"The Abundant Life: Material or Spiritual"
The first step in finding the rich life, is finding out what it is not! Many view a rich life as one of indulgence, cessation of conflict, wealth, power, or esteem from men. The rich life has nothing to do with what the world considers worthy.
The call of the Christian is not to create a "Christian Society" - a world adhering to the principles of Christ. God has informed us that this will never come to pass anyway (Matt. 7:13; Jas. 4:4). Neither is it the Christian's duty or responsibility to solve the world's problems. This world, and more specifically, our society, has many tragic inequities and injustices that are totally beyond solution by the Christian. Rather, the Christian is called upon to live a new life. That he can and must do.
The Good Life Is Not Success
We live in a technological civilization that socially judges "success" by materialistic standards. This is not a political or an economic article, but unfortunately, many brethren have a view of themselves and other's living as "successful" based upon humanistic, political reasoning and standards.
For instance, following World War II, the United States' success in mass production, transportation, and communication won a global war. Our wealth and abundance of material resources developed a mind in many that centralization of oversight, pooling of wealth, and massive application of material resources would solve any problem. It did not work, of course, politically or militarily, but it kept a lot of people busy. Applied to religion, it was disastrous.
Even following the debacle of the past twenty-five years, we are still told by those ambitious men of purpose, "If a thing works, it is good; If it does not work, it is not good." Big is better than little. More is better than less. We have developed an institution and instrumental view of values and people. Accomplishing an end is more important than the effect it may have on the people or the quality of their life. Whether it be a war in Korea, or Viet Nam or the Herald of Truth - the results of the thinking are the same. We even see it among those who oppose the abuses of the past in varying degrees: specialty churches, brotherhood preachers and lines of teaching, etc. The rich life is not the "success ethic."
Jesus was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief. He was a man from whom others hid their faces in shame and embarrassment. He was looked down on by many in contempt, and even His closest friends did not honor or esteem Him (Isa. 53:3). Jesus warned His followers to beware of success that brought the good favor of all men, and their plaudits. Only the false prophets received the glory of men (Luke 6:26). He established a standard for the disciple, that whoever would be the greatest must be the menial: the servant, the waiter, the minister, the foot-washer, boot-black, door holder, the waiter while others go ahead, the quiet while others get the glory, the humble while others bow and smile, the silent while others laugh to scorn. "Who is greater," Jesus asked, "He that sits at meat, or he that serveth? His disciples answered him, He that sits. But, Jesus said, I am among you as one that serveth . . . ."
Success is not part of the good life, the rich life. The good is not always successful, and the successful are not always good. The Christian, if he is to find the rich life, must change his attitude towards what is indeed "success." Rather than placing values on status, power, pride, wealth, fame, position, and strength, we need to place our value on humility, service, simplicity, integrity, sacrifice, and sharing. Divine success is just the opposite of what society admires (1 Cor. i:18-31). We need this lesson applied today more than any other. We have only to look about and see where many lay their true values. Proverbs reminds us, somewhat cynically, "Wealth maketh many friends . . . many entreat the favor of the prince: and every man is a friend of him that giveth gifts" (Prov. 19:4, 6). The Christian would do well to steer clear of the wealthy and his life-style. "When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is put before thee: and put a knife to thy throat if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties, for they are deceitful meat. Labor not to be rich: cease not from thine own wisdom" (Prow. 23:1ff).
The Good Life Is Not Status
The scriptures teach abundantly that men are of equal worth before God, each soul precious beyond compare. The parable of the lost sheep depicts God's concern for the one in need, regardless of "success" with the ninety-nine (Luke 15:3-7). The parable of the loving father and the prodigal son further illustrates that there is no class structure or status before God, only the love of the Father for all in His family. God's love extends even to the least worthy (Luke 15:11-32). The New Testament epistles exhort us over and over to regard one another as brethren in love and sacrifice. To live in the Kingdom does not mean that we must tear down the world's class distinctions. There are masters and servants. Rather we are not to recognize them socially or spiritually. A man's worth is determined by what he is, not what his status is. Equality does not mean that everyone is equal in every area, and this is not inferred in scripture. The popular myth in America is that all men have equal opportunity to climb to the top of the economic pile (we do not have that now - either in the church or out of it). Equality means that everyone should be able to participate meaningfully in life.
Equality has many implications. One is that in the church we are to eliminate hierarchial and bureaucratic relationships in which some do "significant" and more desirable work, and others do menial tasks. Too often we structure our relationships and work the same way the world does. Undue deference is given to the rich, the scholar, the executive, the popular athlete or entertainer, whose only abilities are physical or intellectual, hardly a basis for a foundation of trust and experience in matters of the spirit and quality of life. In too many relationships, some are viewed as more important than others. This is not the case in the rich life.
Some see that education is the basis for determining worth. The educated are worth more than the uneducated. They are paid more money, therefore they are worth more as people. Some even think they ought to make more money than the uneducated and be given greater deference. Who says? Certainly not God. There is no moral reason to support it. It is based upon sheer class prejudice, selfishness, pride, and snobbery. It is arrogant for some to consider themselves worth more than others.
The Good Life Is Not Wealth
Everyone should have an income that is sufficient to meet his needs. It has always been a puzzle to me why some in the church should receive (not earn) a million dollars a year and another only two thousand. Paul noted, that in the church it was not a question of some being burdened, while others live a life of wealth, but rather that each man's basic needs be met. When the man with a million and the man with $2,000 are both Christians there should be "an equality, that your abundance might supply their want, and so that their abundance might supply your want. As it is written, He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he that had gathered little had no lack" (2 Cor. 8:13-15).
Wealth demands sharing, not out of duty, but because wealth is a stewardship. It is not ours, but has been entrusted to us by God to be used. To indulge, merely because we have abundance denies our very reason for existence. We do not exist to indulge, but to love, give, and share. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). It is more enjoyable to share than to accumulate. Again, sharing is not done out of duty, or even because others have need (paternalism). We share that we might commune and have fellowship with our brethren and that our unselfishness might impress the unbeliever who sees the good work and glorifes God (Heb. 13:16; Acts 2:44-46; Phil. 4:10-18).
Too often, sharing is viewed as a weakness! Imagine! In our society it is viewed as a failing to be dependent upon anyone. But we are dependent on God and our brethren. We deny our humanity and our Saviour if we do not accept our dependency. To the extent that we are too proud to ask our brethren for help, we have cut ourselves off from them. To the extent that any one of substance or ability looks down on his brother in need, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.
In truth, wealth is too often a detriment to the rich life. Possessions bring with them dependence and addiction. Luxury weakens our ability to abstain, to wait patiently for results, and to sacrifice. People of possessions become slaves to them. One cannot serve God and possessions at the same time. One or the other must go.
Neither does wealth satisfy. Gaining more possessions merely stimulates the lust for more. It is humerous to consider some of the wealthy Christians I have known. These men do not recognize their own affluence. They complain of high taxes, prices, and debts. They explain that there are others who have much more than they do. They are often penny wise and pound foolish. They will mix half and half, shop for bargains, and yet spend thousands of dollars for a car too big for their needs, a home too ostentatious for their family, or clothes, too rich by far. Time recently ran an' article on the poor affluent. They described "poor" families of only $25,000 or $30,000 a year who could not "get by" on their large salary. There is a limit to what one can consume and still stay healthy. Just as overeating will produce obesity and its attendant problems, so "possessing" has a limit, beyond which one cannot stay healthy. "Having food and raiment, be therewith content. Any more than this proceeds forth of vanity." Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Man's rich life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
What Is The Rich Life?
Jesus said, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). The "these things" are all the physical things we will ever need: what to eat, drink, and be clothed with. It has always been those who are humble and live modest and simple lives who most often find peace, satisfaction, and meaning. Those who actively pursue fame, wealth, or glory are the least apt to be happy. The rich life is a simple life. When one sins, and trouble enters his life, his quality of life is cluttered, disordered, hampered, and hectic. Those we read about in scriptures who were closest to God were men like John the Baptist who was unaware of the King's dainties, or soft clothing. Jesus depended on the care of the brethren for His needs, having not even a place to lay his head He could call His own. The-apostle Paul possessed but a few scraps of writing material, a book or two, and one cloak. Compared to the "successful" preacher of today with a different change of clothing for every night of the meeting, Paul is a shabby embarrassment.
Joy and happiness are not found in things, but in us and in other people. Wealth and richness are in a state of being, rather than in what we might possess. Richness is in what we are or can become, not in things. If richness is in terms of dollars, then dollars can be taken away, and we can lose what we thought we had. The rich put their trust in riches to protect them and provide for them. The Christian puts his trust in God, and rich or poor financially, his richness can never be taken away from him.
Our standard of living should be thought of in terms of quality of life - what brings challenge, fulfillment, happiness, growth, maturity - rather than quantity of things, or our relative success over others. The good life cannot be bought with money. It is a life unencumbered, uncluttered, and disentangled in the things of this life.
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money come ye and buy, and eat; yea come, and buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness" (Isa. 55:1, 2). The full life, the fat life, is found in the simplicity that is in Christ and His example.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 19, pp. 313-315