Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Are Riches and Righteousness At Odds?

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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 19:24

Christians often hear about how the Bible criticizes wealth and chastises the rich. Less discussed are the Bible’s instructions about how those blessed with affluence are to live with their wealth.

Given almost any measure, whether compared against history or the rest of the world, most of us in the United States today are among the wealthiest one percent of people. If that is true, how should we think about our wealth from a biblical perspective?

In previous posts on Poverty and the Church, Glenn Sunshine explains that when it comes to issues of wealth, righteousness is a central concern. He writes in one post:

Why then, the condemnations of the rich in Scripture?…The issue isn’t really wealth or poverty…God’s concern is for righteousness and justice.

Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll also posits in one article that “rich or poor, it’s righteousness that really matters.” Driscoll goes on to explain that the Bible talks about four kinds of people when it talks about wealth, stewardship, and righteousness:

1. The righteous rich.

The righteous rich see their wealth as a blessing from God. They work hard, invest wisely, and abstain from obtaining wealth in sinful ways, like stealing or taking advantage of others. Such people spend their money righteously, generously sharing their abundance with those in need.

2. The unrighteous rich.

The unrighteous rich obtain wealth through sinful means such as stealing and extorting. They spend their money in sinful ways and do little if anything to help people in need. The most legendary biblical example is Judas Iscariot, who stole money from Jesus’ ministry fund.

3. The righteous poor.

The righteous poor work hard for the little money they have, spend it wisely, and share their pittance with others in need. Jesus is the most obvious biblical example of someone who was both righteous and poor.

4. The unrighteous poor.

The unrighteous poor are people with little or no money because they are lazy or spend foolishly. They do not give to God or others. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about such people, calling them “fools” and “sluggards.”

What qualities must one possess to be considered in the first category? Old Testament scholar Christopher J.H. Wright writes the following summary points emerging from his reflections on the Old Testament’s discussion of wealth. In the Old Testament, the righteous rich are those who:

1. Remember the source of their riches (Deuteronomy 8:17-18, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Jeremiah 9:23-24).

2. Do not idolize their wealth (Job 31:24-25).

3. Recognize that wealth is secondary to many things, including wisdom, personal integrity, humility, and righteousness (I Chronicles 29:17, Proverbs 8:10-11, 1 Kings 3, Proverbs 16:8, 28:6).

4. Use their wealth with justice (Psalms 15:5, Ezekiel 18:7-8).

5. Make their wealth available to the wider community through responsible lending (Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-13).

6. See wealth as an opportunity for generosity (Deuteronomy 15, Psalms 112:3, Proverbs 14:31, 19:17, Ruth).

7. Use wealth in the service of God (2 Chronicles 31, Ruth).

8. Set an example by limiting personal consumption, and declining to maximize private gain from public office (Nehemiah 5:14-19).

Examples of the righteous rich in the Old Testament include men like Abraham, Boaz, Job, David, Solomon, and Nehemiah.

Above all, it is because such a person is marked by the very first principle of wisdom, namely fear of the Lord, that the blessings he enjoys are not tainted with wickedness and the whiff of oppression.

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,” for if riches also come his way by God’s grace, then the declaration of Psalm 112:3 can be affirmed of him, without contradiction:

Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. 

The question we must ask ourselves is, “are we among the righteous rich?”

What do you think? What does the Bible say about how people should live with the blessings of wealth? 

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