Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
"I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold, "I'd rather be His than have riches untold."
These lines from a well known hymn are often sung with great fervour. They express a choice between a Person and possessions, between a relationship and riches. The writer of these lines had obviously answered the question so often asked, "What is wealth?". To make a choice in this way would be foolish and short sighted to many. We live in a society where silver and gold, the symbols of earthly wealth, are without question the basis of material prosperity, and have become the gods of the godless!
What, then, is wealth to the follower of Christ? As believers we must give careful thought to those valuables which can be described as true riches. It is interesting to contrast two assessments made by the Risen Lord concerning His people's wealth. As He looked at the suffering church in Smyrna, He said, "I know thy ... poverty, (but thou art rich)", Rev. 2. 9. Yet, as He examined the complacent church in Laodicea, He said, "thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods ... and knowest not that thou art ... poor", 3. 17. Considering these words, we can see that there is a vast difference in the valuation of true wealth. In persecution, all earthly resources had gone. Yet the Lord saw real wealth in the trials of His own people. On the other hand, in prosperity, the materialism of the church was out of character with the Lord, for He had to say, "Thou art ... poor". He was describing those who had been robbed of all that which was worthwhile spiritually.
The gain of material wealth often becomes an obsession in life. "They that will be rich", 1 Tim 6. 9, saved and unsaved alike, can be guilty of this. It is good to remind ourselves of the One who, though rich, for our sakes became poor, that we, through His deep poverty might become rich, 2 Cor. 8. 9. If we consider carefully the implication of this, putting it over against Paul's description of himself, "as poor, yet making many rich: as having nothing, and yet possessing all things", 6. 10, we touch on the paradox of heaven's assessment of true wealth.
Let us now consider some expressions of spiritual riches.
1. Riches of Grace,Eph. 1. 7; 2. 7. God is wealthy in grace, and this wealth is wonderfully put at man's disposal. The believer's blessings of "redemption through his blood" and "forgiveness of sins" are measured in terms of the riches of His grace. Unmerited favour, unlimited abundance! It is this grace that super abounds where sin abounds, Rom. 5. 20. A writer of the last century aptly commented, "God's grace has abundant liberality. Much is expended, many sinners of all lands, ages and crimes are pardoned, but infinite wealth of grace remains behind ... the opulence of His grace is seen, not only in its innumerable forms and varieties of operations but also in the unasked and unmerited provision of such an atonement, so perfect and glorious in its relations to God and man, as the blood of the Beloved One". Beautiful words! Eternity, the ages to come, will reveal just how wealthy the God of all grace really is. Enough to know that in Christ we share, out of His fulness, grace added to grace, John 1. 16.
2. Riches of Mercy,Eph. 2. 4. "But God, who is rich in mercy, for (on account of) his great love wherewith he loved us". In the early verses of this chapter, the hopelessness of man's situation without Christ is vividly portrayed. The significant "but" in verse 4 breaks through the gloom and darkness of his condition. Light begins to dawn. Praise God for the "buts" of Scripture! Here the wealth of divine mercy is introduced. This is not the result of a sudden upsurge of emotion, it is that which springs from His causeless, undeserved love. And in this God is rich. This has been beautifully expressed by one of the old worthies, "Though mercy has been expressed by God for six millenniums, and myriads upon myriads have been partakers of it, it is still an unexhausted mine of wealth". Paul himself knew the worth of this mercy. As he reviewed the Lord's dealings with him, he could say that he obtained mercy for his past, because he acted in ignorance and unbelief, 1 Tim. 1. 13. Let us reflect that the outflow of these tremendous expressions of divine wealth are open to us in all our need. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need", Heb. 4. 16.
3. Riches of Glory,Eph. 1. 18; 3. 16. In this Epistle the wealth of God's grace and that of His glory seem significantly linked together. We could rightly say that those things which grace confers, glory confirms and consummates. Paul prays that the believers may become aware of the riches of glory displayed in God's inheritance in the saints. This wealth is God's and it is found in His saints. Let us grasp the significance of this. "Glory is the essential attribute of the inheritance ... and the apostle wants his readers to know how great the fulness of His glory is." It is distinctive, bound up with the inheritance, God's precious possession. But again Paul prays that, "according to the riches of his glory", these Christians would be strengthened, made powerful in the inner man. Here are riches that would enrich their experience of all that the Triune God could work in them. Paul was asking that these values, out of which their spiritual characters would grow, should have stamped upon them the hallmark of the riches of His glory. We can translate glory as "splendour, majesty, fulness or beauty", many and varied facets, but all give an insight into those attributes which are displayed in God's character. Nothing shall tarnish or diminish these riches of His glory. So within us are developed the power of His Spirit, the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and all the fulness of God. Can any degree of earthly wealth compare with these?
Grace, mercy, glory, and much more! Our God is rich beyond all our highest thoughts. Surely, our trust should not be "in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy", 1 Tim. 6. 17.