True Wealth is the third installment in my series on Economics, Money & Wealth. This teaching builds upon True Economic Value and True Biblical Money. You will want to read those first in that order if you have not done so already. True Economic Value is all about the man, True Biblical Money is all about the measurement, and True Wealth is all about the motivation.
The True Riches
Let us start with a parable from Jesus and His subsequent explanation to help us define some terms:
He [Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:1-15)
The manager was "wasting" the possessions of his rich master. The Greek word diaskorpizō translated here in English as "wasting" means "to squander, waste" and is the same word used to describe the prodigal son when he "squandered his property in reckless living" (Luke 15:13). He was using his master's wealth for his own selfish ambitions. He was shrewd though because he also used it to further relationships. Relationships can be more valuable than wealth. The point of the parable is this: the dishonest manager used wealth that was not his to build relationships to further his objectives.
Jesus noted that unbelievers do a better job of using material wealth ("unrighteous wealth") to build relationships to further their objectives than believers do to build relationships to further His objectives. Jesus wants us to build relationships with unbelievers in our economic sphere so that we can be a witness of His life to them. Their wealth will ultimately fail them in what really matters in life so they may repent and give their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, they will welcome us into heaven when we arrive, being thankful to us for giving them the true riches.
I find that using one's economic sphere to build relationships with unbelievers is "common sense," but this wisdom escapes those who are not faithful in putting the Lord first in their lives. Like the manager in the parable, our material wealth is not our own; it is our Master's. We must faithfully administer it according to His direction. The true riches are people knowing Jesus Christ. If a believer is untrustworthy with money and wealth, then his poor witness will be a stumbling block to unbelievers.
For many believers, a lie creeps in at this point and says that you have to give away all your wealth. This lie comes from, and has been greatly perpetuated by, the false religious system errantly referred to as "the church." The real church is the life of Jesus Christ amongst His disciples. Guess who calls the shots in the real church? He does. He sent the Holy Spirit in his name (person) to empower each one of us individually. Only He can tell you what to do with His wealth.
In JESUS: The Unknown Economist, Charles Gave, the founder of GaveKal Research, wrote the following:
Christ always refused to prescribe a written rule of life for those who asked for it. ... If the questioner insisted, He always replied, "Come, and follow me."
There are no recipes for how to be a good Christian: there is only that instruction, "Come, and follow me."
A few pages later, Gave wrote this and then quoted Luke 14:33:
The Gospels are not so much a book as an encounter with a person who is at once demanding, full of compassion, and who never defines what He expects of us—and this is enough to become mad or perhaps saintly, or (often enough) both at the same time: because when one is in love one can never give enough to those whom one loves.
He who has not given "everything" has given nothing ...
Gave, a French Catholic, revealed something here about faith that not enough American evangelicals understand. To be a Christian is to have a real relationship with the living God and this comes through giving your life to Him.
I used to teach that Christians should tithe because I was misled as a young follower of Christ. The Lord was faithful to take me out of that deception and give me the full revelation of the freedom that I have with Him. The benefit of this process and my interactions over the years with Christians as it relates to financial matters is that it taught me that most are looking for a rule or formula to please God. Many are taught rules and formulas but they are not given guidance on how to walk with the living God. On one hand this upsets me, but, on the other hand, I have come to realize that most people would just rather have rules and formulas anyway.
I once had a discussion with a pastor about tithing. After failing to prove the reason to me for it Biblically, he basically admitted that they taught it so that the church would have the steady income it needed. There you have it. A manmade program of control that is contrary to faith.
Strategy and the Definition of True Wealth
When believers forsake the Spirit for a formula or a program (e.g., save X%, give X%, or whatever) they throw away strategy. The dishonest manager operated with a strategy and the master called him "shrewd." If you are being directed by the voice of God and not the voice of money (we will get to that), then the Spirit is giving you strategy. If you do not recognize that the Lord operates with strategy, then you do not have a close relationship with Him. Throw away man's program and ask Him to give you His strategic economic thought. For many, this means an upheaval in their lives, but such "upheaval" is on the path that leads to His life.
The true riches are what God is focused on and His economy revolves around them. If you are going to handle wealth with God, it is not enough to simply understand and accept this. It must be engrained in your thinking. "You cannot serve God and money [mammon or wealth]." You can certainly serve God and have wealth but there is no room for error because "what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God." Consider Jesus' warning to the Laodicean church:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17-18)
Those who think that they can serve God and money will get caught with their pants down.
The knowledge of God through Jesus Christ is the true riches. Gold, white clothing, and salve (ointment) combine to symbolize a disciple of Christ walking in His will, as follows:
- Gold is the character or nature of God revealed in the believer when their faith is tested by fire. Faith that does not get tested is like fiat paper money issued by the world—ultimately worthless. The apostle Peter wrote:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- White clothing represents righteousness through faith in Christ ("buy from me"). The unbelieving self-righteous who think they "need nothing" are truly unrighteous (naked) before God.
- Eyelids anointed with salve (ointment) represents being empowered by the Holy Spirit so that one is taught by Him and given spiritual insight.
Material wealth that hinders the true riches is worthless. True Wealth is my word in my series on Economics, Money & Wealth for material wealth that does not hinder the true riches. Here is my formal definition:
True Wealth is material wealth held for the glory of God.
This is not a flippant definition but intentional in two aspects.
First, True Wealth is that which is "held" or owned and maintained indefinitely to provide future resources. This means that it will likely be appreciating in value and/or at least paying interest or dividends. In other words, there is an investment aspect to it.
Second, I purposely indicated that it is held "for the glory of God" to put the strategic decision-making aspect entirely in God's hands. Man's religious systems are always trying to tell people what to do with God's money and the believer who reads this will have no doubt already contended with this. We must shut out the Laodicean opinion and do, by faith, what His Spirit says for His glory. God will decide how He is to be glorified.
True Wealth is material wealth that serves God. It is a strategic weapon for His glory.
Humility and the Fear of the Lord
One will no doubt say: "'So and so' was a great innovator who lived a long, productive life, became very wealthy, gave away almost all of his wealth, but he did not know Jesus Christ?" My response: "Then he was a complete failure."
Jesus once declared (to the crowd):
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34:38; emphasis mine)
This man is now living in the eternal torment of hell. No matter how good his life looked in magazines or on television, he never had the joyful freedom from sin that comes through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. If a man's soul is not cleansed, then the success or wealth that he would appear to have is not eternally real or enduring. He was a total failure because he did not glorify his Creator, from Whom his natural abilities came.
Notice Jesus said, "whoever is ashamed of me and of my words." Some deny the truth because acknowledging Christ would mean having to follow Him which would hinder their economic situation. Unlike Moses, who "considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt," they refuse to lay down a deceitful temporary gain for the eternal reward (Hebrews 11:26). Like the Jewish authorities who believed in Jesus but would not admit it for fear of losing their place in society, they love "the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God" (John 12:43). Those who choose "the glory that comes from man" can never have True Wealth since it is held "for the glory of God." Material wealth without the indwelling person of Christ is worthless.
True Wealth cannot begin until a person follows Jesus Christ. Following Christ gives the owner the knowledge of God that causes him to properly understand that wealth comes from Him. In other words, surrendering one's life to Christ begins to unlock economic realities that those who do not know Him cannot perceive. The following two Bible verses reveal that God determines and controls wealth distribution:
The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:7-8)
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (1 Chronicles 29:12)
The acceptance of God's control requires humility and faith —the two most common themes of the gospels. I think about these a great deal and have personally come to the conclusion that: humility is the secret to life.
Psalm 112:1-3 shouts aloud:
Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.
Proverbs 22:4 tells us:
"The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life."
Yes, the Bible actually promises "riches" to those with humility and the fear of the Lord; the "fear of the Lord" being the reverential love and respect for God that comes through humility. But notice, no particular amount of "riches" is specified. May I suggest that what is promised is that whatever wealth those with humility and faith do have it will be True Wealth and a dime of True Wealth has more eternal value than $1 billion of assets temporarily held by a pompous denier of his Creator.
There is another reason why True Wealth accompanies humility and the fear of the Lord. It is tucked in this proverb:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)
Wisdom and Character
The fear of the Lord unlocks the door to wisdom. The disciple who follows Christ through this door will walk with Him, hear His voice, and this "knowledge of the Holy One" brings forth insight. This is the foundational element underlying the essential formula of True Economic Value which is:
wisdom/understanding + study/work + experience/time = economic value
This same formula underpins True Wealth since True Wealth is essentially the product of individuals with True Economic Value. This formula can be adapted for True Wealth as follows:
wisdom/insight + diligence/study/work + experience/time = wealth (accumulation)
The formula is essentially the same. I interchanged "understanding" with "insight" because the latter reminds me of more of a business setting. I added "diligence" to "study/work" because, as we shall see, diligence is a word that the Bible equates with wealth.
I did not include "character" in either of these because it is to be assumed that the individual is a disciple of Jesus Christ who is empowered by His Spirit. He has come through the door of wisdom and his shining integrity comes from the presence of God in his life. A man cannot handle True Wealth in his own (human) strength, God must do it through him. A man cannot obtain character and integrity through his own striving. He can only leave a legacy of Christ-like character through faithful obedience to God. The Bible confirms that such character is a critical component of True Economic Value and True Wealth:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1)
A man who has this character does not need to be supervised, because he works unto God. This is how it was with Joseph. Concerning him, the Bible tells us:
Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. (Genesis 39:1-6; emphasis mine)
After being falsely accused, we are told the following concerning Joseph's time in prison:
And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. (Genesis 39:20-23; emphasis mine)
The source of Joseph's exceptional character and integrity was his fear of the Lord and steadfast devotion to Him. This resulted in the Lord being with him in all that he did. After Joseph interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh reacted as follows:
And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command." (Genesis 41: 38-40)
Today, now that Christ paid has paid the ultimate sacrifice for sin and risen from the dead, believers are spiritually united with God (1 Corinthians 6:17) and the Holy Spirit fills the lives of disciples. Perhaps, nowhere was this stated more powerfully than from the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (2:20)
Living by faith as the Spirit of the Lord inside leads, intuitively implies that there is a path to be followed. Obediently following the Lord on His path forges His character into the life of the disciple.
By empowering His people with His Spirit, Jesus Christ Himself can grow wealth through His people for His purposes. It is worth repeating the definition of True Wealth again here: True Wealth is material wealth held for the glory of God.
There is a reason why the New Testament does not lay out in intense detail how we should live our lives. It is because God designed the church for Jesus Christ to literally dwell in it through the Holy Spirit so that He can tell us what to do. If a man is living a life empowered by the Spirit and he has wealth, then who am I to tell the Lord what He should do with His wealth. This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote:
Who are you to judge the servant of another [Christ]? To his own master [Christ] he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)
The living Christ becomes wisdom for the Spirit-filled disciple. By diligently applying the insights from His wisdom, the disciple can grow wealth over time for the glory of God. The Bible makes this relationship clear:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. (Proverbs 3:13-16)
"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. ... I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness." (Proverbs 8:12, 17-18)
The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly. (Proverbs 14:24)
The application of wisdom and insight to grow True Wealth requires diligent work and time. Let us now look at these.
Diligence, Time, and Legacy
If there is any practical prescription in the Bible to grow True Wealth it is surely diligence. Consider the following Proverbs:
Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth. (12:27)
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. (10:4)
If there is any practical prescription in the Bible for a man to avoid True Wealth it is slacking off in one's work, as the following Proverbs hit on:
Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. (Proverbs 18:9)
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. (Proverbs 21.17)
I previously stated that "the application of wisdom and insight to grow True Wealth requires diligent work and time," however, it is also true that diligent work over time leads to certain wisdom and insight. What is often missed is that the experience gained from applying wisdom and insight over time gradually teaches one how to steward greater amounts of wealth responsibly. Several verses in Proverbs allude to this reality:
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. (13:11)
An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end. (Proverbs 20:21)
A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. (28:20)
The Bible does not teach against accumulating True Wealth, but it clearly cautions against a hasty approach to doing so. It is because a man's faithfulness to the Lord must be proven over time.
Moreover, God's path will often produce an enduring foundation—a multi-generational legacy of a family serving Jesus Christ. We must look beyond the selfish concept of simply laying up wealth for one's personal enjoyment in retirement. Younger generations inheriting True Wealth committed to the glory of God will also be inheriting a far more important legacy of faith. This aspect is far too often overlooked when it comes to wealth planning. Consider the following Proverb:
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous. (13:22)
What I am talking about here is a multi-generational legacy of values built upon the Rock (Luke 6:46-48). True Wealth is simply a supplementary aspect of a far greater legacy.
Moses' instruction to the Hebrews illuminates what I am driving at here:
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
If your life is not a living testimony to your children of loving the Lord "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" you can forget about True Wealth.
Learning to steward True Wealth takes time. The Lord's time that molds and proves us is our friend. We must not fight against it.
The Deceitfulness of Riches
Wealth has the power to get into the imagination of a man, making him look through glasses of deceit. It can give him a false-confidence. Proverbs 18:11 tells us: "A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination." Jesus called this "the deceitfulness of riches" in His Parable of the Sower. First, the parable:
"Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:3-8)
Then, the following explanation from Jesus:
"And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." (Mark 4:18-19; emphasis mine)
Jesus did not say that riches choke the word (of God). He said that riches have the potential to induce deception into the thinking of a man that will cause him to miss the will of God.
Wealth has a powerful "voice." This is the reality. God has a voice and wealth has a voice. We must subject the voice of the latter to the former. Riches, or anything else for that matter, become an issue when they assume leadership. Stewarding True Wealth requires persevering obedience to the voice of God.
In his gospel, Luke recorded Jesus' explanation of the last part of the Parable of the Sower as follows:
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (8:14-15; emphasis mine)
Jesus taught here that fruit-bearing requires patiently undergoing a process of steadfastly holding on to the word of God. This often painful process produces growth. Like the process from seed to fruit in nature, this is the design of God. God's design is for us to be able to yield True Wealth in harsh environments. We must not impatiently fight against the time requirement, but allow it to have its complete work which will fortify us against the deceitfulness of riches.
The Obstacle of Possessions
Alongside the deceitfulness of riches, amongst the thorns, lies the obstacle of possessions. Riches become a dirty word in the Scriptures when we get to a misguided abundance of possessions. Consider the following interaction Jesus had with a rich young ruler:
And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said, "All these I have kept from my youth." When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For 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." Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" But he said, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:18-27)
To enter the kingdom of God one must be spiritually born-again (John 3:5-7)—a conversion that requires trust in Jesus Christ. The English Standard Version of the Bible here translates Jesus saying, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" but includes a footnote that says, "Some manuscripts add for those who trust in riches. The New King James Version of the Bible translates Mark's version of this account with Jesus saying: "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:24) Likewise, Proverbs warns: Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf (11:28). The issue at hand for this rich young ruler was that though he did good works, he did not have his faith and trust in Jesus Christ. He trusted in what his extreme wealth could do for him.
Just like it is impossible for man to save himself and enter the kingdom of God—Jesus Christ (God) had to make the way through the cross—so it is impossible to steward True Wealth apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. A man cannot steward True Wealth in his own strength and ability, else he will succumb to the pull of riches.
Jesus used the following parable to show how self-focused wealth accumulation leads to deception:
And he [Jesus] said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his 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 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; emphasis mine)
This man said to himself, "I will," four times always focused on himself. He never considered the will of God. This parable is a classic warning against the typical retirement mindset.
Real contentment comes from God, not wealth. True Wealth comes with contentment. King Solomon once explained that such contentment is "the gift of God":
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; emphasis mine)
I love this final verse. It refreshes my soul. With it, I will end.