Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 1
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
Recently I read an article entitled, “Wisdom Of A Wealthy Achiever.” The subtitle was, “Smash The Myths Of Wealth.” It said that Proverbs promotes wealth as a benefit of wisdom, and that God was referring to wealth when He told Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2 NIV). From these references, the writer concluded that wealth is to be desired. Some religious figures say that God will bless those who pursue material wealth. But where do they get these attitudes about money and wealth? Let’s see what the Bible says.
Indeed, Abraham was blessed with wealth (Gen. 24:35), and Psalms and Proverbs say this of the man who reverences God: “Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3); “Blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Ps. 128:2); “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22).
In the Old Testament, riches were often a mark of God’s favor – for example, Job and Solomon were rich. But not all rich men were good – for example, Nabal and the King of Tyre. David wrote, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). In the Old Testament God promised earthly material blessings – Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and many descendants; and obedient Jews were rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops and protection from their enemies (Dt. 6:2; 28:1-8).
In the New Testament, the Church is promised heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3), such as: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, an inheritance (Eph. 1:4-14), grace (1 Cor. 16:23), peace (Phil. 4:7), and eternal life with God (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4). These blessings are imperishable. In the New Testament wealthy men are often seen as godless – for example, the rich farmer who planned to build more barns and enjoy life, and the rich man with Lazarus (Lk. 12:16-21; 16:19-31). Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). But not all rich men were ungodly – for example, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus.
Let’s look at passages written to the Church on this topic. In this series we will look at the positives of money and wealth and then we will look at the negatives. We will begin by looking at three key passages.
Commands For The Rich
God’s instruction to those who are already rich is: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). God is the source of enjoyment, not riches (6:17). He gives us money to use for good works and to help the needy (6:18). This wise use of money has eternal benefits (6:19).
Christianity doesn’t guarantee wealth (2 Cor. 8:1-15). The Macedonian churches experienced poverty, but still shared with believers in need (8:2). We don’t need to be rich to be generous. The order of giving is first, give yourself to God (8:5), then He will take care of your needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). He will provide the necessities of life.
Jesus was the most generous person ever: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). He gave up heavenly riches to bring us spiritual wealth. Likewise, we should be willing to give up our money to help those in need.
Three principles are given: give willingly (8:12; 9:5); the size of the gift is irrelevant (8:12); the gift is to gain equality among Christians (8:13-15). Like the manna in the desert, those who had too much shared with those who didn’t have enough (Ex. 16:18). Manna couldn’t be hoarded; neither should money.
The Benefits Of Generosity
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Generosity brings spiritual blessings (9:6). We are to give cheerfully (9:7). God will supply us with the resources to share with others (9:8,10). Generosity also results in thanks and praise to God (9:11-14). Of course, God is the greatest giver and Jesus was the greatest gift (9:15). “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Work For Your Food
Now let’s look at some New Testament principles related to money and wealth. Paul worked hard to support himself while preaching and teaching; even though he had the right to the support of other believers (1 Cor. 4:12, 9:6, 11-14). He warned believers in Thessalonica not to be idle. And he set an example by working night and day so he would not be a financial burden but a model for them to follow (2 Th. 3:8-9). He wrote, “While we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people … get to work. Earn your own living” (2 Th. 3:10-12 nlt).
Paul also said, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12). As the world judges Christ by how we behave, we should support ourselves and not rely on others for the necessities of life.
Provide For Your Family
When Paul was discussing the care of widows he wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God … If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:4,8). We should provide for our family and relatives when they are in need so they do not have to rely on the church for necessities. It is only the church’s responsibility when the needy have no family.
Pay What You Owe
Paul said that the governing authorities are established by God. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:6-7). When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). So, we should pay our taxes, fees, fines and loans. This means being honest and reliable in financial matters. Remember, when Zacchaeus came to faith he repaid those he had cheated as a tax collector (Lk. 19:8-10).
Support Christian Work
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus said we should use our money and possessions so others will have eternal blessing: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). There are many instances in the New Testament of churches giving aid to needy churches (Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-5). For example, the believers in Jerusalem were poor because of famine or persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:28). Also the church at Philippi supported Paul’s missionary work as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-18). Preachers, teachers and ministries need their needs met (1 Cor. 9:11-14). We should support Christian works and workers financially.
How Much Should We Give?
How much should we give? Ten percent? That was the taxation for Israelites in Old Testament times. The New Testament doesn’t say how much; just to be regular and generous in giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2).
We are to give: according to need, so no one will be needy (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13); according to ability, “as much as they were able” (2 Cor. 8:3); and as planned, and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus is interested in our giving. He watched the crowd putting money in the temple treasury, and a widow gave “all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:41-44).That was sacrificial giving.
Attitudes Towards Money And Wealth
Thankfulness: Paul said God created certain things not to be denounced, but to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). God gave money and possessions to be used thankfully. We should not denounce them as evil, but thank Him for them. We should worship Him, not our money and possessions.
Wisdom: If Christ is our Lord, we are His stewards. He provides our money and possessions, and we should use them wisely. In the parable of the talents, Jesus approved of a wise investment as a way to earn income (Mt. 25:27; Lk. 19:23). There is a link between the physical and spiritual, between money and heaven (Lk. 16:9). We are responsible to exercise wisdom in our use of money.
Contentment: Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). That’s how the disciples were sent out – not wealthy. Otherwise, people would follow with the hope of becoming rich. Peter told a beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Jesus and Paul were poor (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; 11:27). The kingdom belongs to those satisfied with having their needs met so that more money can go to God’s work.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). When Paul warned about false teachers who were teaching because it paid well, he wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12). Because God will never abandon us, we should be content with the money and possessions we have, and the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Generosity: Jesus told His disciples to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33-34). In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encouraged generosity. Christians should share with God’s people in need, and practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28). This means providing their daily necessities (Ti. 3:14). Also, the rich are to be generous (1 Tim. 6:18-19). This is investing in heaven. The Bible teaches that God will meet the needs of the generous (Phil. 4:19). We need to be generous with what we have. Our standard of giving is more important than our standard of living.
Spirituality: The early believers chose to be true to Jesus rather than keep their possessions: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34). Like Moses who forsook the treasures of Egypt, they valued spiritual possessions above material ones (Heb. 11:25-26). Also, they didn’t favor the rich: “As believers … don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas. 2:1-4). There is no place in Christianity for this.
Constructive Aspects Of Money And Wealth
God does not want us to be rich or poor. He wants us to: work for our food; provide for our family; pay what we owe; support Christian work; and develop the attitudes of thankfulness, wisdom, contentment, generosity and spirituality with respect to money and possessions. Christ became poor and the apostles gave up money and possessions for the sake of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24).
So let’s be devoted to Jesus, and follow and serve Him in how we use our money and possessions.
Published, February 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 2