One of the most influential books that I have ever read was Rich Christians in an Age of Hungerby Ronald J. Sider. It came out when I was at Bible College in Manchester UK and I still have the copy, right here, and can see the place where my youthful self underlined this:
“God’s Word teaches a very hard, disturbing truth. Those who neglect the poor and the oppressed are really not God’s people at all—no matter how frequently they practice their religious rituals nor how orthodox are their creeds and confessions.”
There is no doubt that in the forty years since publication, Sider’s statistics are no longer accurate, but they err only on the side of caution. Current economic disparity is far worse than anything he could have imagined. His conclusions, therefore, still carry their bite:
“We need to make some dramatic, concrete moves to escape the materialism that seeps into our minds via diabolically clever and incessant advertising. We have been brainwashed to believe that bigger houses, more prosperous businesses, and more sophisticated gadgets are the way to joy and fulfillment. As a result, we are caught in an absurd, materialistic spiral. The more we make, the more we think we need in order to live decently and respectably. Somehow we have to break this cycle because it makes us sin against our needy brothers and sisters and, therefore, against our Lord. And it also destroys us. Sharing with others is the way to real joy.”
And here is the powerful indictment that Jesus makes in Luke 12, against those who are materially wealthy but not “rich towards God“:
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’
16 And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”
18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
20 ‘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?”
21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’” (Luke 12: 15-21)
Is being rich wrong?
In the first place, as the introductory story (Luke 12:13-15) suggests, it is not wealth itself that is being condemned, so much as greed -“all kinds of greed.” It is not money but the “love of money” that is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10).
And the parable of “the rich fool” does not castigate his being rich as such, but his being a fool, in not realising that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Consequently, he is not prepared for God’s judgment. It is this theme that is the connecting link with the rest of the chapter.God’s gift of life
The point is not that being rich is wrong, but learning how to be “rich towards God.”
So how Can I Be Rich Toward God?
The big clue in Jesus’s story is the amount of times the man uses the word “I.” His level of self-obsession and self-indulgence have blinded him to the big picture of life, that it is lived before God and that ultimately we are accountable to our Creator for what we have done with what has been gifted to us.
I can be rich towards God by learning that this is God’s world and that life is lived “towards” him.
So basically, I take the opposite trajectory from how the “rich fool” lived. We are rich toward God when give out of what we have into the things of God. The Rich Fool planned to invest his money only on himself and he had no spiritual plans for his money.
We are rich toward God when we invest our time & energy into doing the work and will of God for our lives and for the help of others. The Rich Fool only planned to retire and to spend the rest of his life eating, drinking and gratifying his fleshly desires instead of growing his relationship with God.
We are rich toward God when we use earthly riches to show how much we value God. God was not included in the Rich Man’s plans.
We are rich toward God when we realize that our security is in God and that God Himself is our treasure and He is our riches. The Rich Fool thought that his security for the rest of his years would be found in his business investment. He was wrong.
Only God is our security and without God we are not rich.
In your personal life, what are you seeking? Are you seeking the gift instead of the Giver? Are you seeking to be rich toward yourself or are you seeking to be rich toward God?
One more quote from Sider: it’s one I’ve never been able to forget, even after all these years. In the context of the book, he is dramatising the story of the Good Samaritan into a picture of the uncaring West walking by, whilst the Third World suffers, but then, in a rather shocking volte-face, he adds this:
“What does it mean to see the Lord of the universe lying by the roadside starving and walk by on the other side? We cannot know. We can only pledge, in fear and trembling, not to kill him again.”
To be rich toward God means to live our life towards God, and to so focus on the spiritual realities of life and death that we understand that our actions towards the poor are actions towards him.