What is the proper definition of rich and poor? And which riches are worthwhile to pursue, the inner or the outward ones?
It is not difficult for any of us to distinguish between rich and poor. But do we not often err in our judgment? 1 Samuel 16:7 says: “For man looks at the outward appearance.” We may see the big farm or the successful businesses in our city or our boss’s thriving business and say to ourselves, “Those are rich people!” Outwardly, that may be true, but are all these people really rich?
John D. Rockefeller was one of the richest men of his time. In a Bible study, he made the following confession in front of the group: “I consider it a duty to acquire all the money one can acquire in an honest way and also to give away what one can for good causes. For who is the poorest person in the world? I will tell you, the poorest person I know is the one who has nothing but money.” – Did he want to tell us that there is more to real wealth than just money?
In the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3), there were obviously rich people. They had not kept their wealth for themselves but had brought the church into an outward prosperity. They could therefore say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (verse 17). But the Lord’s judgment was completely contrary to this self-assessment: “[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.”
This judgment, after all, applied to the individual people who belonged to this church. There was a clear lack of recognition and distinction between true wealth and poverty. How unfortunate that there is confusion among us about this as well! The Word of God teaches us that, in reality, the rich can be poor and the poor can be rich.
For example, a lady was sitting in a streetcar. Very close to her, she noticed a woman who radiated friendliness on her face. “I would like to have it as good as she does,” she thought. But a few stops later, this friendly woman got off, and the lady noticed that she only had one leg.
Continuing her journey, she became aware of a young mother with her child. “That mother has it so good!” the lady thought and wished that her child would be so quiet and obedient. When both women got off and met again at a vegetable stand, the lady noticed that the quiet child was mute. Now she became thoughtful and realized that some people had a greater burden to carry than she did.
I have often been amazed to see how people cope with their burdens, sufferings, and hardships. They do not possess much wealth, but they are happy and content. They are sometimes challenged and scorned but take on a gracious attitude. They go through darkness and tribulations but radiate light. They face many difficulties, sickness, and pain but bear and endure them, remaining confident and reassured.
In this sense, Paul once wrote to the believers at Corinth: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed: we are perplexed, but not in despair: persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). In Romans 8:35-37, we read, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Are these not evidences of a mysterious power, of an inner wealth that many people do not know? True wealth is in the soul and in a life hidden with Christ in God! These people are connected to a source that comes from the eternal world. They possess a wealth that exceeds the riches of this world, and despite struggle and suffering, they can be a blessing.
In Laodicea, many called themselves rich and were proud of it. But in reality, they were woefully poor.
So how does it look with us? Having wealth is not enough to be blessed and cannot be a substitute for wealth in God. Jesus once spoke of a rich man who had many goods and did not know where to put them. But he had not cared to seek the saving grace, the inner peace of his soul, or reconciliation with God. Then came the night of his death, and Jesus ended this parable with the words: “Then whose will those things be which you have provided? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21). In this way, Jesus presents us with the fact that though we have great wealth, we can in fact be very poor.
Rich or poor? Shouldn’t we seek true richness in God? You need it in life and in death and can only find it in Jesus Christ.