Let's All Get Rich

Christians hate, love, and need money. On one hand, I see people like David Platt say that a 10% tithe should be a minimum requirement of God's people (see, The Basic Bible Podcast #4 for my opinion of this). Platt has also been known to encourage his church and the congregants to cut down on budget spending so that more money can go to missions. On the other hand, we have claimed Christian institutions that are based entirely on extracting resources from the followers of a particular ministry in exchange for promised healing and other miraculous giftings (I'm looking at you, David E Taylor).

Platt is concerned with the use of resources for gospel proclamation at the expense of personal wealth as seen in his interview on the Elephant Room with James Macdonald. In the interview, Platt talks about cutting the budget for the kid's ministry snack fund to save money for church operation. Platt in some sense echos the fundamentalism that you see throughout Christendom that emphasizes the benefit of poverty and the dangers of wealth. I don't know Platt, but I have seen some of his ideas manifest themselves in dangerous ways when not examined through the right lens, primarily in the idea that personal wealth is wrong. In fact, I argue for the complete opposite, you NEED personal wealth, but that wealth needs to be rightly guided.

So although I am using Platt as an example here, I think he would agree with my argument, and I hope that at the end of this we will all have a better understanding of how personal wealth should be viewed.

What Does The Bible Say About Personal Wealth?

Here are two examples that portray the dichotomy of the biblical perspective on personal wealth.

Mark 10:25

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God"

Proverbs 13:22

"A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children,

but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous."

With the consideration of the listed verses, we see a couple of conflicts. In one instance we have Jesus Christ saying that it is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven. In another instance the author of Proverbs 13 associates moral character with the accumulation of wealth (to the degree of multi-generational impact).

Does The Bible Contradict Itself On How One Should Interact With Money?

Proverbs 13:22

Is there a clear contradiction here? I do not think so. Looking first at Proverbs 13:22, we need to understand what the author was attempting to communicate. In v. 18, poverty is attributed to the one who ignores instruction while the one who is willing to take criticism is honored. In v. 20 the development of further wisdom comes from association with the wise while those who are friends with fools suffer harm. Repeatedly there is a contrasting between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise and the unwise, and in v. 20, the good man and the sinner.

During this period in Israel, the distribution of inheritance was seen as a blessing from God and a manifestation of compounded goodness, for instance, Proverbs 11:25 explains that the person who brings blessing to other people will be blessed. The process of passing on inheritance was the blessing of many generations and in some sense was a moral act and gift from God.

In the New Testament, what is associated with storing up treasures in heaven? Moral action! You devote yourself to God, moral action comes with being saved, and you thus store for yourself treasures in heaven through your manifest moral action. The contrasting nature of the good man blessing his family while the sinner has what he gained passed on to the righteous makes the storing up of wealth a moral good and ultimately shows that the distribution of the blessing of inheritance is determined by God. The author here seems to be communicating that when one is aligned with God, the storing and distribution of wealth is a moral good.

Mark 10:25

I do not think that Jesus in Mark 10:25 is speaking against the principle of personal wealth when gained for family sustainability and moral good. Rather it seems that Jesus wants to communicate to the godless person who is consumed by material gain and has devoted himself to material gain as a end in itself that he is enslaved and incapable of receiving any spiritual benefit from his wealth. Paul seems to communicate the same in 1 Timothy 6:17 where he accredits God with the building of wealth which follows 1 Tim 6:9–10 where he warns against those who love money.

Coming back to Mark 10:25 the resolution to this apparent conflict is in vv. 26–27. The apostles hear the scenario offered by Jesus and respond by asking: “who can be saved?” Jesus responds by showing that there is nothing that humans can do to earn a place in the kingdom of heaven but that only God can bring one into salvation. During first century judaism, rich Jews were able to pay for more sacrifices and thus in the eyes of Jewish tradition, would have the most likely to be brought into the kingdom of God. Jesus puts a stop to this notion and shows that being rich carries no leverage and that God is the means by which salvation is brought.