Is There Hope for Rich People?
For some reason (probably my angst over political hypocrisy), I distinctly remember the day Hilary Clinton won the California primary in 2016, running on the platform of “fighting for you” (meaning fighting for you against rich people and corporations). She was caught wearing a $12,495 designer jacket from Giorgio Armani. I am sure former President Donald J. Trump has a few of those, too. It has become almost a prerequisite for the President of the United States to be rich. What is the Bible’s view of rich people? Is there hope for eternal life for the rich?
Being rich is a relative concept. The millionaire is a pauper in relationship to the billionaire. Of course, there are those with just a billion or two, who are compared with multi-billionaires. The Bible is clear about our beginnings and our ends. We come into the world with nothing, and we leave the world with nothing (1 Tim 6:7). Despite this liberating fact, there is an awful lot of wrangling and strife among people over the distribution of supposedly scarce resources.
Anticipating our sinful strife over stuff, God issued His Law to help us. Do not be greedy for gain (Is 56:11; Jer 6:13; 8:10). Do not covet your neighbor’s possessions. Do not store up your own material possessions. Do not steal. Do not owe anyone. Do not cosign a loan for anyone. There are many more.
Knowing the notorious track record of people keeping the Law, we look to the one person who actually kept the Law of God with perfection. What did Jesus Christ have to say about money and possessions?
If we will always have the poor with us, then we can expect to have the rich with us, too. Rich men brought gifts to Jesus at the time of His birth, and Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb. Jesus encountered many rich people during His lifetime. Some encounters, like Zacchaeus, give us hope for the rich. Other encounters, like the rich young ruler, serve as a warning.
Jesus issued explicitly stated warnings, too. You cannot serve God and money (Mt 6:24). Some rich people see this as a challenge to be conquered. They imagine they can do both. I was a financial consultant for ten years, and in the latter stages of that decade of serving money, I became a Christian. I subsequently found it impossible to serve both. One day, I had to choose whom I would serve. If you are reading this, I think you have figured out my choice. Now, with food and clothing I live content.
Discipleship is very costly. To follow Jesus, one must remove idols. Money and possessions should be neutral concepts, but with so many sins linked to these pecuniary instruments, we know there is a deceiving spirit behind them.
Jesus issued another warning about the rich, as it pertains to gaining entrance into heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven (Mt 19:24). Ironically, this does not thwart most rich people from their quest for increasing wealth. This is when George Soros might chime in, “Well, as a member of the middle class…”
The cloak of humility always claims the “middle class.” In all my years in finance, I never met a rich person who did not ascribe himself to be a member of the middle class. In reality, for most Americans, the middle class is living in some developing nation somewhere. In other words, we are the rich, even if we dupe ourselves into believing otherwise.
False teachers are not helping any of us. The successful prosperity preacher, who is by definition, a very rich man, will tell you he is blessed. Sow some more cash into his ministry, and you, too, might be financially blessed like him. He will cite the wealth of the patriarchs, while ignoring the warnings of the wisdom literature. He will twist the Scriptures and have no end to the number of his followers. We might call them, “the fleeced sheep.” The Bible warns us about him, too (Ezek 34).
This brings us into confusion. Am I rich? Am I deluded about how rich I am? Am I too rich to enter heaven? Are my feeble attempts to live the Christian life a demonstration of my serving God, not money? Because money and possessions is the second most voluminous motif in the Bible, I cannot reconcile it all here. Therefore, my chosen passage is one of balance. If there are good examples and bad examples of rich people doing what rich people do, then this text, for me, sits in the center. It is 1 Timothy 6:17–19. There is hope for rich people, and here it is…
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim 6:17–19).”
The apostle Paul wrote to pastor Timothy at Ephesus, a wealthy Roman city. The epistle is for pastoral instruction. In other words, Paul is saying, “Pastor Timothy, here are some things you should do as a pastor in your situation.” The context of 1 Timothy 6, as a chapter, suggests Timothy had some rich people in the church, and some others aspiring to be rich. Paul, himself, had learned to be content, regardless of whether he was abounding or being abased. There are lessons to be learned in either circumstance, but in the end, our objective is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, knowing God will add what we need as daily bread.
First, conceit comes with cash. Rich people tend to think more highly of themselves than they ought to. They forget God gives, and God takes away. Riches can sprout wings and fly away. This is the uncertainty of riches. When Job was being abased, his wealth was removed from him. While being humbled it is important not to curse God, who is exercising His sovereign providence.
The promise in v. 17 is that God will supply us with all things to enjoy. The temptation of riches is for people to place their trust in them for happiness, satisfaction, and hope for the future. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable seemed to be happy with his many possessions (Lk 12:13–21). He was living sumptuously every day. It reminds me of the 1970’s television cartoon character, “My name is Elmer J. Fudd. I own a mansion and a yacht.” If your identity is linked to money and possessions, then “there’s your sign.” You just might be rich.
Second, God is the supplier of everything in our economy of need. This means there is nothing you have that was not given to you by God. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. He is the owner of everything, and we are accountable stewards of our Master’s possessions. Some are given ten talents, some five, and some one. All must give an account to our Lord on the Day of Judgment (2 Cor 5:10). The uncertainty of riches is contrasted with the unfathomable riches of Christ. Both are to be given away because we are serving an abundant supplier of both material and spiritual riches.
The child of God is to take the mammon of unrighteousness and use it to make friends for everlasting habitations (Lk 16:9). In other words, we are to take our finances and invest in peoples’ spiritual well-being. If I send money to a missionary in India, so he can give away free Bibles in the Telugu language, then I have made an eternal investment. God is the auditor of all such transactions. Investing in the kingdom of God is a wise investment. He is the fruit inspector…not us.
Third, by doing good, being rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, the rich man is showing the placement of his hope. His hope is in God. For a rich man to sell all of his possessions, give to the poor, in order to follow Jesus is noteworthy. It is a powerful testimony of his faith in the promises of God’s Word. “All these things will be added unto you (Lk 12:31),” or “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5),” or “riches in heaven (Mt 6:20),” all require faith. Money and possessions are a test. We must be rich toward God. Everyone can part with their wealth in word, singing, “I surrender all, I surrender all…” Can you part with wealth in deed?
The widow gave more than all the rest, and yet, her offering was small (Mk 12:40–43). Small wealth means you can give greater proportions of your wealth away more often. Much wealth makes this more difficult and less frequent. This is why the annual Forbes list of wealthiest people always has the same names on it. Sure, they give away millions, but never to the detriment of their overall wealth. Meanwhile, the missionary is giving away all she has every month, in service to the people in the sphere of her service. Jesus’ economy is often not our economy, for the fool says, “When I get wealth, then I will be most generous.”
Fourth, the foundation of one’s future is laid out every time something is given away. When a rich person begins to learn to give everything away, he has become addicted to joy. God loves the hilarious giver (2 Cor 9:7). The divine repayment for generosity is joy. Joy is the strength of one’s faith. It takes faith to give away what you have in your possession. The hilarious giver sees every good gift and every perfect given away as an investment in God’s kingdom. Like, the rich man, who employs a systematic investment plan into a strong performing investment fund, those rich in Christ continue their systematic investment in the coming kingdom. Amazingly, they never run out of seed capital for their next investment (2 Cor 9:8).
Fifth, the future return on investment is inestimable. How can you value what has eternal returns? This is what it means to take hold of what is life indeed. God pours out His life, so that we might have life more abundant and eternal. He who gives his life away, actually finds it. This is the divine economy. Giving away this life, that is, life in this world, only secures more of life in the world to come.
Prosperity theology works under the philosophy of heaven on earth, today, or your best life now. Biblical theology works under the truth of material investments for eternal returns. There is a wise investor who sees the brevity of his time of investment, in contrast with the elongated period of returns. The sower sows all he can because God gives the increase, and He is faithful to do so. Sowing and investing, today, leaves the man of God a pauper in this life, but he has the guaranteed return on investment in the eternal kingdom.
In conclusion, we asked, “Is there hope for rich people?” We learned from our text in 1 Timothy 6:17–19 that hope in God allows the rich man to take of hold of life abundant and eternal for the age to come. Dividends of grace sustain our daily walk of obedient investing.
By investing heavily in the kingdom of God, today, the rich man in this life proves he is a shrewd investor. This will be revealed when the veil separating time and eternity is pulled back. The world asks, “What’s in your wallet?” The Christian replies, “Nothing, I have given to the poor because I became addicted to joy, and the life of sacrifice here carries the hope of a prosperous future when Christ returns to take my daily, systematic investments into account. He is not a hard master because everything I have been privileged to give away has come from His infinite supply, graciously given to me by His providence. With the full support of heaven, Jesus gave 100%, and this is the financial goal. Christian, take stock in this.
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 7, 2021