Poverty, Riches, and the Greatest Treasure

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to an audiobook of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream while driving to and from work and running errands. Almost every chapter has impacted my thinking in some small way, and I’m currently listening to the chapter about world poverty and American luxury. This has led me to consider the desire that I have for stuff, and how that desire has only grown in an age of two-day Amazon Prime shipping and endless email marketing campaigns.

There is always something urging me to get, whether it’s a limited-time sale of a super-useful looking product or a recommendation for the latest gadget on one of the many blogs I follow. Lately, my acquisition of new stuff has taken on a book-centered approach, not unlike the one John Piper describes in a podcast episode from three years ago:

And when the doorbell rings and the FedEx guy is walking down the sidewalk, there rises up in me a kind of euphoria that I am going to get to open a box, and in it is going to be a book.

- John Piper

Unfortunately, all these books are now sitting on various shelves around my home, waiting to be read as I turn from the initial excitement of seeing them arrive in the mail to another even more interesting title that came up on Amazon, Hoopla, or somewhere else. I still have the majority of them carefully logged in my “want to read” list on GoodReads, but I know that I’m definitely acquiring books faster than I can read them. And don’t get me started on board games. Even though I’ve committed not to purchase any more cardboard, I somehow still have shelves overflowing with games I rarely play1.

I could go on and talk about clothing, gadgets, pens and notebooks, gardening tools, or even dishes. In every category, I have tons of stuff and I’m tempted each day to get more. At the same time, one in ten people in the world lives on less than $1.90 per day. With a world population of 7.6 billion, that’s more than 768 million people who make less in a single day than I spent last night on a head of lettuce at my local grocery store. As I look over the comparisons between my lifestyle and the realities in the world around me, it would be insane for me to think of myself as anything but wealthy!

And yet, am I really that rich? In comparison with one-tenth of the world, in material standards I’m filthy-rich. In terms of God’s standards, that’s a completely different topic. The Bible makes it clear that everything the world has to offer will one day disappear as the world is completely burned up. But Jesus taught his disciples to be concerned about a different kind of wealth:

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 12:33-34 (ESV)

There is a kind of wealth that lasts forever, and it is directly related to the problem of poverty in the world. I’m convinced that I could (and should) live on less; the question in my mind now is how best to use the resources God has given me to further His kingdom. The Apostle Paul warns the rich in this present age – that would be us wealthy Americans – not to set our hearts on uncertain riches but instead place our trust in God who is the Provider of everything we need to truly enjoy life:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

- 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV)

So the command for us is to be “rich in good works”, “generous”, and “ready to share”. The goal is to take hold of that which is truly life. Stuff and wealth promise to give life, but it’s a lie. Only Jesus can give life, and I believe that eternity will be so much more desirable as we put aside the temporary pleasures of this age and look forward to the glories of eternity with Christ.

Lord, forgive us for our love of the things we wish to own
We forsake the feast above for all the crumbs below
Though You’ve made us sons and daughters we do not the world disown
May we find our greatest treasure is in You alone!

  1. Since Christmas, the number of games I own but have not yet played is at an all-time high. It used to be that I couldn’t leave a game in shrink for more than an hour… but those days are in the past. ↩︎