|God's Gift of Wealth|
by Woodrow Kroll
This is the fourth in a series of studies from the book of Ecclesiastes. --Editor
Pearl of Wisdom
"As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor--this is the gift of God." Ecclesiastes 5:19
In the article Silver Doesn't Satisfy, we looked at money from a negative perspective. According to God's Word, money can't satisfy. But there's another side to this coin (no pun intended). Solomon, the wealthiest man of his day, tells us that riches also can be seen as a gift from God. In fact, it's only how we sometimes misuse the wealth God gives us that brings a negative connotation to money. God is not against money; He is, however, against greed, gambling and other uses of money that destroy us.
Seventeen of the Lord's 36 parables have to do with property and stewardship. Clearly, this was an important subject to Jesus. The problem is we have a skewed understanding of what wealth is. The Funk & Wagnalls dictionary defines wealth as "A large aggregate of real and personal property, an abundance of those material or worldly things that men desire to possess." That definition catches the spirit of our times exactly.
We see wealth in terms of having an abundance of material or worldly things. Riches consist of how many cars you own or how many square feet are in your house. Take Bill Gates's home for example. When local city administrators toured Bill and Melinda Gates's house a few years ago when it was being built, they made a few comments about what they saw. They found, for example, 300 people working on the house while they were there, including 104 electricians. There were no visible electrical outlets anywhere (apparently Bill doesn't like the clutter). You climb 112 steps from the main floor to the main entry. Or if you want, you can take the elevator. The wood columns from the main floor to the roof in the entry area are more than 70 feet tall. The floor is heated everywhere, including the driveway and the walks.
Mr. Gates has a four-car garage. The house for the maintenance staff has its own three-car garage. If you want, music will follow you throughout the house, even to the bottom of the pool. Melinda has 42 linear feet of space in her closet for hanging clothes, all operated like a dry cleaner's rack. And, by the way, the master bathtub can be filled to the right temperature and the right depth by Mr. Gates as he drives home from work. The opulence of the Gates's mansion reflects the mentality we have today about wealth. The more we have, the more we spend.
When we get back to the Bible, however, we find that wealth is a lot more than money. Wealth is the sum total of all that God has given us. Genesis 13 makes it apparent in Abraham's day that wealth was defined by the number of cattle or the number of camels a person owned. Later on, wealth was determined by the amount of land that an individual owned (Josh. 17). In our society, possessions of all types determine wealth. Your computers, automobiles, sport utility vehicles, microwaves, VCRs, money market funds and all the other stuff you own constitute your wealth. But that's the definition of wealth in the mind of a flawed society. It doesn't take into account everything God has done. If we want to understand the truth about wealth, we need to take some other factors into consideration.
All wealth belongs to God
When we understand wealth as the gift of God, we understand that it comes from God and it belongs to God. This is a very difficult attitude for the world to adopt. But the Bible makes it clear that God created everything, God sustains everything and God owns everything. Psalm 104:24 declares, "The earth is full of Your possessions." In 1 Chronicles 29:11 we read, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours." Haggai 2:8 reminds us, "'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the LORD of Hosts." Everything in the ground, everything above the ground, everything in the air, everything that passes through the air ultimately belongs to God. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine.
When we believe that wealth belongs to us, however, we get ourselves in trouble. We say, "It's mine, I earned it, I worked hard for it. It belongs to me, and I'll do with it whatever I want." If that's your attitude, you have been duped by Satan in a big way. Satan wants us to believe that everything we have belongs to us and we are not responsible to anyone for how we use it. But the truth is it's not ours; it's God's. Wealth is a stewardship from God. We are just holding God's wealth for Him, using what we need of it to live on, and investing the rest so that it will bring a greater yield to Him (Matt. 25:14-30). God wants to see what we'll do with it. So whether it's money, land or possessions, we will never be rightly related to what we have until we recognize that it is not ours. All that we have belongs to God.
Wealth is a gift from God
John Wesley said, "When the possessor of Heaven and Earth brought you into being and placed you in this world, He placed you here not as an owner but as a steward. As such, He entrusted you for a season with goods of various kinds. But the sole property of these still rests in Him nor can ever be alienated from Him, as you are not your own but His. Such as likewise all you enjoy."
Someone might say, "All right, that's John Wesley talking. After all, he was a preacher. He didn't have a big car. All he had was a horse. He didn't have much money. He traveled from place to place in virtual poverty. Maybe this is just sour grapes." But it's not. What John Wesley said comes directly out of the Bible. Wealth belongs to God and it is a gift to us. It's one of the pearls of wisdom that will guide us into the appropriate use of our finances. When God gives us the gift of wealth, even if it's just a tiny amount, He gives it to us to use for Him, not to hold onto tightly.
Ultimately, everything we have is a gift from God. In His grace, God shares His property with us. In His grace, God shares the ability for you and me to make money in order to put food on our table and to clothe our families. He owns everything. It's all because of His amazing grace that we enjoy any of what He owns. Deuteronomy 8:1-8 says,Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. So you should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out with valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey.
It would be hard to misunderstand these verses. All that we enjoy in our lives is ultimately the gift of God to us. Instead of complaining that we do not have more, we would be wise to be grateful that we have as much as we do. Your home may not look much like Bill Gates's, but it is as much God's gift to you as your money is. Your family is as much God's gift to you as your income. Your church is as much God's gift to you as your bank account. The wealth of God comes in many and various forms, but it all comes from the gracious hand of God.
Don't brag about how much God gives you or complain about how little He gives you. All good things are measured out from His hand just as we need them. Those who have smaller homes or more meager bank accounts may find they have much greater riches in other areas of life, if only they could see them with thankful eyes.
Take heed to the warning
God gave Israel a great land. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. What a wonderful place for God to bring the Israelites after being slaves in Egypt for 430 years. But as we look further, we discover this warning in verses 11-14:
Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest--when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Warnings are for our good. If God were not a good God, He wouldn't take the time to warn us about those things that will destroy us. But God is so good that He gave this warning in verses 17-18:
Then you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth." And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
This pearl of wisdom is the same one found in Ecclesiastes 5:19. God gives us wonderful gifts. God gives us wealth. He gives us land. He gives us possessions, whether it's cattle or sheep, cars or diamonds. But we dare not forget the Giver.
But maybe you're thinking, Wait a minute. I don't have any of these things. That makes no difference, because our attitude toward our lack of wealth reveals our attitude toward God. If we see God as rich toward us, regardless of what property we have, we'll recognize that everything we do possess, even if it's just a little, is God's gift. If we have the attitude of gratitude, we will be grateful for a hundred dollars just as we would for a million. God is not bound by any law to give us anything; He is only bound by His own generous spirit, which desires to give us everything. When we view wealth from His perspective, we'll be eternally grateful.
The test of character
The real question we need to think about is, why does God give us this wealth? Does He give us this wealth to build large mansions? Does He give us these possessions to live in the lap of luxury? No, I don't think so. Remember the pearl of wisdom from Ecclesiastes 5:19. We receive our heritage and our labor as gifts from God, but He gives us these gifts as a test of our character.
Fred Smith, a Christian businessman, said it this way: "God entrusts us with money as a test, for like a toy to the child, it is training for handling things of more value." The way you handle the money that you have shows God what your character is like. It's an opportunity to demonstrate to God, to those around you, even to yourself, whether you have the character that reflects God or the kind that reflects greed.
Many people who have had money also have had great character. Mr. Welch of Welch's grape juice; J. C. Kraft of Kraft Cheese; Henry P. Kroll of Quaker Oats; William Colgate of the Colgate Soap Company; Walter Johnson, the founder of Holiday Inn; J. C. Penney of the J. C. Penney stores; and R. G. LeTourneau of LeTourneau University and all the LeTourneau equipment. These are men who put God first in their businesses. Starting out, they gave to God a tithe, maybe 15 percent. Some of them got up to 90 percent. But when you give back to God 90 percent of what He gives to you, what do you have left? Surprisingly, you don't have 10 percent left; you have it all left, because when you can pass the test of character, God knows He can entrust you with everything.
The great missionary statesman Hudson Taylor said, "Let us give up our work, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence, our rights into God's hand, and then when we have given all to Him there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about."
Are you spending all your time trying to save your wealth? Are you constantly seeking to find new and better ways to have bigger and better things? Then take this pearl of wisdom to heart, and it will keep you from financial ruin. Don't treat what money you have, whether it's a little or a lot, as your own. Treat it as God's and it won't buy things you don't need. Treat it as God's and it won't rule your life. If you treat it as God's, you'll discover that it will go a lot further than it does now.
Everything you have is God's gift to you. What you do with everything God gives you is your gift to Him. Is your life all about getting or all about giving?