ANSWER: This interesting expression is used only once in God’s Word. The Lord Jesus Himself employs it in His parable of the rich fool as a contrast to a person’s heaping up treasure for himself here on earth. In this connection it is worthwhile to notice both differences and similarities between the Old Testament’s attitude toward riches and that of the New Testament. Most of the Old Testament focuses on Israel, God’s earthly people. Their blessings were largely earthly and material in contrast to the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus that characterize the Church and the individuals comprising it today.
In the Old Testament, riches were often an indication of God’s blessing on a life that pleased Him. Job is a good example of this. Both he and his friends found the sudden loss of his vast riches (and his health) difficult to understand. As a result, his friends made dreadful accusations of hypocrisy against him. When Solomon asked for wisdom to judge God’s numerous people, God commended him for not asking for riches, long life or the life of his enemies as others would normally have done. God granted him wisdom, but also promised him the riches he had not asked for. The inspired record goes on to tell us that Solomon had so much gold that silver was as common as stones in Jerusalem (2 Chr. 9:27). Abraham, David, and many other Old Testament worthies also were blessed with riches.
While having riches was evidence of God’s favor in Old Testament times, God often warned against the ever-present dangers of striving to become rich, trusting in riches or glorying in one’s riches. In fact, throughout Scripture those whom God blesses with riches are exhorted to employ them to help others rather than to use them to oppress the poor.
In the New Testament the negative side of being materially rich often comes into focus. The selfishness and self-centeredness of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21 is in great contrast to being “rich toward God.” What did this man have when he suddenly died? He could not take any of his riches with him! What a shock the Lord’s account of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) must have been to the Pharisees, and all who heard Him! Here was another rich man who had selfishly misused God’s earthly blessings. His condemnation to the torment of eternal suffering demonstrated that, though rich on earth, he had not been rich toward God. The “very rich” young ruler in Luke 18:18-25 also allowed his material riches to keep him from following Christ and obtaining treasure in heaven. One can go on and on with this same theme.
Although He may grant them, nowhere in the Bible does God promise a Christian earthly riches, or encourage him to seek them or to pray for them. Yet in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 we are shown how being “rich toward God” is possible even for individuals who are blessed with earthly riches. The secret of being “rich toward God” here reads: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
To conclude, we would say that the person who is “rich toward God” will both enjoy a positive, trusting relationship with God and be a blessing to his fellow men. He will live his life here on earth laying up treasure in heaven, and will enter into the joy of his Lord in the world to come.
Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org