At Work & Theology 101

Wealth from A Christian Perspective

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I continually find it necessary to guard against that natural love of wealth and grandeur which prompts us always, when we come to apply our general doctrine to our own case, to claim an exception.

—William Wilberforce

This week I had the opportunity to listen to one of my co-workers, Dr. Anne Bradley, answer questions about wealth and income on a national Christian radio program.  A sincere young man who was just starting his career asked, “As I continue to work and earn more money, should I at some point restrict the amount of my income?”

When I first heard the young man’s question, I immediately thought of the 18th century evangelist John Wesley’s great sermon on money.  His three points drawn from the scriptures were simply this:

  • Earn all the money you can.
  • Save all the money you can.
  • Give all the money you can.

Both Wesley and I would answer this young man’s question by saying, no, you do not want to arbitrarily restrict your income. Instead, you should seek to:

  • Work as hard as you can using all the gifts God has given you, and
  • To become as good as you can be at doing the job God has called you to do. 

There may be times in this young man’s life, when he begins to raise a family, for example, when he may need to cut back on his time at work. This decision may or may not affect his income, but in this instance it is certainly not arbitrary.

In a recent post I argued that we were made by God to produce quality goods and services as a product of our work. This is part of what we were created to do. I have also warned that in doing so, we must avoid the sin of greed, the idolatry of materialism, and losing our identity in Christ through the lure of consumerism.

However, there is another issue that could underlie this young man’s question. It is the idea that if I make more, someone else makes less. Jay Richards began addressing this “zero-sum” mentality in another recent post.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the great mystery of wealth creation: in our free market system, when we, through honest means, produce more goods, services, and wealth, we not only benefit ourselves, but others as well.

All of this being said, God may decide to restrict the amount of money you make.

I have a friend who, though her God-given gifts, could do almost anything she wants vocationally. She could be a very successful lawyer, or make a lot of money in the corporate world. Instead, God called her to be a first grade teacher.

This decision to be faithful to God’s call on her life severely restricted her income potential. This short-term sacrifice on her part will pay tremendous dividends, though, both in this world and in the next. She will never know the positive effect she has on the hundreds of children that go through her classroom, but she will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant!” when she stands before our Master.

God does not measure our faithfulness to him by what is on our W-2’s. What matters is:

  • How we answer his call on our lives
  • How that works out in our vocations
  • How through our work we glorify God, serve the common good, and further his kingdom.

God has called us to love our neighbors, and one way we can do that is by doing our jobs well. So no matter what we are called to do, whether working at jobs that create great wealth or not, let us, as the apostle Paul instructs in Colossians 3:23-24,

Work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

What do you think? Should Christians arbitrarily restrict the amount of money they make? Leave your comments here.

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  • Arbitrarily restricting ones income is not the same as choosing a standard of living that allows oneself to give away the excess to bless others. This is the beauty of Wesley’s third point. Without that third point of give all you can then the creation of wealth is not fulfilling the mission.

  • As a notable initiator of the modern philanthropic model, Carnegie made a decision to limit his income and give the rest away. Before his death on August 11, 1919, he had donated over $350 million for various causes. The “Andrew Carnegie Dictum” was:
    To spend the first third of one’s life getting all the education one can.
    To spend the next third making all the money one can.
    To spend the last third giving it all away for worthwhile causes.

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