I tell you the solemn truth,” Jn14:12). The word “amen” in both OT and NT (άμήν) has the idea of “I believe it,” “yes, I agree,” “it is true,” or “right on” or “so let it be” or “truly.” When people say “amen” after a particular statement or say “amen” after someone’s prayer, it is their way of expressing agreement (“I believe that”) and affirmation (“right on”) of what was expressed.