We seem to be thinking a lot about “the rich” these days. People talk about how much rich people pay in taxes, often decrying “tax cuts for the rich.” There once was a TV program called, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Now HGTV presents the series, “My Lottery Dream Home,” about people who’ve won hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, in a lottery. In every episode, they’re ready to sing, as the Jeffersons did in the old sitcom, “We’re movin’ on up….”
But who qualifies? What does it truly mean to be rich? Someone purportedly asked a prominent member of the mega-wealthy Rockefeller family, “How much is enough?” To which he replied, holding his thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart, “Just a little bit more.”
I’ve reached the conclusion that when people talk about “the rich,” what they mean is anyone that has more money than they do. Because we’re constantly hearing national news commentators, famous entertainers, and even entrenched Washington politicians – each possessing a net worth in millions upon millions of dollars – complaining about our current President who just happens to be a billionaire. Pity the poor millionaires!
Does being “rich” solely depend on how many numbers follow the dollar sign in one’s bank account or investment portfolio? Or can we view riches from a different perspective? The Scriptures certainly hold that view.
The book of Proverbs warned of the danger of placing our trust and reliance on material wealth: “for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations” (Proverbs 27:24). It also said, “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (Proverbs 15:16).
Money and wealth were among Jesus’ favorite topics wherever He spoke – but definitely not in the “prosperity theology” sense. For instance, He told a story about a very wealthy individual who possessed much more than He knew what to do with. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops'” (Luke 12:16-17).
Rather than concluding he had more than enough, and perhaps sharing some of it with others, the rich man chose another course: “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barn and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you….’”
Then Jesus offered a powerful conclusion to this parable: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18-21). But what does it mean to be “rich toward God”? Jesus indicated it’s a matter of perspective and priorities.
Material riches, He said, should not be our top priority. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, whether moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:19-24). A bit later Jesus added, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Then there was the rich young man who encountered Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, claiming he had been diligent to keep all of the commandments. “One thing you lack," Jesus told him. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me…” (Mark 10:17-27).
Jesus wasn’t suggesting it was possible to buy his way into heaven through generosity. He was telling the young man to get his priorities right – and that getting rid of his “stuff” would be a giant step in the right direction.
One of my favorite verses speaks of how we can become rich toward God, and it involves embracing the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross, His blood shed to cleanse us from our sins. The apostle Paul writes, ”For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).