Contentment Series: Rich toward God (Part 5)
Any true discussion on wealth and resources has to begin here. Remember, no amount of physical resources can fix the root problem of spiritual poverty. But the one solution has been made known.
This is why the mission of Jesus was “to seek and save that which was lost.” Meanwhile, when someone chided the woman who lavishly anointed Jesus with oil before he went to the cross, Jesus told him, “The poor you will always have with you…” Jesus’ first visit to Earth was to fix the primary, root problem.
When Jesus walked the face of the earth, he consistently chose to have little to no material possessions to his name. From his birth in a manger to the comment he made during his earthly ministry — “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20) — the High King of Heaven denied material wealth.
That fact is apparent. But was it, as some have proposed, Christ’s way of telling us that material wealth itself is bad, ungodly, or even evil?
In the Gospel of Matthew, the writer’s aim was to prove that Jesus was the King of the Jews. As such, when Matthew records Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, these poignant words are penned:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. (Matthew 5:3)
Familiar words, yes. In Matthew’s Gospel, he points out the kind of poverty Jesus speaks of: spiritual poverty. This recognition leads to possessing the kingdom of heaven, because it leads one to submit to the King of Heaven unto reconciliation with him through the cross.
But then there’s that troubling passage in Luke’s account of the same instance. Luke recorded Jesus’ words as such:
Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. (Luke 6:20)
What is conspicuously missing? No longer “poor in spirit,” but now simply poor in the world’s standards.
Luke, who's aim in writing was to prove that Jesus was Messiah for the down-and-out, was particularly interested in cases where Jesus brought in those who materially had little. To be rich, some might say, surely carried a sign of God’s favor; but to be poor, well, it was uncertain. But Luke sought to lift up the poor.
But if we assess that the cultural view of that day was to equate material wealth with God’s blessing and material poverty with God’s lack of blessing, then what Jesus is saying through the pen of Luke is not dissimilar from Matthew. Only one important difference: We see through Luke's Gospel that Jesus is dismantling any preconceived notion that material wealth equated to spiritual blessing.
In Luke 18, Jesus encounters the Rich Young Ruler. This young, bright, promising individual has everything going for him. He had status. He had material wealth. He even followed the Law carefully. Surely he had the smile of the Divine. But he turns away from Jesus’ invitation to “have treasure in heaven” because he did not want to give up his material wealth. He probably thought he could do just fine without the crazy ideas of some new teacher from Nazareth.
Jesus makes his famous comment:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25)
The crowd then asked, “Then who can be saved?” Why should they be surprised by that statement? Did they believe, like the young ruler, that God smiled on the materially rich more than he did on the materially poor? For generations in Israel, it had been believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you with material possessions — it was part of the Mosaic covenant (Deuteronomy 29:9).
But Jesus wanted to utterly dismantle this concept. Take this example, that he told to his disciples:
Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
He then told them a parable:
“The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!”’
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
Here, greed — not the possessions themselves — that was the root issue. (With Jesus, it must always come back to the heart.) This rich man began to find his security in his possessions, and became insatiable in his desire for more. Put simply, his relationship with things had replaced his relationship with God — he looked to things to give him security and happiness. But his priority was dead wrong. God, the supreme judge, called him back to the truth in an instant. Jesus’ solution to greed and the insatiable desire for more? Be rich toward God.
It is in this context that we read Jesus’ famous exhortation about worry. He is anticipating his listeners’ question, “Then who can be saved?” or perhaps in this context, “Where then is our security?”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For there is more to life than food, and more to the body than clothing. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add an hour to his life? So if you cannot do such a very little thing as this, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the flowers grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you people of little faith! So do not be overly concerned about what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not worry about such things. For all the nations of the world pursue these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:22-31)
Knowing their fear is still lingering, he asserts his idea again:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:32-34)
And that, right there, is the clincher: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Perhaps Jesus’ chosen lifestyle of poverty was to drive home the point that material wealth was not the sign of God’s blessing, but that there was a different kind of ‘rich’ that people should seek.
The first step is acknowledging spiritual poverty — i.e. a broken connection with the Source of Abundance. From there, as we come to the Heavenly King, he ushers us into a different spiritual reality — union with him, which is the definition of true, spiritual wealth.
Next time we'll look at how our spiritual union with Christ leads to true, lasting wealth...