What are true riches?
To answer this question from a biblical perspective, we must turn to the source of the expression. On the heels of the parable of the shrewd steward, Luke recounts these words of Jesus:
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? Luke 16:10-11
True riches come into view as the reward for stewards who handle unrighteous wealth or worldly possessions in line with the interests of the Master. God is the Master, and people (that’s you and me) serve as stewards of all the Master owns, which is everything (Psalm 24:1). As God gives us the ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8:18), we must use it according to His purposes. In essence, Jesus is telling us that only when we pass this proverbial test, will we grasp something greater.
A broad overview of the responsibilities outlined for us as stewards in Scripture reveals that we must use wealth as a tool to engage in fruitful work, to resource God’s work through giving, to nurture our families with thoughtful caring, and to bless the needy through generous sharing. Stewards, in this light, appear not as “containers” of wealth but as “conduits” of material blessings richly and purposefully provided by God.
When we as God’s people use resources faithfully, serving as joyful conduits, we don’t end up destitute but play a role in God’s economy as distributors. God provides everything for our enjoyment and sharing. When we handle riches this way, we take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
To gain more deep insight regarding the nature of true riches, let us consider this excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, written in response to their generous financial gift to Him.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13
What had Paul taken hold of that enabled him to be content in all circumstances? In a word: Christ! Notice that Paul employs two verbs two times in past tense in this text: “learned” and “know.” Only through experiencing times of abundance and abasement did Paul learn and know that true riches were hidden in Christ. He came to learn and know that to have Christ is to have everything he would ever need. With Christ, he realized he could navigate any and every situation.
How does a person acquire true riches?
Undoubtedly, it’s a process – part of a person’s spiritual journey – as Jan Johnson reminds us. “As life becomes more outwardly simple, it becomes more inwardly rich.” (Abundant Simplicity, 2011:14).
From our youth, advertisements and billboards around the world teach us that worldly wealth saves us from crisis, secures our future, and satisfies our deepest longings. Ironically, in Psalm 49 the sons of Korah proclaim the opposite. They declare that a person who has riches without understanding is no different than the beast that perish. The sons of Korah stress that all people – rich and poor – must grasp that riches cannot give security, lasting satisfaction, or save a person from death, only God can. Each and every person must gain knowledge and understanding while avoiding the temptations linked to riches and the lies of this world.
With similar language in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His followers that they cannot serve both God and money. Everyone must place their trust in one or the other. He also instructs them not to worry about what they will eat and drink, or what they will wear, but rather to store up treasures in heaven and seek God first. Meanwhile, the pagans, who don’t know any better, chase after these things (Matthew 6:19-34).
When stewards follow God’s design, they often experience fruitful material blessing. This abundance can lead some to make foolish decisions such as trying to serve as containers rather than conduits. The story of the rich fool illustrates this (Luke 12:13-21). The rich man owned land that was fruitful, but he failed to steward the abundance rightly through enjoyment and sharing. Sadly, he was relieved of his duties.
How can stewards keep wealth in perspective?
Earning wealth seems to come naturally for us as stewards. We also tend to be good at enjoyment. The giving and sharing part is where we have difficulty. Tony Payne concurs. “The key to true riches is not to hoard wealth, or to spend it on our pleasures, but to give it away. God blesses the generous, cheerful giver by providing more resources and opportunities for giving. In becoming like Christ, who gave away the riches of heaven so that we might ultimately share in them, we receive far more than we ever give away.” (Cash Values: Studies about Money, 2009: 40).
To hold on to true riches, we as stewards must consider the posture of our heart. We must fix it on the riches of Christ and not earthly riches. Isaac Ambrose who lived from 1604-1664 offers us a proper perspective and timeless wisdom for the seeker of true riches.
“For a man to be proud of his riches, is as if a horse was proud of his trappings. Your riches are but thorns which, without great care, will penetrate your hands. Many names are given in Scripture to riches, to wean us from them, such as mammon of unrighteousness, riches that fly away and deceitful riches . . . O Christian, never be proud of things that are so transient, injurious, and uncertain as the riches of this evil world, but set your heart on the true and durable riches of grace in Christ Jesus.” (The Christian Warrior, 2013: 82, originally published in 1674 as War with Devils).
This brief exploration of the topic of true riches reveals that followers of Christ should look different from the world. We, as stewards, must adopt the posture of a conduit rather than a container. Simultaneously, lest material blessings from God worm their way into our hearts, we must fix our focus on the riches of Christ as our highest prize, while using the Master’s resources faithfully. As we learn to do this, we not only avoid many pitfalls and problems along the way, we take hold of true riches in Christ. And if we don’t do this, well, we may be relieved of our stewardship responsibilities and others may distribute our worldly wealth for us. May God help us serve as joyful conduits of worldly wealth with hearts set on our true riches in Christ!