Laodicea

“I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:18).

The Christians in Laodicea thought they had everything. In fact, they had nothing.

God had given Jesus a vision to give to John on Patmos; it began with messages directed to the seven churches of Asia, of which Laodicea was the seventh (Revelation 1:1-3:13). Jesus had at least something good to say about the previous six churches; He has nothing good to say about Laodicea.

Laodicea was a prominent city of Asia in the Lycus River valley. Many of the things which made the city famous are spoken of in some way by Jesus: the water which came into town from hot springs outside of the city would be lukewarm by the time it arrived. The city was known for its garment manufacturing, a great medical school and a local powder used as an eyesalve, and for its great wealth, placed on important trade routes. When the city was leveled by earthquake in the 60s it did not obtain Imperial assistance to rebuild; it used its own resources. A lot of people would have considered Laodicea a great place to live; no doubt many would be tempted to hold the church and its members in high esteem. They believed in Jesus; they partook of the wealth of which the city had become famous.

And yet that wealth had blinded, paralyzed, and deformed the Christians of Laodicea spiritually. Jesus indicted them as lukewarm, being neither cold nor hot (Revelation 3:15-16): they provided neither warmth in cold nor refreshment in heat, but wavered in the middle, leading to instant revulsion. How did they manifest lukewarmness? They said to themselves they were rich and thus had need of nothing. Jesus told them they, in truth, were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). Jesus brought home the message in a most devastating way: the Christians who had a lot of gold needed to buy from Jesus gold refined by fire; Christians who enjoyed a thriving garment industry needed white garments from Jesus with which to clothe themselves; Christians who had easy access to the best eyesalve of the day needed Jesus’ eyesalve so they could see (Revelation 3:18). Jesus said such things because of His love for them: He reproves and chastens those whom He loves, and so the Laodiceans ought to prove zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).

What had gone so wrong for the Christians in Laodicea? How could they have reached the point where Jesus could say nothing positive about them? How could they have been so deceived and deluded? By the moment Jesus wrote to them, the Laodicean Christians had become as “thorny” soil, deceived by their wealth (Matthew 13:22/Mark 4:19/Luke 8:14).

Riches and wealth prove alluring for all sorts of understandable but ultimately unprofitable reasons. With wealth we are able to provide for ourselves and others, yes, but we also start putting our confidence in looking toward the future in that wealth. We feel self-sufficient and in charge if we have wealth. Other people start treating us as more valuable and honorable because of that wealth. Soon we might find ourselves seeking to preserve and grow our wealth for the sake of maintaining it. Some people are able to grow wealth without actively harming or oppressing others; far too often, however, wealth is gained by one at the expense of others. With wealth comes decadence in its many forms: often no appetite is left for seeking justice, advocating for those less fortunate, or zeal for a cause, lest these pursuits somehow jeopardize our wealth and standing. We want to please all people; we want to avoid suffering at any cost. With wealth we become fat and happy.

On a spiritual level wealth proves a disaster. God is the Source of all blessings and gifts; without what God has given, there could be no wealth (James 1:17). One’s wealth all too easily displaces God from the center of one’s life; the wealthy tend to serve Mammon more than God (Matthew 6:24). Maintaining wealth works against all of the demands of believers in Christ Jesus toward dependence on God, humility in disposition, zeal in righteousness and justice, and willingness to suffer affliction so as to grow in faith (cf. Ephesians 4:1-5:21, Colossians 3:1-17). Furthermore, even if there are spiritual warning signs to be seen, the great discomfort which would be caused by recognizing the dangers leads to strong resistance to think of them as problematic. In this way the Laodicean Christians presumed themselves rich and sufficient but proved spiritually wretched, poor, and blind.

Thus Jesus counseled them to suffer, buying gold from Him as refined by fire (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7); they were to again turn to Him in repentance for cleansing, receiving white garments to cover their nakedness and shame; they were to prove willing to open their eyes to see their true condition before God in Christ, anointed with eyesalve so as to see (Revelation 3:18). Only through suffering would they learn true humility and faith; only by repenting could they find a way to trust in God in Jesus; all these things could only take place if they proved willing to see their true condition. And so it continues to be with the wealthy.

Jesus’ message to the church in Laodicea should be heard as a clarion call to repentance for Christians today. In the Western world all of us, even if poor by modern standards, maintain far more wealth than was present in the ancient Roman world, and enjoy far greater security, comfort, and health than even the wealthiest Romans. The church in the modern era has all too often fallen into decadence, like Laodicea, presuming itself wealthy and in need of nothing, but truly wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. The state of the church in the Western world speaks for itself.

And so Christians today do well to turn to the Lord Jesus and buy from Him that gold refined by fire, proving willing to suffer for the Cause. In the New Testament the Christians who suffered more in life and in persecution tended to be more spiritually mature than those who did not suffer. The way of Christ offers no bypass around suffering: if we wish to reach Zion, we must go through Calvary. Christians must repent of their trust in material wealth, entitlement programs, or their own ingenuity, but repent and seek clothing from Jesus. We are exposed in nakedness to all sorts of dangers even if we have nice clothing and comfortable homes; only Jesus can cover our nakedness and shame. Christians must prove willing to see their plight and not turn aside from its ugliness. How many will enter perdition because they were deceived by the riches of this world? May we prove willing to suffer for the Lord Jesus, repent of our confidence in riches, and gain the victory in faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Desiring God

Nevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou hast holden my right hand. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee (Psalm 73:23-25).

The Psalms begin with a wisdom psalm affirming the way things should be: the righteous prosper while the wicked fade away in transience (Psalm 1). The third book of the Psalms attempts to come to grips with the feeling that this is not always so (Psalm 73).

Asaph does not deny God’s goodness to Israel and those who are pure in heart (Psalm 73:1). Yet he was prone to stumbled for he was envious of the arrogant on account of the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:2-3). These are not the “good people” who “deserve” what they have; they are arrogant, foolish, impious, oppressive, the rich people only fellow rich people tolerate (Psalm 73:4-12). Asaph is left to wonder if his righteousness has gotten him anywhere or anything (Psalm 73:13-14).

Asaph wants to know what we all want to know: why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer? He sees it is a wearisome task to consider the question (Psalm 73:16). But while he goes to stand before the presence of YHWH in the Temple he gains a critical insight (Psalm 73:17). To what do the wealthy wicked look when they see the future? Asaph sees their worst case scenario: they lose all their wealth and fall into ruin, and all that in but a moment (Psalm 73:18-19). They are left with nothing; they are exposed as naked and helpless through calamity and disaster.

Asaph feels pricked in heart based on this insight; he recognizes the surpassing value of what he has by being continually with God, who holds His right hand, guiding him with His counsel, ultimately to receive him to glory (Psalm 73:24). Asaph then cries out a notable declaration: whom does Asaph have in Heaven but God? Asaph desires nothing on Earth besides God (Psalm 73:25). His flesh will fail; God will be his strength forever (Psalm 73:26). The wicked will perish, but Asaph knows that YHWH is his refuge and will proclaim His works (Psalm 73:27-28).

There is little pretense in the Psalms; in them life is exposed for all that it is, both what is beautiful as well as what is ugly. The Psalms do not tolerate the pious fictions we like to tell ourselves, knowing that since we should feel in certain ways and not feel in other ways, we will not speak publicly when we fall short, and all pretend that all is well. Asaph makes his admission: he was stumbling in his trust in YHWH because he was envious of the wealth of the wicked. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we at times have been guilty of the same envy. Like Asaph, we want to know why; we always seem to want to know why.

Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? From the ancient Near Eastern world until today the assumption has been that people prosper when righteous and suffer when wicked. The book of Job is all about Job and his friends having to come to grips first with the possibility that a person might suffer illness or indignity but not as a result of sin and then by extension that wicked people prosper despite their evil. Yet no explanation is really given. The Preacher considers questions of this sort as vanity (Ecclesiastes 8:14). These days we tend to point to God’s “common grace,” that God gives rain to the just as well as the unjust (Matthew 5:45), or we just put off the question, as in the song “Farther Along,” presuming that we will understand everything at some point in a future realm.

Yet for Asaph the question does have an answer; it is a real and present one, but it only could be discerned in the presence of God. The whole question presumes that material wealth is true wealth and material lack is true poverty, health is true wealth and illness is true poverty, or favor is true wealth and adversity is true poverty. Asaph sees that reality is not that simple. It is easy to be envious of the wealthy because we want what they have; nevertheless, their wealth can be their own prison. Asaph describes the greatest fear of the wealthy: the deprivation of all they have (Psalm 73:18-19). That fear motivates them to continue to accumulate wealth, to keep God and/or their fellow man at a distance lest they lose their wealth, and in general maintain great fear and apprehension about maintaining or increasing what they already have. After all, they are but a major economic collapse, a war and its deprivation, or an incurable illness away from losing everything! And they are filled with fear and terror. The wicked do not have true wealth; what they have causes them great fear and apprehension. In a strange sense they suffer because of their prosperity.

Asaph, on the other hand, has true wealth: God. Whether Asaph has material wealth or prosperity, God is with him. Whether Asaph maintains good health or is struck with illness, God holds his right hand. Whether he is quite popular among his people or derided and persecuted, God guides him by His counsel. When it is all said and done, and Asaph goes the way of all flesh, God will receive him into glory.

We do well to consider deeply Asaph’s cry. Whom is there in heaven for Asaph but God? No one, of course, and that is the same with us. So Asaph makes a confident declaration, one I dare say we could not make as confidently: there is nothing on earth [he] desire[s] besides [God] (Psalm 73:25).

The reason for our lack of confidence is that we like God’s blessings more than God. We like material prosperity; we like comfort, both physical and spiritual; we like having good people in our lives who care for us and we for them. God, on the other hand, is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29). Those who would draw near to Him must sanctify Him and His name, and many have suffered and perished for not thus honoring God (e.g. Leviticus 10:1-3). God is the Other, far above mankind; He cannot be manipulated or controlled. God has questions for our certainties. We all see the value of His blessings, but as for God Himself? We feel it is wiser to keep our distance.

Yes, God demands holiness from those who would draw near to Him; many times those closest to Him have suffered the greatest deprivations and trials, both to test their faith as well as to suffer on behalf of the Name and for others (Hebrews 11:1-40, 1 Peter 2:18-25). Nevertheless, Asaph has it right: we must desire God, not what God gives. That which God gives are but an extension of Himself and His love for us; on their own they can often distract people as they clearly did for the wicked. While God has questions for our certainties, He remains the Certainty in the midst of our trials and challenges.

In the end that is why we must desire God and not what God gives: only God can be our refuge, and only God will receive us to glory (Psalm 73:24-25, 28). In times of trial wealth, perhaps even friends, and popularity fail. In life we are given reason to question or challenge the goodness of this creation and the things within it; we sometimes may even question if there will be anything beyond this life, any great reckoning, any ultimate goal. The Lord YHWH is the Creator; Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Genesis 1:1, Hebrews 12:2). The life of faith is not just about what happens after death; the life of faith is about trusting in and desiring God. If we want God, we will want to be where God is; if we want God, then the resurrection will be glory, because in the resurrection He will make His dwelling place with us (Revelation 21:1-7). God’s blessings cannot compare with God Himself; why do we suffer from such a lack of faith so as to covet the lesser good when God wants us to have the greatest Good of all?

Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Actually, both the righteous and the wicked prosper and suffer in various ways to various degrees at different times. Sometimes the prosperity is a cause of suffering; sometimes suffering leads to true treasure. Asaph has learned true wisdom: God is true wealth, because despite all the trials, tribulations, suffering, and righteousness necessary to be in relationship with God, God is the Certainty by which we can continue to live, our Sustainer and Redeemer whether we have much or little, health or illness, fame or infamy. God’s blessings do not compare with God Himself; let us declare, as Asaph did, that there is nothing on earth we desire besides God, and grow in faith accordingly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Cows of Bashan

“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say unto their lords, ‘Bring, and let us drink.’
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that they shall take you away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every one straight before her; and ye shall cast yourselves into Harmon,” saith the LORD (Amos 4:1-3).

Amos does not have many kind words for those who were comfortable and wealthy in Israel. The women are no exception.

He begins by calling them “kine,” or cows, of Bashan (Amos 4:1). Bashan is in the northeastern part of Israel across the Jordan, around the Golan area today (cf. Deuteronomy 4:43), and was famous for its pastureland and timber (Jeremiah 50:14, Ezekiel 27:6, 39:18, Micah 7:14). These “cows of Bashan” actually live in Samaria, and so the reference is clearly derogatory: these women are those who “graze” upon the best of the land. It was not a pleasant reference, and it was not meant to be; women have never taken kindly to being compared with cows.

Amos’ accusation is quite specific: these women have oppressed the poor and crushed the needy while demanding more drink from their husbands (Amos 4:1). They enjoy their wealth and prosperity today, but Amos warns them about the days to come when they will be thoroughly humiliated and denigrated: every last one of them will be carried off as exiles (Amos 4:2-3). God has sworn by His holiness that it will take place; it has been firmly decreed; it will not be revoked (Amos 4:2; cf. Hebrews 6:13). Within 50 years of Amos’ prediction, it did come to pass: Assyria overran Israel, and its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-41).

We do well to reflect a moment about Amos’ condemnation of the noblewomen of Samaria. He accuses them of oppressing the poor and crushing the needy, and yet it is hard to imagine that any of these women were ever out on the streets actively harming the poor or needy. They would not have engaged in business dealings, court bribery, adaptation of laws to benefit the rich and further impoverishing the poor, or other such behaviors promoting injustice and oppression. Their husbands were the ones doing so! But what was at least part of the reason behind why their husbands, the lords and nobles of Israel, behaved this way? They had the lifestyles of their wives to support; they continually demanded food, drink, and other luxurious items. Their lifestyle was supported on the backs of the poor and needy among them, and so they fall under the same condemnation as their husbands. They stand condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy because they were indirect “beneficiaries” of the proceeds which came as a result of those behaviors.

Most people today are not actively, consciously, and deliberately going out to oppress the poor and crush the needy. Even if we do pass by a lot of homeless people, we might give a little something to a few that seem worthy. Most people give at least a little something to charity, even if it is some promotion at the grocery store or large retailer. Therefore, it would be very easy for most people to not take the charge of oppressing the poor or crushing the needy very seriously.

Yet Amos and his condemnation of the “cows of Bashan,” the noblewomen of Samaria, should give us pause. God does not condemn only those who actively work to oppress the poor and crush the needy, but also those who benefit or have their lifestyles financed by the oppression of the poor and the crushing of the needy! As in Israel, many times government is used by some to reinforce their advantage against others; in some cases, those whose family, friends, or tribe make up the government get the advantages to the detriment of everyone else. Yet this is not just a problem in other places: how much of our lifestyle is subsidized by cheap labor in other places? Workers in other countries are subjected to horrendous, often inhumane conditions, in order to make the products we buy at prices we feel comfortable paying. Their wages would never make it in America, and often barely make it where they live; some are imprisoned and making such products in forced labor camps; meanwhile, how many Americans have lost jobs and find themselves impoverished because their jobs were shipped overseas on account of lower labor costs? With every product there is a cost; the constant pursuit of lower prices hurts people in plenty of places. Multinational corporations exploit legal loopholes and often participate in illegal behavior if it produces sufficient profit; the stock price may go up, but people are harmed in the process. How many times have some governments or companies extracted minerals or other valuable commodities from the land, share the profits with themselves and their owners and shareholders, and disband or look away when it becomes clear that there are lots of environmental costs which are now passed along to the inhabitants of the area? Some people over the short-term made some money; generations living on that land may suffer the consequences.

The noblewomen of Samaria stood condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy even though it was their husbands who actively engaged in that behavior. Their condemnation was secured because they were the beneficiaries of the immoral and unjust behavior. God judged them speedily; they did not escape. We live in a different time and under a different covenant, but God has no less concern for the poor, disadvantaged, and needy (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:1-7, 5:1-6). If we indirectly benefit from oppressive behavior, will we escape the same punishment? Let us stand against oppression and injustice in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and seek the welfare of all people, near and far, and live in such a way that our lifestyles are not sustained to the detriment of the poor or needy in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wealth and Indifference

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps; and I will punish the men that are settled on their lees, that say in their heart, “The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.” And their wealth shall become a spoil, and their houses a desolation: yea, they shall build houses, but shall not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but shall not drink the wine thereof (Zephaniah 1:12-13).

In many places, especially in the teachings of Jesus, it seems that God has it out for rich people. Jesus declared that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 19:23-24). And yet all wealth ultimately derives from God and His abundant blessing and provision for the earth. So what is the problem with wealth?

Over six hundred years earlier the prophet Zephaniah was charged to warn the Kingdom of Judah about the upcoming day of the LORD despite the present material prosperity of the nation in the days of King Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). His first messages of chastisement are for the usual suspects: those committing idolatry and those rulers who have conformed to the nations (Zephaniah 1:2-11). But then Zephaniah has a message of condemnation for those men who are “settled on their lees,” saying in their heart, “the LORD will not do good or evil” (Zephaniah 1:12). What does this mean?

The image of “sitting on their lees” is also used by Jeremiah to describe Moab in Jeremiah 48:11. The “lees” are collections of dead or residual yeast at the bottom of a container of wine after the fermentation process. The old wine which would sit on the lees would maintain their flavor and smell and would not be altered no matter the environment. Men who are “sitting on the lees” are therefore complacent, indifferent to their situation, especially their spiritual situation. This is exemplified by the thoughts in their heart: God will not do good or evil. In their perspective, it is as if God is an absentee landlord, gone, inactive in His creation. Whether they do good or evil, work hard or play, seek righteousness or revel in evil, is irrelevant; God will not do anything about it either way.

How does a person get to this position? How could someone come to the point of conviction of God’s indifference to what goes on in His creation, to think, feel, and act as if God were not there? One gets to such a position only when one has come to the conviction that he or she is no longer in need of God. They have everything they need: they have houses and vineyards and things are well!

This is the picture we can see in Zephaniah 1:13: yes, God is saying that they will lose their wealth, houses, and vineyards, but for the time being they do have them and are enjoying them. The days of Josiah were good days for Judah: the Assyrian menace was in disarray, and while Babylon was a rising power, its influence had not yet been strongly felt in Israel. Josiah was able to reconquer much of the lands of northern Israel, and Judah was quite prosperous.

Yet it would not last. Within twenty-five years of Josiah’s death, Jerusalem would be a ruin. It all happened just as Zephaniah said it would. Destruction, pain, misery, and suffering came upon all the men and women of Judah. Many things might have been said in those days, but “God will not do good or evil” was not one of them!

We can therefore see one of the major dangers of wealth: those who have material prosperity easily fall into the trap, however consciously or subconsciously, of putting their trust in that prosperity. They are aware that things might get difficult, but they believe that their prosperity will allow them to ride through those difficult times. Such an attitude breeds complacency: I have all I need, therefore, I do not need God. Plenty of people do good things and suffer for it; plenty of people do evil and get material prosperity. God seemingly does nothing; God, therefore, will not do good or evil. We can just carry on as we wish.

Such explains so much of modern Western attitudes toward God. Western societies have developed a prosperous civilization, abundant in wealth and material goods. Most people put their trust in that civilization, however consciously or subconsciously, and have the expectation that no matter how bad it gets, that civilization and its prosperity will get them through it. Little wonder, then, how so many people today are indifferent to God and what He has established. Some are more obvious about it than others. Some claim to be atheists; they at least admit it. Far too many others profess some belief in God but really say in their hearts that God will not do good or evil. They are sitting on their lees, doing whatever they are going to do no matter what God may say about it. How many imagine God as the God of the Deists, the Creator who packed up and left after He was finished creating and left everything to run on its own?

Perhaps one day we also will experience a “day of the LORD” akin to the day which saw the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and no one will be able to say such things anymore. Perhaps the danger will only become clear when it is too late as we all stand before the judgment seat of God (cf. Romans 2:5-11). But that day will come, because even if we might think that God will not do good or evil, God will do what He is going to do. We can believe that God is indifferent, but God remains living and active, sustaining the creation, as critical and active today as He was in the first century and before (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11, Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:1-3). We can see God’s hand in His creation if we want to; if we do not, we will always be able to find reasons to deny it. Let us heed the warning of the prophet; let us not be as those sitting on their lees, trusting in their wealth, indifferent toward God, and heading for destruction. Let us praise and honor God our Creator, the Giver of all blessings, and find salvation in Jesus His Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Kingdom Perspective on Difficulties

And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, “Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh…But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25).

There are many difficult sayings that Jesus spoke. We either just move on to more easily understood passages or read them and we scratch our heads and try to figure them out. Nevertheless, there can be great value in understanding the more difficult sayings of Jesus, especially in difficult days.

Jesus’ pronouncements of blessings and woes in Luke 6:20-26 involve some of those difficult sayings. It is quite tempting to make them parallel with the beatitudes of Matthew 5 and move on. While the underlying message of both is similar, the contexts are different and the meaning is different. We have to come to terms with what Jesus is saying in Luke 6!

On the surface, it seems quite difficult and contradictory. What real virtue is there in being poor, hungry, or mourning? Is it really sinful to be rich, full, or to be laughing? This passage seems to be extremely disturbing!

Yet Jesus Himself provides the clue to understanding what He is saying. Notice the reasoning behind His statements: the poor are blessed because the Kingdom is theirs. The hungry and weeping are blessed because they will be filled and will laugh. Woes come to the rich because they have received their consolation. Those who are full and who laugh will have woe because they will be hungry and will mourn and weep.

We ought not infer from these verses that there is any inherent virtue in poverty, hunger, or mourning, nor that it is bad to be rich, full, or to laugh. Jesus ate and drank, after all (Matthew 11:19). Instead, Jesus is attempting to turn the world of His hearers upside down– He wants them to see value in what is normally considered undesirable, and the detractions in what is usually considered desirable.

As human beings, we naturally prefer wealth, satisfaction, and laughter. They are fun and enjoyable. We would rather not be poor, hungry, or mourning. Those are no fun.

Yet look at it the way Jesus would have us look at it. If we have wealth, what is left for us? If we are currently full, what is going to come next? If we are laughing, what will come next? We are either going to remain at that plateau or we are going to be faced with that which we do not want: hunger and mourning.

But what happens when we are poor, or hungry, or weeping? Sure, the present does not seem too great, but there is nowhere to go but up. We will have the opportunity to have the Kingdom, or to be full, or to laugh again.

Therefore, according to the Kingdom perspective, we need to remember that if or when we receive wealth, we have our consolation. When we are full, we are just going to get hungry again. When we are laughing, all we have to look forward to are days of woe.

But when we are poor, we can be comforted to know that the Kingdom is ours. When we are hungry, we can have faith that we will be filled. When we mourn, despite the tears, we can look forward to days of laughter.

This is a great message for difficult times, especially difficult times like today. There is great economic uncertainty. Thousands have lost their jobs. The present does not seem too hopeful. Yet if we are poor, hungry, or weeping today, we can cherish the blessing of knowing that there will be days of satisfaction and laughter to follow.

Whether rich or poor, full or hungry, laughing or weeping, let us trust in God and put His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Problem of Wealth

And Jesus said unto his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
And Jesus looking upon them said to them, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).

One hotly contested aspect of Jesus’ teachings involves His words toward those who are rich in material wealth. Some have taken Jesus’ words and made them a call for a more level playing field. Others take the opposite approach and attempt to minimize these teachings and try to find some way to glorify wealth. Many have the same question as the disciples. Some wonder how just it is for Jesus to come down so harshly on the rich.

Jesus’ words were not designed to overthrow the concept of money or wealth. Nor is it an absolutely true statement that all rich people are going to be condemned (1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19). Yet Jesus’ words do strike at the heart of the problems with wealth.

These words are spoken immediately after the “rich young ruler” departs from Jesus sorrowfully. This young man wanted to inherit eternal life and even had great respect for the Law (Matthew 19:16-20). Nevertheless, when asked to give up all his wealth and to follow Jesus, he walked away (Matthew 19:21-22).

What would lead this young man to make such a fateful decision? Jesus perceived that he trusted his wealth more than God. His material wealth kept him from the Kingdom of God.

We must greatly respect Jesus’ statement that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without turning it into an absolute. Wealth casts a strong spell upon people. Wealth provides the illusion of stability and contentment: if we have much stored up, we end up entrusting our future to our wealth and not so much on God. Wealth rarely comes without great effort expended to obtain it, and for those who desire great wealth, what they have is rarely enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Covetousness, selfishness, arrogance, and idolatry often mark those who have wealth.

Who do we trust? We have learned the lesson that riches are uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17), but that has not stopped many from continuing to press on after wealth. Yet there is no true stability there. Salvation can never be found in riches, no matter how vast (Matthew 16:26). We must trust in God, the One who is able to accomplish what is impossible for mankind.

How do we know whom we trust? Put yourself in the shoes of that rich young ruler. If Jesus asked you personally to sell all that you have, give to the poor, obtain treasure in Heaven, and follow after Him, would you be willing to do so? Or would you also go away sorrowfully? We all know the answer that we should give, but would that be the answer we would give?

Let us not put our trust in the uncertain material wealth of the world that causes anxiety for so many. Instead, let us trust in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and obtain the peace that comes from Him (Matthew 6:33-34, Matthew 28:18, Philippians 4:4-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry