Recently, a major magazine cover touted the salaries of well-known personalities in business, entertainment and sports. Salaries and "personal worth" ranged from the very high millions of dollars to billions, for the likes of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan. Financial magazines publish articles like this frequently.
All around us, one's worth is valued by the dollars a person can command. We see our neighbors and associates striving to look "well off." They drive the latest vehicles, wear the current fashions and live in the newest subdivisions.
If we are not careful, we can become caught up in this. Our mailboxes are full of temptations and solicitations to try to become the latest $10 million winner in a sweepstakes. Billboards shout out how high the state lottery pool is; TV commercials entice us to "adjust your dreams accordingly" should we win the big one. We can begin to feel very poor. It becomes all too easy to get our minds on money—instead of the true riches that are readily available to us.
Not Against Wealth
End-time Laodiceans live in the most affluent time ever on earth, a time of ever-increasing knowledge, rapid transportation, swift communication, building, buying and selling and exciting entertainment. Laodiceans consider themselves rich and wealthy, carelessly assuming their financial status indicates God's blessing on their lifestyle (Revelation 3:17). However, God judges them as "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked." Living in this age, in such a wealthy nation, we need to take this warning personally.
God is not against material wealth per se. By any standard, the patriarchs were very wealthy. Abraham had 318 trained servants capable of war, plus other men, women and children who were servants (Genesis 14:14). These servants handled the huge amounts of livestock, silver and gold that Abraham possessed (Genesis 13:2).
God destroyed Job's fabulous wealth, then restored it after his repentance (Job 42:10-12). David and Solomon had more riches than they knew what to do with (II Chronicles 9:13-28). Barnabas had lands he could sell for the needs of the church (Acts 4:36-37), and Joseph of Arimathea was "a rich man" (Matthew 27:57). Obviously, wealth in itself is not evil.
However, the Bible shouts numerous warnings against setting our minds on material wealth. Money can become a snare and a root of evil (I Timothy 6:8-10). We can become discontented with having "enough." Enough is not enough for many, so we strive to gain more and more. We often become envious of the "blessings" others receive, like Asaph, who envied the prosperity of the wicked until he mused on their end (Psalm 73:3, 16-17).
Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13-14), and He tried repeatedly to convince us that life is not about money. Certainly, God does not measure our worth by the things we possess (Luke 12:15). If we become caught up in the temporary values of this age, we will find "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things" choking the word of God and making it—and us—unfruitful (Mark 4:19).
No wonder Jesus advises us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but to seek after true riches (Matthew 6:19-20). The rich young ruler—who could have been a disciple—rejected his calling because he could not give up his wealth (Mark 10:17-23). We should not condemn him, for we could be making the same mistake! We may be chasing after false riches without really being aware of it!
Christ warns the Laodiceans that if they do not change their ways, they will have "to buy gold from Me refined in the fire [tribulation], that you may be rich" (Revelation 3:18)! This seems to show that God wants us to be rich—but not necessarily in the way the world counts riches!
Poor, Yet Rich
In His message to another church, Smyrna, Jesus makes an interesting remark: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)" (Revelation 2:9). The Smyrnans were very poor and had many troubles, but God considered them rich in His eyes! This is not a condemnation but a commendation!
The Old Testament concurs: "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches" (Proverbs 13:7). "In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but in the revenue of the wicked is trouble" (Proverbs 15:6). God is not speaking of physical treasures in these verses.
God views the Laodiceans as spiritually poor and counsels them to become rich by buying gold from Him. Clearly, He wants us to be rich, at least in the way He views it! His perspective and priorities are far different from ours. Material "success" does not sway Him. Wealth does not impress the One who walks on streets of gold.
But how can we be poor, yet rich? God wants us to be content with what we have and strive for the true riches!
Ironically, it is when we quit chasing after the wind, after useless things, that God adds what we think we need. Only after we begin seeking after God and His righteousness do we start on the right track of seeking true, spiritual riches.
When we are physically and financially comfortable, it is all too easy to become lukewarm in our relationship with God. In fact, we can quickly leave Him out of our daily lives altogether when everything is going well. God warned Israel about this tendency before they entered the Promised Land: "When you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deuteronomy 6:11-12).
The warning applies to us too! Human nature quickly takes credit for success rather than praising God for allowing it (Deuteronomy 8:10-20). Wealth, if we do not approach it in a godly manner, can become a severe trial and test. It can, and does, lead some to deny God (Proverbs 30:7-9).
Jesus reminds us to be generous in supporting the things of God, another way of seeking first His Kingdom. In Luke 12:13-21, He tells the Parable of the Rich Fool, who tore down his barns and built bigger ones so he could retire early and enjoy "the good life." He implies that this man put most of his time, money and effort into taking care of himself. He ignored the poor and needy and gave no thought to God's work. For his attitude, God required his life. Jesus ends the story with the moral: "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (verse 21).
Are we rich toward God? Are we generous? Do we quickly share what we have with those less fortunate?
Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight," says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
In this same vein, Paul writes, "Indeed I have all and abound. I am full. . . " (Philippians 4:18), even though he was in prison! Undoubtedly, he lacked many of the creature comforts, but he understood he had all he needed. He knew Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).
We can learn from these examples. We need to be rich in the knowledge of God. We need to abound in the wealth of experiences we can share with our Creator. We need to fill our lives with understanding the things of God. Then, we will begin to walk the path toward true riches. Then we will truly be "rich toward God."
Rich in Faith
James shows us another way God views some of His people's spiritual wealth: "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5). We can be very poor, but very rich in God's eyes if we are rich in faith.
Hebrews 11 describes many who were the poor of this world yet wealthy in faith beyond counting.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (verses 37-38)
Yet, rich in faith, they "subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, . . . out of weakness were made strong, . . . that they might obtain a better resurrection" (verses 33-35).
Are we rich in faith? Do we worry a lot about our lives, our finances, our health? Are we quick to panic when things go wrong, or do we approach the throne of grace calmly and boldly? Do the cares of this world burden us? Must we see and know the outcome of a trial before we can relax in God's hands?
God sees everything all the time. Nothing happens to us unless God sends it or allows it. We can be rich in faith if we understand and appreciate these things! How are we doing?
Rich in Good Works
Paul mentions another area of spiritual wealth in I Timothy 6:17-19:
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
We may be amazed at whom God considers the "rich" of the church. They may be some of the most inconspicuous members who quietly send encouraging notes, visit and help the sick, and pray for other's needs. These Tabithas of the church (Acts 9:36-42) are full of good works and charitable deeds. They notice when someone looks burdened or is absent from services or could use some encouragement—and do something about it.
These are the people who actually help when someone is in need—who do not just say, "I'll pray for you," and walk off. James writes,
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:15-16)
This is also the difference between the sheep and the goats in Jesus' parable in Matthew 25:31-46: The sheep filled the needs they saw, but the goats did not even notice! The sheep were spiritually rich! God says when we do these things, it is as if we were doing them to Him!
The Riches of Liberality
Paul describes the Macedonian brethren in II Corinthians 8:1-4:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
Does this label, "the riches of liberality," fit us, our family, our congregation? The Macedonian brethren went all out to find ways to share what little they had with the needy in Jerusalem. They gave out of their poverty, not their abundance. They felt it was a privilege, not an obligation, to give—and then they gave beyond their ability with joy! What an example!
Whom did Jesus notice in the treasury? He commended the poor widow who gave all her livelihood (Luke 21:1-4), for she abounded in generosity. What a witness she is to us today! Maybe we should refer to her as God viewed her: "the spiritually rich widow," instead of "the poor widow"!
Paul even instructed the Ephesians that one reason we all work is to earn money so we can give it away, helping others more (Ephesians 4:28). When we abound in doing good, in sharing and helping others, we can say with Paul, ". . . as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (II Corinthians 6:10). We may have very little physically, but if we are generous, God considers us rich.
Of course, the greatest example of spiritual riches is Jesus Himself. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (II Corinthians 8:9). He gave of Himself throughout His life so that we might have a proper example to follow. He never sinned and gave His life so that we might be saved. No one was ever more rich—rich in knowing God, in faith, in good works, in liberality.
We Are Rich
Christ's disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, and Peter asked, "What's in it for us?" (Matthew 19:27). Jesus reminded them—and reminds us now—that when we give up what we have now, we will receive rulership in His Kingdom and a hundredfold of what we gave up, plus eternal life! What is in it for us?
Meanwhile, we need to pray that God will open our eyes to the many riches He has already poured out on us. Even now, we are experiencing "the exceeding riches of His grace" (Ephesians 2:7; 1:7), as we live forgiven and accepted by Him. We must be careful not to "despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering" (Romans 2:4). God has also opened our minds to understand "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Romans 11:33). When we have this mind of God in us, we view everything differently and feel "enriched in everything by Him" (I Corinthians 1:5).
If we have Christ now, WE ARE RICH! Better yet, we can grow in these riches as we seek Him more, live like Him and grow in His grace and knowledge.
If we are not rich spiritually, we need to go to the Giver of all good and perfect gifts and ask for help (James 1:5, 17). He wants us to be rich in spiritual things, and He will give them. But when we receive them, we need to use wisdom and carefully invest it so He will give us more (Matthew 25:14-30).
The funny thing is that when riches will not matter to us, God will surround us with unimaginable wealth! Revelation 21:9-21 describes the New Jerusalem as a jewel. We will walk on the stuff people lust after and die for—gold—and the gates will be solid pearls! Even the foundations of the walls will be encrusted with precious stones!
By this time, we will have put such wealth in perspective. We will be able to enjoy it without allowing it to become a stumbling block. We will have learned what true wealth is all about: knowing God and living as He does. We will be rich beyond belief!