Roy Goble is the CEO of Goble Properties, a real estate investment company based in Silicon Valley, and co-founder of the Belizean educational mission PathLight International. Following Jesus as a wealth creator has turned out to be harder and better than he ever imagined, and sometimes he misses the simplicity of selling parts back in his dad’s junkyard. He and his wife, D’Aun, live in Northern California. He is the author of Junkyard Wisdom: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts.
KW: You’re a wealth creator and a successful leader, and you also follow Jesus. In your book you talk about Mark 10:25, where Jesus says that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Why is it so difficult for wealthy people to follow Jesus?
RG: Yeah, that verse gets explained away pretty often, but the plain meaning is right there: the disciples are floored, and Jesus admits that it’s impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. Impossible without God, that is, with whom all things are possible. Since we’re not familiar with camels these days, in my book I update that to say that it’s like trying to fit a swimming pool in a shot glass!
Why is it so difficult? For one, wealthy people can solve quite a few problems on their own, with their own resources. After a while it can start to seem like God is optional.
And then when times are good, the wealthy are constantly surrounded by temptations unavailable to to the poor. Everyone in the world could give in to the temptation to gossip, for example, but it takes a certain level of wealth to buy a shiny new gadget on Amazon or a bottle of nice wine. So in the one case there’s an illusion we don’t need God, and in the other case there it’s more like we forget God because we’ve numbed and distracted ourselves. But with God, remember, all things are possible!
KW: Some suggest the Bible says that the wealthy would be better off if they sold everything.
RG: If you read the story of the rich young ruler you might think so. But God uses all kinds of people, poor and rich alike, so long as they are faithful to Him. The rich young ruler was one conversation Jesus had, and Jesus gave the right and loving response to that particular young man. But Jesus met many other wealthy people and didn’t give them the same advice. Scripture talks about how Jesus looked at people and loved them before he spoke to them. In other words, he treated each person as an individual with unique needs and a unique calling. It’s the same with the wealthy: rather than trying to solve every problem by throwing money at it, we’re called primarily to enter into relationships, just like Jesus did, and respond to individual needs.
KW: How would you answer someone who said, “Wealth is God’s blessing in your life, and you should enjoy it?”
RG: I’d say they got it half right. Anything God gives us as a blessing is to be used for God’s glory. Doesn’t matter if it’s a great singing voice, the ability to throw a football, or a knack with computer code. So yes, at times, wealth can be enjoyed, just as any gift from God is enjoyed. But to think of it as something that is merely or exclusively our own is to turn it into something ugly and self-centered. We have to see the wealth as God’s, not ours, so we can put it to work in ways that honor God and build his kingdom.
I’d respond in a similar way to someone talking about wealth as a barrier to following Jesus. Again, half right. Wealth most certainly can get in the way, but so can anything. Jesus actually makes the point that righteous rule-following can get in the way of following him. So we can’t pretend that money or wealth are uniquely evil.
KW: What strategies do you have for keeping your wealth in line with the commands of scripture?
RG: Broadly, I wrote this book to examine how we can tear down the walls between the wealthy and the poor. That’s a key strategy to keep a biblical perspective on wealth because it allows us to stay connected with all of those in God’s kingdom, and not just our cultural peers. It’s through relationships that we learn how we’re being called to serve, give, act, and so on. One of the biggest challenges for the wealthy is ego, the belief that wealth is of our own doing and that we deserve it. That’s a lie that builds walls between us and our neighbors, so it’s vital to keep people around us who lovingly remind us how to be humble and Christ-centered. For me it begins with my wife, D’Aun, extends to my two adult children, and includes a small group that I love dearly.
In our culture the accumulation of money is so revered. But spiritual disciplines can help us listen more to Christ than to our culture. Things like prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, and accountability. That’s where we usually get hung up because we ask other wealthy people to hold us accountable, but they’re as tempted as we are! When we build relationships with the poor, with folks in different stages of life, with people from other cultures, and ask for them to keep us accountable, it becomes a whole new ballgame.
KW: What if I’m not wealthy? What if I have student debt or unsupportive parents or a temporary job, etc.?
RG: The reality is that all of us tend to live behind “walls” of one kind or another. We tend to stick with the people we know, who are like us, and not expand that circle. We socialize together, go to church together, go to school together….and it’s all part of the culture we’ve created. It’s actually hard work to break through those walls and so we have to be intentional. Sometimes we can go for years, decades, even a lifetime before we realize we’ve never actually had more than a smile and a few coins exchanged with the homeless guy, or had a brief hello with somebody from a different racial group than us. I’m less concerned about defining “wealth” at a certain amount, and more concerned with helping everyone who’s following Jesus—at any level of income—be intentional about building kingdom relationships, and then using whatever wealth we have to grow and expand those relationships.
KW: How do you decide what to give and what to keep, what to say yes to and what to say no to, etc.?
RG: Keep wrestling! It really comes down to this, over and over, all through life. Sometimes when we’re younger, we think that after a few years—or decades, maybe—we’ll “figure it all out.” And when we’re older, that actually becomes a temptation. But realistically, we can’t “solve” the issues of wealth, and how to follow Jesus, and where to involve ourselves, just by making a single decision. Needs change, relationships change, the things that tempt us change, our health and family situations change…and through it all we need to constantly seek God and wrestle. But don’t forget—wrestling can be a ton of fun!