January 15, 2015

Riches and happiness come from the same source

Most of us have heard that money cannot buy happiness. I’ve not taken a survey to prove that rich people are not happy, but I know two things: the ability to become rich comes from God and happiness comes from God. My question could be ‘why not me’ but it isn’t . . .

God says, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . .” (Deuteronomy 8:18) but that does not mean the recipient will be happy. God says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

God gives wealth, sometimes to people who do not have the ability to become rich, but because He wants to bless them. He said to Isaac, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” (Genesis 26:24–25)

The second passage from today’s readings was written by a rich man. He said, “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.” (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2)

No wonder it is said that money cannot buy happiness. The wisest man in the world was also the richest, but he realized that apart from the blessing of God, there was no power to enjoy what he had. (Some might point out that having several hundred wives may have contributed to this discovery!)

The next reading in the NT is also about money and the love of money. This time, Jesus is talking to a rich young man who wanted to know how what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him about what he was doing already and the young man claimed to be keeping the commandments, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This was a test! The entire Bible makes it clear that giving away all your money will not grant eternal life. The result shows that the rich man didn’t pass the test. “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:20–22)

After he left, Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.”

The disciples were in a religious culture that considered riches a blessing from God, so when they heard this they were greatly astonished, and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23–26)

Salvation is God’s doing. It isn’t about what we can do, or what money can do for us. In the case of this young man, money became his idol, his god. He said ‘no’ to eternal life because he could not part with his wealth, but even as he made that decision, he went away sorrowful.

Jesus wanted the disciples to know that wealth gained by whatever means does not replace the care of God. Had the man given up his riches, God would have taken care of him. Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:29–30)

He followed up with a story about an owner of a vineyard who hired people during the day, offering each the same wage. At the end of the day, each one was given a denarius. Of course those hired first thought they would receive more. They grumbled, but the owner said, “I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:8–16)

We use money to divide people into classes, to make impressions, to feed our egos and appetites, but God uses it to take care of us and so we can take care of others. Our status is never about money for life under Christ is not about cash or anything else that will be left behind when He comes for us.

Instead, every time I sell something or somehow gain some money, my first thoughts should always be, “What does the Lord want me to do with this?”

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