By Irvin Himmel
When the Rich Are Poor and the Poor Are Rich
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath riches (Prov. 13:7).
It is paradoxical that some are rich, despite their poverty, and others are poor who five in affluence. There are people who are poor “because all they have is money!” And there are people who are rich, in spite of privation, “because they do not measure wealth by monetary standards” (George Kufeldt).
The Rich Are Poor
(1) When they do not use wealth to God’s glory. It is not to be supposed that wealth itself is an evil. Abraham was “very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Gen. 13:1). Job had great substance (Job 1:3). Both these men were faithful servants of God. It is the failure to use wealth properly that makes people barren before God.
When a certain man asked Jesus to speak to the man’s brother about dividing the inheritance, Jesus warned, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Lk. 12:15). He spoke a parable about a rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully, but in his prosperity he thought only of himself and the accumulation of more and more goods. God said to the man, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” Jesus remarked, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21).
(2) When they trust in riches. The inclination of some people is to put their time, efforts, and powers into amassing a fortune. Money becomes their god. They rely solely on material prosperity. Jesus said to the disciples on one occasion, “Children, how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:24, 25).
(3) When they are spiritually miserable and empty. Behind seeming wealth there may lie spiritual poverty and wretchedness. This was the case with the church at Laodicea. The members of that congregation were saying, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” The Lord saw them as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). “Instead of being rich, as they thought and claimed to be, He declares that they are in a distressing condition, worthy of pity, having the cringing attitude of a beggar, unable to see, and without clothes to cover their shame” (C.H. Little).
The Poor Are Rich
(1) When they lay up treasurers in heaven. Just as Laodicea was the rich poor church, Smyrna was the poor rich church. The Lord said of the brethren at Smyrna, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich). . . ” (Rev. 2:9). Their destitution “was offset by a far greater wealth than silver and gold; they were rich in faith and favor with God and in all the attendant blessings of glory that belong to the heavenly citizenship. Their treasure was in heaven (Matt. 6:20), which is the true riches of life (Lk. 16:11) that cannot be touched by the world” (H. Hailey).
(2) When they are rich in faith. In the apostolic age, many Christians were in poverty and were victims of oppression by wealthy men. James said, “Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?” (Jas. 2:6) He also said, “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them that love him?” (Jas. 2:5) One may be poor in temporal goods but rich in faith. This is to be rich in a higher and more important sense. To be an heir of God’s kingdom through the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ is more valuable than hoarding piles of gold and silver.
(3) When they abound in good works. After warning against the danger of riches and the love of money, Paul wrote, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Any Christian can be rich in noble deeds, even if he is poor in worldly wealth.
(4) When thy possess the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in Christ. Paul taught that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The gospel makes known the hidden purpose of God that centers in Christ. Those who share in the eternal blessings provided in Christ possess all things. They are truly rich. Paul, in devoting his life to serving Christ and preaching the gospel, was “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10). In Christ we have riches that kings and princes do not bestow, that banks do not exchange, that misers do not hoard, and that thieves cannot steal.
Indeed, the rich (in material things) are often poor (spiritually), and the poor (in temporal goods) are sometimes the richest people on earth!
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 9, p. 263
May 7, 1987