The Billionaire Who Gave Away His Billions

[UPDATE: Please see corrections provided by Julio A. Ledesma in his comments below.]

Yesterday I attended a talk by Jules Ledesma at the University of St. La Salle on Entrepreneurship.

Jules is a former congressman, a billionaire, and presently the highest-paying taxpayer in the country. His is a very interesting life. He was born heir to three inheritances: to his father’s estate and the estates of two aunts who remained single all their lives. He owns not hundreds but thousands of hectares of land. His annual net income is around 220 million pesos. All this is a matter of public knowledge, so I’m not divulging confidential information in writing this. When he told the audience, “I am wealthy,” he wasn’t bragging; he was simply stating an objective fact. The man has more money than I will ever make in multiple lifetimes!

One thing that impressed me about him was his sense of stewardship. He said that when he was five years old his aunt showed him the vast expanse of land that he was to inherit someday, and she told him, “You will have to take care of all this.” He had his life’s task mapped out for him, and he proceeded to do exactly what his aunt asked: take care of the land of which he was designated steward from birth!

He said a lot of things that inspired me, which if I put it all in here would make this article a very long read. But to cut to the chase, near the end of his talk came the clincher which made me open my eyes and my mouth wide: He and his wife were donating 1.8 billion pesos to charity! And he explained why: Because he believed in God, and because of the story of the rich young ruler. He was of course referring to the rich young ruler in the New Testament who came to Jesus asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him, “Sell all you have and give to the poor, and come follow me.” Upon hearing this the rich young ruler turned away, leading Jesus to say, “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

It was a surprise to hear billionaire Jules Ledesma mention the story of the rich young ruler as that which motivated him to give away almost 2 billion pesos to charity. But I understand where he is coming from. He knows that at the end of the day money isn’t everything. He won’t be taking his billions with him when the time comes for him to leave this world.

This morning Pastor Jake Quinosa preached at Ikthus East. And guess what? His message was about the rich young ruler! Yes, the rich young ruler whom Jules Ledesma mentioned in his talk, the young man who had everything, but who in the end lost everything because he could not give up all that he had for the sake of having Him who is worth more than anything this world can offer.

The rich young ruler tried to hold on to what he had and thereby lost everything: he lost his soul. He did not understand what the apostle Paul knew, that giving up everything for Christ is worth it. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7,8).

Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who was killed in Ecuador by the very people he was trying to minister to, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Unlike Jules Ledesma, we might not have any billions to give, but we do have the life God has given us. Let’s offer this back to him.

Tithing or Cheerful Giving?

“My rich dad gave money as well as education. He believed firmly in tithing. ‘If you want something, you first need to give,’ he would always say. When he was short of money, he gave money to his church or to his favorite charity.”

– Robert Kiyosaki, RICH DAD, POOR DAD

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

-Jesus Christ (Acts 20:35)

Robert Kiyosaki believes in tithing (or at least his rich dad did). I don’t know if Kiyosaki is a Christian or not, but I do know that many Christians don’t practice tithing. (If they did, we won’t have that many financially struggling churches and underpaid pastors!) They may pay it lip service, but actually practicing it? I doubt many do. So what do they believe and practice? Cheerful giving – and the lesser the giving, the more cheerful it is! Sarcasm aside, there’s actually a theological basis for thinking that Old Testament tithing is not required of New Testament believers. I remember reading a book a long time ago entitled Decision Making and the Will of God. If I remember correctly, this book teaches that tithing in the Old Testament was a form of taxation for the nation of Israel, and that the tithe reached up to 33% of one’s gross income. So even if we give 10% we’re still not practicing tithing according to OT standards. Moreover, Christians are no longer under the law but under grace. They’re freed from the law of tithing and are free to practice cheerful giving instead. Of course, there are those who disagree with this view and who insist that the law of tithing binds New Testament believers. They’ll point to verses in the NT that mention tithing, as well as raise the practical issue that if people don’t tithe, the ministry will suffer.

Each side has points in their favor, but this isn’t the place to delve deeply into this debate. However, I should confess that when I was young I was exposed to some detrimental teaching regarding tithing. At least the way it was taught sounded like blackmail to me. I remember listening to a sermon about two farmers: one tithed and the other didn’t. A storm passed by and destroyed the non-tither’s crops; the tither’s crops, however, were miraculously spared. Take-home lesson: tithe or else! On the other hand, the problem with some (many?) Christians who believe in cheerful giving in lieu of tithing is that the cheerfulness might be there, but the giving leaves much to be desired.

Does one really have to exclude the other? Isn’t it possible to tithe (and beyond) cheerfully? Whether one believes in tithing or not, there is no question that we ought to be generous. And even if we say that we are no longer under the law (of Moses) but under grace, being under grace doesn’t remove us from being under the law of love. And love is willing to give more than the law requires, not because it is legally obligated to do so, but because it delights to do so. So give cheerfully. And tithe cheerfully too. This doesn’t have to be a case of “either-or”. It can be “both-and”.

Be Smarter Than Money

To be the master of money, you need to be smarter than it. Then money will do as it is told. It will obey you. Instead of being a slave to it, you will be the master of it. That is financial intelligence.”

– Robert Kiyosaki, RICH DAD, POOR DAD

In a previous post I offered a gentle critique of Kiyosaki’s idea of “little greed,” which he espouses in his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Today I’m going to do a turn-around and say “He’s right!” when he encourages us to be smarter than money. He explains, “Too often today, we focus on borrowing money to get the things we want instead of focusing on creating money. One is easier in the short term, but harder in the long term. It’s a bad habit that we as individuals, and as a nation, have gotten into. Remember, the easy road often becomes hard, and the hard road often becomes easy.” He goes on to say, “The earlier you can train yourself and those you love to be masters of money, the better. Money is a powerful force. Unfortunately, people use the power of money against themselves. If your financial intelligence is low, money will run all over you. It will be smarter than you. You will work for it all your life.”

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible regarding money is 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Many people take this to mean that God is absolutely against money. Didn’t Jesus say, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one or love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”? But as many Bible commentators have pointed out, it is the love of money, rather than money per se, which is the root of all evil. And while it is true that one cannot serve God and money, Jesus also said, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:12)

As Kiyosaki pointed out, Money is a powerful force and there is the very real danger of being tempted to love it and being enslaved by it. But the right response to this danger is not to jettison money out of one’s life completely (as if that were possible!) but to use it to serve God. The fact is a lot of good is being done all over the world because of money. We provide for our families by means of money, we support churches and missionaries by means of money, we pay for our hospital bills by means of money, we build schools and hospitals and orphanages by means of money, we send our children to school by means of money, we help alleviate the plight of the poor and the needy by means of money, and so on and so forth. To be sure, Paul warns us about the dangers accompanying the desire to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9), and he reminds rich people not to trust in their riches but in God (1 Timothy 6:17). Also, the author of Hebrews tells us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” But loving money is one thing, being trustworthy in handling worldly wealth (as Jesus said) is another thing. The Bible does not advocate greed, but it does advocate faithful stewardship, and that includes being smart enough to handle money well.