What does it mean to be rich toward God?
Life seems preoccupied with money. We work for it, spend it, save it, dream about it, and stress over it. Nearly everyone obsesses with making just one dollar more. Aware of our dangerous fixation with the almighty dollar, Jesus taught more about money than any other topic, including faith, prayer, heaven, or hell. Nearly half of His parables relate to handling money and possessions.
In one of Jesus’ most memorable parables, known as “The Rich Fool” (see Luke 12:16–21), we read about a wealthy farmer who ignored God and lived only for himself. He was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). This farmer made at least four mistakes.
Firstly, he failed to acknowledge God’s generous provisions. God blessed him with his harvest, yet he did not express appreciation or even recognize God as the Provider.
Secondly, the farmer assumed that he was in charge of his wealth and possessions. The pronoun “my” occurs four times in Jesus’ story and the word “I” occurs eight. Such independence is often the natural product of “earned” wealth.
Thirdly, the farmer thought he had plenty of time. He claimed to have “plenty of grain laid up for many years” (Luke 12:19). This man was so busy planning out his comfortable future that he forgot his need for true “life” (Luke 12:15).
Finally, the farmer didn’t share his abundance, but kept it for his own private use. He showed no concern or responsibility for others.
In response to the farmer’s attitudes and actions, “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” (Luke 12:20)? Jesus concludes the lesson of the story with sobering words, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). It’s tragic when people are rich in this life but poor with regard to the next.
So, what does it mean to be “rich toward God”? Consider taking four steps to discover the answer.
- Exercise Humility
Don’t be proud and assume that you’re a self-made person. Deuteronomy 8:18 declares that God gives us the ability to make wealth. Thus, credit Him for both the strength to earn, and all He supplies. Furthermore, Paul states that those who are rich shouldn’t be conceited about their wealth, “nor to put their hope in wealth, which is uncertain” (1 Timothy 6:17a). As Proverbs 23:5 declares, “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.” And, as anyone who owned stocks in 2008 knows, wealth can quickly disappear. Hence, exercise humility by trusting in God, not gold.
- Cultivate Contentment
As the saying goes, “We live in one of two tents: either we’re content or we’re discontent.” Sadly, too often we want something more or something other than God’s provision. Yet, we can’t take earthly wealth with us into eternity, so we must learn to be contentment in food and covering (see 1 Timothy 6:6-8). A question worth asking in connection with material pursuit is, “Is this a need or a greed?”
- Practice Generosity
In Australia, if you earn a salary of $38,500, you make more than 98% of the world’s population (source: www.globalrichlist.com). Being rich toward God means using wealth to carry out His priorities. Paul writes we are “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). We’re most like God when we’re generous. What has God given you to invest in others? Andrew Murray aptly said in God’s Power Today, “We ask how much a man gives; Christ asks how much he keeps.”
- Forward Treasure
Jesus and Paul never said to stop storing up treasure. But they do instruct us to store it up in heaven rather than on earth (see Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)! A real estate agent utters three golden words in connection with purchasing a home: location, location, and location. This also applies when it comes to setting aside treasure. Storing up treasures on earth is foolish; storing up treasures in heaven is wise. In Directions for Daily Communion with God, Matthew Henry stated, “It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day.” And missionary Jim Elliott said it this way in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” You can’t take riches with you, but you can forward them on ahead of you!
Keith Krell has served in pastoral ministry and academia for twenty five years. He has doctorates in both New Testament (Trinity College Bristol, UK) and preaching (Talbot School of Theology). Keith currently serves as senior pastor of Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane, Washington, and Professor of Biblical Exposition at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane.