by Mike Ratliff
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:16-18 ESV)
I got my statement the other day from the investment firm that manages my retirement funds. In the last month the ‘value’ overall has dropped by a considerable amount. I was quite surprised by my reaction to that. In 2001 when the market plummeted for months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, I dumped everything I could in order to not ‘lose’ any equity. However, this time around was very different. I had a peace that surpassed all understanding. I thanked God for being my provision and told Him how grateful I am for being His child; fully dependent upon Him for He is my all-in-all.
I have stopped listening to the media on this and the elections feeding the panic and demand for ‘change.’ Have you noticed the finger-pointing going on trying to pin the blame for this on whomever a candidate is running against? Has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps God has caused this in order to accomplish His will in the hearts of His people? Over the last several months, I have received pleas from several ministries for financial help. Why are they in such dire straits? The money is not coming in like it was before. Here is the Apostle Paul’s description of his ministry.
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10 ESV)
The mark of a ministry that has God’s approval upon it is paradoxical because God’s ways are not Man’s ways. Paul was faithful yet afflicted horrendously by the enemies of the Gospel. However, through those sufferings he and his ministry were blessed by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, and genuine love. Because of this, he was empowered with truthful speech. The weapons that God gave him to use were both defensive (left) and offensive (right).
As Paul obediently ministered within God’s plan, he and his ministry received both honor and dishonor. The honor from God and the mature believers while the dishonor came from the self-righteous and false teachers. They slandered Paul yet at the same time the godly encouraged him through their support and praise. These false teachers and those they deceived accused Paul and his fellow ministers as being imposters even though the opposite was true. Paul was persecuted far beyond what most of us can imagine yet paradoxically, God prospered him and even validated the authenticity of his ministry through it. This brought Paul sorrow yet he was always rejoicing in the Lord. Why? How could he do this? Was Paul’s focus on having his best life now? No! Paul’s ministry was grounded in making many rich. This is spiritual wealth my brethren, not wealth as the world counts it.
All in Christ are wealthy beyond anything we can imagine. Paul says that we possess everything even though we have nothing here and now. What did Jesus tell us in His Sermon on the Mount?
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
The word ‘treasure’ in this passage in Greek speaks of wealth and as our Lord used it here, it refers to growing it through deposits. No matter how safe we think physical wealth is, it is not safe at all. It can all go away in a flash. Never forget my brethren that the money that we cling to and chase with our all is only valuable as a medium of exchange. It has no intrinsic value itself. It would not take much for things to get so bad in our economy and society that it would be considered worthless. Our Lord says to not put all our efforts in laying up (depositing) treasure here in the temporal, but instead, make regular deposits in heaven. In other words, we are commanded here to use all God gives us to invest in His Kingdom. This means we are to be generous with our time and assets to further the preaching of the Gospel that brings sinners to salvation. We are to disciple others so they will do the same. This is laying up treasure in heaven.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:13-34 ESV)
This passage is an exhortation to not worry about the temporal, what we are to eat or wear. Instead, our Lord tells us to be rich toward God. We are called to put our focus on furthering the Kingdom and not worry about money or possessions. Worry paralyzes. When we are fully trusting God for our provision then we are free to obey Him and serve Him in ways we could never do if all we did was pursue temporal wealth or struggle to earn enough to not have the mortgage company foreclose on our houses. When we make regular deposits in heaven it as if we are putting our treasure in moneybags that never fail.
Therefore, let us not be consumed with fear as the stock market plummets and the economy goes through whatever God is doing to it. Instead, turn your eyes upon the Lord. Draw near unto Him and He will draw near unto you. Place all of your trust in Him to feed and clothe you and your family. This life is just a vapor. It is here for a little while then it is gone. Eternity is forever. Doesn’t it make more sense to have our wealth there than here? Those who do may have nothing in the world’s eyes, but in truth, they have everything.
Soli Deo Gloria!