Contrary to common belief, the Bible has nothing against money, or being wealthy. The patriarchs of the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – were all very wealthy 1. So were the two greatest kings, David and his son Solomon 2. The issue is not with any particular amount of money. Rather, it’s with my attitude toward money, and whether I let my possessions (or lack thereof) get between me and God.
The verses that started me thinking about this post are in this prayer from the Old Testament book of Proverbs:
Two things I asked of You,Proverbs 30:7-9
Do not refuse me before I die:
Keep deception and lies far from me,
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion,
That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?”
Or that I not be in want and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
Notice the two complementary dangers, both of which risk damaging my relationship with God. The first is having too much, and taking that as license to stop depending on God. The second is having less than I think I need, and being willing to go around God in order to get it.
Don’t Let Money Interfere with a Relationship with God
In His meeting with the “Rich Young Ruler”, Jesus taught how dangerous it in to trust in money above God (Mark 10:17-27 3). He repeated the warning in the parable of the “Rich Fool” (Luke 12:15-21). That is really idolatry, giving something else the priority that only God deserves.
But again, it is not the fact of being rich that was the problem with either of these men. The problem was that they put their money ahead of God. A person does not have to be rich in order to focus on money instead of God, though. In fact, being poor can cause a very strong temptation to think about money all the time! That is why, in His “Sermon on the Mount” 4, Jesus taught His followers to put God first.
Do not worry then , saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matthew 6:31-33
Don’t Grasp for More than God Has Given
The Proverbs prayer asks “that I not be in want and steal“, which is a valid request. But in our current culture, I see another risk that falls into the same category becoming far too common: Envy and entitlement.
It seems that our society is obsessed with comparisons, with making sure that everyone is “equal” in terms of possessions. For any one person to have more than another is considered the worst of evils; of course everyone deserves 5 to have the same. Whereas in the past it was thought that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, now it is automatically considered to obviously be ill-gotten gains acquired by putting someone else down. Everyone thinks that Robin Hood was to be admired for “taking from the rich and giving to the poor”. People think it’s virtuous to “tax the rich” and make them pay their “fair share”.
Do you know what that kind of thinking really is? Usually, it’s plain old greed and coveting! Sorry, but it’s true, even when the sin is presented as working for “justice”. People are envious of the wealthy, and resent anyone having something that they don’t 6.
While there are indeed people who acquired wealth unethically, there are also those whose success is due to hard work and wise planning. While there are those who are poor due to unfair circumstances, there are also those whose poverty is due to laziness or wastefulness. The size of the bank account is not an automatic indicator of the quality of anyone’s character. And both bank account and character are between the individual and God, not anyone else’s business.
Even the definition of “wealth” and “poverty” is only by comparison 7. Yes, Elon Musk and Bill Gates probably count as wealthy by anyone’s standards. But even the very poorest in America have more than much of the world’s population does 8. And, for most of the world, today’s standard of living is far beyond that of 100-200 years ago 9.
The Bible’s teaching is clear: Stop fussing about what someone else has, and don’t build my life around grasping for more.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.Exodus 20:17 10
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.1 Timothy 6:9-10
Don’t Cling to Money
Whatever amount of money I do have, I’m to hold it loosely. Just as I could always find someone with more than I have, available for me to envy, I can also always find someone with less, available for me to share my blessings. If I think of myself as a steward rather than an owner, I will learn to see God’s money as flowing through me. That will counteract my natural tendency to want it to flow to me…and stop there.
Many people are familiar with the story of the “Rich Young Ruler” above, who turned away when Jesus told him to give all his money to the poor and follow Him. Fewer are aware of the praise that the Apostle Paul had for the impoverished churches of Macedonia:
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.2 Corinthians 8:1-5
Cling to God Instead
So, instead of finding security in money, or grasping for it, or clinging to it, the Bible says to simply relax. Focus on God instead. Trust Him to take of me, and be content with whatever He chooses to give. It will always be “enough”.
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.1 Timothy 6:7-8
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:11-13
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Genesis 24:34-35, Genesis 26:12-14, Genesis 36:6-7, Genesis 47:27
- 1 Chronicles 29:1-5, 2 Chronicles 1:14-17
- also Matthew 19:16-26 and Luke 18:18-27
- Matthew chapters 5 thru 7; for this point, see Matthew 6:25-33
- “Deserve” is a horrible word. Everything I have is a gift from God. I don’t deserve any of it on my own merit.
- Or, they can advance their own wealth and prestige by encouraging that attitude in others.
- This link has good statistics comparing income distribution between countries. It’s a long article: For a quick look, watch for the charts “Global Income Distribution by World Region” and “Mean Daily Income by Country”.
- This link compares the living conditions of America’s poor vs other countries. Scan for the chart “Average Consumption per Person in OECD Nations”.
- See the charts in this article.
- Also Deuteronomy 5:21