This is part five in a series on “The Men Who Built America.”
In my previous post I introduced you to John D. Rockefeller a prolific businessman who get his start in the oil industry. As I mentioned, Rockefeller was a devotedly religious man and one of America’s greatest philanthropists.
Regarding his Christian faith, Rockefeller would read the Bible daily, attend prayer meetings twice a week and even led his own Bible study with his wife. He tithed, rested on the Sabbath and gave away much of his money to charity. Burton Folsom Jr. has noted, “he sometimes gave tens of thousands of dollars to Christian groups, while, at the same time, he was trying to borrow over a million dollar to expand his business.” Additionally, Rockefeller took time to spend with his family, something that confused many businessmen.
Rockefeller’s philanthropy was extensive. As his own personal fortune grew, so did the amount of money he gave to good causes. By the time he was 45 years old, he had given away $100,000 per year. At 53, he hit $1,000,000 per year, and at 80 he gave away $138,000,000. In total, historians estimate that he gave away $550,000,000 which is more than any other American before him.
His philosophy of giving was founded upon biblical principles. He truly believed in the biblical principle found in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
With Rockefeller’s philanthropy, people were able to build schools, churches and hospitals. He was able to support missionaries and was able to bring the message of Christianity the whole world. His support led to privately funded teams of scientists who found cures for yellow fever, meningitis and hookworm. His giving also led to vast improvements in education for many. He gave tens of millions to the University of Chicago, black schools, Southern schools and Baptist schools. Yet, not all the schools continually received money; improved results were a requirement. This was based upon Rockefeller’s interpretation of the parable of the talents and the Apostle Paul’s writing that, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
As he neared the end of his life, Rockefeller learned how to enjoy the small things in life. He learned how to tango, hired a caddy to help with his golf swing and spent more time with his family—especially his grandkids. He would also watch people who passed his house and gave dimes to children telling them to work and to save.
Rockefeller serves as a great example of what it means to be a good steward of what God has given us. He also is a reminder to abide by those seemingly counterintuitive instructions to rest on the Sabbath and to give so that we might have more.