A Biblical Overview of Money and Wealth

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A Biblical Overview of Money and Wealth

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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 Genesis 13:2And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
American King James Version×
). Later we find God promising that through this man’s descendants all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 18:18 Genesis 18:18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
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; Genesis 22:18 Genesis 22:18And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
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; Genesis 26:4 Genesis 26:4And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
American King James Version×
). Abraham was wealthy, but he was also “the father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11 Romans 4:11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also:
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).

God is not opposed to riches. In fact, He is the originator of financial blessings (1 Samuel 2:7 1 Samuel 2:7The LORD makes poor, and makes rich: he brings low, and lifts up.
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; Proverbs 10:22 Proverbs 10:22The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
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) and reminds us that personal diligence can also lead to wealth (Proverbs 10:4 Proverbs 10:4He becomes poor that deals with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
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).

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 Proverbs 6:6-11 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8 Provides her meat in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. 9 How long will you sleep, O sluggard? when will you arise out of your sleep? 10 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 11 So shall your poverty come as one that travels, and your want as an armed man.
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). 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 Proverbs 13:22A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.
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).

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 Proverbs 18:11The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.
American King James Version×
).

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 1 Timothy 6:9-10 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
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).

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 Matthew 6:24-33 24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? 28 And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Why, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. 33 But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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), Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24 Matthew 6:24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
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). 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 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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).

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 1 Timothy 6:17-19 17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; 18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
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, 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 Mark 10:17-20 17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18 And Jesus said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor your father and mother. 20 And he answered and said to him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
American King James Version×
). “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 Mark 10:21-25 21 Then Jesus beholding 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 shall have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked round about, and said to his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answers again, and said to them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
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). (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 Mark 10:26-27 26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27 And Jesus looking on them said, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
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). Eternal life is a gift given to those who humbly seek God (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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; Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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; Ephesians 2:8-10 Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
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). 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 Mark 10:22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
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).

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 14:28-29 28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates: 29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
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; Deuteronomy 15:1-2 Deuteronomy 15:1-2 1 At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lends ought to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’s release.
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; Deuteronomy 26:12-14 Deuteronomy 26:12-14 12 When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled; 13 Then you shall say before the LORD your God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded me: I have not transgressed your commandments, neither have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that you have commanded me.
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). His Word even gives instructions for how His people should provide financially for His annual religious observances (Deuteronomy 12:17-18 Deuteronomy 12:17-18 17 You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herds or of your flock, nor any of your vows which you vow, nor your freewill offerings, or heave offering of your hand: 18 But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you put your hands to.
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; Deuteronomy 14:22-27 Deuteronomy 14:22-27 22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you: 25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose: 26 And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household, 27 And the Levite that is within your gates; you shall not forsake him; for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
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).

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 Mark 10:28-30 28 Then Peter began to say to him, See, we have left all, and have followed you. 29 And Jesus answered and said, Truly I say to you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 But he shall receive an hundred times now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
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).

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 Jeremiah 9:23Thus said the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
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). 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 Matthew 6:20-21 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
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).

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 9:10And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
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; Matthew 11:5 Matthew 11:5The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
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, Matthew 11:19 Matthew 11:19The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
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).

Yet He showed no partiality and could also be found with the rich (Matthew 27:57 Matthew 27:57When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:
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; Luke 19:1-10 Luke 19:1-10 1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at your house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, as much as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
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). A wealthy man so admired Jesus that he buried Him in his unused family tomb (Matthew 27:57-60 Matthew 27:57-60 57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.
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). 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.

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