Theology 101

Is Pursuing Wealth or Poverty More Virtuous?

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Is God more pleased with wealth or poverty? Plenty of people attempt to answer that question by using scripture, often out of context, to support two extreme views:

  • Some embrace the “prosperity gospel” which says the reason you don’t have riches and wealth is simply because you haven’t asked God for them (James 4:2).
  • Others say that living a life of poverty is more virtuous, so sell your big house, give away everything, and move your family into a small, two-bedroom apartment (Matthew 5:3).

Health and wealth are not proof of obedience to God or of sufficient faith in him. Neither are sickness and poverty proof of disobedience or lack of faith. Both extreme viewpoints miss the mark.

The views of many Christians fall somewhere between these two extremes, yet many still lack real clarity on what scripture teaches.

Neither Wealth nor Poverty Is the Goal

Throughout the Bible, we learn about God’s care for the poor and his concern for how we treat them. We are also warned repeatedly about the dangers of wealth. In his chapter in For The Least of These: A Biblical Response to Poverty, Glenn Sunshine asks, “Should we conclude from this that God is on the side of the poor and opposes the rich?”

Sunshine says the answer is much more multi-faceted.

Ken Eldred, in his book, God is at Work, agrees that God’s view of wealth is more complex and that many have been misguided in their attempt to understand it.

Many Christians and their pastors, seeking to avoid the perceived excesses of the “health and wealth gospel,” adopt a romantic view of poverty which often operates under the sacred-secular divide. Again, Eldred’s comments are right on point:

Wealth is seen as the evidence of a misplaced focus on secular pursuits. No roads to prosperity are acceptable, since all means of acquiring wealth involve undue emphasis on secular activities. Many who follow this line of thinking retreat from the perceived trappings of the ‘secular’ marketplace to pursue ‘sacred’ activities and pursuits.

Eldred suggests a way out of the dilemma that I agree with. Christians can adopt a new paradigm that views business and all work as having inherent spiritual value in and of itself. The idea of work as mission radically changes the way we view normal business activity, and teaches that business can have spiritual and economic goals. Eldred writes,

Business can become a spiritual activity when it advances God’s objectives by serving others and creating products and resources.

Wealth and capital creation can be tools Christians use to serve God as they serve their neighbor.

A Multi-Faceted View of Wealth

Eldred suggests six key truths to be discerned by careful, prayerful scrutiny of scripture:

  1. Wealth is to be considered in all areas—physical, mental, material, and spiritual.
  2. Wealth is from God—he is the source of all prosperity and blessing (Matthew 7:11; Deuteronomy 8:8).
  3. Wealth is to be managed—we are the stewards of the material possessions entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 10:26; Matthew 25:14-30).
  4. Wealth is to be used for God’s purposes (1 Timothy 6:17-18; 2 Corinthians 9:11).
  5. Wealth is to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 6:17).
  6. Wealth is not our source of trust—God is (Luke 12:34).

In his booklet, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth, Scott Redd explains that we are to steward wealth out of love for God and others. He expounds on Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in Matthew 22:37, which is a reiteration of the Old Testament creed called the “shema,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

…the covenant of Deuteronomy gives expression to a notion that love of God ought to extend to the material realm, and as a result the biblical use of wealth should be marked by generosity, stewardship, and investment, all of which glorifies God and honors others who are made in his image.

According to Redd, a balanced view on wealth sees it as a blessing of God to be enjoyed and stewarded well. How we perceive wealth reveals our hearts. Those whose hearts are secure in Christ know that wealth is not a reward for faithful behavior or our salvation; our eternal security is in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, in considering wealth and poverty, avoid the extreme, simplistic, and unbiblical views and dig deeper in scripture to see the multi-faceted perspectives. Neither wealth nor poverty is an indicator of our faithfulness, yet our perspective on both should be rooted in a biblical view of work.

 

Editor’s Note: Get a copy of Scott Redd’s booklet on the stewardship of wealth, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth, in the IFWE bookstore.

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