The issue of wealth and poverty is one that the Bible has a lot to say about. On the one hand, the Bible warns about the dangers of wealth and affluence. On the other hand, the Bible does not condemn wealth itself and even presents some wealthy people as godly examples. When examining this issue, it is important to look at the full counsel of Scripture.
Warnings about wealth and affluence
There are many warnings in Scripture about the dangers of wealth and affluence. For example:
- “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).
- “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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” (Matthew 19:23-24).
- “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
- “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” (1 Timothy 6:10).
These and other passages warn us that wealth can be dangerous and hinder our relationship with God. Riches can tempt us away from reliance on God, distract us from spiritual things, and promote greed, pride and self-sufficiency. Jesus said it is very hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.
Dangers of wealth and affluence
Why does Scripture warn so strongly about the dangers of wealth? Here are some of the dangers that often accompany an abundance of money and possessions:
- Pride and self-sufficiency: Wealth often leads to pride, arrogance and a false sense of self-sufficiency apart from God (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). The rich tend to trust in their wealth rather than fully relying on God (Psalm 52:7).
- Greed and materialism: It is very difficult to avoid greed when surrounded by abundant wealth and possessions (Luke 12:15). The temptation is to always want more. This materialistic obsession with getting can prevent us from being rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).
- Self-indulgence: Much wealth leads to self-indulgence, luxury, wastefulness and an immoral lifestyle. The rich have ample means to indulge every fleshly lust and desire (James 5:5).
- Oppression of the poor: Often, the rich exploit and take advantage of the poor for their own gain. Scripture sternly warns against this injustice (James 2:6).
- Trust in uncertain riches: Affluence leads to a false sense of security in one’s wealth. But earthly riches can disappear quickly, so our trust should be in eternal riches (1 Timothy 6:17).
- Preoccupation with the temporal: An abundance of possessions often preoccupies our minds and hearts with the temporal rather than the eternal. We can lose sight of the kingdom of God (Luke 12:22-31).
These dangers associated with wealth explain why Jesus said it is very hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. Riches brings many temptations and stumbling blocks that can hinder our relationship with God.
Biblical examples of godly rich people
Although Scripture contains grave warnings about wealth, it does not condemn all rich people. The Bible gives examples of some wealthy persons who were considered righteous:
- Abraham: Abraham had tremendous wealth in livestock, silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). He was still considered a friend of God because his ultimate trust was not in his riches (Hebrews 11:8-10).
- Job: Job was the greatest of all the people of the East in his time, enormously wealthy with thousands of animals, many servants and a large household (Job 1:1-3). Yet God still called him a blameless and upright man.
- Joseph of Arimathea: A rich man who was Jesus’ disciple and boldly asked for Christ’s body to give him a proper burial (Matthew 27:57).
- Lydia: A wealthy merchant who dealt in purple cloth, she responded to Paul’s preaching and was baptized (Acts 16:14-15).
The key was that their faith and obedience to God outshone their wealth. They did not put their trust in their riches or exploit others, but used their means to serve God. So the Bible does not condemn wealth itself if one’s heart is right before God.
The importance of giving generously
A repeated emphasis in Scripture for the rich is the call to be generous givers. They are not to hoard their wealth just for themselves but to share abundantly with those in need:
- “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” (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
- “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
Generous giving should accompany wealth. The rich should freely share with the poor, support ministry, give to other good works and practice hospitality (1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8). Their attitude should emulate God’s generosity.
The advantages of poverty
Although wealth itself is not condemned in Scripture, there are certain advantages to poverty from a spiritual perspective:
- Greater reliance on God: The poor have no cushions of wealth to fall back on, so their need drives them to rely more fully on God to supply their daily bread (2 Corinthians 8:9).
- Less temptations: While poverty has temptations too, the poor face far fewer distractions from the deceitfulness of wealth that draw us away from God (Matthew 13:22). It is hard to worry about money when you barely have any.
- Contentment: Having less often leads to being more content with simpler things. Wealth makes it harder to be satisfied and content (Philippians 4:11-12).
- Greater generosity: Research shows that lower income people give a far greater share of their money away than the rich. Poverty can lead to greater compassion and charity for others.
- Identification with Christ: Jesus gave up the riches of heaven to become poor for our sakes (2 Corinthians 8:9). Becoming like Christ in his poverty draws us closer to him.
So there are advantages poverty can have in terms of reliancy on God, contentment, giving and closeness with Christ. However, poverty also carries disadvantages and temptations of its own.
Cautions about romanticizing poverty
While poverty can have spiritual advantages, we need to be cautious about romanticizing it as ideal or more virtuous than wealth. Consider several cautions about poverty:
- Poverty has temptations too: The poor face temptations of jealousy of the rich, bitterness, discouragement, desperation, cutting ethical corners to get by, etc. Poverty is not immune from sin (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
- Poverty causes suffering: There is nothing inherently noble about poverty. It often leads to physical and emotional suffering that God does not desire. God cares deeply for the poor and needy.
- Wealth is not inherently evil: As we saw earlier, the Bible does not condemn wealth itself. It all depends on one’s attitude toward riches and service to God.
- Stewardship applies to all: Whether rich or poor, Christians are called to be good stewards of the resources God has placed in their care, relatively little or much (1 Corinthians 4:2).
- Poverty can lead to godlessness: Poverty and need that is not met can breed hopelessness and lead people away from God rather than closer to him.
So while poverty can provide spiritual advantages, it also carries disadvantages. We must be careful not to paint poverty itself as virtuous or noble. The real issue is one’s heart before God, whether rich or poor.
Wealth and poverty in eternity
A helpful perspective on wealth versus poverty is how they relate to eternity. Earthly wealth is temporary, but the treasures we store up in heaven are eternal (Matthew 6:19-21). In eternity, worldly riches and poverty will be irrelevant.
So rather than romanticize poverty or condemn wealth, our focus should be stewarding whatever resources God has placed in our care while storing up eternal riches. Whether rich or poor by earthly standards, believers share equally in the boundless eternal riches of Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9; Revelation 21:6-7). The eternal inheritance waiting for us far exceeds any earthly wealth or poverty.
In eternity all will be equal, so worldly wealth differences matter little. As Paul said:
“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Gaining the world but losing one’s soul would be a terrible exchange. This puts earthly riches in their proper place – temporal and secondary to where our hearts are fixed.
Balanced perspectives from Scripture
As we have seen, Scripture contains balanced perspectives on wealth and poverty:
- Wealth is not inherently evil, though it brings spiritual dangers.
- Poverty is not inherently virtuous, though it can drive reliancy on God.
- God evaluates the heart behind the wealth or poverty.
- Our focus should be pursuing eternal riches stored up in heaven.
- God calls both rich and poor to faithful stewardship.
- Generous giving should accompany wealth.
- The eternal inheritance shared by all believers far surpasses any earthly differences.
Considering these balanced Scriptural principles helps us evaluate the spiritual state of both the rich and poor with wisdom. We must avoid romanticizing either poverty or wealth.
Keys to avoiding the pitfalls of wealth or poverty
Whether rich or poor, here are some biblical keys to avoiding the spiritual pitfalls of either extreme:
- Cultivate generosity: Give abundantly and share with those in need, no matter your means. Wealthy or poor, look for opportunities to give (1 Timothy 6:18).
- Guard your heart against greed: Be on guard against all covetousness and the deceitfulness of riches. Do not store up treasures on earth but in heaven (Luke 12:15; Hebrews 13:5).
- Use resources wisely: Be a good steward and avoid wastefulness and self-indulgence. But also avoid the opposite error of stinginess out of fear of lack (Luke 16:10-13).
- Maintain humility and integrity: No matter your economic status, stay humble and do your work ethically. Don’t oppress the poor or exploit people (Micah 6:8).
- Trust God for provision: Whether in want or in plenty, trust God for your daily needs. Avoid seeking security in riches or presuming upon God if poverty-stricken (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-31).
- Pursue eternal values: Keep your mind and heart fixed on the eternal kingdom of God rather than temporal wealth. Store up eternal treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
Making choices guided by wisdom, generosity, integrity, and eternal values will help us avoid the pitfalls of wealth or poverty.
In closing, here are some final reflections on wealth, poverty and our spiritual state:
- Our heart stance before God is more crucial than whether He has entrusted us with much or little.
- Do not romanticize either poverty or wealth. Each brings advantages and temptations.
- Cultivate wisdom and steward resources faithfully, no matter your economic status.
- Imitate God’s generosity according to the means you have been given.
- Fix your hope fully on the eternal inheritance awaiting all in Christ.
- Wealth in this life is uncertain and temporary. Only what is stored up in heaven has lasting value.
- Whether rich or poor, pursue holiness and godly character above all else.
May these reflections based on the balanced perspectives from Scripture guide us to wisdom as we steward the resources God has placed in our hands!