>We live in a ‘culture of greed’, and as such, says Keller, we are often blind to our own greed. I absolutely agree. He comments,
“Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighborhood, send you children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money than you. You don’t compare yourself to the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket. The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways. You say, ‘I don’t live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs.’ You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living. As a result, most Americans think of themselves as middle class, and only 2 percent call themselves ‘upper class’. But the rest of the world is not fooled” (pg 52-53).
One thing I wish Keller had made more clear is that the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth as such. (The Brick Testament, left, surprisingly, isn’t quite accurate on this). It certainly condemns the love of money, dishonest gain, unjust gain, trusting wealth, etc., but not wealth in general. My group spent a fair bit of time discussing how we should respond given that we live in a prosperous nation. Should we shun all luxuries? Should we choose to live at near poverty levels giving away all our wealth? I don’t know if we really came to an agreement on that. No one was advocating turning down high paying jobs. I don’t think any of us were arguing that we should (all) live in voluntary poverty. I think we all agreed we should be better stewards of our wealth and use our blessing to bless others more than we do now. I am not willing to say we should shun wealth or forbid ourselves any comforts, luxuries, etc. The problem, as I see it, is that we in the West, particularly in America, almost never turn down comforts or luxuries. If we can afford it, we buy it. We are at risk, and I think we should own this, of loving, trusting and serving our wealth over God. Keller points to Nietzsche’s prediction that money would become the West’s replacement for God, and there are certainly signs that it has.
Keller’s interpretation of the Zacchaeus story was very good and demonstrates how grace invades and transforms the sinners heart. He was shaken free from his love of and servitude to money by the grace of God in Christ Jesus and he responded out of his new nature.
The best part of the is the discussion of deep vs. surface idols. Keller explains, “Sin in our hearts affects our basic motivational drives so they become idolatrous, ‘deep idols’…’Surface idols’ are things such as money, our spouse, or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment. We are often superficial in the analysis of our idol structure” (pg 64-65). He continues, “…idols cannot be dealt with by simply eliminating surface idols like money or sex….the deep idols have to be dealt with at the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel” (pg.66). And further, “Faith in the gospel restructure our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without a complete change of heart will be superficial and fleeting” (pg. 68).
That’s great stuff right there. I think this is something every small group leader, Sunday school teacher and especially preacher needs to wrestle with. There is near constant pressure to be applicational in our teaching, and too often the application that comes quick and easy is superficial. We all want to know, ‘what do I do now?’ and often we are given quick steps to __________. Dealing at the heart level means the applications will often be ‘see the beauty of Christ’, ‘treasure him’, ‘love him for all he is and all he is done’, etc. Not quick easy, but the key to tearing down deep idols.