By Rick Renner
When the renowned theologian St. Thomas Aquinas visited the Vatican in the Thirteenth Century AD, Pope Innocent IV invited him to view the breathtaking treasures that had been amassed by the Church. With great pride, the pope told him, “No longer can the Church say, ‘Silver and gold have we none’!” To this, St. Thomas Aquinas answered, “Holy Father, that is very true indeed. But neither can we say to the poor and afflicted, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk!’”
It is good for us to remember that some of the poorest churches in history have been spiritually rich and some of the wealthiest churches in history have been spiritually poor. Church buildings may be adorned with gold, silver, and treasures, but they are often vacant of the true riches of the Holy Spirit. A church’s coffers may be filled and its congregation may include many wealthy people, but that is no guarantee that the church is truly rich. In God’s eyes, many financially prosperous churches are actually spiritually famished, while some financially poorer churches are spiritually rich.
It is simply a fact that riches are not always measured in finances or precious treasures. An example is in the First Century church of Smyrna. The church of Smyrna was experiencing severe persecution. Members of their congregation had been tortured, imprisoned, and even killed for their faith in Jesus. In addition, many believers had been robbed or had their livelihood destroyed as they were ostracized from the community. The combination of these trials had left them financially broke. Yet Jesus told them, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)…”
The word “rich” is the Greek word plousios. It depicts one who is extremely wealthy. A person who is plousios isn’t merely rich — he is very rich. This was the word Jesus used when He told the church of Smyrna, “…But thou art rich….” There are many less tangible yet infinitely more valuable forms of riches that cannot be purchased with money — and in regard to those riches, the church of Smyrna was extremely wealthy.
A study of the word plousios in the New Testament shows that it can also refer to spiritual riches. Jesus had already made it clear in Revelation 2:9 that the church of Smyrna was impoverished materially and financially. Although the Smyrnean believers were materially poor, Jesus clearly stated that they were spiritually very rich.
These believers may have been deprived in terms of worldly goods, but they were rich in many other ways. They had forfeited their creature comforts, and all legal protection had been removed from them, causing them to lean on their fellow believers for support. This brought about a rich, meaningful level of fellowship that is less prevalent in countries where believers’ rights are protected and the need for close-knit relationships isn’t felt as intensely. The love of Christ permeated the church as its members spiritually and emotionally lent encouragement and help to each other during their time of great need.
Words can’t describe the tenderness of the Holy Spirit that was present when these early believers gathered in illegal underground meetings to worship Jesus. It is no wonder they greeted each other with a holy kiss every time they met together (see Romans 16:16), for whenever they departed from a meeting, they were never certain they would see each other again. The entire congregation lived in a hostile environment where the threat of arrest, seizure, or death was constantly imminent. As they held hands to pray or lifted their hands to worship quietly so they wouldn’t be heard and caught, these believers shared a depth of spiritual commitment and covenant relationship rarely experienced in today’s world where such concepts are often viewed as radical and strange.
For the Smyrnean church, tribulation had come in many forms. Jobs were lost; property was seized; and slander destroyed their reputations. They were made outcasts by both Jews and pagans. But in the midst of it all, these believers experienced a different kind of richness — one that can’t be measured in worldly wealth. It was a richness of the Holy Spirit’s presence, a richness of patience, a richness of strength to endure, a richness of faith, a richness of love among the saints, and a richness in spiritual rewards for their steadfastness in the face of adversity. And in experiencing a death to self, the church of Smyrna had come to know the mighty power of the resurrected Christ. Although these believers had suffered great tribulation and had been reduced to abject material poverty, they were plousios — magnificently rich — in all of these other, less tangible ways.
Sometimes believers’ obedience to God places them “outside” the world’s favor. In those cases — especially when Christians suffer the loss of revenue or material possessions — God compensates His people with other types of riches that are infinitely more precious.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking riches can always be measured in financial terms. There are elements of your faith that make you wealthy in ways beyond your natural comprehension — in ways that cannot be measured in money.
Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek. In 1991, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kiev Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Both the Riga and Kiev churches continue to thrive and grow.
Today, Rick is the senior pastor of the Moscow Good News Church, as well as the founder and director of the Good News Association of Pastors and Churches with nearly 800 member churches. In addition, Rick is the founder of Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR that today broadcasts the Gospel to a potential audience of 110 million people. Rick resides in Moscow with his wife Denise and their three sons and families. Visit: RENNER Ministries and watch on YouTube