Timothy Johnson

Timothy Johnson

One of the saddest news reports this year centered on the deaths of millionaire Irwin Jacobs and his wife, at the hand of Mr. Jacobs himself, in their mansion on Lake Minnetonka. The evident despondency over their health and welfare led to this deadly scenario. Now, debates over the estate have revealed the fact that debt held by Jacobs at the time of his death may actually have been greater than his assets, leaving very little to his heirs.

All of this is a stark reminder to us of the what scripture repeatedly tells us about wealth. In the current environment in which financial success is heralded as a worthy goal both by secularists and people of faith, perhaps a few lessons can be gleaned:

  1. “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things he possesses.” This word from Jesus himself should be a philosophical foundation in our attitude toward wealth and possessions. As we amass whatever estate will be ours, we need to constantly recognize that no matter what we are able to gather together is not what life is all about. The most important things in life are not material, they are relationships with God and with fellow human beings. The unbridled pursuit of money and things will in the end only alienate and destroy relationships.
  2. Don’t idolize the rich. They have bigger problems than you realize. Robin Leach’s old TV program, "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous," may have held a certain fascination for those of us who are middle class or lower in America, but in the end the burden of acquiring and maintaining an expensive lifestyle is no easy thing. Every expensive home, vehicle or toy requires licensing, maintenance, storing and repairing. The cumulative burden of those things is greater than most of us would like to shoulder. Entertainer Johnny Carson once famously said, “The only thing money gives you is the freedom of not worrying about money.” All the other attendant problems of life, including the maintenance of your holdings still bear down on you.
  3. Enjoy life to the fullest, within your means. God does not intend for us to all live ascetic monastic lifestyles. He is, as scripture states, “The giver of every good and perfect gift.” So we can enter into enjoying life even with its material pleasures with propriety. But we should do so as well within the means available to us. One of the disappointments of Irwin Jacobs’ life was to come to the end of it with significant debt. If we can limit that downside, we will be able to enjoy the material gifts of life without reservation.
  4. Don’t live life always anticipating the inheritance to come. For many people, they look at their parent’s estate, salivating over what they will receive in the end. As a result they may even direct or limit their parents’ end of life decisions based on their own financial wellbeing. None of us are guaranteed anything in our inheritance. Oh, there may be some special arrangements made that will make transfers to heirs more secure, but generally speaking we should not be thinking of family members as our future meal ticket. We should be pursuing life and enterprise in such a way that will provide for our own welfare and only see inheritance as an unpredictable blessing if it comes.
  5. It is important to end well. After all we have done in life, we must hope that we will have lived life to the fullest, remained solvent financially, and leave this world with relationships intact and family and friends glad to have known us. In effect, we should all be working toward and hoping for a good eulogy spoken on our behalf at the end of the road. If by God’s grace we are enabled to bless financially our family, friends, and causes we believe in after our passing, so be it. But at least we should have the reputation of living and serving with financial integrity, generosity, and not gripped by a materialism that pulls us down.

It should be with humility that we receive and manage every financial asset in life to be a blessing and example to our generation and those yet to come.

The Rev. Timothy A. Johnson shares this space with the Revs. Rod Anderson and Trish Sullivan Vanni as well as spiritual writers Dr. Bernard E. Johnson, Nanette Missaghi and Beryl Schewe. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

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