The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but it is in his integrity and in his ability to affect those around him positively.” — Bob Marley —
I like that word. It’s mysterious.
Really, who defines wealth? Or should the question be, what defines wealth? I’m not sure. Sitting in the various public haunts that I frequent, opinions on the wealthy and their riches vary from the sublime to the stupid and everything in between.
What comes to your mind when you think of rich people? Extravagant homes? Expensive toys? Fine motorcars? A private yacht or airplane? How about living the lifestyle of the jet-set? I am almost positive that you don’t think of yourself when contemplating “the wealthy”.
If we were to go by American or even European standards, those who consider themselves to be of meager to modest means have far more than most of their fellow passengers here on spaceship earth. In fact, the average 21st century American is remarkably affluent indeed.
- If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes to wear, and a place to call home, you are better-off than 75% of the world’s population.
- Do you have some money in the bank? A few bucks in your wallet, and a steady income? Believe it or not, you are among the top 8% of this planets wealthy.
- If you woke up this morning in relative good health, consider yourself blessed. More than a million people will not survive the day.
- And just to bend your noodle a little more, if you can read this sobering discourse, you are more privileged than 3 billion people in the world today who are illiterate.
So what’s the point? Well, for starters, you my friend, are a wealthy person – no matter how poor or deprived you may believe yourself to be.
Our lives are the only meaningful expression of what we believe and in whom we believe. And the only real wealth, for any of us, lies in our faith.” —Gordon B. Hinckley
In a letter written a very long time ago (and preserved in the Bible’s Newer Testament) a man named Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy lending this advice:
17 “Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. 19 By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven” it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Do not dismiss this passage in haste. Some of my “humble” and “poor” Christian friends may not like what I am about to say, nonetheless, Paul is talking to you too. Compared to most of the world, WE are the rich people addressed in these ancient texts.
IN GOD WE TRUST. Notice where that’s printed. On your money. So, is it really God in whom you trust when you can stroke a check for most of what you need? And, before you progressive socialists go euphoric on me, wealth is not intrinsically the problem. Contrary to the popular colloquialism, money is not the root of all evil. Troubles lie in a love affair with riches. Here is another gem from the pen of Paul,
9-10 “For men who set their hearts on being wealthy expose themselves to temptation. They fall into one of the world’s traps, and lay themselves open to all sorts of silly and wicked desires, which are quite capable of utterly ruining and destroying their souls. For loving money leads to all kinds of evil, and some men in the struggle to be rich have lost their faith and caused themselves untold agonies of mind.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 – PHILLIPS)
Our Father… lead us not into temptation… Nice thought. But, if the pursuit of wealth charms your soul, the ground beneath you is shifting sand; you will face many needless perils and possibly live to regret it bitterly ever after. The Lord’s Prayer notwithstanding.
If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” — Edmund Burke
Personally, I do not have a problem with the accumulation of wealth per se. Good people with deep pockets often do great things for the benefit of mankind. Many of my friends are well-to-do. Some are also famous. But most are not in love with their success nor held prisoner to the things that money can buy. And, they are very generous. In case you haven’t heard, the Almighty does not condemn wealth accumulation here on planet earth either – as long as what you possess does not possess you! The scriptures once again confirm this,
18 “Always remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you power to become rich, and he does it to fulfill his promise to your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 8:18 TLB)
When the ancient Nazarene called Jesus was confronted by a man of wealth and power, he cut right to the heart of a hindrance in the man’s life – being materially possessed. Here is the story from the bible’s Newer Testament:
17 ”As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?” 18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.” 20 He said, “Teacher, I have” from my youth” kept them all!” 21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye” and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.” 22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. (Mark 10:17-22)
I must admit, as I read these scriptures, I’m sometimes conflicted. I too have been blessed with many nice things – houses, cars, and other possessions. What if Jesus were to look me in the eye and say,
“Joseph, please do this: divest all of your assets – give everything away – and come follow after me.”
Would I be able to let go of everything? Could I forfeit the comfort of my material wealth to follow someone whom I trust by sheer faith to be my Liberator and do this on the basis of his promise that I will eventually gain more than I lost? (Mark 17:23-31) That’s a million dollar question. What would you do?
Thankfully, God does not request this total divestiture of everyone. But he does ask that we never hang our hopes and dreams on the uncertainty of this world – and its wealth.
From time to time we will be called upon to sacrifice some of what we have. Do you financially support your place of worship? Help missionaries or relief organizations throughout the world? When was the last time you wrote a check to help a listener supported inspirational radio station, or the local homeless shelter? There are countless ways to “invest” in eternal things. This much I am sure of; God has promised to bless those who freely give ” both in the temporal here and now and in the everlasting dimension, just beyond the grave.
13 “For neither you nor anyone else can serve two masters. You will hate one and show loyalty to the other, or else the other way around” you will be enthusiastic about one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and your money.” (Luke 16:13 TLB)
This is my prayer:
Almighty God, you have said that nothing is impossible when we put our absolute trust in you. We cannot see you with human eyes and there are many who deny your reality. Some mock and scorn those of us who say we have faith. No matter. I have seen your work and tasted of the other worldly gifts you bestow upon those who follow you. Please help me to walk cautiously in this present darkness and not be blinded by the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for things. May I never forget the “Great Reversal” spoken of by the Liberator Jesus, “So those who are last in this world shall one day be first in the world to come, and those who are first shall be last.” (Matthew 20:16) Help me to know you better each day. Amen.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656