Along the spectrum of understandings of Wealth and Poverty among Christians, there are two common errors. The first is asceticism, which presents the idea that the poor are more holy than the rich. The second has recently been labeled the Prosperity Gospel, which equates material wealth with spiritual blessing.
It is easy to figure out how people fall into the trap of asceticism. Some key passages from Scripture point toward wealth as a trap that can lead to sin; Jesus and his disciples lived a very minimal lifestyle, with no concern for possessions to speak of; Jesus himself taught that following him implied self-denial (Luke 9:23). The result of this has been the error of asceticism, which is the teaching that self-denial is the key to holiness and that owning possessions is sinful.
There are some problems with this position. First, there are a number of materially wealthy individuals in Scripture who are presented as heroes of the faith. Examples include Abraham, David, and Job (at times). The key is that their possessions were not the ultimate purpose of their lives. Second, there are passages that show that God provides material wealth to some people as a blessing.
The opposite extreme from asceticism is known in our day as the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that being holy necessarily results in material blessings in the form of health and wealth. There are a number of contemporary teachers who offer us our best life now, but there are biblical examples of this found in people like Job’s friends (who assumed his sickness and impoverishment were a direct result of sin in his life) and the Pharisees (John 9).
There are many, many problems with this position. First, Job was “faultless” and yet God allowed Satan to test him by taking away his wealth. Second, Paul was poor and he told Timothy to be content with basic necessities for life (1 Tim. 6:6–10). Third, Jesus was poor (cf. Matt 8:20).
Biblical Witness to Wealth and Poverty
Scripture has more to say about the subject of wealth and poverty than about any other specific topic. By most counts there are over 2000 verses in Scripture that talk about wealth and poverty. This means that we will certainly only cover a small minority of the verses in Scripture about wealth and poverty.
First, we should understand that God is sovereign over the quantity of our material possessions:
Next, we should understand that the love of wealth, either gaining or maintaining it, is a sin problem:
Wealth isn’t an ultimate good in itself, and we should pursue holiness as our primary goal:
However, poverty is not a good thing. We should work diligently and enjoy the benefits of our labor:
Ultimately, whether rich or poor, we should trust in God’s sufficient provision:
Even in the heavens and new earth, different people will have degrees of responsibility and blessing:
There is a great deal more that could be said about the topic of wealth and poverty, but here are a few principles we can find in the passages we just read:
1. The degree to which we are wealthy or poor is dependent on God’s sovereign plan.
2. God will always provide us what we need to do his will. (Sometimes his will is for us to glorify him through suffering.)
3. There is nothing wrong with possessing material wealth as long as we view it as a tool for serving God.
4. However, material wealth should never be pursued as an end in itself nor for selfish gain.