Theology 101

Can Rich People Really Be Righteous?

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The phrase “the righteous rich” strikes many people as an oxymoron.

Can rich people really be righteous?

In the eyes of many, the rich are not righteous, and whoever is righteous is not rich (at least not for very long).

I’ve encountered this viewpoint all over the world.

Recently I had a long conversation with someone who lives in Venezuela.

In a previous time, Venezuela was a relatively prosperous country. There was enough food to eat and plenty of choices in stores.

Now, after years of living under the late president Hugo Chavez and his recent successor, that prosperity has been eaten away.

In Venezuela, you receive a card with a number telling you the one day in the week you can shop for groceries.

In order to make sure what they need will still be on the shelves, many people line up and camp outside of stores the day before they can shop. Even the pregnant and the elderly do this.

Other examples of lost prosperity abound:

  • Violence is rampant. It is wise to take a disposable phone and very little cash with you if you go out.
  • If there is an emergency and you call the Venezuelan equivalent of 911, you might get a response hours later, if at all.
  • Apartment complexes are taken over by squatters. If you rent out a room or an apartment you cannot evict someone, even if they can’t or refuse to pay rent.
  • Banks are looted.

Underlying this decline is the socialist/Marxist belief in the abolition of private property.

This belief encourages an attitude of “whatever you have is mine” – and that the rich deserve to have their posessions taken away.

I asked my friend if anyone in Venezuela was rich. He told me that only government and military leaders are really rich. Everyone else is poor.

And all of this in the name of income equality. This is supposed to be better for the poor, but it is not.

In America, the growing gap between the rich and poor has been front and center in the minds of many people.

The answer many propose to this issue is to make incomes more equal to some degree.

In the course of our national debate over equality, the rich are disparaged. To be rich always equals being unjust and greedy.

Many in the evangelical sphere speak this way.

Does Scripture shed any light on this issue?

From a biblical point of view, can you be righteous, just, and fair and still be rich?

The answer is yes, but…

In diving into this nuanced answer, there are four basic categories we can discern in Scripture concerning people and wealth:

  • The righteous poor (i.e., the story of the widow’s mite, told in Luke 21:1-4).
  • The unrighteous poor (i.e., the sluggard we are warned about in Proverbs 6:10, 12:27, 13:4, and 22:13).
  • The unrighteous rich (examples are found in I Kings 21:1f, James 5:4-6, and other passages).
  • The righteous rich (Abraham and Job, among others).

In future posts we will examine each of these four categories, focusing on several truths about the righteous rich:

  • Some people mistakenly believe righteousness always leads to riches (it does not).
  • God sometimes blesses with riches, as we see with Abraham and Job.
  • Some riches gained unrighteously can be used righteously.
  • The righteous rich can become the unrighteous rich, as we see with Solomon.
  • Conversely, the unrighteous rich can become the righteous rich. This is what happens to Zacchaeus after he encounters Jesus.
  • Some unrighteous rich think they are righteous, such as the rich  young ruler Jesus meets in the gospels.

The importance of this study is that it will show there are people in Scripture that are the “righteous rich.” If that is so, then income inequality is not necessarily evil (though it can certainly be caused by evil things, like theft or oppression).

In closing, it is also crucial to note that one of the characteristics of the righteous rich is generosity towards the poor. We’ll see this more in the coming weeks.

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Further readings on Theology 101

  • At Work
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Armed with Stanford undergraduate and MBA degrees and a fairly new Christian faith, I founded a business in the mid-1970s…

  • At Work
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So, there I was, breaking numerous dead branches into smaller ones so that they would fit into the leaf bag….

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