Several months ago I asked my friend and fellow blogger, Paul Williams (from Provident Planning), if we could have an email discussion about Christians and wealth. I think a lot about that topic. Occasionally I write about it too. Below are some of my articles on the topic:
I asked Paul to join me in the discussions because I like that fact Paul is always willing to challenge commonly held assumptions. I felt like if I entered this discussion with him I could make sure I wasn’t cheating in my theology and avoiding any tough questions.
I opened the discussion with the following email:
I’m sometimes frustrated with people who deal with the topic of Christians and wealth in such a way that it seems like they made up their mind before they even read their Bibles. Their comments and points all too quickly dismiss the complexity of the issue of Christians and wealth.
However, it is entirely possible to make a case that God may put a person in a position of extreme wealth for his purpose and his glory.
Consider an Old Testament story like Joseph. God put Joseph into that place of authority and wealth in order to deliver his people during a time of severe famine. Or, consider a New Testament story like Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43) who used his position to give Jesus a dignified burial.
In both of these stories, the individuals function as a positive example for Christians.
The question ultimately becomes where is the line? When does one move from being a poor Christian to a middle class Christian to a wealthy Christian? At what point does the amount one accumulates become sinful?
I tend to think we judge wealth in comparison. In comparison to what we have. In comparison to what we are used to. In comparison to our preferences. My greatest fear is that I will judge wealthy Christians without having ever had their experiences. I might be talking out of a place of ignorance on the topic. So I’ve decided that God calls some to be wealthy Christians and he calls others of us to live the simple life. I know the call on my life is clear – simple living. But does my call become normative for all Christians?
I remember feeling like a fish out of water when I explored massive mansions in the Champions area of Houston. Seriously, I stood inside one of those houses with my eyes bulging out of my head. I was seeing that same expression in the face of a five year old boy who was in our house last week. He fiddled with the door handle, he turn light switches on and off. I was to him what the wealthy in Houston were to me.
So I ask myself a difficult question – am I a wealthy Christian? If so, is it wrong for me to be wealthy?
I look forward to your response.
I hope I have not made up my mind about wealth and Christians apart from what Scripture says. My goal in studying personal finance in the Bible was to eliminate as much eisegesis as I could [Editorial Note: eisegesis is the process of inserting meaning into a biblical text instead of taking meaning out of the text], though I think that’s very difficult to do. It’s hard to set aside our cultural mindsets and the things we’ve been taught to read the Bible without any outside influence.
I agree with you that God can and does put Christians in a position of extreme wealth to use for His purposes and glory. But that’s a different point than what we’re discussing. The problem we’re discussing is more of “What should a Christian who has such wealth do with that money?”.
I’m not sure we can draw hard lines to create a list of boundaries for Christians. As you said, we tend to judge wealth in comparison. The line I would draw for a wealthy person is different from what a person in a very poor country would draw. And the line I’d draw for myself would be different from the line the person in extreme poverty would draw for me.
I think the main issue is a matter of what’s going on in your heart. Are you consumed with a desire for wealth and luxury? Would you neglect serving God in order to get more money? Are you more concerned with keeping your riches than pursuing God’s kingdom and doing what He commands?
That’s why we can’t draw hard lines for each other. I have no idea what’s going on in your heart. BUT I can look at your deeds and admonish you to consider how you’re spending your wealth. I can rightfully encourage a rich Christian to examine themselves and how they’re spending their money because of the witness it’s presenting to me. And an extremely poor Christian can rightfully do the same to me. I need them to because they can see what I can’t. I can be blind to my own greed and preoccupation with wealth. So I think it’s important for us to encourage each other on toward good deeds.
The reason I’m so cautious about condoning a luxurious lifestyle is because it’s so easy to fall into Satan’s snares when it comes to money. Carefully read Jesus’ words in Luke 12:13-34 as a whole and also what He said to the rich ruler and His disciples in Luke 18:18-30. I think too often we underestimate the hold that money can have on our hearts and our lives. Jesus’ warnings are clear in my opinion – we ought not hold worldly ideals of wealth and money too high because they can keep us from serving God.
If you want to read more of Paul’s writing please check out his blog Provident Planning.
Tomorrow I’ll post the second part of our discussion, but if you have any comments to share the comment section is open 24 hours a day …