I Was Just Thinking …
What makes a man rich? The Bible talks about being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21), “rich in faith” (James 2:5), and having “the true riches” (Luke 16:10). But what are these “true riches”? Paul tells us they consist of the overwhelming gain of knowing Christ, of having personal fellowship and communion with him. Only in this way can I find total fulfillment of the deepest longings and aspirations of my heart. Compared with such riches, all the joys which the world can offer are mere rubbish (Philippians 3:8).
But not everyone feels this way. After the Los Angeles Lakers won the National Basketball Association championship last May , their owner declared during a TV interview that no other joy could ever equal his satisfaction at having his team win. “If I have the good fortune to go to heaven,” he said, “I’m going to tell St. Peter that heaven can only be an anticlimax to the joy of this night of victory, and that I’d really rather stay on earth and manage the Lakers.”
It is highly unreasonable, however, to prefer the gains this world affords to the gain of knowing Christ. The hilarity of the after-victory celebration in the Lakers’ dressing room soon passes and can never again be fully recaptured. And even at its height, while the champagne is still flowing, one wonders if there is not something hollow about a joy that comes only at the price of the terrible disappointment of the teams who were defeated.
This is not so with the true riches. To enjoy fellowship with God, who is the most perfect of all beings, is the true purpose of human beings made in his image. And the joy of this fellowship is ours not only in this life but throughout eternity. We need never thirst, never be discontented or unfulfilled. Furthermore, our enjoyment of God does not come at the expense of others who weren’t quite good enough to merit it, for God offers fellowship with himself to all: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
But how does on lay hold on these true riches, which consist in having personal fellowship with God in Christ? It has something to do with giving up one’s possessions, for Christ said to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Just this act by itself, however, would not give me the unsurpassed gain of the knowledge of Christ, for Paul said, “If I give away all that I have, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Without love, the mere act of giving up one’s possessions will result only in the egotistic joy of contemplating how much more unselfish, and therefore better, one is that others.
What then is the essential way to lay hold on the true riches? It is not by works, but by faith. Romans 10:12 says, “The same Lord … bestows his riches upon all who call upon him.” Note that God has promised to bestow his riches upon us if we simply call upon him. The best thing God has to give us is himself, and surely as he keeps this promise, he will enable us to have the joy of knowing him, of having his spirit dwelling in our hearts, purifying them, cleansing them, and filling them with the joy of his glory. Calling upon God, is indeed, something we must do in order to gain these true riches. But this is not a work, for how can there be any egotistic joy, any self-congratulation in going outside of myself and asking God, purely on the basis of mercy, to assuage the thirst of my heart by giving me knowledge of himself?
Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8). Our hearts find their true rest and satisfaction only in the knowledge of God in Christ. And when we are thus at rest in Christ, possessing the true riches, we will be able to show real love to others. This will include the giving of our possessions, but not as a work which will make us feel that we are indeed more pleasing to God than others. Rather, because we are so filled with joy in our possession of the true riches of fellowship with God, we will be like the Corinthians, whose “abundance of joy … overflowed in a wealth of liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2). And then we will be truly rich.
Daniel P. Fuller