Scripture Reading: Proverbs 13; Matthew 6:19-24
Key Verses: “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” – Proverbs 13:7
“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.” – Matthew 6:19-20
This past October I was privileged with the opportunity to attend the Catalyst Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Ga. I was truly honored to be asked to be a part of the two day experience. I was exposed to tremendous biblical teaching, wise advice, as well as enthusiastic worship. Getting the opportunity to hear Francis Chan speak live was well worth the trip. A host of other well-known pastors and leadership personalities such as Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, Priscilla Shirer, Dave Ramsey, Jim Collins, and Katie Davis, to name a few, were very helpful and interesting to listen to. However, there was one presentation that struck a chord in me. I was very impressed with both the research and the claim yet I wondered why there was so much emphasis on it. I have pondered this off and on for months now and have come to the confirmation in my thinking that this claim, while intriguing, yet debatable was meaningless. Scott Todd made a claim that “the church will end extreme poverty by 2035.” He struck an emotional chord with everyone in the arena by giving statistics such as, “21,000 children die every day from preventable causes.” Later, Todd stated that “1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty.” Like myself, I’m sure your eyes opened wide while reading this stat. It is most definitely, to say the least, alarming. Todd discussed how poverty has nearly diminished in America over the course of our nation’s history and the same can and will happen for the rest of the world by the year 2035. The most astounding support he found for his claim was found in Scripture. Todd used Matthew 26:11 to say that Jesus did not mean the poor will always be with mankind but rather always be with his disciples in their generation. His interpretation of that verse is definitely debatable, but that is for another time. The focus today will be the fact that there seems to be a growing popular trend for many Christians to be zealous with this notion that physical poverty can and should be ended with a fading regard to the condition of the souls of countless billions in our world. Of course, Todd had more substantial evidence to support his claim that I did not take the time to jot down.
Now, before I continue, I must make a clarification. I am 100% behind advocating for those whose voices aren’t heard such as the impoverished, unborn, etc. Just as Christ has loved us we must extend the same love and grace to the world. Caring for these dying children is our obligation as followers of Christ. We must go to the dirty places where the “unwanted” people are because there, we will find Jesus. Part of discipling others is caring for their needs and these needs shouldn’t be neglected. However, at the same time, I do not believe our primary concern as believers should be the elimination of physical poverty. There is another kind of poverty that is rampant in our world: spiritual poverty. What good is it if we put shoes on their feet, fill their stomachs, and provide them with needed health care if we do not give them Jesus? That would be like putting a band-aid on someone who has cancer. Physical poverty is a terrible disease. There is a cure and that cure is the church. Spiritual poverty is an even worse disease. There is a cure and His name is Jesus. Physical poverty, if not cured, lasts only a lifetime. Spiritual poverty, if not cured, lasts forever. The moment that impoverished woman in Africa dies, she will never again deal with physical poverty. However, if that impoverished woman dies without Christ, her spiritual poverty will follow her after death into all of eternity. Her spiritual poverty will become eternal poverty. She will experience the damning, miserable, torturous effects of spiritual poverty, literally, forever. Nothing will be able to change this. The majority of the ones we are so concerned with meeting their physical needs are the very ones who have desperate spiritual needs. We must become advocates for the gospel first, and then nutrition comes later. So, understand, this is most definitely a both-and scenario we are faced with. We may be able to end physical poverty by 2035 and I hope this is true. However, while that is uncertain, it is very certain that without Christ, the spiritual poverty that engulfs about 4.5 billion people in our world will never end. Keep this in mind as we take a look at true riches today.
What I want you to see and understand from Scripture today is that while we strive to be rich (you are considered very wealthy if you earn $20,000/year) and prevent physical poverty, the rich and poor on earth are merely “pretending” and the true nature of our wealth or lack thereof will be revealed later.
In Proverbs 13:7, the writer gives an example of two different kinds of people. First, the writer makes the observation of one who “pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” The key thing to note here is that things are not always what they seem to be. While one may be wealthy in material possessions and money, they seem to be lacking something. You must be careful in lusting after riches. This is obvious to those of us who have been raised in church and taught from the Bible. The Bible indicates more warnings than approvals of gaining much material wealth. However, I believe this applies in our ministry as well. What I mean is, do not make it your primary mission to end poverty and teach the poor that they need material gain in order to be rich. The apostle Paul even said, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) Anyone who lives their life in such a way that strives for riches is merely “pretending to be rich.” It is very dangerous and damning to desire money and material possessions since “you cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24b) Therefore, to make it our primary focus and concern as believers to eliminate physical poverty and promote comfortable living is somewhat skewed. Why encourage someone to become falsely rich? Again, I am in full support of providing for the basic needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter. However, there is a much greater need, as you have seen, for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be poured out on 4.5 billion individuals. While those who appear rich seem to have it all going for them, they have nothing. The reason they have nothing is they do not have Christ. They are “storing up for [themselves] treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” They are serving money and by doing so they cannot serve God. Jesus is not Lord, money is. Why would we encourage such adultery to the rest of the world? We may end physical poverty for them but if we keep them from Christ, their spiritual poverty (“having nothing”) will become eternal.
The second kind of person the author of Proverbs identifies is one who “pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” What a beautiful comparison! This would be a person who Jesus would describe as “laying up treasures in heaven.” While the world views them as foolish and impoverished, the God of the universe is tallying their many riches in His heavenly kingdom. We must, as believers, obey the mission given to us by our Lord Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) In doing so, we will be providing for great spiritual need to end spiritual poverty in so many individuals’ lives. We must show the poor how valuable our king Jesus is and that He surpasses all earthly wealth and that He is greater than all earthly riches. Teach them instead to obey Christ and by doing so; store up great treasure in heaven. This must become our first and greatest priority. While physical need is apparent, spiritual need is more vital.
The comparisons in Proverbs 13:7 and Matthew 6:19-20 are so amazing and insightful when it comes to poverty. These verses boldly indicate that it is much better to live in extreme physical poverty with Christ than to live in extreme wealth without Him. Those who “pretend to be rich” are foolish by “storing up treasures on earth.” Why is our desire then for the world to be rich? According to these two passages, we as Christians should strive for a simple lifestyle resembling that of poverty in order that we might “store up treasures in heaven.”
Bottom line, the numbers do not lie. We have seen great biblical comparisons today, so let’s close with a comparison of our own. There are 1.4 billion people in our world who suffer from physical poverty. There are 4.5 billion people in our world who suffer from spiritual poverty. Each denotes people who lack basic needs, physical and spiritual respectively. There really is no comparison especially when you consider the fact that the 4.5 billion people will endure this spiritual poverty forever while the 1.4 billion people will only experience this poverty for a lifetime. Since there is indication that physical poverty will end (permanently by 2035 according to Scott Todd) or at least at death for individuals, we must shift our focus to where it always should’ve been, to the desperate and needy billions who are without Christ. We must do this for God’s glory and for the joy of all people in all nations. Why keep a cure for a deadly and damning disease to yourself? The disease is sin. The cure is Jesus. May we advocate more fervently for the salvation of the countless lost souls in our world. May we allow this notion that thousands die each day only to meet God face to face to be forever separated from Him haunt us daily. Change your prayers, asking for a burning desire to be a part of ending spiritual poverty for at least one individual. Do not pretend to be rich and have nothing. Be poor and have faith in Jesus calling Him Lord so that you may have great wealth. Fight for the ending of poverty, yes! Address and attack the evils of spiritual and physical poverty, in that order. One can live in great joy with Jesus Christ as their Lord and be engulfed in poverty. But the one who lives in abundance and has great earthly riches is foolish. Strive for spiritual riches and you will avoid spiritual poverty. Eternal poverty is awaiting those who die without Jesus Christ. Without Christ, we are declared guilty of our sins because we are in fact guilty. With Christ, we are declared innocent of our sins because of His perfect life, death, and resurrection. This is a both-and scenario: provide for both spiritual and physical needs. However, keep in mind that one has much greater consequences than the other. One last warning to keep in mind as a daily reminder and gospel-spreading truth: Do not “pretend” to be rich by storing up treasures for yourself here on earth, for you will eternally have nothing. Instead, “pretend” to be poor by laying up for yourself treasures in heaven, for you will eternally have great wealth.
By His Grace,