Rich Christians

Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.'

Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?' Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.' (Luk 12:13–5)

I was at a supermarket recently, loading groceries into my car, when I realized that millions of people do what I was doing every day of the week.

Affluence has increased to such an extent in this country that the majority of people can buy the necessities of life with ease. In fact, an increasing number have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. As I was thinking about this the Parable of the Rich Fool came to mind, the introduction to which is our opening text.

Warning against greed

Jesus was speaking to his disciples (Luk 12:1–12) when a man in the crowd asked him to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne (Psa 97:2), so it's surprising that he didn't intervene in the dispute. However, our Lord discerned that greed had prompted the man's request (he was probably already wealthy) rather than a desire for fairness. Greed is an intense and selfish desire for wealth, food or power.

Jesus told his disciples to be on their guard against all kinds of greed, because life (Greek zoe, used throughout the New Testament to indicate eternal life) does not consist in an abundance of possessions. He then told them a parable to illustrate his point.

The rich fool

'The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops."

'Then he said, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.' "

'But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

'This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.' (Luk 12:16–21)

The man had done well for himself and, from his comments, he felt secure. The Bible says that the wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale (Pro 18:11).

If you are rich, and have stored your wealth wisely, you should never be in need in this world. But this man had reckoned without God, who holds the power of life and death. Just when he felt secure, God said that his time was up, and he must leave all that he had to someone else.

Solomon said that he hated all the things he had toiled for because one day he would leave them to the one who would come after him, and he didn't know whether that person would be wise or foolish (Ecc 2:18–9).

You can spend a lifetime amassing a fortune through hard work, and then leave it to someone who will squander it. That is one of the reasons the Bible tells us not to wear ourselves out to get rich (Pro 23:4a).

However, that is not the main teaching of this parable. Jesus said that what happened to the rich fool will happen to whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God. Think about that.

Remember that he was speaking to his disciples, to those who had ears to hear, to those whom the Holy Spirit had given the ability to understand spiritual truth; and that the purpose of his parables was to reveal to them the secret (hidden truths) of the kingdom of God (Mar 4:9–12), which are the truths about salvation (Joh 3:3–7).

I don't believe the man dying on the day he decided to build bigger barns for himself was a coincidence, I believe it was the judgement of God.

So was Jesus teaching that those of his followers who amass riches for themselves, but are not rich towards God (in respect to giving), will die prematurely? I don't think so. I believe he was warning of something worse than that.

Salvation of the soul

The Greek word translated 'life' in v20 (psyche) can also be translated as 'soul', as it is in more literal translations of the Bible, such as the ESV. The soul is the inner being of a person that continues to exist after death, and includes the memory and the ability to reason (Rev 6:9–10). Jesus spoke about the soul of a rich man in Luk 16:19–31.

The end result of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1Pe 1:8–9), the saving from God's wrath of that part of our being that will exist after our death. But in Mat 16:26 Jesus said, 'What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?'

The Greek word translated 'gain' in that verse means to gain financially, to make money. Jesus was asking what good it would be for someone to own all the wealth in the world and yet forfeit their soul. To forfeit something is to lose it as a penalty for wrongdoing.

Can Christians lose their souls through wrongdoing? Yes, they can. Jesus wouldn't have warned us if it was not possible. To lose your soul is to lose your salvation, because salvation is the salvation of your soul.

I believe that is what happened to the rich fool. The Greek word translated 'demanded' in v20 means to demand back. God took back from him what he had given him—his physical life and his soul (the life his soul would have experienced after his death—eternal life); and he did it because of his greed.

Paul, writing to the believers in Ephesus, warned that there must not be even a hint of greed among them, because no greedy person—such a one is an idolater (someone who loves something in this world more than God)—will have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:3–5).

He told them not to allow anyone to deceive them about this because God's wrath will come on those who are disobedient (Eph 5:6). Rev 21:8 tells us that idolaters (which includes greedy people) will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur (as was the rich man in Luk 16:22–4). There will be no greedy people in heaven.

Treasure in heaven

So we can see from our Lord's teaching that God expects rich Christians to be rich towards him and not to keep their wealth to themselves. That truth is confirmed in Paul's first letter to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1Ti 6:17–9)

Even though the rich may think that their wealth is secure, it is not. Wealth is uncertain: crops fail; stock markets crash; businesses collapse; even governments can go bankrupt. Pro 23:5 says that if we but glance at riches they will be gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

The only sure hope we have in this world is in God, who has promised to provide us with everything we need, no matter what happens on earth (Mat 6:25–33).

Paul said that rich Christians who use their money to do good, and are generous and willing to share, are laying up treasure for themselves (in heaven) as a sure foundation for the coming age. Their deeds will enable them to take hold of the life (Greek zoe) that is truly life (eternal life). Jesus gave a similar word:

'Do no be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' (Luk 12:32–4)

Pro 19:17 says that whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. Jesus told his disciples that rather than amass ever-increasing wealth for themselves on earth (as the rich fool did), they were to give it to the poor. In that way they would be storing it in heaven.

Those who do so show that their hearts are set on heavenly things and not on earthly things, and that they are looking forward to their reward. It's possible that Christians who are rich on earth will be poor in heaven; it depends on what they do with their wealth while they are here.

'I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings [ie heaven]. (Luk 16:9)

Those are the concluding words of our Lord's Parable of the Shrewd Manager. In that parable Jesus wasn't condoning dishonesty, but was teaching that as manager of the material wealth God has entrusted to us on earth, we should use it in a way that will benefit us in eternity.

Are you a rich Christian? If so, are you being rich towards God?

Michael Graham
August 2006
Revised February 2022

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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