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; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' (Luk 12:13–5)

I was at a local supermarket recently loading groceries into my car, when I suddenly 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 very easily. Indeed, a growing number have so much money 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 of which is our opening text.

Warning against greed

God is a God of justice (Psa 33:5) and it appears that this man had been treated unfairly by his brother, so it's surprising Jesus didn't intervene in the dispute. However, our Lord discerned that greed had motivated his request rather than a desire for fairness.

He told his disciples to be on their guard against all kinds of greed because a person's life—the Greek word can mean either physical or spiritual (ie eternal) life—is not determined by the abundance of their possessions. He then told them a parable to illustrate his point.

The rich fool

'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."

'Then he said, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns 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 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 anyone who stores up things for himself 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 an unscalable wall (Pro 18:11).

If you're rich, and you've invested wisely, you shouldn't want for much in this world. But this man reckoned without God who holds the power of life and death. Just when he was happy and secure, God said that his time was up, and he must leave all he had to someone else.

Solomon said that he hated all the things he had toiled for, because one day he must leave them to someone, 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 frugality 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, but to have the wisdom to show restraint (Pro 23:4). However, if we look at this parable purely from that angle we miss the main teaching.

Jesus said that what happened to the rich fool will happen to anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God. Remember that Jesus was speaking to his disciples and his parables were meant for those who had ears to hear (Mar 4:9).

That means that Jesus was teaching that if Christians amass wealth and riches for themselves, but are miserly towards God in respect to giving, they will suffer the same fate as the man in the parable. What was his fate? God said that his life would be demanded from him. The Greek word translated 'life' (psyche) means life or soul.

So was Jesus teaching that rich Christians, who are mean towards God, will die prematurely? I don't think so. I believe our Lord was speaking spiritually; I believe he was referring to them losing their soul.

In Mat 16:26 he said, 'What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?' The Greek word translated 'soul' is psyche—the same word used in Luk 12:20.

Can Christians lose their salvation? They most certainly can. Jesus gave the parable to warn his disciples against all kinds of greed. The dictionary defines greed as an intense and selfish desire for wealth, food or power.

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 man is an idolater (a person who worships himself)—will have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

He told them not to be deceived about this because God's wrath will come on those who are disobedient (Eph 5:3–7). Rev 21:8 tells us that every idolater (which includes greedy people) will be cast into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.

Treasure in heaven

We can see from our Lord's teaching that God expects rich Christians to be rich towards him. 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 think their wealth is a fortified city, it is not. Wealth is uncertain. Crops fail; stock markets crash; businesses collapse. Pro 23:5 says: 'Cast but a glance at riches, and they are 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 God, who has promised to provide us with everything we need, no matter what happens (Mat 6:25–34).

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 actions will enable them to take hold of the life that is truly life (ie 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 not be exhausted, 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: 'He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.' Jesus told his disciples that rather than amass ever-increasing wealth for themselves, they were to give it to the poor. In that way they were giving to God and were storing their treasure in heaven.

Those who do so show that their hearts are set on heavenly things and not on earthly things, and that they're looking forward to their reward. It's possible that Christians who were rich on earth will be paupers in heaven. It depends on what they did with their wealth while they were 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, and the remarks that followed (Luk 16:1–15), Jesus wasn't condoning dishonesty. Rather he was teaching that, as manager of the material wealth God has entrusted to us, 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 April 2019

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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