A Biblical Overview of Money and Wealth
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A Biblical Overview of Money and Wealth
So what does it say about money and wealth? Is it right or wrong, good or bad? Wealth itself isn't the problem—though our attitude toward it can be.
People who believe in the Bible hold widely divergent views about what it says—including what it says about money. Some view money as the root of all evil and believe that poverty brings one closer to God. Others accept a health-and-wealth gospel, believing Christians are almost automatically destined to become financially successful if not fabulously wealthy.
So what does the Bible actually say on the matter? Is money good or evil? To lay a foundation for managing one's finances, we must begin by considering whether it is proper for Christians to accumulate wealth.
Wealth and the Bible
The first time the Bible mentions someone with a lot of money, it speaks of a righteous man, Abraham, who "was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold" (Genesis 13:2). Later we find God promising that through this man's descendants all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4). Abraham was wealthy, but he was also "the father of all those who believe" (Romans 4:11).
God is not opposed to riches. In fact, He is the originator of financial blessings (1 Samuel 2:7; Proverbs 10:22) and reminds us that personal diligence can also lead to wealth (Proverbs 10:4).
When we have more money than we need for normal expenses, we are wise to save some for later use. The Bible speaks well of the saver, noting that the ant wisely stores up food for the winter (Proverbs 6:6-11). It speaks favorably of someone who would provide for his children and grandchildren: "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous" (Proverbs 13:22).
Indeed, we should consider that having more money puts us in a better position to help others in need. Poverty, on the other hand, limits our ability to help others.
Spiritual traps to avoid
The positive examples just mentioned, however, do not give the whole picture. The follower of God who wants to make money while continuing to follow God must avoid certain spiritual traps. It becomes easy, as a person accumulates worldly goods, to look to money—rather than God—as a source of protection and stability (Proverbs 18:11).
The apostle Paul talked about money and temptation: "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
It is from these words that many get the idea that the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil. However, Paul wrote something considerably different —that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Money itself is not evil, but elevating it and material wealth to a greater priority than these should have is a great spiritual trap.
In this passage Paul elaborates on the perspective toward wealth that Jesus had given many years earlier. In speaking of a Christian's proper priorities (Matthew 6:24-33), Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). The English mammon is translated here from a similar Aramaic word that means riches, especially riches that turn one's attention away from God. In that sense, wealth is personified as a competing master, which is unacceptable.
While recognizing that people have physical needs, Christ emphasized that our chief priority must always be God. Jesus taught, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Paul's comments to Timothy teach us not to make a god of money or to allow it to come between us and our Creator. Money is simply a tool that can be used for either good or bad. The key lies in our attitude.
Paul adds this advice for the wealthy: "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" (1 Timothy 6:17-19, emphasis added throughout).
Can we seek wealth and eternal life?
On another occasion, a young man asked Christ what one must do to inherit eternal life. After Jesus told him he must keep God's commandments, the man responded that he had kept them from his youth (Mark 10:17-20). "Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.' But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
"Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!' And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, 'Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'" (Mark 10:21-25). (See also The Eye of a Needle.)
Notice the disciples' reaction when they heard Jesus' comments about how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom: "They were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible'" (Mark 10:26-27). Eternal life is a gift given to those who humbly seek God (John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). Everyone, whether rich or poor, must rely on God's mercy for eternal life.
A lesson in priorities
Jesus explained that eternal life is a spiritual issue of paramount importance. The wealth of the man was not intrinsically wrong. But his misplaced priorities—his improper attachment to material wealth—was. Christ perceived that the man was more interested in his money than God. Indeed, the young man was despondent over Christ's words "and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:22).
Some try to twist this episode into a lesson about the inadequacy of God's commandments, which the young man claimed to have kept from his youth—arguing that Jesus was introducing a new standard of righteousness. Yet the reality is that Jesus challenged the young man's commitment to the commandments by testing Him on the very first one, which forbids having any gods before the true God. Clearly, the young man placed His wealth before God.
This passage does not imply that the rest of us must give away everything we have—unless, that is, we too have a particular problem with placing a higher priority on our possessions than on God. Of course, God will require other sacrifices of us. In any case, it's important for us to submit to Him wholeheartedly.
God has revealed in His Word, the Bible, all essential knowledge that people need to come into harmony with His ways in both spiritual and physical matters. He has given His people specific instructions for supporting the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 15:1-2; Deuteronomy 26:12-14). His Word even gives instructions for how His people should provide financially for His annual religious observances (Deuteronomy 12:17-18; Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
Jesus took the lesson of spiritual and financial priorities a step further. Mark 10 continues: "Then Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left all and followed You.' So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life'" (Mark 10:28-30).
Here, Jesus promises physical and spiritual rewards for putting Him first. So He clearly is not against prosperity—provided we don't make it the highest priority in our lives.
Keeping priorities straight can be quite a challenge for people who have been blessed with material goods. The rich must not glory in their riches (Jeremiah 9:23). We must remember Christ's instruction regarding our priorities: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20-21).
People are prejudiced
People can be prejudiced about money. Sometimes the wealthy despise the poor, and sometimes the poor despise the rich. Jesus did not hold such biases. He ate with tax collectors and those looked down on as sinners, was called their friend and ministered to the poor (Matthew 9:10; Matthew 11:5, Matthew 11:19).
Yet He showed no partiality and could also be found with the rich (Matthew 27:57; Luke 19:1-10). A wealthy man so admired Jesus that he buried Him in his unused family tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Jesus Christ died for all of humanity, regardless of anyone's social or financial standing.
The Scriptures we have just reviewed show that money is neutral—neither good nor bad. Our attitude toward it, however, is important. Money tests our allegiance; it makes apparent whether we are committed to God or to our possessions. At best, money is a tool we use for important purposes. In the next chapter we will see that Christ taught that a Christian has financial obligations—to God and fellow man.