Are You “Rich Toward God”?
“So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—LUKE 12:21.
TREASURE HUNTING is not just a game that children like to play; it is also a real-life drama played out again and again in many ages and societies. For example, the gold rush of the 19th century in Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United States attracted people from far away who were willing to leave home and loved ones to seek fortunes in strange, sometimes hostile, lands. Yes, many people are willing to take extreme risks and make enormous sacrifices in order to attain the riches that their hearts desire.
2 Though most people today are not taking part in a literal treasure hunt, they do have to work hard to make a living. To do that in the present system of things can be challenging, demanding, and burdensome. It is easy to become so concerned with food, clothing, and shelter that the more important things are neglected or even forgotten. (Romans 14:17) Jesus gave an illustration, or parable, that accurately delineated this human tendency. It is found at Luke 12:16-21.
3 Jesus’ illustration was given on the same occasion that he spoke about the need to guard against covetousness, which we examined in some detail in the preceding article. After warning about covetousness, Jesus spoke about a rich man who is not content with storehouses filled with good things he already has but who tears them down and builds bigger ones in order to lay up more good things. Just as he thinks he is ready to relax and enjoy a good life, God tells him that his life is coming to an end and all the good things the man has stored up will go to someone else. Then Jesus added the concluding statement: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) What lesson can we learn from this parable? How can we apply the lesson to our own life?
A Man With a Problem
4 The illustration that Jesus gave is a familiar one. We note that Jesus introduced the story simply by saying: “The land of a certain rich man produced well.” Jesus did not say that the man acquired his riches by some devious or unlawful means. In other words, he was not portrayed as a bad man. In fact, from what Jesus said, it is reasonable to think that the man portrayed in the parable had worked hard. At least it can be understood that he was a man who planned and saved for the future, perhaps with the welfare of his family in mind. Thus, from a secular point of view, he can be taken to represent a hardworking man who took his obligations seriously.
5 In any case, Jesus did call the individual in the parable a rich man, meaning someone who already had in his possession an abundance of material goods. However, as Jesus described it, the rich man had a problem. His land produced much more than he expected, above and beyond what he needed or could care for. What should he have done?
6 Many of Jehovah’s servants today face situations very much like that of the rich man. True Christians strive to be honest, diligent, and conscientious workers. (Colossians 3:22, 23) Whether they are employed or they have their own business, they often do well, even excel in what they do. When promotions or new opportunities come along, they are confronted with a decision. Should they move up or expand? Likewise, many Witness youths do well in school. As a result, they may be offered awards or scholarships for advanced education at prestigious institutions. Should they simply go along and accept what is offered?
7 Coming back to Jesus’ illustration, what did the rich man do when his land produced so well that he had nowhere to store his harvest? He decided to tear down the storehouses that he had and build bigger ones to store all the excess grain and good things. That plan apparently gave him such a sense of security and satisfaction that he thought to himself: “I will say to my soul: ‘Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, enjoy yourself.’”—Luke 12:19.
8 As Jesus presented it, however, the rich man’s plan provided only a false sense of security. Practical as it might have seemed, it left out one vital element—God’s will. The man was only thinking about himself, how he would be able to take his ease and eat, drink, and enjoy himself. He thought that because of having “many good things,” he would also have “many years.” But too bad for him, things did not work out that way. Just as Jesus said earlier, “even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) That very night, everything the man had worked for came to an abrupt end, for God said to him: “Unreasonable one, this night they are demanding your soul from you. Who, then, is to have the things you stored up?”—Luke 12:20.
9 Here, we come to the central point of Jesus’ illustration. God called the man unreasonable. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament explains that forms of the Greek word used “always signify a lack of understanding.” It observes that in this parable, God is represented as using the word to expose “the meaninglessness of the future plans of the rich.” The word refers, not to one who lacks intelligence, but to “one who refuses to acknowledge dependence on God.” Jesus’ description of the rich man brings to mind what he later said to the Christians in the first-century congregation in Laodicea, Asia Minor: “You say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.”—Revelation 3:17.
10 We do well to take the lesson to heart. Could we be like the man in the parable—work very hard to make sure that we would have “many good things” yet fail to do what is necessary to gain the prospect of having “many years”? (John 3:16; 17:3) The Bible says: “Valuable things will be of no benefit on the day of fury,” and “the one trusting in his riches—he himself will fall.” (Proverbs 11:4, 28) Therefore, Jesus added this final admonition to the parable: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:21.
11 When Jesus said “so it goes,” he was pointing out that what happened to the rich man in the illustration will also happen to those who build their life—their hope and their security—solely on material possessions. The fault is not so much in ‘laying up treasure for oneself’ as it is in failing to be “rich toward God.” The disciple James sounded a similar warning when he wrote: “Come, now, you who say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will journey to this city and will spend a year there, and we will engage in business and make profits,’ whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow.” What should they do? “Instead, you ought to say: ‘If Jehovah wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15) No matter how rich a person may be or how many possessions he may have, all will prove to be futile unless he is rich toward God. What, then, does it mean to be rich toward God?
To Be Rich Toward God
12 In Jesus’ statement, being rich toward God is set in contrast with laying up material treasures for oneself, or enriching oneself materially. Thus, Jesus was saying that our main concern in life should not be the accumulation of material riches or the enjoyment of what we may possess. Instead, we should use our resources in such a way as to enrich, or build up, our relationship with Jehovah. Doing so will surely make us rich toward God. Why? Because it opens the door to many blessings from him. The Bible tells us: “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.”—Proverbs 10:22.
13 When Jehovah bestows blessings on his people, he always gives them the best. (James 1:17) For example, when Jehovah gave the Israelites a home, it was “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Although the land of Egypt had also been described that way, the land that Jehovah gave the Israelites was different in at least one vital respect. It was “a land that Jehovah your God is caring for,” Moses told the Israelites. In other words, they would prosper because Jehovah would be looking after them. As long as the Israelites remained faithful to Jehovah, they were richly blessed by him and enjoyed a way of life that was visibly superior to that of all the nations round about. Yes, it is Jehovah’s blessing that “makes rich”!—Numbers 16:13; Deuteronomy 4:5-8; 11:8-15.
14 The expression “rich toward God” is also rendered “rich in God’s sight” (Today’s English Version) or “rich in the eyes of God.” (The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips) Those who are rich materially are generally concerned with how they might appear in the eyes of others. This is often reflected in their way of life. They want to impress people with what the Bible calls “the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16) In contrast, those who are rich toward God enjoy God’s approval, favor, and undeserved kindness in abundance and have a warm personal relationship with him. Being in such a precious state surely gives them a sense of well-being and security, more than any material riches can provide. (Isaiah 40:11) The question that remains is, What must we do in order to be rich in God’s eyes?
Rich in God’s Eyes
15 In Jesus’ illustration, the man planned and worked hard only to enrich himself, and he was called unreasonable. To be rich toward God, therefore, we must endeavor to work hard and have a full share in the activities that are truly valuable and worthwhile in God’s eyes. Among these is what Jesus commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Using our time, energy, and talents, not for self-advancement, but in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work can be likened to making an investment. Those who have done so have reaped rich dividends spiritually, as shown by the following experiences.—Proverbs 19:17.
16 Consider the case of a Christian man in a country in the Orient. He had a well-paying job as a computer technician. However, his work occupied practically all his time and left him feeling spiritually impoverished. Finally, instead of trying to get ahead in his job, he quit and took up making ice cream and selling it on the street so that he would have more time to care for his spiritual needs and responsibilities. Former workmates made fun of him, but how did things turn out? “Actually, I was better off financially than when I worked with computers,” he said. “It has made me happier because I do not have the stress and worry that I had with my former job. And most important, I now feel closer to Jehovah.” The change enabled this Christian to enter the full-time ministry, and he is now serving at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in his country. Jehovah’s blessing indeed “makes rich.”
17 Another example is that of a woman who grew up in a family in which education was highly valued. She attended universities in France, Mexico, and Switzerland and was headed for a promising career. “Success smiled upon me; prestige and privilege accompanied me,” she said, “but on the inside, there was a void, a deep dissatisfaction.” Then she learned about Jehovah. She said: “As I progressed spiritually, my desire to please Jehovah and to return a little of what he had given me helped me to see clearly the road to take—serve him full-time.” She resigned from her position and was soon baptized. For the past 20 years, she has happily served in the full-time ministry. “Some think that I have wasted my talents,” she relates, “but they recognize that I am happy, and they admire the principles by which I live my life. Every day I pray to Jehovah to help me to be humble so as to have his approval.”
18 Saul, who became the apostle Paul, had a promising career ahead of him. Yet, he later wrote: “I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7, 8) To Paul, the riches he gained through Christ excelled anything that the world could offer. Likewise, by relinquishing any selfish ambitions and pursuing a life of godly devotion, we too can enjoy a life that is rich in God’s eyes. God’s Word assures us: “The result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.”—Proverbs 22:4.
Can You Explain?
• What problem did the man in Jesus’ illustration have?
• Why was the man in the parable called unreasonable?
• What does it mean to be rich toward God?
• How can we become rich toward God?
1, 2. (a) For what have people been willing to make great sacrifices? (b) What challenge and danger must Christians face?
3. Briefly relate Jesus’ illustration recorded at Luke 12:16-21.
4. What kind of man could we say was portrayed in Jesus’ parable?
5. What problem confronts the man in Jesus’ parable?
6. What choices do many of God’s servants face today?
7. How did the man in Jesus’ parable deal with his problem?
8. What vital element did the man in Jesus’ parable overlook?
9. Why was the man in the parable called unreasonable?
10. Why is the possession of “many good things” no guarantee of having “many years”?
11. Why is it futile to build one’s hope and security on material possessions?
12. Doing what will make us rich toward God?
13. How does Jehovah’s blessing ‘make rich’?
14. What do those who are rich toward God enjoy?
15. What must we do in order to be rich toward God?
16, 17. What experiences can you relate to show the way of life that makes one rich in God’s eyes?
18. Like Paul, how can we be rich toward God?
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Why was the rich man called unreasonable?
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How may opportunities for advancement become a real test?
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“The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich”