It’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
(from “Money,” by Roger Waters)
Christians have a weird relationship with money. Some love it – they aspire to it and extol the getting of it. Others seemingly hate it – they have an attitude against those who have it and purposely avoid the earning (or at least large sums) of it.
The spectrum of beliefs in Christendom regarding money run the gamut. On one end is the “Prosperity Theology,” a.k.a., “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity Gospel,” which teaches that God is obligated to bless those who call upon Him in faith. The middle is occupied by the likes of 18th century minister John Wesley, who exhorted people to “earn all they can, save all they can, and give away all they can.” Wealth creation is encouraged if it doesn’t become an obstacle to faith.
The other end of the spectrum seems to make a virtue of poverty. The Catholic Church occupies a prominent place here; when the subject of poverty, politics, or society comes up among many Catholics, the talk will invariably center around “social justice,” with sharp words for “big business.” Many other Christians have a visceral reaction against earning a lot of money, apparently terrified that its evil tendrils will invariably drag them away from God.
But what does the Bible really say about money, wealth, and poverty?
Context Is King
To get the correct perspective on anything, we have to ask “what is God trying to get across?” Many Christians are notorious for a literalist view of the Bible; thus, when God “seats the poor with princes” and “has them inherit a throne of honor” and James excoriates “the rich,” this means that the wealthy are despised and the poor are especially favored by God. Or when Jesus says, “if you have the tiniest bit of faith, whatever you ask for will be done,” that means that wealth and prosperity are yours for the taking. But the context of both the Old and New Testaments are clear that God is not that concerned with how much money you have.
God Assumes There Will Be Wealthy People – Some Of Them Saved!
When God was establishing the nation of Israel, He said “when your herds and your flocks multiply and your silver and gold increase,” not “if.” But He also reminded them that their power to do so comes from Him. He had even promised Israel unheard-of prosperity if they obeyed Him. Solomon, considered one of the wisest (and richest in his day) men of all time, said “as for every man to whom God has given riches,” their ability to enjoy the fruits thereof is “a gift of God.” The Apostle John instructed “whoever has the world’s goods” to be generous with them. And David, a very rich man, prayed a beautiful blessing to God in 1 Chronicles 29: “both riches and honor come from You.”
Many Of Christianity’s Best Examples Were Well-Off
The Bible makes no bones about it: Abraham was loaded. So were Isaac and Jacob. Joseph doubtless had power and wealth in his position as second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and Boaz, a man in the direct lineage of Christ, was a “man of great wealth.” Some of the honorable mentions in the early church were also wealthy: Joseph Barnabas, Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus, to name a few. The BIble and church history are full of many other examples of men and women who followed God who had no worries when it came to material possessions.
God Commands Everyone – Not Just The Wealthy – To Be Generous With What They Have, Especially To The Poor
God not only assumes the existence of the rich, He does the same for the poor. But when Jesus famously said “you will always have the poor with you,” He wasn’t being callous; He was saying that the woman’s pouring out an expensive perfume on His body in gratitude was of far greater impact than selling it and giving the money to the poor – who would still be there to receive their charity long after He had departed. The Bible likewise merely states the “facts of life” regarding wealth and poverty. Proverbs is full of these maxims: the wealthy have more friends than the poor; the rich are wise in their own eyes; a man’s riches can be a ransom for his life, but the poor cannot respond likewise; rich lenders rule over poor borrowers; the pretense of wealth and the lack thereof can both be deceiving. Can anyone argue that this generally isn’t the case with the rich and poor?
Against this backdrop, the Bible instructs us in how we should treat our possessions, whether we’re wealthy or not. Again from Proverbs: “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” But not only are we to be generous in a general sense, we are to especially look out for those in need and not close our heart, but rather be open-handed to them. He who is concerned for the rights of the poor is called “righteous.”
“Mind” Over “Matter”
The Bible is clear that man uses what he can physically see to make his judgements, but God looks at one’s heart. If we thus look only at the accumulation or lack of money as a test of one’s holiness, we’ve missed the mark. This is illustrated in Jesus’ testing of the rich man who didn’t want to part with his possessions and by the conversion of Zaccheus, who promised to give to the poor and repay those he had cheated. The former had too much at stake to follow Jesus; the latter didn’t care what it took to follow Him.
Whenever the subject of untold wealth comes up, I’m reminded of what the character Bud Fox asked Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street: “How many yachts can you ski behind?” God is not concerned with money in and of itself. But when a person says “I have need of nothing” and abuses the authority conferred by their wealth, they start down a dangerous path of arrogance and complacency that more often than not will lead them away from God.
Simply put, God wants our hearts. If he has our hearts, he has us – bank account and all. If He doesn’t have our hearts, it doesn’t matter how rich or poor we are, the end result is the same.
Categories: Biblical Babblings