Treasure on earth or treasure in heaven?

As many of the world’s wealthiest people gathered at Davos recently for the World Economic Forum, Oxfam International published a report calling for action to address the growing gap between rich and poor. The report reveals that the 42 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who live in the poorer half of the world. 8 billionaires possess the same wealth as 50% of the world’s population.

Between 2006 and 2015 the wealth of billionaires rose by an average of 13% per year, a total of £550bn, enough to end extreme poverty in the world seven times over. The founder of Amazon is now the richest man in the world because an increase in the Wall Street stock market in the first 10 days of 2017 saw his personal wealth increase by £4.3bn. So, is being rich the key to happiness in this life and in eternity?

A rich young ruler once came to Jesus and, falling on his knees, asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.'” The man declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Many of those who live in poverty, surviving on a dollar a day, are richer than the richest people on earth because they have put their faith and hope in God. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Riches that last forever

The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 has been published. It profiles the 1,000 richest individuals and families in Britain. A fortune of at least £85 million is needed to be included on the list. In the past year the total wealth of those on the list has increased by 15%, with a combined fortune of almost £520 billion. Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country in the world. The business tycoon brothers who top the list are worth £11.9 billion. The Queen is ranked 285th in the list with £330 million, just £30 million more than Simon Cowell.

The Bible doesn’t condemn rich people, but it does warn against the dangers of being rich. It’s easy to trust in our riches and not to acknowledge God’s goodness to us. When Israel entered the Promised Land, God warned his people against pride and complacency. When they enjoyed the abundance of the Promised Land and became very rich, they might say to themselves, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ Instead he encouraged them to be thankful and to remember his kindness in giving them the ability to produce wealth.

It is also important to think of the future and the uncertainty of life. Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer who had a bumper harvest. He built new barns to store all his crops. Then he said to himself, “You have plenty of things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus said, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich towards God.”

The riches that really matter are eternal and within the reach of us all. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus did not seek to enrich himself but to enrich people like us. He laid aside the amazing riches of heaven, which he had every right to enjoy, and came to this earth to die on the Cross for our sins. He did this so that, through his self-sacrifice we, who are poor and needy, might receive riches that last forever.