Isn't it interesting that Scripture teaches so clearly such an ambivalent attitude toward money and wealth.
For instance it is seen as a definite blessing that Abraham and Job were wealthy individuals (Gen. 13:2; Job 42:10). Likewise, Moses prays for the Lord to establish the work of their hands (Ps. 90:17 - bless their work and the fruit of that work), while Jabez also prayed for God's material blessings (1 Chron. 4:10). And both of these were seen as good things. Yet eslewhere in Scripture there are very sharp rebukes against the wealthy (Jas. 5:1-6;cf. Lk. 6:24).
Now wealth of course implies an abundance of money, for lack of a better word, an excess. And indeed there is a need for people in the kingdom of God to have an "excess" of material goods. Jesus and His disciples were able to carry out their public ministry because of those who were supporting them from their own (excess) riches (Lk. 8:1-3).
Yet at the same time it is not in God's providence for everyone in the kingdom of God to be granted with such wealth. In the city of Corinth we find that it was not many who were of noble birth (1 Cor. 1:26, cf. 1 Cor. 11:21). In Paul's first letter to Timothy it seems only a small portion of Timothy's flock were well-to-do (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The general rule of thumb seems to be that those who do have great wealth are to be willing to voluntarily depart with it for the sake of others (Prv. 19:17, 22:9, 28:27; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Yes, I said voluntarily. Compulsion (specifically civil government compulsion) is never the Christian virtue of giving (2 Cor. 9:7; cf. Ex. 25:1-2, 35:21ff; cf. Acts 5:4).
However, it seems that even those who do not have great wealth are also to be willing to voluntarily depart with what they do have for the sake of others (Eph. 4:28; 2 Cor. 8:3-5, 7). All of us are called to be concerned for our brothers and sisters - especially within the body of Christ (Jas. 2:15-16; 1 Jn. 3:17-18).
But is that all we're called to do with our money, is to take care of the poor? No. Even in that there is an ambivalent view we need to balance in how we spend our money.
In one instance Jesus commands a rich man to sell all that he has and to give it to the poor (Lk. 18:22), while in another instance Jesus says don't worry about the poor right now; this material good was meant just for me, and for right now (Jn. 12:5, 7).
We're to use our money to take care of our poor - yes (Gal. 2:10); but we're also to use it to pay our pastors (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17, 18) and to support those who have given their lives to preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14). But there's even more than that. We're also to use our money to take care of our own families (1 Tim. 5:8), to build up savings for our children (Prv. 19:14; 2 Cor. 12:14), and to leave our future progeny an inheritance (Prv. 13:22).
There is a true, practical problem though with all of this. There is only so much money. And as already stated, not everyone has an excess of it. So how do we balance taking care of our families, saving for children and their children, taking care of the poor within our reach, all the while paying our pastors and those who give their lives to the gospel ministry?
How do we balance building up wealth and asking the Lord to establish the work of our hands and enlarge our material goods, all the while ensuring that we are "ready to share" (1 Tim. 6:18) with any in need? (And let's be honest, there is always a need).
I wish I had a simple answer here. But that's the point of all this - the Bible speaks about wealth with a very clear ambivalent view. Yet are there certain principles that can be followed with regard to our money and the kingdom of God? I think so. Though I'm certainly no expert in the matter, I think the following might serve as helpful foundation in terms of thinking about money and the kingdom of God.
1) Wealth is never condemned in and of itself as a vice.
The Scriptures never condemn wealth for wealth's sake. While many will say, "But Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor,'" the Scripture actually says Jesus said: "Blessed are poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3). This was a blessing on those who are humble and repentant of their sin (cf. Lk. 18:13, 9-14). It is to them that belongs the "kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3).
James condemns a particular class of wealthy people, a wealthy people who have defrauded their neighbors by withholding their wages (Jas. 5:4, 1-6), but their wealth as such is not condemned (it actually ends up being a witness against them in their condemnation). Likewise, Paul tells Timothy not to charge those who are rich to be ashamed of their wealth or to give it all away, but rather to not be arrogant because of their wealth, and to be ready to spend it for the sake of the kingdom - as well as to be equally rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
It is not wealth that is condemned in Scripture nor even the desire to be wealthy. Again consider Moses (Ps. 90:17), Jabez (1 Chron. 4:10), and the many positive things said about wealth in other Scriptures. Consider just Proverbs alone (Prv. 10:15, 10:22, 11:24, 12:27, 14:20, 14:24, 19:14, 22:4). Now some may say, Paul condemned the desire for wealth when he said, "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation" (1 Tim. 6:5). But in context this is not simply a desire to have an enlarged material blessing for the sake of you and your family. Paul is speaking of a lustful "craving" (1 Tim. 6:10), saying that it is the "love" of money that is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim. 6:10).
And that is no wonder. There are only two things we are commanded to love by God: the Lord Himself, and our neighbor created in His image (Mt. 22:37-40). To love money or wealth in place of either of these things is a grave and dangerous sin (as Paul warned).
Nevertheless, neither wealth in and of itself, nor the desire to have it for one's family or some other aspect of supporting the kingdom of God with it is condemned. In fact, it's seen as a blessing.
That being said....
2) Poverty is never commended in and of itself as a virtue.
There are some who are so quick to turn to Luke 18:22 as a command given to all believers. In context, the point of this command was to show to this rich, young ruler, who thought that he had actually kept all the commandments (even though Jesus just told him that no one was good except God alone), that he truly wasn't capable of keeping every commandment God gives him - and thus he needed a Savior.
But that's beside the point. Nowhere in Scripture is poverty seen as a virtue in and of itself. As a matter of fact, in general there are many passages that deal with it as something not to be desired:
It can be a sign of a slack hand or negligence in working (Prv. 10:4, 12:27)
It is considered as a ruin (Prv. 10:15)
The poor are disliked even by their neighbors and deserted even by their friends (Prv. 14:20, 19:4)
The poor are ruled over by the rich (Prv. 22:7)
That doesn't mean, of course, there aren't good reasons to be poor. Depending on the circumstances it may be exactly what God is calling you to be with regard to your material wealth. It was certainly the case with the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 4:11-13).
However, in dealing with those who are poor, the Scriptures command those who have the ability to work, to work (2 Thess. 3:10). If the ability is not there, voluntary aid should be given first from the family (1 Tim. 5:3, 4, 8, 16), then the local church (1 Tim. 5:16; Eph. 4:28; Jas. 2:15-16; 1 Jn. 3:17-18), and then from other voluntary bodies (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8:3-5, 7). (Notice the civil government is never given authorization to forcefully redistribute wealth).
As a general rule, those in poverty are to be helped out of it (either by ability if they're able or by receiving help from others), while those who are wealthy are not to be "helped out of their wealth" but are to be ready to share with those in need (who cannot provide for themselves).
And that brings us to the last point...
3) The Bible seems less concerned with how much we have in material goods, and more concerned with how we use what we do have.
There is much more to be said on both sides of the spectrum of wealth - much more than we can address in one blog post.
Suffice it to say, whether materially rich or poor, both groups are to be mindful of what they do with what they have, remembering that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
The Bible has much to warn against those who are rich or seek-to-be-rich-for-the-wrong-reasons (Prv. 22:16, 23:4, 28:8, 28:22). Yet the Bible also warns against those who are in poverty because of their own negligence (Prv. 10:4, 12:27; 2 Thess. 3:10).
So whether you have a lot of material wealth or none at all, it really depends on what you do with what you have and your attitude of faith in doing it.
Are you providing for your family in faith? Are you saving for your future progeny in faith? Are you paying your pastors and those who have given their lives to gospel ministry in faith? Are you, in faith, sharing your wealth voluntarily with those who are truly in need and are not able to otherwise provide for themselves?
I don't know of a passage or passages that give a clear hierarchy of how we are to prioritize what we do with our money regarding the above demands. And I imagine there is a lot of debate in those areas. Regardless, it is clear that wherever we're at we're not to love money or wealth. We can desire it, to be sure, provided it is for the right reasons (the godly ones mentioned above). But we cannot love it. For as the Lord taught us, "No one can serve two masters" (Mt. 6:24).
If you have a desire to have money in order to serve your family, church, or otherwise contribute to the kingdom of God, well and good. But the test for all of us - whether rich or poor - is that that desire not turn into a love. We are to love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves. We are not to love money.
One way you can know whether or not you love money rather than have a desire for it for the kingdom of God is that when it disappears how shattered your hopes are. Just as we are not to love money but love God, we are not to trust in riches but to trust in God (Prv. 11:28; 1 Tim. 6:17).
How we use our money for the kingdom of God will look differently for each person, depending on how they understand what the Scriptures teach in this matter. This is especially true in regard to the hierarchy of priority in when and where to allocate how much money for each aspect of kingdom building (family, future progeny, pastors/teachers, poor, etc.).
The failsafe in all of this - founded in a diligent study of what the Scriptures do say regarding these things - is that however you spend your money, you do it to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Are you providing for your family to the glory of God? Are you saving for your future progeny to the glory of God? Are you paying your pastors and/or others who have given their lives to gospel ministry to the glory of God? Are you giving to the poor to the glory of God?
All of these things - saving, investing, giving - can be done to the glory of God. And (assuming you are a believer), as you are in His kingdom (Col. 1:13), then what you do with the money He has given you is de facto making practical decisions about your financial contribution to the kingdom of God.
Finally, I strongly encourage further study on this subject. My point was not to give a solid answer but to give a base of what the Bible does and does not say about wealth and poverty in general. It is up to you to study the Scriptures to find out what your contribution to the kingdom of God is with the money He has given you.
And as you study and continue to spend your money, all I have left to say at this point is to do it in faith (Heb. 11:1; Prv. 3:5), and to do it for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).
I'm a sinner saved by God's amazing grace through the the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the glorious quickening of the Holy Spirit.
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