Grace, mercy and peace be with you in abundance, from God, our Father, and from Jesus, our Lord and King. Oh my friends! How are the riches of this world so capable of shutting forever the doors of heaven to those who desire to go in. Jesus made it explicitly clear that it will be especially hard, virtually impossible it seems, for rich people to enter His Kingdom.
Matthew 19:23,24 [CSB] – Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
And His words were soon confirmed through the composition of the earliest churches.
1 Corinthians 1:26,27 – Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
Our concern in this rather long article, is on people who are rich within the church. In other words, rich Christians. 1) We will first look at how God deals with them, as opposed to those who are poor. 2) We will then look at two categories of sin that are particularly specific to the rich in the church. 3) Then we will identify who the rich are. And lastly, 4) We will look at what the rich believer should do.
I. The Rich Must Realize that No One Can Boast in God’s Presence
Poor or rich, no human should boast in God’s presence. But it is the rich, the intellectuals, the educated, the ones of “noble birth” who are more likely to boast in His presence.
1 Corinthians 1:28,29 – God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one may boast in his presence.
Matthew 11:25 – At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants.
The problem with the rich is the trust they place in what they have, who they are, or what they have achieved. And for the rich who enters the church, God has a very specific way of dealing with this issue. As recorded in James, the poor, the one who has nothing, will be shown the precious value of what he truly possesses (the riches of heaven). But the rich, on the other hand, the one who lives comfortably, will be shown the worthlessness of everything that he possesses.
James 1:9-11 – Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his exaltation, 10 but let the rich boast in his humiliation because he will pass away like a flower of the field. 11 For the sun rises and, together with the scorching wind, dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance perishes. In the same way, the rich person will wither away while pursuing his activities.
This apparent harshness toward the rich is not the evidence of God’s hatred of the rich, but of His determination to open his or her eyes so that he or she may see life the way He (God) Himself sees life. What we have are nothing, the intelligence we have is worthless, our family inheritance or name has as much value as the most beautiful flower that fade away in an instant under severe weather. And so the rich believer will be humbled, and through that painful process, will be brought to glorify God. But the poor believer will go through a different path, although leading to the same outcome, for he is in need comfort in the midst of his suffering. And so God will show him how exalted he really is.
II. Two Major Charges Against Rich Believers
Jesus and James present at least two categories of sin committed by the rich believers.
A. Preferential treatment: Despising the poor
The first charge is the preferential treatment given to the rich and how the poor are despised.
James 2:1-4 – My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For if someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor person dressed in filthy clothes also comes in, 3 if you look with favor on the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor person, “Stand over there,” or “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
The seriousness of this sin cannot be overemphasized. In the very next verse, James gives one of the reasons for the gravity of this sin: The poor are God’s chosen people to be rich in faith and heirs of His Kingdom.
James 2:5 – Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
One can certainly understand why one of the – if not “the” – most dreadful warning given by Jesus was in direct reference to the treatment (or lack thereof) of the poor.
Matthew 25:41-46 – “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of me.’…
45 “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
B. Misuse of Wealth
In Matthew 19, after a rich man had rejected the advice that Jesus gave him, to give his wealth to the poor and follow Him, Jesus declared that it will be very difficult for those who are rich to enter His Kingdom. Yet this person, from what is recorded, was not a bad person! He had first asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. To which Jesus replied that he should keep the commandment: Do no kill, steal, commit adultery, etc. And this was his answer
Matthew 19:20 – “I have kept all these,” the young man told him. “What do I still lack?”
Yet, when it came time to doing what Jesus told him after “Give all to the poor and follow me”, he could not do it. Kingdom access: Denied!
Jesus also gave a parable to illustrate how the rich misuse their wealth.
Luke 12:16-21 – Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’
21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This man looked at his wealth as his security for the future. This, according to God, qualifies as foolishness.
III. Who is the Rich Believer?
My friend, here are a couple of question: Do you consider yourself a Christian? Do you have a safe roof to sleep under? Are you secure in terms of what you will eat tomorrow? Do you have a decent, regular income? Are you considered at least in the middle class?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then, you are very likely a rich believer. You may not be a millionaire, but you are rich. The vast majority of the earth population live in deep poverty, with no access to clean water, food shortages, and no decent roof above their head. Yet you might be looking at your investments, dreaming that one day they may generate the kind of return that will allow you to retire and simply “enjoy” life…like the man in the parable of Jesus. If so, how are you different? You are not looking at hurting anyone and neither did he! But your trust in your riches is the problem, your dream to be rich is your problem.
The 12 disciples of Jesus were certainly not as rich as the man in Matthew 19. Nevertheless, what Jesus declared about the difficulty of the rich to enter His Kingdom made them very nervous, and rightfully so! This prompted them to seek some reassurance from Him!
Matthew 19:25,27 – When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”…27 Then Peter responded to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?”
So you see, one needs not be “crazy” rich to fall into the category of the rich believer, and hence, being found guilty of the sins described above.
IV. What Should the Rich Believer Do?
The answer to this question is simple, but the implications are profound. James says, do not engage in preferential treatment. Jesus says, invite those who cannot repay you. And Paul says.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 – Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, 19 storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.
You the rich, I pray that God will open your eyes, that you may see where you are falling short. You may be a good person, a good man and woman, but you may be in danger of being found wanting. Your trust in your riches, in your intelligence, in your lineage, or in your name may be brought to full display upon His return, to your shame in the presence of His Holy Angels, unless you repent and hid those words that He has pronounced to warn you.
To the King Eternal. Rich in Mercy and ever Faithful. JESUS.