The kingdom of God operates on a completely different currency than any other kingdom in the world. As Jesus unfolds the great blueprint of the Sermon on the Mount, we find him then instructing us to hold stuff loosely. If somebody asks for your shirt, give him your coat too. Give and lend to whoever asks. These are not ways to become rich . . . unless the reward we have in mind is not monetary.
Consider this parable from Jesus found in Luke 12:13-21:
Someone from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
“Friend,” He said to him, “who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”
Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was veryproductive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be? ‘
“That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
In this parable we find a perfect example of a man so caught up in the pursuit of bigger and better, he has neglected to invest in things that ultimately matter. All of the foolish rich man’s energy was tied up in improving his property, and when he felt that was accomplished, he became lazy and gluttonous. The problem isn’t really in improving one’s financial state or even in resting and enjoying one’s self. The problem is in only doing those things and not preparing for eternity. He has stored up treasure for himself, but was not rich toward God.
John Piper drives this point home with a real-life parable of his own:
Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy.
What has happened? This couple is earth-rich but God-poor. When the day of accounting comes, when the kingdom’s currency is requested for entrance into paradise, these wealthy, fun-loving, permanent-vacation-taking souls come up totally empty-handed.
Some may read this parable of the foolish rich man or John Piper’s tale of the retired couple and think to themselves, “Ah, they should have cared more for others. If they had given more money away, they’d have the treasure of having done good.” And it is imperative that we do good to others, but that kind of saving is a poverty all its own. When we reach the gates of Paradise and are asked for the currency of the kingdom to prove our entry purchase, we best not try to hand in our own righteousness. The Bible says “all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6).
No, when the opportunity to present our justification for entry into everlasting rest presents itself, we need only present an empty hand, saying, “I have nothing of my own to offer. But I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ which I have received through faith, which makes me totally vested in his unsearchable riches. My Savior in the great grace of God has purchased my entrance for me.” That would be rich.