THE WAY TO TRUE RICHES
Written by Doug Ponder on November 18, 2012
This article is a follow-up to the sermon The Way to True Riches [Nov. 18, 2012]. The Scripture passage for the sermon is 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.
Talking about Money
Most folks don’t like to talk about money, especially with other people. This is true whether or not we have a lot of money (or possessions) or very little money (or possessions). On one hand, many people worry about whether others will judge them for having more money than they do, on the other hand, some people worry about whether others will judge them for having less money than they do. Sometimes we get sucked into playing these ways of thinking, but the truth is that everyone who lives above the poverty line in the U.S. is actually wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world. What that seems to mean, at the very least, is that our real problem isn’t the issue of having or not having (since we already have so much in comparison to everyone else in the world). No, our real problem is the issue of wanting and craving. Our insatiable appetite for money and for the things that money can buy is what the Bible means when it talks about “greed.” Greed is a very dangerous sin because it both widespread and hard to spot at the same time. It’s kind of like a deadly disease that almost everyone has without even knowing that they have caught it!
The Subtle Seduction of Greed
Greed is widespread because everyone is susceptible to it, whether rich or poor. For example, even though they have vastly different amounts of wealth the rich and the poor can both be heard saying things like, “If only I had a little more, then I could finally live the good life.” It would be foolish to think that those who are wealthy are the only ones who struggle with the sin of greed. In most cases, the difference between the wealthy and the poor is not what they want—for they want the same thing—but what they have. Thus, while they have differing amounts of wealth, both the rich and the poor (and everyone in between!) are open to the subtle seduction of greed.
Greed is also dangerous because it is hidden, or hard to spot in our lives. We always think that other people are greedy, but not ourselves. This is because we tend to compare ourselves to those with more than us, so that we always end up looking good by comparison. “Look how much they have.” “Surely I’m not greedy because I have so much less than them.” In this way most people go through lives never even aware of how greed is at work in their hearts. They remain ungrateful for what they have, always wanting more, never feeling satisfied, and never being moved to share what they have with others. This is why God says “the love of money”, or greed, “is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Jesus > Money
Interestingly, Jesus talked more about greed than any other topic except for the kingdom of God, probably because he knew that greed is so widespread and so deeply hidden in our hearts. But Jesus did more than warn us about greed; he aims to replace our greedy desires with eternal satisfaction and exceedingly better pleasures than anything money could buy. Or our as passage puts it, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Don’t misunderstand this beautiful truth. It’s not saying that Jesus left his piles of cash in heaven to become poor for a minute so that we could get big piles of money, too. That’s just absurd. What is actually said, however, promises us something far better than big piles of money. It means that Jesus left the glories of heaven, where he was worshiped and adored, and came to earth, where he was despised and rejected (cf. Isaiah 53:3; Phil. 2:6-8). He was put to death for the sins of the very people who had abandoned him. And because of his great sacrifice we now are “rich” in the grace of God, receiving his unending favor instead of the righteous judgment we actually deserve (cf. Rom. 3:23-26).
But what does this have to do with greed? The good news about Jesus shows us what true riches really are. He shows us that the riches of the Father’s love toward us are more valuable than anything else we could want or have in this life. This means if you have everything but don’t have Jesus, you have nothing of lasting value. But if you have almost nothing but still have Jesus, then you have what really matters (cf. Mark 8:36). How could this be? Because the love and acceptance of God (through the work of Jesus) is permanent and unending. Furthermore, God is the source of everything good, and at his right hand are fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11). Those who find their hope and joy in what Jesus has done for them are forgiven for their greedy desires and they are set free from their slavery to the endless pursuit of satisfaction through consumption of temporary pleasures, for they know that they have “a better possession, and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.