What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
In the first part of this series we looked at the positives of money and wealth; now we’ll consider the negatives – the bad news and warnings in the Bible about our attitudes toward money and wealth.
I live in an affluent country abounding in material goods. Our consumer society views greed as good, particularly for the economy. A recent newspaper editorial said, “Longer working hours and higher levels of debt mean that Australians are working more to own more and consume more.” We are very busy improving our standard of living. Money is a measure of success.
In Haggai’s prophecy (520 BC) the temple was in ruin and needed rebuilt. He questioned the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? … Each of you is busy with his own house” (Hag. 1:4,9). They were using the same cedar paneling in their houses as that which was to be used in the temple (1 Ki. 7:3,7). They were looking after themselves, but neglecting God’s things. The song, “Revive us, O Lord” says it this way: “Idols have captured our land/We worship the works of our hands/Lord for too long we have built/Houses on sand.”
Greed Is Sinful
Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:9-11). From the context we see that those who wanted to be rich were not content with what they had, and were determined to increase their standard of living; they were opposite to those who were content with their physical circumstances (6:8). This desire to have more is also called “greed” or “covetousness.” The Greek words to describe this are “pleonexia” (“a desire to have more” in a bad sense), and “philarguros” (money-loving).
This passage says that greed is destructive because it leads to dishonest behavior and becomes a dangerous habit. Is money evil? No! It’s the love of money (or greed) that results in evil. Greed brings anxiety and a wasted life. It is a sin associated with many kinds of evil. It causes people to neglect their spiritual life and wander from the faith. Greed does not buy happiness. We should flee from the love of money and develop Christian character instead (6:11).
Jesus said this to His disciples: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Lk. 12:29-31). What a warning! We live in a world that runs after money. The tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife … manservant or maidservant … ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). It’s sinful to desire what God doesn’t intend for you to have. Greed is as serious as murder, adultery, stealing, lying and idolatry which are also in the Ten Commandments. Paul himself was convicted of this sin (Rom. 7:7).
The Bible lists greed with other serious sins (Mk. 7:21-23, Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 3:2-5), and says that it defiles us and makes us unacceptable to God. Yet our society sees greed as acceptable, respectable, even desirable. We have a problem.
Greed Is Idolatrous
When a man asked Jesus to help him obtain his inheritance Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Is success measured by how much we own? When we judge people by their income, clothes, cars and housing, we’re acting like pagans. Are possessions the principle things in life? Will life be better when we make more and get more? Such thoughts don’t come from God; they come from advertisements.
Jesus told the story of a rich man who was devoted to gaining wealth, but who died before he could build bigger barns for his good crop (Lk. 12:16-21). Instead of using his abundant crop to help the needy, he greedily stored it up for himself so he could retire early. Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13). Money and things can be false gods. Paul said that greed is idolatry, because the greedy want things more than they want God (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). They are more devoted to money than to God.
The Fruit Of Greed
Greed is associated with the following behaviors.
Hoarding: Jesus condemned the hoarding of money. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). James condemned the rich for hoarding their wealth instead of putting it to work for the benefit of others (Jas. 5:3). Hoarding is the opposite of giving.
Self-Sufficiency: The church in Laodicea felt self-sufficient. They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rev. 3:17). However, although they were materially rich, they were spiritually poor. Likewise, the rich were warned not to put their hope in wealth (1 Tim. 6:17). James told them, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:5) or judgment. The greedy are like cattle that continue to fatten themselves, unaware that they are destined for slaughter. They are spending on themselves when there are many in need.
Indifference: Greed can also lead to indifference to others’ needs. The rich man who “was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” didn’t care about Lazarus, the diseased beggar, who lay at his gate (Lk. 16:19-21). Because of his selfishness and lack of faith, he suffered eternal punishment. Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (1 Tim. 6:17). The wealthy are likely to look down on those who do not have as much money.
Worry: Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the future, about food and clothes, but to “seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). A desire for wealth and an obsession for maintaining one’s wealth leads to a life of worry instead of peace. We worry about money when we have it, and when we don’t have it.
Waste: Selfish people can really waste money. In the parable of the prodigal, the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance and then traveled to a distant country and “there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Lk. 15:13).
Dishonesty: James condemned acquiring wealth by dishonesty. His example was failure to pay proper wages. He said that God was aware of this: “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James rebuked harsh treatment of others, particularly employees (Jas. 5:4-6). In this case the rich exploited their employees by underpaying and overworking them.
Ananias and Sapphira were punished for dishonesty when they lied about the amount of money received from the sale of property (Acts 5:1-11). Another example of wealth from a sinful enterprise was Demetrius who made silver shrines of Artemis (Acts 19:24-25). He made money promoting idolatry.
Barrier To Heaven
Jesus said that the invitation of eternal life was like an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-24). But the invitation was rejected by those who were devoted to the things they had bought, to their business and occupation. They didn’t get to taste the banquet. A greedy attitude for material wealth is a barrier to heaven.
The rich young man who asked what to do to get eternal life shows that coveting wealth is an obstacle to trusting Christ (Mt. 19:21-22; Mk. 10:17-22). Living for money and possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ. Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt. 19:23-24).
Hindrance To Spiritual Life
Greed can be the downfall of the godly. Greed ruined Lot when he moved to the plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:10-11). In the parable of the sower, a farmer scattered seeds. Some seeds fell among thorns which choked the plants so they did not mature and bear grain (Mt. 13:7). Jesus explained that this is like those who hear the Word, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word making it unfruitful” (Mt. 13:22; Mk. 4:18-19; Lk. 8:14). Because of their greed they become preoccupied with making money and lose interest in spiritual things. There is no fruit for God in their lives. Material prosperity can often lead to backsliding, as it can choke one’s spiritual life like weeds spoil a crop. This is because wealth gives a false sense of self-sufficiency, security and well-being.
The Futility Of Greed
Even if greed brings wealth, it’s so unreliable that one shouldn’t trust it (1 Tim. 6:17). Economic depressions, unemployment and disasters can destroy wealth. Jesus warned the rich: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Lk. 6:24). Those who fail to use their wealth to benefit others have already received their reward, the gratification of self. Like flowers, wealth only lasts awhile (Jas. 1:10-11).
In the story of the selfish farmer, “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:20-21). When he died he lost everything. Jesus warned His disciples about the temptation of getting rich: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). Greed can lead a man to miss out on eternal life. Although a winner in life, he’s a loser in death. The fruit of greed is all around us. How can we live in a money-loving world and not serve the god of money?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich – God’s way. He wants us to be spiritually rich: “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” (2 Cor. 8:9). Here the Greek verb “to be rich” is a metaphor for salvation. The materially rich need to become spiritually rich: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich” (Rev. 3:17-18). True wealth consists of being “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21; 2 Cor. 6:10). Our heavenly inheritance will endure for eternity (1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 10:34).
A New Way Of Thinking
How can we know God’s will about riches? Instead of copying the world’s greedy behavior we need to let God transform us by changing the way we think (Rom. 12:2). We need to be aware of the spirit of greed in society and dare to be different. We need to reject the world’s endless desire for a higher standard of living. Are our hearts set on seeking God or money? Do we provide so lavishly for ourselves that there’s little left for God’s work?
The Bible tells us to watch out for greed, flee from it and kill every greedy desire (Lk. 12:15; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:10-11). Greed is a hindrance to the spiritual life (Heb. 12:1). We need to learn that life is more than money and what it can buy. Eternal life is more valuable than money and possessions. We can only flee greed by pursuing values such as “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Does the fruit of the Spirit counter the advertisements and lifestyle messages you see daily (Gal. 5:2-23)?
Greed can hinder our service for God. Are we willing to downsize, not live for money and possessions and be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5)? God knows our needs. We should practice being content with what we have and being generous in giving to others. We shouldn’t waste our money on get-rich schemes, gambling or chain letters. Instead, we should use our money to help others benefit spiritually (Lk. 16:9).
Enjoying God’s Wealth
The Bible teaches that greed is a serious sin, a form of idolatry. It has no place in the Church. Its fruit includes: hoarding, self-sufficiency, indifference, worry, waste, and other sinful behaviors. It is a barrier to heaven and a hindrance to spiritual life. Worshiping money is futile because material wealth is fleeting, uncertain, and of no benefit beyond this life. Instead, Christians should enjoy their true and lasting wealth that comes with salvation and eternal life. Our behavior should be transformed as we adopt God’s way of thinking and as we pursue godliness in all things including our attitude toward money.
Published, March 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 3