I wasn’t shocked yet it still disturbed me. I was having lunch with a doctor friend recently and he told me how some large medical groups enticed doctors that they wanted, to leave their existing hospitals to work for them. They would wine and dine these doctors, showing them all the good things that awaited if they only had the money to afford them. The plan was for these desired recruits to get hooked on a certain lifestyle, and then promise them an income that would enable them to “feed” this lifestyle. This could be a salary two or three times their present salaries if they were working for public hospitals. What’s wrong with this picture?
This approach to recruiting is not illegal and I am sure not confined to the world of medicine. And for many, money and the things that money can buy, is the primary “carrot” that drives their lives. My only fear is that this is no different for many followers of Jesus and I can’t help but think of Paul’s admonishment in 1 Timothy 6:6–10:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (NIV)
Philip H. Towner summarises well the meaning of this passage:
An obsession with acquiring wealth is a self-feeding fire. It consumes not only time and energy but also values. Strangely, this (so called) panacea, money, leads to more ruin than to wealth. People will do anything necessary to obtain it. As St John Chrysostom said, “Riches are not forbidden, but the price of them is.” Nowadays it is difficult to decide which is more dangerous — the love of money in a materialistic society or the Christian’s rationalization for joining in the chase. (1–2 Timothy & Titus, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 139.)
I suspect many would not give a second thought to this approach to recruitment. It seems fair that if you want good people you need to pay for them. And as Chrysostom reminds us there is nothing wrong with wealth per se. Some followers of Jesus do end up in jobs that pay very well and some of those have lived simple and humble lives, giving a lot of their wealth for kingdom work.
But surely there is something very wrong if a follower of Jesus were to make vocational decisions based primarily on the pursuit of money for the sake of being able to maintain the lifestyle of “the rich and famous.” John specifically warns us in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (NIV).
This Saturday I will be one of the speakers at the Singapore Christian Medical Dental Fellowship Annual dinner. At the dinner will be medical and dental students, and doctors and dentists from different generations, some just starting out, some very senior or retired. I may quote the story of my lunch with my doctor friend. Even if I do not I will try in some way to remind my colleagues that, for a Christian, the practice of medicine and dentistry is a calling and though some may end up with substantial incomes, money can never be the main reason we do what we do. I will remind all of us, that at the crossroads of our lives, we first turn to our Lord and Saviour and ask, “Which way, O Lord?” We will not assume that the more lucrative path is the default one. It will take nothing less than a fresh touch of the Spirit and a revival for us to live like this, especially in a place like Singapore where the pursuit of wealth is so much a part of our culture, and goes unchallenged.
I need to say though I also know many Christian doctors and dentists who do see their work as an integral part of their discipleship. The friend I had lunch with was one. He had been offered positions with other medical groups many times, with the offer of salaries twice or three times what he presently drew. But he had stayed put because he was doing meaningful work, work that made a difference to society, at a place where he believed God wanted him to be. Knowing you are where God wants you to be — priceless.