Dr. Wolken received his B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Missouri and both his M.S. in Economics and Ph.D. in Econometrics from Texas A&M University. After graduation he spent four years teaching math, economics, and astronomy and coaching baseball at a high school in a suburb of Houston. After teaching economics and finance for two years at Houston Baptist University, he returned to Texas A&M University as the Associate Director of the Center for Education and Research in Free Enterprise. He currently teaches International and Corporate Finance and is also the Director of the Scholastic Assistance for Global Education program for the Center for International Business Education and Research at Texas A&M University. He has served as the assistant department head and advisor for the Master of Science in Finance program in the Department of Finance. His international experience includes teaching at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China, and teaching at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, as a Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Wolken's high school economics text was widely used throughout the United States. In addition, he is the co-author of twenty-three other social studies texts used nationwide in grades 1 through 12. He served as the James W. Aston/Republic Bank Professor of Finance from 1991 through 1993 and received the Distinguished Teaching Award in the College of Business Administration for the 1990-91 academic year.
As a member of the finance faculty in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, I have taught courses dealing with a wide variety of financial topics. Most of these topics are in some way related to “wealth”. In the introductory finance course, for example, the basic tools of the “time value of money” are developed. While the terminology “time value of money” may sound confusing, it is really quite simple. Anyone who has ever had any money knows that a dollar in the future is not worth the same as a dollar today. If you put a dollar in a savings account today, you will have more than a dollar in your account in the future because of the interest you have earned. Something that cost $100 today is likely to cost more than $100 in the future because of inflation. Once this basic concept is understood, it can be applied in a wide variety of contexts.
In corporate finance courses, I help students learn about ways decision makers can achieve the goal of the corporation. What is the goal of corporations? To maximize the wealth of the stockholders. How is this accomplished? By doing things which will increase the price of the corporation’s stock. Investment courses help students understand tools that can help them make wise investment decisions. Calculations can be made to assist an investor in identifying which financial assets (like stocks and bonds) are overvalued and which ones are undervalued. Why would an investor want to know which stocks are overvalued? These are the stocks which should be sold because they will drop in price. Why would an investor want to know which stocks are undervalued? These are the stocks which should be purchased because they will increase in price. Why would an investor want to “buy low, sell high”? Because that is the way an investor becomes wealthy. In the international finance course I teach, we focus on the added risk multinational corporations face because of the changing value of the currencies they pay out and receive. The MNC’s decision makers try to manage this foreign exchange risk as a part of their effort to maximize the wealth of the firm’s stockholders. Wealth is an important topic in finance classes.
The first step in trying to reach a goal is to clearly understand what that goal is. So what does it really mean to be wealthy? Perhaps you have heard of a multimillion-dollar deal some athlete, actor or actress signed. Or the millions of dollars winners of the lottery receive. While this may seem like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the truly wealthy of the world. Forbes magazine compiles a list of the richest people in the world. In the early years of this list, to even be considered for inclusion on this list, a person had to still be earning wealth or actively working with what they have inherited. Individuals and families who were simply living off of the wealth that someone else earned were excluded from consideration.
Who are the wealthiest people in the world? In 1987, Japanese real estate tycoon Toshiaki Tsutsumi topped Forbes’ first list. He was then worth an estimated $20 billion. When land prices in Japan crashed in 1990, much of his wealth evaporated. By late 1998 he was worth only $6 billion. With a net worth of $18.5 billion Bill Gates topped the list in 1996 with Warren Buffett coming in a close second at $15 billion. Gates’ net worth reached a peak of $90 billion dollars in the 1999 rankings. Much of his wealth is tied to the price of his shares of Microsoft stock and therefore subject to the ups and downs of the stock market.
The U.S. and Japan are not the only countries that have billionaires. From 1990 to 1994 the Mexican stock market quadrupled in terms of dollars. Forbes added 24 new billionaires from Mexico to its July 1994 list of the world’s wealthiest. Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helu' was ranked number six on that list at a net worth of $6.6 billion. When the peso crisis hit in late 1994, the Mexican stock market dropped 44%. By 1995 he was worth only $3.7 billion. The prosperity of 1995 and 1996 created many billionaires in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, their fortunes were reversed with the currency crisis that began in 1997. Number two on the list in 1998 was Sultan Hassanai Bolkiah of Brunei. His net worth was estimated at $36 billion. Vladimir Potanin of Russia ranked number ten with a net worth of $1.6 billion. In addition to 70 Americans, Forbes’ 1998 list included 52 Europeans, and 44 Asians. By the 2004 rankings, Russia boasted a total 25 billionaires putting it in third place behind the U.S. and Germany.
The world’s billionaires did not fair very well during the first few years of the new millennium. For its 2002 rankings, Forbes could find only 497 billionaires compared to 538 the previous year. This included 28 newcomers and 12 who returned to the rankings. For each of these returnees and newcomers, two others had dropped off the list. For the 497 who made the list that year, half of them had experienced a drop in their net worth. 2003 was not much better for the world’s rich, especially for the five billionaires who saw their net worth drop to zero. One of them, Germany’s media mogul Leo Kirch, took on too much debt and was forced into bankruptcy when his company’s creditors began exercising their put options.
The 2004 rankings reflected a modest upturn in the world’s economy with 587 billionaires making the list. Joanne Kathleen Rowling, a former welfare mother, made the list for the first time at number 552 as a result of her popular Harry Potter series. At age 20 Albert von Thurn und Taxis, the youngest to make the list, was ranked 262 with a net worth of $2.4 billion. How did someone so young get so rich so quickly? He inherited a royal family fortune on his 18th birthday. In contrast, John Simplot at age 95 was the oldest person on the list, ranked number 205. After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, he made his first billion in potatoes with a gadget that sorted spuds. During WWII many GIs ate his dehydrated potatoes and in the 1950s he patented frozen French fries.
The 2005 rankings included a record 691 billionaires from 47 countries with a collective net worth of $2.2 trillion. To put their collective net worth in perspective, the only countries in the world who have a higher annual GDP are the U.S., China, Japan, India, and Germany. The newcomers to the list included, for the first time, Kazakhstan, Poland, Ukraine and Iceland. Bill Gates was crowned the richest person on the planet for an eleventh straight year with a net worth of $46.5 billion, down from the $51 billion he had ten years earlier. Warren Buffett was a close second at $42.9 billion with Karl Albrecht of Germany coming in a distant third at $23.0 billion. At number 25 , Abigail Johnson was the highest ranked woman with a net worth of $12 billion.. She and her father run Fidelity Investments.
After thirteen years as the world’s richest person, Bill Gates slipped to number three in 2008 with a net worth of only $58 billion. Warren Buffett finally made it to number one with a net worth of $62 billion. Carlos Slim Helú was number 2 at $60 billion. The rankings had grown to 1,125 billionaires.
An article entitled “Secrets of the Self-Made Billionaires” accompanied Forbes’ list. It included answers twenty of the world’s wealthiest gave to Forbes’ questions about their lives. Donald Trump (#368 at $3 billion) was one of the respondents. Q: What is your favorite book and why? A: The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump. It was a great read in 1987, a No. 1 bestseller, and nothing has changed. Q: So much of what passes for wisdom is wrong. What piece of contrary advice? A: Screw ‘em back. If someone screws you, nail them to the wall. These answers provide some insight into this billionaire’s world view.
Now that we have established how much money it takes to be wealthy, we can turn our attention to the secret to becoming wealthy. But before learning the secret, we must take a close look at what it means to be wealthy. Another member of Forbes' list for 2008 provides some clues. Kenny Troutt was number 897 with a net worth of $1.3 billion. Q: How much of your success do you attribute to sheer luck? A: 95%. What is your favorite book and why? A: The Bible- it's the ultimate book of what is true, good, and beautiful. Q: What is the hardest lesson you've had to learn? A: Money does not buy happiness.
The Bible has some very important things to say about the subject of wealth. The Old Testament tells us about a man named Solomon. As the King of Israel, he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. His experiences led him to several important observations about being rich. After spending much of his life using his wealth in an effort to find happiness, he concluded:
I said to myself, “Have fun and enjoy yourself!” But this didn’t make sense. Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do? I wanted to find out what was best for us during the short time we have on this earth. So I decided to make myself happy with wine and find out what it means to be foolish, without really being foolish myself. I did some great things. I built houses and planted vineyards. I had flower gardens and orchards full of fruit trees. And I had pools where I could get water for the trees. I owned slaves, and their sons and daughters became my slaves. I had more sheep and goats than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem. Foreign rulers brought me silver, gold, and precious treasures. Men and women sang for me, and I had many wives who gave me great pleasure. I was the most famous person who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and I was very wise. I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work. Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind. Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.1
Even though he was famous, got whatever he wanted, and was rich enough to do what ever he thought would make him happy, he concluded that all of this “was simply chasing the wind”. That should make us wonder about our own desires about becoming wealthy.
Some people have the idea that if they just had enough money they would be satisfied with their life. Solomon came to a very different conclusion:
If you love money and wealth, you will never be satisfied with what you have. This doesn’t make sense either. The more you have, the more everyone expects from you. Your money won’t do you any good—others will just spend it for you. If you have to work hard for a living, you can rest well at night, even if you don’t have much to eat. But if you are rich, you can’t even sleep. I have seen something terribly unfair. People get rich, but it does them no good. Suddenly they lose everything in a bad business deal, then have nothing to leave for their children. They came into this world naked, and when they die, they will be just as naked. They can’t take anything with them, and they won’t have anything to show for all their work. That’s terribly unfair. They leave the world just as they came into it. They gained nothing from running after the wind. Besides all this, they are always gloomy at mealtime, and they are troubled, sick, and bitter.2
This is where the old saying “you can’t take it with you” comes from. Early in his reign, Solomon wrote and compiled a collection of wise sayings called proverbs. Many of these dealt with the subject of being wealthy:
Give up trying so hard to get rich. Your money flies away before you know it, just like an eagle suddenly taking off.3 It is possible to give freely and become more wealthy, but those who are stingy will lose everything. The generous prosper and are satisfied; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. People curse those who hold their grain for higher prices, but they bless the one who sells to them in their time of need.4 There is treasure in the house of the godly, but the earnings of the wicked bring trouble.5 Trust in your wealth, and you will be a failure, but God’s people will prosper like healthy plants.6 It’s better to be poor and godly than rich and dishonest. 7 Such is the fate of all who are greedy for gain. It ends up robbing them of life. 8 Don’t be selfish and eager to get rich—you will end up worse off than you can imagine. 9 Make me absolutely honest and don’t let me be too poor or too rich. Give me just what I need. If I have too much to eat, I might forget about you; if I don’t have enough, I might steal and disgrace your name. 10
Because Solomon inherited the throne from his father, King David, he never had to experience being poor. Perhaps he had little good to say about being wealthy because he never had to live without it and therefore had no real appreciation of it. In contrast to Solomon, consider another person in the Old Testament, Job. He experienced both great wealth and extreme poverty. He knew well the difference between the two. He commented:
Greedy people want everything and are never satisfied. But when nothing remains for them to grab, they will be nothing. Once they have everything, distress and despair will strike them down, and God will make them swallow his blazing anger. While running from iron spears, they will be killed by arrows of bronze, whose shining tips go straight through their bodies. They will be trapped by terror, and what they treasure most will be lost in the dark. God will send flames to destroy them in their tents with all their property. The heavens and the earth will testify against them, and all their possessions will be dragged off when God becomes angry. This is what God has decided for those who are evil. 11
Much can be learned from the observations of Solomon and Job. First, possessions in themselves will not make a person happy. Second, the way a person gains wealth is important. They warn against dishonesty and criminal activities. Third, a person’s attitude about wealth is more important than the wealth itself. If attaining wealth is the focus of your life, you will never be satisfied or truly happy.
The New Testament of the Bible also has a lot to say about becoming rich. On many occasions Jesus taught his disciples about worldly wealth. For example, He told them:
Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is. 12
While this statement may seem rather simplistic at first glance, it has very important implications for one’s life. First of all, there are two different places to store that which one has accumulated. Second, there are two different kinds of wealth. Forbes measures the kind of wealth we accumulate here on earth. Money, shares of stock, real estate, homes, cars, and boats are just a few of the things that are worldly wealth. Any physical item someone owns that has a monetary value is part of that person’s wealth. Jesus points out two things that commonly happen to our worldly wealth. It deteriorates over time unless we properly maintain it or it gets stolen.
The second place to store up wealth is in heaven. Any wealth you accumulate there will never deteriorate (and therefore does not require constant maintenance) and it cannot be stolen. And the worldly wealth you accumulate during your life does not count toward your wealth in heaven. As Solomon pointed out, when you die you will not be able to take your money, shares of stock, cars, etc with you. Heavenly wealth is very different from worldly wealth.
The last sentence of Christ’s statement says a great deal about the focus of a person’s life. Each person has a choice to make. Either spend your life here on earth trying to accumulate worldly wealth or spend it doing things that will accumulate treasures for you in heaven. You cannot do both. You will either spend your life doing things to accumulate worldly wealth or you will spend it doing things which will be rewarded in heaven.
Does this mean that religion will make a person wealthy? Timothy answers that question:
These people think religion is supposed to make you rich. And religion does make your life rich, by making you content with what you have. We didn’t bring anything into this world, and we won’t take anything with us when we leave. So we should be satisfied just to have food and clothes. People who want to be rich fall into all sorts of temptations and traps. They are caught by foolish and harmful desires that drag them down and destroy them. The love of money causes all kinds of trouble. Some people want money so much that they have given up their faith and caused themselves a lot of pain. 13
Notice that Timothy did not say that religion will make you rich. He said it will make “your life” rich. How? By bringing contentment into your life. True contentment, according to Timothy, does not depend on the amount of things you own but by being satisfied with what you have. It is important to understand what Timothy meant by religion. To him, religion was a personal relationship with Christ. That is far different from much of what is referred to as religion today. To many, religion is a set of rules, some rituals, or attending church services. This type of religion is not what God wants for us. He wants us to have a loving relationship with His son Jesus.
Timothy also made the important observation that, in and of itself, money is neither good nor bad. It is the “love” of money that is bad. It is our attitude about money that causes us problems. A person who is consumed with the idea of accumulating more and more money will never be happy or content. This is very different from the world view expressed by Ivana Trump. When told that money can’t buy a person happiness, she supposedly responded “Obviously that person does not know where to shop.”
Since money itself is not bad, it can be used for good. Perhaps that is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” 14 Money, if used unselfishly, can do a lot of good for other people. There is no doubt that those listed by Forbes have a great deal of money. The key question is, ”What is their attitude toward their money and what are they doing with their billions of dollars of net worth?”
Some people feel that being wealthy will make their life safe. Luke tells us what Jesus had to say about this: Then he said to the crowd, “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.”
So Jesus told them this story:
A rich man’s farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, “What can I do? I don’t have a place large enough to store everything.” Later, he said, “Now I know what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ ” But God said to him, “You fool! Tonight you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?” “This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves, but are poor in the sight of God.” 15
Suppose for the moment that you are successful in your quest for gaining wealth. In fact, let’s imagine that you are so successful that you own everything on earth. If this were to actually happen, Jesus has two questions for you: “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?” 16 Your answer to these two questions will say a lot about where you are storing your treasures, here on earth or in heaven.
So what does a person need to do in order to begin accumulating treasures in heaven? Matthew tells the story of a rich man who asked Jesus that question:
A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you want to have eternal life, you must obey his commandments.” “Which ones?” the man asked. Jesus answered, “Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother. And love others as much as you love yourself.” The young man said, “I have obeyed all of these. What else must I do?” Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich. Jesus said to his disciples, “It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly surprised and asked, “How can anyone ever be saved?” Jesus looked straight at them and said, “There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything.” Peter replied, “Remember, we have left everything to be your followers! What will we get?” Jesus answered: "Yes, all of you have become my followers. And so in the future world, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, I promise that you will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. All who have given up home or brothers and sisters or father and mother or children or land for me will be given a hundred times as much. They will also have eternal life. But many who are now first will be last, and many who are last will be first." 17
What is the “eternal life” this man is asking Jesus about? Christians believe that a person’s spirit (or soul) lives on for eternity after the persons’ physical body dies. The question is, under what conditions will the spirit live? Eternal life means spending eternity in heaven in God’s loving presence. The other possibility is spending eternity away from God’s presence. That is commonly referred to as hell.
Jesus answers the man’s question by saying that he must obey God’s commandments. While the man is familiar with these commandments, he expresses a typical human reaction. Which ones? He was thinking that you only have to obey some of God’s rules but not all of them in order to have eternal life. So Jesus mentions six of God’s commandments. The man thinks he has obeyed these but wants to know what else he needs to do. Jesus tells him to do two things. First, he is to sell all of his worldly possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Second, he is to leave whatever he has been doing in the past and become one of Jesus’ followers.
By becoming sad at Jesus’ response, the rich man revealed much about his true character. His unwillingness to sell all that he owned and to follow Jesus showed that his worldly possessions were the true focus of his life. He would not give them up even for eternal life. He preferred treasures on earth to treasures in heaven. His attitude is quite common, as reflected in Jesus comment about how difficult it is for rich people to get into heaven. Their earthly possessions in themselves are not what keep rich people from getting into heaven. Their attitude about their possessions is what causes the problem. Anyone who places a higher priority on worldly possessions than on following God’s guidance in their life will not spend eternity in heaven.
The disciples were surprised at Christ’s comment about how difficult it is for the rich to enter into God’s kingdom. This illustrates two common misconceptions. First, throughout human history people have held the view that a person’s position in society is an indication of their standing with “god (the gods)”. According to this perspective, people are rich on earth because “god (the gods)” is pleased with them and has rewarded them with great wealth. Those who are poor have somehow angered “god (the gods)” and are being punished. If you accept this assumption, the logical conclusion is that rich people will go to heaven and poor people will not. Jesus’ response to Peter clearly shows that this is not the way God works. Any one who gives up worldly things to follow Jesus “will be given a hundred times as much” as they have given up on earth. They will also receive eternal life. This gives us a hint of the treasures stored up in heaven for those who turn their life over to Christ. It is interesting to note that “many” (but not all) people who have high positions socially, politically, or financially here on earth will have a very low position after they die. And “many” (but not all) of the people who are unimportant by worldly standards will enjoy high positions in eternity. So a person’s worldly standing is a poor predictor of what is in store for that person in eternity.
The questions from both the disciples and the rich man reflect a second common misconception. They want to know what a person has to do in order to earn eternal life in heaven. In this world people are accustomed to working hard for what they have. For example, a student has to work hard in my class to earn a grade of A. Students in our Master of Science in Finance program have to do well in twelve courses to earn their degree. It is only natural to assume that heaven is like this world. Since we have to earn things here on earth, it seems logical to conclude that we have to earn our way into heaven. This world view is usually manifested in one of two ways. Some believe that you earn your way into heaven by following God’s rules. The rich man in the story asked which commandments he had to follow. Others believe that you get into heaven by doing a sufficient number of good deeds. Giving money to the poor would certainly qualify as a good deed.
Jesus’ response was very direct. You cannot earn your way into heaven. It is only through what God has done that we are allowed to spend eternity with Him. The rules that God has for us are not the means by which we get into heaven. A person would have to obey all of God’s rules perfectly in order to earn the right to spend eternity in heaven. Obeying most of God’s rules most of the time is not good enough. Obeying all of the rules all of the time is the only thing that would be good enough. No human being is capable of doing this. In the book of Romans, Paul tells us “All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”18 What does Paul mean by “sin”? It means to disobey God. Paul also tells us that “Sin pays off with death. But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord.” 19 The “death” that Paul is talking about here is more than physical death. It is being separated from God for eternity.
The fact that God makes rules for us causes some people problems. They have the impression that God makes rules because he wants to control our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. God made rules for us for the same reason loving parents make rules for their children. Parents feel that the children will have a better life if they follow the rules established by the parents. God’s rules are designed to provide us with guidance to a better life here on earth. He allows us to choose between obeying His rules and disobeying them. And there are consequences to the choice we make. As Paul points out, the consequence of disobeying is death. In contrast, if you always obeyed God’s rule, you would have eternal life. That’s a big “if”. As Paul points out, with the exception of Jesus, no one has been able to do that. So rather than providing a way for us to earn our way into heaven, God’s rules clearly demonstrate to us that we are not good enough to deserve to spend eternity in heaven.
Let’s take a closer look at the view that we can earn our way into heaven by doing enough good deeds or simply by being a good person. There is no doubt that God is pleased when we do good deeds by helping others. In fact, that is the essence of what Jesus told the rich man by saying “love others as much as you love yourself.” If everyone on earth followed this rule, the world would certainly be a better place to live. The truth is, no one acts that way all of the time. So even if you have acted in a selfish way only once in you life, you have broken one of God’s rules and the penalty is eternal separation from Him. To us as humans, this seems rather harsh. How could a loving God condemn people to eternal separation from Him if they only break one rule one time? The answer is that He is not only a loving God but also a just God. There are consequences to the choices we make and He would be acting unjustly if He did not enforce those consequences. The fact is you cannot do enough good deeds to make up for even one instance of breaking God’s rules. Paul makes this very clear when he states:
You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.20
There is no mistaking what Paul said. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot earn our way into heaven either by following God’s rules or by being a good person who does many good deeds.
Does all of this mean we have no hope of getting into heaven? No. Because God loves us, He has provided a way for us. In perhaps the most often quoted verse in the Bible, Jesus explains it this way:
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son. 21
Christ also said:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father. 22
The key to spending eternity in heaven with God is having faith in His son Jesus Christ. Paul refers to this as a gift. What makes something a gift? You receive it as your own without having to pay for it. If you paid for it, it would not be a gift. You cannot earn your way into heaven because then it would not be a gift. It would be something you did on your own. While the gift of eternal life is free to you, it is not free to the one who gave it to you. In this case, the giver is God. The gift cost Him the life of His only son. That demonstrates how much He loves you. Even though you do not pay for this gift, you have to accept it to make it yours. This is the ultimate choice that God has given to everyone. You have only two options. Accept His gift of eternal life by putting your faith in His son Jesus Christ. Or, reject Christ and put your faith in yourself or something else. Spending eternity in the presence of the Lord is more valuable than all the wealth the world has to offer. So what is the secret to becoming truly wealthy? Put your faith in Jesus Christ. The choice is up to you.
Making this choice is not easy. Paul described the struggle that goes on within each of us as follows:
So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. 23
Paul points out the earthly consequences of what happens when we follow our own desires compared to following God’s guidance in our lives. The fruit that Paul mentions is what we experience while we are alive on earth. What about the treasures stored up in heaven?
On the night before he died, Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples. Among the many important things he discussed with them that evening was the following:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. 24
In this statement, Jesus explains that he will be leaving them shortly and returning to heaven. Once in heaven, he is going to prepare a place in heaven for each of them. This is important not only for his disciples but for each of us because this is the same promise God makes to everyone who puts their faith in Jesus. Spending eternity in heaven with God is the greatest treasure a person can ever have.
But there is more to what Jesus told his disciples that evening. After preparing a place for them in heaven, he is coming back to earth and will then take them to heaven with him. We noted earlier that Jesus came to earth the first time to save us. So why will he return to earth? To judge us depending on the choice we have made. Jesus explained judgment day this way:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Then the king will say to those on his left, “Get away from me! You are under God’s curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me.” Then the people will ask, “Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?” The king will say to them, “Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.” Then Jesus said, “Those people will be punished forever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life.” 25
As Solomon noted, you came into this world with nothing and you will leave it with nothing. So what kind of wealth do you want to accumulate during your life here on earth, worldly or heavenly? Do you want to be a sheep or a goat on judgment day? The choice is up to you.
Unless noted otherwise, the following footnotes came from The Contemporary English translation of the Bible.