This week I will focus on the 2007 Harvard Commencement speech of William Henry Gates III, better known as Bill Gates, a man who is – once again – the richest man in the world.
It is to me a sign of Gates’ intelligence that he is choosing to give the majority of his wealth away. Gates has more than he will ever need; in this he is not different from many. However, he recognizes this and is giving away a vast amount. As of January 2013 (and that was three years ago), he and his wife had given away 28 billion dollars. Now, in Luke 19, we read of Zacchaeus, who, after his encounter with Christ, said “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Gates appears to have arrived at a similar conclusion as far as giving the giving away of immense wealth to the poor is concerned – without having had an encounter with Christ (as far as I know). To me this signifies his intelligence.
(I will add, as an aside, that it is quite likely to be the case that the atavistic amassing of wealth by our political class points to an equal and opposite lack of the same commodity. Whatever of such commodity exists is only superseded – in fact operated and guided by – greed.)
Now before I continue, there are several clarifications to make.
- The first point to make is that the giving away of one’s wealth does not exempt Bill Gates or anyone else from having to get saved because Jesus Christ said, “Ye must be born again.”
- Secondly, I was going to say that proportion is important, but I believe it goes deeper than that. How much one is left with after one has given away also matters to God. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” To give away USD 28 billion and still be worth USD 75 billion three years later is not as serious a commitment as giving away one’s last two cents in the eyes of God. I hasten to add that Bill Gates is a lot more committed than I have stated in the preceding sentence, as we shall see later.
- Thirdly, God Judges motive, for it is also written “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” It certainly matters to God why we are giving away what we are giving away. The recognition of our fellow man; the assuaging of personal guilt; the fact that one has no other use for money; the fact that one doesn’t want one’s wealth to be misused – these are all, to varying degrees, lesser and lower reasons for giving away anything than love is. (Frankly, the whole corporate social responsibility industry flies in the face of Biblical principle: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”)
However, having made these clarifications:
- As has been said, there are numerous wealthy people who do not (as far as we can see!) give their money away.
- It is not in order for we as Christians to be shown the way in giving by the world, motives notwithstanding.
But what is Mr Gates’ ethos? Here are some statements he made in a 2013 interview with The Telegraph that give some insight into his thinking:
“When I was in my 40s Microsoft was my primary activity. The big switch for me was when I decided to make the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation my primary purpose. It was a big change, although there are more in common with the two things than you might think – meeting with scientists, taking on tough challenges, people being sceptical that you can get things done. My full-time work for the rest of my life will be at the Foundation [and] the vast majority of the wealth, over 95 per cent, goes to the Foundation, which will spend all that money within 20 years after neither of us are around any more.”
Let us now allow this man’s intellect to shine a light on the by examining his 2007 Harvard Commencement Speech.