Is Christian Wealth an Oxymoron?

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It’s been a while since I’ve had a reader question. If you want to ask a question, you’re welcome to contact me.

This week I had the following question/comment from a reader.

Why do you think there is such a black lash to Christians being wealthy? Some internet blogs and various media outlets think it quite the contradiction for a Christian to be wealthy.  Is it because of Matthew 19:24? Or the bible’s constant mentioning of the poor being favored in God’s eyes? To the critics I would argue that Proverbs does as much, if not more, to portray God as a proponent of wealth than other the entire rest of the bible does to show him as an opponent.  As you have stated in your writing God did, after all, create money and thus it is good, like all things, when used properly and for his glory.  In the same respect I would argue that drinking is not a sin, but drunkenness, when abusing wine, most certainly is.

First, let me say that I’m the absolute worst person to answer this question.  I’m on a journey to find what the Bible teaches about money, and sometimes I find myself on one side of this topic while at other times I find myself on the other side.

Christian Wealth: What Does the Bible Say?

As an example, on the diversity of options about Christians and wealth, I have a post called Spending Money and Guilt.  In that post, I shared a struggle I had (years ago) with a family from church that owned three Lexuses.  A reader called “Concerned” commented (quote unedited):

A comment on the guy who owns 3 Lexuses: you miss the point, it’s not about how much you give, but about how much you keep for yourself (widow’s mite, Mk 12). Who gave the guy the means, ability, opportunity, etc. to earn so much money??? Why did God give it to him? One is hard pressed to find biblical justification for purchasing three Lexuses for oneself with so much need in the world (not to mention, what kind of testimony it presents). Wisdom encourages us to live simple (not poverty stricken, just normal) lives and use EVERYTHING that God gives us to make Jesus look good in this broken world. Furthermore, why would one want to invest (waste) significant resources in things that have no eternal value??? I know, I always here the tax deduction justification, but is that real motive behind purchasing three Lexuses???

 

I’ll respond to the reader question by responding to this comment by Concerned.

As for a biblical justification for Christian wealth, I would point you to:

  • Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)

Paul does not call these Christians to give up wealth (which he clearly could have).  Just not to put their hope in wealth.  Furthermore, in the midst of a strong warning to the rich, Paul tells us that what God gives (wealth) is for our enjoyment.

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus gives away half of what he owns, and Jesus says that was sufficient for him to be right with God.  In the case of Zaccheaeus, what he gave seemed to be more important than what he kept.  Otherwise, the Bible would have focused on what he had left, not what he gave.  When Nicodemus (John 3) came to seek guidance from Jesus the topic of his wealth never surfaced.

Concerned challenges us to live simple “not poverty stricken, just normal.”  Normal is a very hard place to pinpoint.  I suspect it is probably defined more by how much money a person makes than anything the Bible teaches.  People in North America own a lot of things just for comfort.  In PNG, normal means no running water, no electricity, no appliances.  So in their eyes, my life is extravagant, not simple.  In the eyes of many from North America, my life is simple, not extravagant.

God Never Drew a Line in the Sand Regarding Christian Wealth

God never marks a point where he says that if you have less than this you are poor, and if you have more than this you are wealthy.  If you read about my interview with the poor of PNG, you might just conclude that all of us are rich.  In my post How Can Christians Find A Right Saving Balance? we find that one person defines wealth as the ownership of shoes, another as the ownership of a car, and another as the ownership of a boat …

Early on in this blog, I tried to make judgment calls on behalf of others.  I asked should Christians build wealth like crazy?  I now believe that might not be the best use of my time and energy.  But, now I ask myself what is God calling me to do with my wealth?  In the end, I don’t think I’m the kind of a person who will ever build wealth like crazy.  I don’t think that is my call.  It’s not my call because of my background (I’ve lived half of my life in the third world), my occupation (I live on a minister’s income), and my preference.  In fact, most of my ministry has been supported by those who build wealth.

Thus, when my church needs a $250,000 contribution to fund an important ministry, I won’t be able to help provide for that need.  But, a wealthy Christian might.  When my church needs $250 to take a meal to local orphans, I may just be able to help.  So, is the one Christian better because he can give $250,000?  Nope. Is another inferior because all they can give is $250? Nope. The body has many parts.

I respect guys like Bob Lotich from Christianpf who plans to give away millions.  God may one day afford me that opportunity, but I suspect my calling is different.  That is why I have the following mission statement for this blog:

Money Help For Christians (MH4C) promotes a frugal, simple, debt-free, and generous lifestyle so Christians can faithfully maximize their resources by putting them at the disposal of God’s Kingdom. MH4C is committed to providing relevant resources in order to assist Christians in this effort.

But that mission statement is more about me and my calling – frugal and simple.  That is the kind of person God made me.  I overflow with joy when I get to enjoy that kind of life.  It is a precious gift from God that he blessed me in this way.  But it is not a lifestyle for everyone.  Try making Dave Ramsey live like Mother Teresa and making Mother Teresa live like Dave Ramsey.  Both would be utterly miserable.  And it is quite possible that neither would be any more pleasing to God.

If God calls you to build wealth like crazy, pay careful attention to the condition of your heart and maximize every resource for God’s Kingdom.  If God calls you to live simply with a modest bank account, be attentive to the condition of your heart and maximize every resource for God’s Kingdom.

Is this a cop out?  Shouldn’t I be telling every Christian to sell your possessions?  Jesus’ standards changed based on the conditions of a person’s heart.  In Luke 18, Jesus demands one man must sell everything.  In Luke 19, salvation comes to the home of Zacchaeus when he gives away half of what he owned.  We never hear Jesus rebuking the ladies who used their wealth to support his ministry (Matthew 27:55-56).

So in this blog, you will find posts that challenge the notions of Christian wealth (i.e. Could The Money Lover Please Stand Up) – this is a check and balance for those who are pursuing wealth like crazy.  Also, you’ll find posts that support the concept of Christian wealth building (i.e. How Wealth Can Strengthen Your Relationship With God) – this is a check and balance for those who judge the rich.  And somewhere in the midst of all this, we each need to ask – God, what do you want me to do with His money?

Comments

  1. says

    Great article Craig. I think you are right on that it depends on the person’s calling and it is not our place to cast judgement on other Christians. I have friends who have been able to build lots of personal wealth and are called to minister to professional athletes or wall street executives which expect someone to have wealth. In the end, he gives of his money, time, and talents freely and I believe he is glorifying God through the money he has been blessed with.

    There is one aspect that you do not mention above which should be stated around hoarding. As I wrote in my blog this morning, so many Christians are hoarding money for the worldly concept of retirement. We should warn against hoarding money and also warn that God’s purpose for your life as a Christian will remain all of the days of your life – even in “retirement.” Even if you can retire and play golf every day of your life, God calls you to glorify Him and spread His good word. Your ability to “do nothing” in this worldly concept of retirement conflicts with God’s direction for you as a Christian.

    However, having wealth so that you can freely support whatever ministries God calls you to or having enough “retirement money” so you can spend more time doing God’s work is a noble reason for saving and building wealth.

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Craig. As you know, this is an issue I am still working on myself. I tend to see mostly a call for all Christians to live simply (which generally includes frugality). This does not mean Christians cannot be wealthy, but it does mean we should carefully consider whether the “Lexus” (whatever that may be for you) is something God wants or something we want.

    I was disappointed in your use of 1 Timothy 6:17. When you read it in context, you see that Paul does indeed call the wealthy to be generous, which involves giving up wealth. This is what verse 18 and 19 say:

    (18) They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, (19) thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV)

    Obviously, a very wealthy person can own three Lexuses and still be generous by the world’s standards. But the true question is this: Are they being generous as God desires them to be? I can’t make that judgment for them. As you said, it’s a heart issue and Jesus indeed looked straight into the heart of a man before declaring what he would need to do to move closer to God.

    My belief is that we must be very careful when it comes to luxuries in this life. As “Concerned” noted, it can be damaging to our witness as Christians. If we live lavishly and extravagantly – if we waste what God has given us for our own unfettered pleasure – how does the love of God dwell in us when there are so many in desperate need? Note this is not a call to austerity but to simplicity and the avoidance of wastefulness and gluttony.

    Blessings to you and your readers as we all continue to seek God’s truth about wealth and our responsibilities as Christians.

    • says

      @Kevin
      You are correct that wealthy societies tend to have more opportunities for the poor. Still, it is impossible to forget about the impact wealth can have on your heart. I’m not sure all of us are properly ready to handle true wealth.
      @Steve and Debra
      Thanks.
      @Paul
      I had a strange dream last night that you came to PNG and we discussed this topic face to face and we each really grew through the discussion. Unfortunately, we are stuck discussing it over the computer.
      Re – 1 Tim. 6:17 – I do think it is possible to keep some level of wealth and still be generous. Zacchaeus, so it seems is one such example. The call is that they be “rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”
      In the case of the family with the Lexuses I was asked by a church leader what if they give away 90% of what they earn? Am I now more generous than them even thought I don’t own things that are a nice? That perspective humbled me enough to conclude I don’t know what someone is getting and what someone is giving so there is no way I can judge if they are generous only on the basis of what they have. If the Bible teaches proportional giving (which I do believe) then in line with their income they are very, very generous and still very wealth.
      Finally, who gets to define the ‘Lexuses’ or luxuries in life. Some people criticize missionaries for keeping many of their Western conveniences. The things we own that most people from church don’t own – a truck, dogs we can afford to feed, a computer, fridge, fan, stove, washing machine, and drying machine … We are like a Bill Gates in this culture. Does that damage our witness? Well, I have a 50 page paper on the topic of missions and money so I won’t even try and answer that question in this comment.
      Here’s my personal stance. I’m a teacher not a judge. I think sometimes I’ve crossed the line and become too judgmental. Instead, I’ll spend my mind teaching what the Bible says and encourage people to consider the validity of those words.
      Paul as always it is a pleasure to read your words and be challenged by your thoughts.
      @Freely Giving
      You are completely right about hoarding. I’m not sure how we can police hoarding around the world, but we all have control of our own bank account. Good thoughts about retirement.

  3. says

    Craig – you presented a very well balanced perspective on wealth and the issue of examining our own hearts versus attempting to judge the hearts of others. If someone else’s wealth or possessions seem problematic, it is probably time we more productively redirect our energies in the examination of our own hearts. Great article!!

  4. says

    If you truly want to help the poor, then increase the amount of wealth in society. Giving away all of your possessions won’t accomplish that, but starting a business might. Increases in wealth and technology are the reason why people today live like relative kings in paradise compared to hundreds of years ago.

  5. says

    “You are correct that wealthy societies tend to have more opportunities for the poor. Still, it is impossible to forget about the impact wealth can have on your heart. I’m not sure all of us are properly ready to handle true wealth.”

    Interesting point. People today are vastly wealthier than they were 1000 years ago, but human nature has not changed all that much. What will happen in 100 years from now when material wealth surpasses our wildest dreams? That’s assuming everything goes well on the technology side, of course ;)
    It will be a strange world indeed when people can place implants in their bodies, connect their minds to the internet, regrow damaged organs, and “print” what they need using a 3d printer, instead of going to the store.

  6. says

    Thanks for your reply, Craig. I don’t have any plans to come to PNG right now, but maybe God has something planned?! :) Maybe we should try Skype sometime when you can.

    Regarding the wealthy giving away 90% and still enjoying a good bit of it, I tend to think in terms of absolute dollars in such a scenario rather than percentages. For someone like Bill Gates giving away 90% may require a bit of a sacrifice, but he’d still be extremely wealthy after that by any measure we can use. I think it’s my judgmental side coming out when I say this (wait a minute, I’ve got to get this log out of my eye…), but I believe our witness for giving comes mostly from what’s left and not just what we gave. But as you said, we’re not the judge – God is. My goal is simply to encourage people to examine their giving, test their hearts, and see if it is in line with God’s will.

    I’d be interested in reading that paper on missions and money sometime. Your example made me pause and think. It sounds like a complex situation – one I haven’t thought about much since I’m mostly removed from that type of scenario. Good food for thought though!

    P.S. I’ve still got your budget e-book on my list to review. Things have been extremely busy for me right now. (I’ll tell you more sometime in an email.) But I haven’t forgotten about it. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  7. says

    Craig, great post that challenges. I think the reason it challenges American Christians is because we are blessed to be the richest people group in the world according to GlobalRichList.com. Admitting we are rich and noticing verses like 1 Tim 6:17, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then a rich person going to heaven’, and ‘many shall call me Lord, Lord but I will say I never knew you’, really make us pause and maybe even second guess the American Christian mindset we’ve adopted from secular Consumerism, which states we have to have more to be happy.

    This secular Consumerism mindset enabled American Christians to desire and acquire the most extravagant stuff like Mochas, Mercedes, and McMansions. If we agree the Christian life is a humble life, then how can we rationalize such products and services that are by definition within the luxury market? What is the definition of luxury?

    The secular Consumerism mindset also enabled American Christians to accept vast amounts of debt to acquire the lifestyle we “enjoy” today. If we agree the Christian life is one of staying away from debt, then how can we rationalize the acceptance of debt to purchase everything from hamburgers to church buildings? No wonder American Consumers are $13 trillion in debt, which is more than what their national government owes.

    Finally, this secular Consumerism convinced American Christians that buying more stuff for people that already had so much was a generous act. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU

    There is no standard in the Bible that dictates when someone is too rich or when someone has given enough. Giving is supposed to be done out of joy. But as we continue to allow secular Consumerism to propel us to take on debt to afford a lifestyle that ignores the needy, I believe American Christianity will need a wake up from the Lord.

    I offer one modified verse for discussion for all of us, Americans, who are struggling to live humbly:

    “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life[style] for his friends.” – John 15:13 modified

    • says

      Fantastic comment. Thanks for adding you thoughts to this post.
      I completely agree that consumerism is out of control – in and out of the church. I also believe many American Christians (Western Christians) need a wake up call and they need to recognize a call to simple living. However, we cannot go to the other extreme where all wealthy Christians are thrown into a group.
      The Minor Prophets provide a good wake up call for the wealthy who need one.

  8. Jason says

    I believe the key is found in “sharing the wealth” if you have an excess of it.. share it.. why not?? notice in acts 4:32-35 how “there were no needy among them, no rich, nor poor”.. for they all were sharing.. having everything in common with one another, if one had two of something.. they would freely lead out to another whom lacked even one,

    i personally have found it very disturbing to be renting from a so called “christian landlord” whom owns 2 houses… and when im late on my rent charges me a late fee.. when i lack even one house.

    The Believers Share Their Possessions

    32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

  9. Susan Harris says

    Dear Sir or Madam,
    My name is Susan Harris and I live in Upstate New York. I am unemployed and care for my father – (who has Alzheimers and is on oxygen 24/7) and my mother (who is disabled with spinal stenosis). I am applying everywhere for help to no avail. The state HEAP program starts next week, and IF we qualify we still would only get $600 total.

    I have no money and have spent my 401k that I cashed in over a year ago when I lost my job. My last oil fill was $378 for 100 gallons which I got through Glider Oil. http://www.gilderoil.com

    Living in Upstate NY, we average about $3000 for oil from November through March. I am trying to raise enough money to get through the winter and be able to keep my house and care for my parents. I am already in the midst of declaring bankruptcy. I love my parents very much and refuse to put them in a nursing home. Do you know any way I could appeal to people to raise the money for us?

    Glider Oil told me they will accept any credits to my account over the phone. My account there is 514245 and they have a toll free number (800) 724-FUEL (3835). If you know of anyone that could help us, please let me know.
    Thank you,
    Susan Harris

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