We may have pity on poor people because they have so little. Then we respect those who have done well for themselves. But once they start getting “filthy rich,” like movie stars and billionaire tycoons, we think they must have oppressed people or are too controlling with their massive holdings. Picking on millionaires seems to be fair game. But is it wrong to be rich?
I think most people will define “being rich” as having much more than what they possess now. If I were homeless and lived under a tarp or in a cardboard box, I’d envy the man who paid to live in someone’s dilapidated one-car garage. If I lived in someone’s garage (which I knew a friend to have done), I’d envy the person who owned his own mobile home. If I owned my own mobile home, I might wish I had a free-standing, two-story house like those down the block. If I had their home … well, you get the idea. Rich seems to be relative. Actually, we who are reading these words are richer than many others. I once read that if we owned our home, several changes of clothes, and had running water indoors, then we are richer than 97% of the world’s population!
The Bible has much to say about money and riches. So who was considered rich in those days? Abraham was considered rich. He had so much, including 318 trained servants to care for it all (Genesis 14:14). Job was considered rich, too – but these men were considered rich in livestock and flocks. They did not have two cars in each garage (two camels, maybe?), running water (they used a well), or even electricity. Yet they were rich. Most of us in developed countries would be considered “filthy rich” in their eyes!
Our wealth or lack of it has no relationship to our spiritual standing with God. That is, we cannot say that God loves us more when we find ourselves richer than others. Danger arrives when we let wealth dictate life rather than God. Let’s look at a few warnings about riches.
Jesus said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23b). Why is this? Because the kingdom of God is a relationship of trust in and dependence on God, and the rich have a tendency to place their trust in bank accounts (Mark 10:24).
We learn more about the effect of riches on the soul in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, in which the rich man died and went into the flames, and poverty-stricken Lazarus died and was carried to Abraham’s bosom to rest peacefully (Luke 16:19-31). There, the rich man asks to let Lazarus rise from the dead to tell the rich man’s brothers about the torment that awaits them. Abraham’s response? “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The rich, with their wealth, power, or influence, too often may shift God from his rightful place. God’s word goes unheeded, for the rich are used to getting their own way.
What happens when we make it our life’s ambition to be rich? “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). The “foolish and hurtful lusts” will come when pursuing opportunities for getting rich that hurt their relationship with God and family. It also means that they’ll be on the road to ever-accumulating goods that can never satisfy their desires. They pursue in the world’s passing pleasures more than God’s everlasting kingdom of boundless joy.
What direction does the Bible give to the rich? First Timothy 6:17-19 reveals potential pitfalls of being rich and how to be watchful:
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Let’s look at this passage line by line, knowing that I am writing about the rich in general. These points do not apply to everyone who is rich. At the same time, you don’t need to be rich to have the weaknesses addressed in this passage.
Be not highminded, or proud. Too often, being rich means being better than others, or in a loftier station in life. Yet at death the Vanderbilts of this life will lie in the same earth as the paupers.
Don’t trust in uncertain riches. God can do what wealth cannot. The rich may think of a monetary solution before thinking of asking God for his plan. This is the one who trusts in riches more than God. Also, we misplaced trust in riches when we hope that our much giving will manipulate God or make him favor us more. Only faith in Jesus gives righteousness, not trust in riches.
Be rich in good works. One of the reasons for being rich is to get to enjoy the things you want to do. That’s not a kingdom-minded person. Being rich in good works implies having a heart of compassion to others – which money does not endow.
Ready to distribute. Why does God prosper us? That he may bless others through us.
Willing to communicate. The rich are too busy with their various forms of enjoyments and amusements to fellowship with the body of Christ.
What Do You Think?
a. Jesus said that a poor widow putting in all she had had put in more than those who tithed their sacks of money. What does this tell you about the relationship between money and character before God?
b. How rich to you have to be to see the above faults in yourself?