GOD IS RICH
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." That is a line from David (Psa.16). To understand that, we need to study that line in its context. David started by placing himself under God's protection (v.1). He acknowledged God as the only source of all the good things in his life (v.2). Godly company delighted him (v.3). God Himself was David's portion (vv.5-6). God was His guide (v.7). God's presence brought steadiness, joy and security (vv.8-9). God was David's sole and entire hope (vv.10-11). Essentially, David was saying, "God is my God. And I'm God's heir."
Here's the question for us today, "Would we think of ourselves as rich because we have God as our God?"
When in the fellowship of believers, we would probably answer affirmatively and assert that we are rich because we have God. But how do we feel when compared with Mukesh Ambani, India's richest person? Forget Ambani. After all, we don't have anything to do with him. How do you feel when you compare yourself with your neighbour, who has a bigger house, and more vehicles and gadgets than you? How about when a brother or sister in the Lord has far more than you? Would you still feel rich?
Whenever I'm confronted with the filthy rich and their latest acquisitions, I do wish that their wealth was spread around a bit more, so that I too could have a few more conveniences and comforts in my life. If you are like me, you must feel the same way when you focus on their wealth.
I find that the only way I can get my mind off the riches that other people have is to compare my situation with that of the Lord Jesus when He lived as a poor daily-wage earning carpenter in a dusty little village in primitive times. Compared to Jesus, I'm rich, filthy rich. You see, 'rich' and 'poor' are relative terms. We need to have a correct perspective on life's circumstances. See things in the light of the history of Jesus having lived life on earth, and the fact that in the end death strips us completely and sends us into an eternity where we cannot take any of our possessions.
Ultimately, it is a question of our attitude to life.
What Is Life About?
One man wanted Jesus to use His influence to get his brother to give him a fair share of the inheritance from his father (Lk.12:13). Jesus replied that He had not been given the job of being an arbitrator between people feuding over property and money. But He didn't stop there. Jesus turned the occasion into an opportunity to warn people against being greedy (vv.14-15). That seems unfair. The man was not asking for all the family wealth. All he wanted was just a fair share, his share. That's not wrong, is it?
Jesus then went on to tell the story about a man who made hoarding his wealth the only goal of his life. The point Jesus was making was that life is not about what you possess. All the things you own do not add up to who you are. "Life is not measured by how much one owns" (v.15 New Century Version).
Hey, but I want my share of things. I like the thought of having conveniences, comforts and luxuries. I would not have to be envious of other people. Of course, I ignore the aspect of other people being envious of me. I don't want to think about that.
I never buy any Onida products. Nor do I even consider them when surveying the market for the best buy. That's because the company uses the Devil as their icon. Ah, but the company slogan, "Owner's pride, neighbour's envy," strips away all of my pretence, and I see that my desire to have a good life is in reality a yearning for an enviable life. That desire has the Devil himself as its source; nay, it's the 'devilishness' inside me that wants to have things that cause envy in others. Thank you, Onida, for holding a mirror up for me to see what's inside me that needs to be exorcised.
In the story that Jesus told, a farmer was doing so well that he had to build bigger barns to contain all the harvest of his labours. Nothing wrong with that! But the man had no thought except that of leading a life of consumption. "He thought to himself, 'What will I do? I have no place to keep all my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and other goods. Then I can say to myself, "I have enough good things stored to last for many years. Rest, eat, drink, and enjoy life!'" (vv.17-19 NCV).
According to Christ's story, God told the man that he had a life that would go beyond his time on earth, and the question he needed to consider was that he could not take his material goods with him (v.20). Who doesn't know that? Yes, but the way people live their lives it doesn't seem that we people think that at all. The way we amass what we own, it would appear that we think that this is the only life we have to be concerned with.
Jesus ended by saying that the rich man's fate would be ours too. "This is how it will be for those who store up things for themselves and are not rich toward God" (v.21).
From the very beginning, that is, from the time of the Early Church, most Christians have been impressed with wealth (Jas.2:1-7). In the end, what impresses us is what draws us on. It sets the agenda for our lives. We need to remember that when the Scriptures talked about 'the love of money' it was a reference to a condition within the fellowship of believers. "They think that serving God is a way to get rich. Serving God does make us very rich, if we are satisfied with what we have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But, if we have food and clothes, we will be satisfied with that. Those who want to become rich bring temptation to themselves and are caught in a trap. They want many foolish and harmful things that ruin and destroy people. The love of money causes all kinds of evil. Some people have left the faith, because they wanted to get more money, but they have caused themselves much sorrow." "Command those who are rich with things of this world not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not in their uncertain riches. God richly gives us everything to enjoy. Tell the rich people to do good, to be rich in doing good deeds, to be generous and ready to share. By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future. Then they will be able to have the life that is true life" (1Tim.6:5-10,17-19 NCV).
What Good Are Your Possessions?
The Jewish priestly class looked down on Jesus for being just a poor, itinerant teacher. They thought that He was a bit of a fool for not taking advantage of His popularity and making a lot of money. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this. Then He said to them, "You like to look good in public, but God knows your evil hearts. What this world honours is an abomination in the sight of God" (Lk.16:13-15 NLT).
On that occasion Jesus told them a story about a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. Though the beggar lay at the gate of the rich man's mansion, he didn't even get the scraps from the rich man's table. Both men died. The rich man went into an after-life of torment, while Lazarus was transported to the place where Father Abraham was (Lk.16:19-31). Jesus did not say that the rich man was wicked. The point is that the rich man had more than enough for himself and Lazarus, but he just didn't care. The context implied that the man didn't serve God with the riches he had been given. He lived to serve his own purpose in life. No, he was not wicked. But he was guilty of indifference towards God and the neighbour at his gate, the beggar who was in dire need. His riches were no good, to God and his fellow-humans.
The Bible teaches that everything we have is from God. It is given to us as a trust. We are not owners of anything, but only stewards of everything that has been put in our charge. Being rich is not an issue. What matters is how we behave when having the custody of riches. "A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough. But if it's only money these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. But you, Timothy, a man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life-a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage, to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life" (1Tim.6:6-11,17-19 The Message).
Apart from these stories that Jesus told about the rich, Luke also recorded two real-life encounters of rich men who met with Jesus. Both were seekers. Jesus didn't seek them out, they came looking for Jesus. One rich man was good (18:18-24), while the other, Zacchaeus, was a wicked man (19:1-10). What is surprising is that it is the wicked tax collector who was ready and willing to give up his riches, while the good man turned his back on Jesus because he would not give up his wealth.
The good man had come to Jesus with a sense of deep dissatisfaction about his life. When Jesus asked him to follow God's laws, the man said that he had done that all his life, but confessed to Jesus that he sensed that there was something lacking. Prescribing the cure for his soul, Jesus told him to give away his riches to the poor and needy, and follow Jesus. Even though the young man was so terribly dissatisfied, he was not willing to give away his possessions. The man had cultivated goodness in his life and that had filled him with a deep longing for the complete goodness he sensed still wasn't there in his life. But he still clung to his riches and walked away from Jesus. Seeing the good man's reaction to the invitation to join Jesus in His work for God's rule, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God's kingdom? I'd say it's easier to thread a camel through a needle's eye than get a rich person into God's kingdom" (18:24-25 NLT).
The tax collector, on the other hand, had no longing for what was good, having never cultivated it nor developed a hunger for it. All he was trying to do was satisfy his curiosity about Jesus. That was when Jesus confronted him. Bad man that he was, the Lord never told Zacchaeus to change his life. The Lord wasn't even critical of him. Amazing!
The Lord isn't like us at all when He confronts sinners, is He? All that Jesus did was to merely give Zacchaeus respect that he had never had from others. That just stunned Zacchaeus. And, Zacchaeus, the man who had made it the aim of his life to make money anyhow by hook or by crook, immediately decided that he had been lifted to such a higher plane that he didn't want to come down from there, and was willing to pay any cost to stay on that level that Jesus had invited him to. To hold on to Jesus, he gave up what had filled his life till then. He did it for Jesus' sake. Jesus was worth giving up his riches for (19:1-10).
Another man met Jesus without seeing Him during the incarnation, and he said, "I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ" (Phil.3:7-8 NLT).
Which one of these men are you like? Hard question, huh?
How Much For The Lord?
When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he felt like a king, willing to give away half of what he had, and also repay four times what he had cheated others of. (And we make such a fuss about giving 10%).
But the gift that grabbed the Lord's attention was the one given by a poor widow. Jesus said, "The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford, she gave her all!" (21:3-4 The Message).
In terms of actual value it was very little, just two mites. Today there are rich people who give a little bit, and then claim that what they are giving is their 'widow's mite.' When they do that they contradict the Lord. The Lord was commending her lavishness in giving, but their remark equates her giving to their stinginess. Disciples shouldn't contradict the Lord's teaching, but have a desire to do what the Lord taught.
The widow gave all the money she had, leaving herself absolutely nothing to fall back on. The Lord saw her generosity, but didn't perform a miracle that instantaneously gave her ten times what she had given to God. Think about it. She went to bed hungry that night, and the Lord allowed her to experience hunger and need. She wasn't giving to get something back, and the Lord didn't take away from her that sense of being rich toward God.
How much would you give to God? That depends on whether you think of yourself to be blessed by God. That depends on whether you compare your material status with that of the poor daily wage-earning poor Carpenter of Nazareth and know that you have so much more than He had. That depends on whether you think Jesus means more than all you have or want to have. That depends on whether you listen when the Lord commends the poor widow's giving.