One of the gifts and challenges of wealth is seeing it as a divine blessing and not as a moral evil. The belief that wealth is a moral evil is usually supported by passages of Scripture cited as proof that the Bible opposes the accrual of wealth.
But these passages must be interpreted in light of the passages discussed last week, passages celebrating wealth of all types. When read in context, it becomes apparent that the passages are not undermining wealth per se. They are addressing either a wrong fixation on wealth or an oppressing use of it.
This leads to another gift and challenge of wealth: How one uses wealth reveals the commitments of one’s heart.
Wealth Reveals Where You Place Your Security and Identity
The Bible has much to say about the foolish man’s fixation on wealth. Those who put their hopes in material riches suffer from short-sightedness that ultimately leaves them empty-handed in death (Prov. 11:7, 13:11). Because they trust in stored up wealth and ignore the Lord who provides, the grain from their labor does not pass through the veil of death.
The wise person perceives his material gain in the context of his own mortality, recognizing its value and limitations. In another wisdom psalm, the wise man finds himself defrauded, but he does not despair because of his loss. He knows his wealthy oppressor cannot save himself from God with his riches:
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live forever and never see the pit. For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others (Ps. 49:7-10).
The wise person knows his or her identity and security is ultimately in the Lord and not in the wealth derived from their work. His or her security in light of the covenant means that he or she can receive their wealth joyfully and celebrate their abundance because their salvation is not tied up in it.
Jesus’s Teaching on the Proper Use of Wealth
During his preaching ministry, Jesus spoke frequently on the topic of wealth and the proper use of it. A prime example of Christ’s teaching on wealth can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 and its related passage in Luke 12:22-34, both of which deal with the value of material wealth in relation to the value of eternal reward.
In both cases, the contrast is between that which is temporal and that which is eternal. This contrast gives meaning to the teaching found in both passages. Wealth is not being rejected out of hand. It can be and often is a divine blessing bestowed on those who faithfully pursue God’s call in their lives as diligent stewards of their gifts and circumstances.
The warning here is against a myopic desire for material gain at the expense of eternal reward. Read this way, Jesus is developing themes that were introduced in Old Testament scriptures like Psalm 49:7-13 and Proverbs 11:7 and 13:11.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus encourages his audience to be singular in their service to the Lord and the heavenly treasures that await those who are citizens of his kingdom.
At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, he is describing the radical discipleship that marks the lives of his followers. His followers are to be singular in their devotion. If their energies are devoted merely to amassing wealth, then their love of the Lord is called into question: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
Those who are wholeheartedly committed to Christ’s Lordship will not divide their affections between God and money, but even their wealth will be subordinated to his purposes. Jesus sums up his teaching several verses later: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24).
In the Lukan account, Jesus is comforting those who struggle with lives of worry and anxiety. The passage is preceded by a parable about a rich man who relies on his wealth for lasting security, though he suffers an untimely death and loses it all (Luke 12:13-21).
Jesus reminds the audience that the Lord knows their needs and provides for them as he pleases. This divine favor and provision ought to comfort them and protect them from the twin temptations of covetousness and anxiety.
Instead of being dissatisfied about the Lord’s provision, they ought to find their security in his favor and therefore enjoy the freedom that comes as a result. This freedom allows them to love the Lord in the way that he requires, with all of their heart, self, and worldly effect. Divine Lordship means freedom from the slavery to little things.
This post has been adapted from Dr. Redd’s booklet, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth. Dr. Redd is speaking at an upcoming regional conference on purpose at work, “Gospel, Work & Community” on Jan. 21 at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.