One of the greatest incentives that the Bible offers believers to guard them from being enslaved by money, possessions or riches is that God is incomparably rich. We live in a world where most people believe: “the richer the better.” And there is good reason for this. With more money comes access to healthier food, better health care, higher quality education, increased life expectancy and so on. There is a sense in which “money answers everything” (Eccl. 10:19).
However, those who want to live their lives under the authority of the Bible have to always ask the question, “how can we balance the reality of needing money while guarding ourselves against being mastered by it?” One important biblical answer is that…
God Owns it All
God is incomparably rich, and He is our inheritance. God is so rich that he self identifies as possessor of all the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10). The context of this bold claim is important to keep in mind. What God is seeking to drive home to his people who seem to have suffered a fatal moral lapse is this: “I am self-existent.”
We often use this verse in prayers for God’s provision and that is fine. But it must be noted that the thrust of what is being said in the context is that God has no deficiencies. He has no needs. He never suffers any want that his creatures should meet. But why the particular imagery of cattle on hills? When the Psalm was written, livestock was a criterion for measuring wealth and greatness (see for example 1 Sam. 25:2; 1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Kgs 3:4; 1 Chr. 5:21; 2 Chr. 7:5; 15:11).
Today you could argue that wealth is measured in US Dollars, but for the psalmist cattle was currency. The image of “the cattle on a thousand hills” would have aroused wonder in the hearts of the Israelites, showing them the greatness of God.
The imagery suggests that to count the individual cattle possessed by God would be impossible. Thus, the psalmist contrasts the riches of God who is self-existent with the short-lived riches of every mortal man who depends on God for every moment of breath in his nostrils (Ps. 50:10-12).
The whole Bible pulsates with the imponderable truth of God’s incomparable riches: Melchizedek said God is possessor of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19). David declared that all things come from God and anyone who gives to God only gives what is already God’s (1 Chr. 29:14). According to Paul, God is so self-sufficient He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25).
It is, therefore, undeniable that no one has ever given to God that he should be repaid; from God and through God and to God are all things (Rom. 11:35-36).
The Cross Displays God’s Riches
How does the cross of Jesus Christ fit into the breathtaking truth of God’s infinite riches? The fact that God is inestimably rich is not something that has relevance only for the temporary needs we face in this life. It is not simply a weapon to fight anxiety when we are in financial straits or material need (though it indeed is). Most importantly, this truth touches on the very nerve center of our faith.
Our experience of salvation is owing to God’s inexhaustible riches.
Our experience of salvation is owing to God’s inexhaustible riches. It is this kind of redeeming riches that fuel the psalmist’s implorations for hope in God: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:7-8). Paul declares, that our experience of salvation is explicitly rooted in God’s infinite riches when he writes:
“But God, being rich in mercy, raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).
God (in Christ) gave up everything including his very life as Christ himself said: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18; Eph. 5:2; Phil. 2:6-8; Tit. 2:14). But Christ did not only lay down his life and take it up again. We were raised with him (Eph. 2:6). God raised us with Christ so that in the age to come He would display the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
What God has done for believers in Christ guarantees the fact that when we get into the new heavens and the new earth there will be such and infinitude of exquisite wealth that gold will only be good enough for paving roads (Rev. 21:21). Therefore, even if we are regarded as having nothing, eternity will unfailingly prove that we possess everything (2 Cor. 6:10).
How Then Shall We Live?
How should God’s abundant riches and generosity towards us in Christ shape the way we live? We should live by the kingdom outlook that says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). These words from our Lord are a gem because they guard us from the lethal error of defining the problem in terms of whether one is rich or poor.
What I have said above can easily be misconstrued to mean that there is inherent moral good in being poor. That will be to misunderstand the Bible’s teaching. We are clearly told that God does give tremendous amounts of material and financial wealth to some of his redeemed people (1 Tim. 6:9). Both the poor and the wealthy can make the fatal mistake of thinking our lives consist of the abundance of our possession.
The hearts of the poor and the rich alike are inclined to serve money. If a poor person thinks their worth is defined by possession they will be full of covetousness and, in many cases, sin to acquire wealth. On the other hand, those who are materially rich can become puffed-up because of what they have. The Christian who has understood Jesus’ words— “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”—will think and live differently.
The Christian who has understood Jesus’ words— “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”—will think and live differently.
Whether in plenty or hunger, in abundance or in need, the theme song of their hearts will and should be: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). This we can say with unshakable confidence because by God’s grace alone we have been made coheirs with the one to whom the Father has given and is giving the nations as his heritage, the ends of the earth as his possession (Rev. 2:26-27).