My youth group had just begun a study on the Beatitudes. As we were trying to make sense of the first beatitude in Luke 6:20, one youth asked, “Does it mean that Christians can’t be rich?”
The question was to be expected, since Jesus’ statement seemed to suggest this line of thinking. Since the poor are promised the Kingdom of God, should believers intentionally strive to be poor, or should they shun riches?
If we read the Bible in its entirety, I think we’ll find that the answer is a clear “no”. The “poor” here refers to those who were in physical poverty because of their faith, and not just any poor person. The Bible also contains numerous accounts of godly, rich individuals whom God had blessed and praised. Abraham, Job, and David, for example, were wealthy and were close to God.
Perhaps, however, there is a deeper question behind the question raised by the youth, and it is: Can we be rich and godly at the same time?
And what if we’re one of those who have been blessed with material riches by virtue of our family background or job? Is it wrong to be rich, or to aim to be rich? How should Christians then view wealth? Here’s three principles we could keep in mind:
1) We must not be obsessed about becoming rich (or richer).
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people 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.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
If we’re looking to justify why we can aspire to be godly and rich at the same time, we might be disappointed. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with this. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve thought about pursuing prosperity, only to be reminded time and again by God’s Word and other people that I should not.
Money is not intrinsically bad; the problem lies not in whether we have wealth or not, but in desiring to be rich and loving money. As this verse points out, once we fall prey to the temptations of material riches, we will never have enough of it and will eventually stray further and further away from God.
No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that it’s impossible to serve both God and money. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
So if staying close to God is our primary goal, then staying away from the pursuit of riches is a prudent thing. In this regard, Hebrews 13:5 is a good verse to mediate on: “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’.”
2) We must not accumulate earthly possessions.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
This verse paints a picture of temporality. Material possessions and wealth on this earth do not last—they break down and perish eventually. What lasts are actions that we take for the glory of God; these give us treasures of eternal value. The only treasure we should therefore desire are the rewards that God promises to give to those who have been faithful to Him—those who devote their heart, mind, soul, and strength to seeking and doing God’s will.
If our life’s goal and preoccupation is earning a lot of money so that we can buy a pretty house, a big car, and expensive clothes, and enjoy an easy and comfortable life, we would be no different from the rich fool who believed that life consisted in the abundance of his possessions, not realizing that there is life after death and that his earthly riches had no eternal value (Luke 12:13-21).
A hoarding mentality for the purpose of our own enjoyment is not simply discouraged, Jesus calls it foolishness.
3) We must be prepared to part with our riches.
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21-23)
If we are in a position of wealth—whether as a result of our labor or of our privileged background—we are reminded not to cling onto our riches tightly. If we find that we cannot give them up, it may mean that we are relying on them instead of on God.
The Bible also consistently calls on us to help those in need, which includes giving money to the less unfortunate. In the gospel of Luke, the apostle John urges the crowd to share their clothing and food with those who do not have enough (Luke 3:11). Some Christians I know don’t have much, yet they are always the first to give whenever a need arises.
There is an onus on those of us who have more, to give to those who have less. It’s a responsibility which God has bestowed on us, along with the blessings, and is consistent with the call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
So, is it wrong to be rich? The Bible shows us that the problem lies not in our actual wealth, but in pursuing after and clinging onto riches. There is nothing wrong with being rich or in working hard to earn a bit more, as long as we do not end up in the trap of seeking money instead of Him.
Let’s give up the desire for earthly riches, strive for eternal riches and use whatever God has blessed us with to bless others.
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”—C. T Studd