by Evan Keller
Scripture doesn’t condemn wealth, but is very concerned about how we get it, what we do with it, and whether it takes precedence in our hearts above God’s “house”. Gifts from God are not like the new, shiny bike you got for Christmas as a child, meant for you alone. No, gifts that come from God are to you but for others, “not a privilege but a responsibility – the Abrahamic responsibility of being a blessing to others. (Gen. 12:1-3)” (Christopher Wright, The Righteous Rich in the Old Testament)
This message doesn’t quite sit well with us fallen (yet being redeemed) humans. We want our shiny gifts to shine our own reputations. The Apostle Paul knows this, so keeps insisting that gifts are meant to serve the Body of Christ – the church – and bring glory to God. Likewise, the Old Testament prophet, Haggai asks: “Whose house are you building? Yours or God’s?”
Each of us use our gifts to build something every day. Are our efforts focused more on building our own little empire or God’s glorious one? According to 1 Kings 6:38-7:1, Solomon built God’s temple in seven years but spent 13 years constructing his own palace! As someone who’s currently building a house for my family, am I spending even more of my time and my gifts to build God’s house? I would say so, but those who know me best should make that call given that I’m not immune to self-deception.
Here are the chilling words of God through Haggai:
In the second year of the reign of Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, stating that this is what the LORD of Hosts says:
“These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.’”
Then the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet, saying:
“Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”
Now this is what the LORD of Hosts says:
“Consider carefully your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough. You drink but never have your fill. You put on clothes but never get warm. You earn wages to put into a bag pierced through.”
This is what the LORD of Hosts says:
“Consider carefully your ways. Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified, says the LORD. You expected much, but behold, it amounted to little. And what you brought home, I blew away. Why? declares the LORD of Hosts. Because My house still lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, on account of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth has withheld its crops. I have summoned a drought on the fields and on the mountains, on the grain, new wine, and olive oil, and on whatever the ground yields, on man and beast, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Lots of effort; so little fruit. God made it crystal clear that maximizing profit for self alone is actually self-defeating. Jesus stated the same concept positively: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
A Rich Fool
Jesus reveals right up front what he wants us to learn from the nameless “rich man” he weaves a story about in Luke 12 by starting with: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).
Abundance is Not the Issue, Selfishness Is
Note that there was nothing wrong with a farm that “produced plentifully.” In fact, the way Jesus makes “the land” the one who acts to “produce” immense harvests emphasizes the role of Creation and hence the Creator. Abundance is not the problem. So, what is? A certain repetition in the text makes the answer clear: he says “I” or “my” eleven times in the span of three sentences!”
Speaking of today’s “non-poor”, Bryant Myers inadvertently gives a precise diagnosis of this “rich man’s” malady: “Instead of understanding themselves as productive stewards working for the well-being of their community, they act as if their gifts and position are somehow rightfully theirs, or earned, and hence are solely for themselves and for their well-being” (Bryant Myers, Walking With the Poor).
Jesus promises judgment to all who “lay up treasure” for themselves but are not “rich toward God.” What does Jesus mean by “rich toward God?” Pastor John Piper believes that:
“Being rich toward God is the heart being drawn toward God as our riches. ‘Rich toward God’ means moving toward God as our riches. ‘Rich toward God’ means counting God greater riches than anything on the earth. ‘Rich toward God’ means using earthly riches to show how much you value God… Again the issue isn’t that the man’s fields prospered. The issue is that God ceased to be his supreme treasure. If God had been his treasure… he would have said something like this: ‘God, this is all yours. You have made my fields prosper. Show me how to express with my riches that you are my treasure, and the riches are not. I already have enough. I don’t need a bigger and bigger safety net. I don’t need better food, better drink, better parties…” (John Piper, Let’s Be Rich Toward God)
Many who are not severely affected by COVID-19 are looking for ways to be extra generous during this crisis, as those who were already vulnerable are having a hard time putting food on the table or accessing medical care. How can we use our talents, treasure and time to be rich towards God? Lord, save me from becoming this “rich fool”!
Excerpted from Evan’s new book
The Heart of Wealth: Spreading God’s Joy
Available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.
Evan Keller has been married to his beloved wife Karen of 25 years – a former nurse who’s a creative cook and baker. In addition to escaping to the mountains, they enjoy life in DeLand, Florida which is near to their 14 nieces and nephews. Evan is a University of Central Florida graduate, an ordained minister, a member of: Rotary, NAACP, and Christ Community Church in Daytona Beach. Evan is addicted to playing basketball, and dabbles in off-road biking, paddling, and mountain backpacking to experience God in the splendor of His Creation. At work, Evan co-leads talented teams at two ventures he founded to leverage business for good: the nonprofit Creating Jobs Inc and the for-profit Tree Work Now Inc. Creating Jobs Inc equips global nonprofits to develop entrepreneurs using its two step-by-step 350-page business training books entitled StartBook and GrowBook. Evan is the lead author of these resources which are printed in many languages and used in several countries, and has more recently authored The Heart of Wealth: Spreading God’s Joy. Tree Work Now Inc develops its 25 employees both personally and professionally and creates exceptional value for 1,000 customers every year while increasing the health, safety, and beauty of their trees.
To enquire about Creating Jobs, StartBook, GrowBook or to connect with Evan, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.