Rich people have one thing in common–an uncanny ability to ‘predict’ the future. They seem to know the next new thing to invest in, can anticipate market declines/crashes earlier than many others, and always appear to have more financial successes than failures. At least, that’s how it ‘seems’.
But the acquisition of wealth is not that simple.
As early as 2005 Dr Michael Burry ( of The Big Short movie, fame) started focusing on the US Sub-prime mortgage market. He could see that the sub-prime loans, that made up the bonds that banks and funds invested in, would invariably fail as early as 2007, due to borrower default. As such, he created financial instruments called Credit Default Swaps (insurance on the bond failure), and convinced banks like Goldman-Sachs to buy them. After the Global Financial Crisis, which effectively was triggered by these bond failures, Burry’s hedge fund recorded over 470% profit. Although it might seem he predicted the future through ‘divination’, it was, rather, through careful and rigorous analysis of plain facts that others chose to ignore. Once the analyzed facts were known, Burry acted decisively acted, profiting from that knowledge.
Having an ability to critically discern future events in order to gain material riches, is not the same as having wisdom toward being truly rich, with the future in view. In fact, many are those who make the acquisition of money their primary goal, who only find that it enslaves their heart, corrupts their mind, and impoverishes their soul. On the other hand, few are those who embrace money as an instrument to enrich the lives of others; these invariably discover blessings far beyond the material value of the money transacted.
Of course, Christians ‘should’ have an advantage, here. Because they should know that life is fleeting and wealth cannot last, they should be able to work toward keeping true riches for an eternal future-investing the money at their disposal, God’s way. But notice, I only said ‘should’. Whether this opportunity is taken up, or whether it is lost, through the allurement of coveting riches for selfish use in this present life, will only be determined by their willingness to take God seriously and invest their wealth according to his eternal purposes.
So, what is God’s purpose for riches; his investment strategy for the future?
With God, future blessings are always tied to present obedience. That is to say, future blessings of eternal value are granted as a reward for present faithfulness with things of material value and practical use. Consequently, the goal for those sincerely devoted to God’s cause, is not the the seeking of material riches, in order to selfishly get rich, but the seeking of true riches by being rich toward others in need.
This is what the Apostle Paul says about it…
‘As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.’ 1 Timothy 6:17-19
It is good to remember that many of Paul’s initial readers were not well off; some were quite poor, others were slaves, and still others had lost possessions through persecution. However, some remained relatively well off; having means beyond their basic needs these were deemed as ‘the rich in this present age’.
By definition: A rich person can not only meet their own ‘needs’, but have excess resources for discretionary spending on their ‘wants’, in fact a truly rich person gives even out of the money designated for their needs–consider Jesus pointing out the widow’s offering. So if you are a Christian, who has enough resources to meet your needs, with funds left over for discretionary spending, at the very least, this scripture has direct relevance to you!
That being the case, there are seven valuable lessons from Paul’s message that offers guidance on the ‘rich’ use of money and its only ultimate value,..
1. Paul instructs the rich not to be haughty. Haughty means arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, even disdainful of those who as not as well off. Because of the perceived power and security that wealth offers, it has the tendency to make a person ‘selfishly-self-sufficient’, which leads on to an attitude of indifference, even intolerance, to those who are poor. Such an attitude is certainly unbecoming of a Christian, whose Lord acted entirely contrary to this: ‘through he was rich became poor for our sakes, that through his poverty we might become rich’ (2Cor8:9) Being truly rich begin with adopting a posture of humility, realising that wealth is a gift to be used to bless others, not an entitlement to be consumed by oneself!
2. Paul also states, that the rich are not to set their hopes on ‘uncertain riches’, and riches are uncertain! Many financial commentators were suggesting Gold prices would boom during the uncertainty of the Corona Virus pandemic, but in August this year Gold bullion posted it biggest value loss in seven years; yes, even the most solid investments are not so solid after all! We know that the natural human ‘heart’ desires security independent of God, but when people acquire wealth this desire for self-security seems to magnify, thus deceiving the rich person into thinking they are secure, when they are not! Indeed, the truly rich know that material wealth is transitory and can never provide solid hope.
3. In directing the rich away from the uncertainty of material wealth, the apostle, rather, directs their hope toward God. If the story of Job, in the Old Testament, teaches us anything, it teaches us that material security is completely tied to God’s favor–God’s blessing made Job rich, God then allowed Satan to take Job’s wealth from him, and then following his time of testing God restored to Job twice as much wealth as was initially lost. To be truly rich, we must learn the lesson from Job: All wealth comes from God, better to trust in the giver of the wealth than the gift of wealth–for the gift is transitory but the giver eternal!
4. The excesses of wealth promise temporal enjoyment, but God provides true enjoyment. Experience has proven that wealthy people are so often caught up holding onto their wealth, that they don’t have time to enjoy life. Indeed, it often said and regularly proven, that ‘the best things in life are free’. And why is that? Because the best things in life are freely given by God for us to enjoy: A beautiful sunset, fresh fruit picked from a tree, refreshing water from a mountain spring, the warm sun on our face, honey from the beehive, that refreshing evening breeze after a hot day, a simple meal in the company of good friends, are they not wonderful gifts given by God? Those who are truly rich, know that they don’t need excessive money to enjoy life, for the giver of life freely grants enjoyment to all who have the eyes to see it.
So, having outlined the deception of seeking material wealth and the proper way to approach the enjoyment of it, Paul now turns his attention to the stewardship of wealth–the proper investment of it, in the Christian context…
5. The Christian, instead of being rich toward themselves, is to be rich in good works; not seeking a selfish blessing, but seeking to be a selfless blessing. They are to let the abundance of their wealth flow over to those in need. As soon as the heart of the rich person treasures the needy, the material treasure they own follows that need–good works, generosity, and love invariably follow a heart that desires practical charity. And, the result, ‘… he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’ 2 Cor 8:15 By acting as God’s agent, the rich person ensures everyone has enough–this greatly pleases God. As a parent shares in the joy of a child receiving a birthday gift, so the rich person who willingly gives shares in the joy of those having their needs met–even as God also rejoices in it. Those who are truly rich know it is more blessed to give than receive; in giving they both experience the grace and joy of the Lord.
6. But there is a greater blessing awaiting the generous giver. In the Old Testament it is written, ‘He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.’ Prov 19:17 (NIV) When a person helps the poor (those in need) God looks on that act as an account that requires repayment; God will generously repay anyone who willingly helps those in need, and loves to reward the generous person. Many generous Christians can testify how God has richly repaid their generosity, materially. But far more than this, there is a future eternal reward in store for them, as well. What does Paul say, ‘…thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future.’ Now please don’t miss this important point: The truly rich know, that the only way to transfer wealth beyond the grave into the next life, is to generously give to those in need; God credits this to the eternal bank account–depositing for them a secure future-proof investment.
7. Finally, the truly rich, understand that the meaning of true life, is future life. There is, and perhaps always has been, a tendency among Christians to view true life, as a life lived well–now. Whenever the Bible considers true life, it is always the life beyond this present world–eternal life. Notice Paul’s words, ‘…so that they may ‘take hold’ of that which is truly life.‘ Paul is merely echoing Jesus’ teaching about giving up your life to gain true life ( Matt 10:39) Indeed, a person cannot hold onto worldly wealth and take hold of eternal wealth–you have to let go of one to gain the other. The truly rich know that true life transcends life in this world, that is why some of the richest people in the world are actually materially poor!
Who then is the wise investor? Is it the person like the rich farmer, in one of Jesus’ stories, who built bigger barns to store his wealth, as a hedge against future uncertainty–only to discover that his life was taken from him? Or, is it the person like the poor widow, in another of Jesus’ stories, who, though she was poor, gave all she had to those in need, forsaking present material blessing for something greater–something beyond this life? As contrary as it is to our natural sensibilities, it was the widow who, in being rich, became truly rich–the one who let go of present wealth to lay hold of true future wealth.
So let me encourage you, if you want to focus on future security; instead of working on the science of getting rich, work on the art of being rich. Only by being rich can you truly become rich, and only here will you find a secure future; true life–eternal life.