Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Accumulated Wealth

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The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. Exodus 16:17-20

“Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1979) 194.

It is challenging to minister in the generosity space in America, because it is a society known worldwide for boasting that accumulated wealth is good stewardship. It’s actually cancerous behavior because it creates a barrier to God and, later, eternal regret.

Imagine meeting the Lord and explaining your hoarding. But I had to save for a rainy day, Lord. At that moment, you reveal your trust was in yourself rather than in God. Instead, He wants you to trust Him to give you what you need when you need it in the only moment you ever serve as a steward: today.

But I had to save for retirement. If you want my comments on that, I have one-page white paper I can send you. The short answer is that retirement is a modern concept and not a biblical one. Anyone who stops working and relies on accumulated wealth is, in the words of Jesus, a rich fool.

If that comment offended you, it’s not my words but the truth that hurts. Hoarding manna did not work in the wilderness and accumulating wealth will only hurt you today. It hurts because it reveals both disobedience and misplaced trust.

Hear me. I don’t want this post to come across as harsh judgment but as gracious warning. Bonhoeffer realized the cost of discipleship, but I think few people in modern times do. For most people, cultural patterns trump obedience to Jesus. Is that you? 

Obedience does not mean we won’t have fun, and it is the only pathway to life.

I am taking a long-awaiting, much needed holiday with my wife, Jenni, to celebrate that we launched both kids. Sammy got married in October 2019 and Sophie in January 2020. We planned to visit Hawaii on points and miles in April-May 2020.

Thanks to COVID the trip was delayed a year. It’s actually our first 10-day trip together since our honeymoon nearly 29 years ago. We are doing it not from accumulated wealth but from points, miles, and God’s gracious provision in real-time, because He is good.

We place our trust, security, and consolation in God whose goodness is unfathomable, whose provision is abundant, and whose instructions are clear. He says not to hoard. It’s idolatry. It separates us from Him and shows our misplaced trust.

That’s where generosity comes it. While we are on this earth, so that the one that has much does not have to much and the one that has too little does not have too little, we get to share generously.