They are the envy of everyone, born among a very privileged class, living lives that most others can only dream of. Because they are so wealthy, they never give even a fleeting thought to lacking anything they truly need. In fact, they own so much more than they need that they have trouble finding room to store all their possessions. To that end, they often discard what the average person would love to possess. And because they associate only with others who are as wealthy as them, they are generally oblivious to the teeming majority of people who live at an unimaginably lower standard.
Who are these very fortunate people?
They are you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors.
Most of us have no idea how wealthy we are compared to most of the world’s people. Let me see if I can help with some perspective.
One way to measure your wealth is to subtract your debts from the value of everything you own—your clothing, furniture, appliances, cars, home and so on. That gives you your net worth. Here is an astounding fact: If your net worth is $2,200 or more, you are in the top half of the world’s wealthiest people.  To be among the richest 10 percent of adults in the world, all you need is a net worth of $61,000. 
Another way to measure your wealth is by your income. Over 80 percent of the world’s people live on less than $10 per day. That is less than $3,650 per year. Over 50 percent of the world’s people live on less than $2.50 per day. That is less than $913 per year. Around 20 percent of the world’s people live on less than $1.25 per day. That is less than $457 per year. 
Those whose incomes put them in the bottom 10 percent of the U.S. population are still better off than two-thirds of the world’s population. 
If you would like to know your personal global ranking, navigate on your computer (an item owned by a minority of people) to www.globalrichlist.com. Select your currency, type in your annual income, and you will immediately know where you stand in comparison to the rest of the world. An annual income of $34,000 puts you in the top 5 percent. An annual income of $47,500 puts you in the world’s top 1 percent.
It might also help us to remember that about nine million people will die of hunger this year. 24,447 will die of hunger today. Nearly one billion people are presently undernourished. That is about 1 in 7 of the world’s people.  1.4 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. That’s 1 in 5 of the world’s people.
Born with the Silver Spoon
It’s as if we’ve won the lottery, or were born into royalty. So much of our wealth is simply due to the fact that we’ve been born in the right place.
Warren Buffett, currently one of the world’s wealthiest people, freely admits this very thing, stating, “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” Like Buffet, if you or I had been born in Bangladesh, chances are very good that we would be very poor. Compared to the rest of the world, it’s like we’re living in Disneyland.
My intention in writing this is not to make anyone feel guilty about being born in a wealthy nation or about his or her annual income. You had no choice regarding where you were born, and there is nothing wrong with earning money, as long as God is not dishonored through the means. My hope, however, is that you will begin to understand how wealthy you already are. How blessed is that day when you realize you’ve been living on an island of fantasy in an ocean of reality. Only then might you grasp the second secret to being forever rich, which is to learn contentment. If you can learn to be content, you can potentially lay up much more treasure in heaven.
Learning to be content requires real effort, because formidable forces are at work to make us discontent. Western culture is materialistic—to the maximum. Everyone is striving for more “stuff,” and we are continually bombarded with advertisements designed to make us dissatisfied with what we currently have—in order to persuade us to make a purchase. The people in the commercials are always smiling, and surely we could be happy too if we just had what those happy people have.
The Ad Men At It
Think of what a difficult task automobile advertisers face. They know that most everyone who views their commercials already owns a car that takes them everywhere they want to go. They also know that most of those automobile owners purchased their existing cars by trading months (and in some cases, years) of their lives in daily labor to earn the money they need to make payments on a depreciating asset. Yet those advertisers hope to persuade such people to trade in their existing cars, go deeper into debt, and pledge many more months of daily labor to pay off their new debt—just so they can own a car that does almost exactly what their current car does! The advertisers’ only hope of success is if they can somehow make us discontent.
And so they do. The cars in their ads are driven by good-looking people, and the subliminal message is that you can improve your sex appeal and intelligence if you drive their make and model. If there are children in the backseat, they are also attractive and well behaved, sending a message that this car will also improve your children. Such cars are always driven on scenic roads along the ocean, through well-manicured suburbs, or past posh city skyscrapers, telling you that your life can also be upgraded. And they never need to be washed because they’re never dirty. Most importantly, you can be sure that others will admire you if you drive the car in the commercial. Even if you don’t own a second home in the mountains, an SUV can at least lead people to believe that you might. As you drive by, they’ll imagine you four-wheeling across wilderness streams to reach your hideaway cabin!
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t buy cars to take us from Point A to Point B. We purchase cars to make a statement about ourselves as we drive between Points A and B.
If we can just learn to be more content, however, we could keep our cars longer without embarrassment. We might even start purchasing pre-owned cars, saving ourselves tens of thousands of dollars in the years ahead, which will make it possible to lay up even more riches in heaven.
Let me tell you one of the greatest blessings of owning an older car, especially one that has some dings and dents: When you walk out of Walmart and discover that the person who parked beside you opened his door carelessly and put another ding in your door, it doesn’t ruin your day. It’s just another ding! Life goes on. Compare that with the discovery of the very first ding on your just-purchased, showroom shiny, 48-future-payments-to-go automotive idol…
The Joy of Contentment
The honest truth is that none of us need anything more than what we currently own. In fact, we could get by on much less if we were so motivated. As soon as we shift into contentment, a huge weight rolls off of our shoulders, and the future becomes instantly brighter.
Think about this: If unhappiness stems from unfulfilled desires, then there are only two roads to happiness, either by (1) fulfilling or (2) abandoning those unfulfilled desires. The latter generates instant happiness. The former often produces protracted unhappiness as the unhappy person strives to fulfill a desire that may never be fulfilled. And how many unhappy people, if they do fulfill a desire, discover it to be empty and…unfulfilling? At that point, some learn the lesson, but many remain tragically deceived and simply reset their discontentment to focus on yet another acquisition. Such people are trading the certain happiness that accompanies contentment for just a chance of future, fleeting happiness. We are wise, then, to heed the wisdom of G.K. Chesterson: “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
But aren’t people who are contented purposeless and lazy? Isn’t it the discontented who dream of better things and thus make progress and achieve?
The answer is yes and no. People who are completely content are indeed sometimes purposeless and lazy. I’m not advocating, however, the abandonment of all unfulfilled desires. Scripture only advocates abandoning misguided desires, which includes seeking happiness in the acquisition of more earthly, material things. That, in a nutshell, is what Jesus was prescribing when He told His followers to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. He meant for them to abandon one desire for a better, more worthy desire. Obeying Him in that regard requires being both content and discontent—content with what one has on earth and discontent with what one has in heaven.
Again, most of us already have more than enough on earth due to misguided desires. We’ve been foolish, pursuing temporal, earthly happiness, rather than eternal, heavenly happiness. We’ve been building sandcastles at low tide.
The Gain of Contentment
Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul penned important words about the great value of contentment:
….men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God (1 Tim. 6:5b-11a).
Note that Paul first condemned those whose minds were “depraved” by reason of their thinking that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). In light of his next few sentences, it is obvious that the gain he was referring to was earthly, material gain.
However, lest Timothy think he believed that there was no advantage to living a godly life, Paul qualified his condemnation by adding, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6). So, living obediently to God’s commandments is actually very profitable as long as the obedient person is content, which indicates that payday doesn’t come immediately.
So when does payday come? Paul’s next sentences bring it all together: “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:7-8). Clearly, payday is in the next life. We can’t take anything with us when we leave this world, so it is foolish to pile up earthly treasures. We can, however, send those treasures ahead of us to heaven. Thus it makes perfect sense to learn to be content with as little as possible now, even if it amounts to nothing more than our most basic necessities of food and covering.
Paul’s words are certainly convicting. How can we claim that we would be content with just food and covering if we’re not content with all that we currently do possess, which is so much more than food and covering?
The Danger of Discontentment
Discontentment drives us to foolishly acquire and cling to what we don’t really need and what we ultimately won’t own. Worse, according to Paul as he continued admonishing Timothy, discontentment drives some into “ruin and destruction.” Read his words again:
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Discontentment/longing for money is so dangerous that, if not checked, can cause believers to “wander away from the faith” according to Paul. To wander away from the faith is to wander away from what is required for ultimate salvation.
Paul’s warning against being among those who “want to get rich” makes me wonder how his words should be applied to people like me and you, people who already are rich. We are magnificently wealthy compared to his contemporary readers, not to mention most of the people in today’s world. We own material possessions that people in Paul’s day couldn’t have even dreamed of owning, like automobiles and computers. Most people in today’s world can’t afford those things. So how do Paul’s words apply to us?
Certainly, at bare minimum, we need to be content with what we already possess and carefully consider the necessity of any additional acquisitions, knowing that we have the same two choices as Paul’s contemporary readers. We can lay up our treasures on earth temporarily, understanding that our ownership ends at death, or we can lay them up in heaven and enjoy “great gain” eternally.
Additionally, we can consider scaling down in order to transfer assets from earth to heaven, which is the topic of a later chapter, so I won’t elaborate on it now.
Words to the Rich
In the very same chapter of 1 Timothy from which we’ve been reading, Paul did have some special words to those who were rich in his day that can help very rich folks like us today:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
First, take note that Paul refers to us rich folks as being “rich in this present world,” underscoring the fact that folks like us may not be rich in the world to come.
Second, Paul warns us against being prideful because of our wealth. Pride is certainly a temptation that stalks the wealthy. To succumb to pride’s temptation is to forget that God is the source of our wealth. How wealthy would you be had you been born to a prostitute in Calcutta?
Third, Paul reminds us that riches are uncertain. One of the richest people who ever lived once wrote, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Prov. 23:4-5).
Our hopes for a favorable future should be set on God alone, the One who, as Paul wrote, “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). I like those words. God created the material world, and when He did, He saw that it was all “very good” (Gen. 1:31). He has abundantly provided us with enjoyable things. Keep in mind, however, that many of those enjoyable things He provides are life’s simple pleasures. When you hold your grandchild, savor a sunrise, or eat a crisp, sweet apple, you know God loves you.
Fourth, Paul admonishes us to use our God-given resources “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). Our lives should be characterized by liberal sharing that is proportionate to God’s blessings upon us. And why? So that we might store up for ourselves “the treasure of a good foundation for the future” (1 Tim. 6:19). That is, that we might lay up treasure in heaven.
Finally, Paul promises that so doing will result in our “taking hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:19). Although selfish, indulgent, rich people may think their lives are wonderful, they have not taken hold of true life, that is, life as God intended, now and forever. Jesus declared, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). True and eternal life is found in giving up one’s life, trading selfishness for unselfishness, loving God and neighbor. Thus, learning contentment is essential, as discontentment breeds selfishness.
Surely the more one possesses, the more he ought to be contented, but such is often not the case. In fact, it is those who are the wealthiest who are often the least content, as they are driven by the deception that happiness is found in more stuff.
Back to the Beginning
Let’s conclude this chapter by going back to where we started, thinking about how rich we already are.
Consider Adam and Eve. When they were created, they didn’t have any “stuff.” All they possessed was a relationship with God, a relationship with each other, and an opportunity to enjoy a marvelous, pristine creation. So were they poor and to be pitied in their God-given state? Should we have expected to find them downcast in their deep “poverty”? I don’t think so. They owned nothing, but lived in a paradise.
Surely the initial God-created state of Adam and Eve serves as a divine commentary on what is truly valuable. Therefore, if I have a genuine relationship with God and possess a loving relationship with just one other human being, and if I can see the stars in the sky, smell the fragrance of flowers, hear the singing of birds, taste the sweetness of watermelon, and feel a cool breeze on a sultry day, I am rich—as rich as Adam and Eve. I have every reason to be joyfully content.
Most readers will have to admit that they have much more than Adam and Eve. We have a relationship with God through our Lord Jesus. We have not just one, but many loving relationships with other human beings. God’s creation is as marvelous as it has always been. And we are far wealthier than Adam and Eve were! So we are faced with a choice. We can either be discontented and use our wealth to acquire more stuff for ourselves, or we can be content, using our wealth to love more people—particularly those who are lacking the most basic necessities. Choosing the latter, we demonstrate our love for God, enriching our relationship with Him.
In doing that, we become truly rich and forever rich.
You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. — Charles H. Spurgeon
Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Every Blessing, David
 At this writing in 2011, the median net worth for people ages 45 to 54 in the United States was $98,350 per person. To see the mean net worth for your age group, see http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/networth_ageincome/index