Are you rich? How do you answer that question? And why do you give that answer?
“Command the rich…” Paul writes and instantly we think what? That’s not for me. I’m not rich. This only applies to the really wealthy. To the top 5%, to those who earn 6 figures. To the church with bankers and footballers and surgeons in.
But here’s the key question – are we rich? We compare ourselves to others around us, with the lifestyles of the rich and famous we read of and assume we’re not. We can always name someone with more than us. But let me ask you some questions. Do you have enough money to buy food, clothes, have clean water and shelter? Do you have disposable income to pay for non-necessities; like a mobile phone, or Amazon Prime, or Netflix, or for leisure? Do you have enough to pay for a holiday at least once a year? Then you are rich. We look around us and assume we’re not because we live in the goldfish bowl of consumerism where we’re constantly told we need more, and others have more, and therefore we should aspire for more. That’s constantly raising the bar for what we need, and confusing needs and wants, necessities and luxuries.
But historically and globally we are rich. If the world were only 100 people today 48 of those 100 would live off less than $2 a day and 1 out of every 2 children would live in poverty. We are rich so we need to listen to God’s word to us here.
(17)“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or 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.” This isn’t a suggestion it’s a command. If you’re rich don’t be arrogant, don’t be proud and boastful as if you’ve achieved it all yourself. Don’t look down on others or think your wealth means you’re better or more loved by God. And don’t put your faith in money put it in God, because your riches could disappear in an instant.
Instead recognise that God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Is that a shock to you? Riches in themselves aren’t a bad thing, they’re a gift God can give. And it’s wrong not to enjoy a gift God gives. We’re not to resent or feel embarrassed about the good things God gives us. But we do need to relate to them rightly. They are a gift from God not a source of security. They are to be gratefully received but we don’t put our hope in them, we don’t allow them to wean us off hope in God. Rather they lead us to be grateful to God, to praise and love the giver not the gift.
The second command is “Command them to be 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 which is truly life.” Paul calls the rich believers in Ephesus to generosity. They’re not to be tight and miserly hoarding what they have but they must be generous and willing to share. Why? Because they’re eternity minded. We’re to steward the riches God gives us generously with eternity in view, investing not in this world but in the kingdom. That’s the way to make sure you’re wealth doesn’t become a trap or a snare or lead you away from the faith and into grief. Give it away so it doesn’t fill your heart.
Christians aren’t to be reservoirs hoarding the generosity of God for themselves but rivers that channel God’s generosity to others. God is generous, generous in his creation, generous in sending his Son to save us, generous in his continued blessings, generous in the future glory we will enjoy, and so we ought to be generous. God is a giving God and his people ought to be a giving people!
How do you think about the money you have and earn. Is it yours or a gift from God? As you look at your bank statement does it shout generous just like God or miserly and self-centred? Does it tell the story of salvation and eternal life given, of investment in eternity, or of living for now?
Are you the river through which God’s generosity courses or the reservoir at which it’s dammed and slows to a trickle?
Rich believers are to be grateful to God and generous to others even as they enjoy God’s gracious gifts. Just think of a Barnabas in Acts 4. In contrast to a stingy Ananias and Sapphira we see him sell a field he has and give the money to the church to redistribute so no one has need. Or think of the generosity of the Philippians who give beyond what they’re able to meet others needs. Disciples steward generously.
But how do we decide what to give too? (19)Paul calls the believers to invest in the kingdom. They are to steward in light of eternity. It’s not wrong to give to Macmillan or Oxfam or the RSPCA. But we ought to prioritise eternal needs. We ought to be funding gospel work so the lost can be saved.
Disciples steward. And that means thinking about riches and wealth differently. It means we thank and live for the giver not the gift. It means we use God’s gift in light of eternity. It means we’re liberated to enjoy what we have but not hold tightly to it. What is God’s call? Contented godly simplicity in our living and grateful generosity with all he has blessed us with. Why? Because our hope is in God, our focus is fixed on eternity, and we’re not citizens of the kingdom where the winner is the one with most toys, but we’re citizens of the kingdom of eternal joy and grace and mercy.
CT Studd became a Christians as a student, he went on to become an international cricketer, a wealth man from a wealthy family. But one night as he heard the gospel he realised the fame he enjoyed and the wealth he’d accumulated had dulled his love for God. He recommitted himself and eventually left it all to go overseas as a missionary, he wrote a great poem called only one life, here’s one of the verses:
“When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”