A Biblical View of Wealth

I Timothy 6 is a chapter that has much to say about how the Christian should view money, wealth, riches, prosperity, etc. In a word, ambivalently. Let me first quote the relevant passages:

I Timothy 6:6-11“But godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evils, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”

I Timothy 6:17-19“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

So, on the one hand, it is God who “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (cf. Deuteronomy 8:18; I Chronicles 29:11-16)). Any good thing, any wealth, comes from His hand as a good gift, and the rich should enjoy their wealth. They should not feel bad, or made to feel bad by others, about enjoying what God has blessed them with.

On the other hand, those who have material prosperity are 1) not to look down on those who do not have material prosperity; 2) not to fix their hope on their riches (which are so uncertain); 3) to fix their hope on the giver of good gifts; 4) to give their money and time away, so that they may store up treasure where it counts and take hold of life indeed; AND those who do not have material prosperity 1) are to be content with their lack; 2) are to heed the warnings about desiring to become rich; and 3) are to search their heart – what do you love? what do you long for? what are your pursuing?

Several questions I have about this text, and would ask of commentaries: “The concept of “want to get rich” is very relative; is it equivalent to “want to make more money than you currently have”? Is Paul forbidding categorically the desire to make more money than you currently have? Couldn’t there be a situation in which one wanted to get rich in order to be more able to give generously, or in which one wanted to get rich who did not at the same time harbor a love for money in his breast?” Perhaps that is giving fallen man way too much; perhaps that man doesn’t exist ever. Or perhaps Paul’s warning are just that – be very, very, very careful as you approach money, for it leads to temptation, traps, foolish desires. You may or may not succumb to the temptation, since indeed it is only “some” who by longing for money wander away from the faith – but is it worth the risk? Do you want to risk your soul for material prosperity?

Better to enjoy what God has given you, do whatever you hand finds to do with all your might, and if God chooses to bless you with more than you currently have, ascribe the blessing to Him, and follow the injunctions of I Tim. 6:17-19 (which injunction you should follow no matter how much you have, because even if you have a little, relatively speaking, you have much more than the vast majority of folks not living in America). In all labor there is profit (Prov. 14:23), and the hand of the diligent makes rich (Prov. 10:4), and the laborer is worthy of his wage (I Tim. 5:18) – so don’t feel bad if you work hard and the Lord blesses you with material prosperity. If you are living to get rich, you’re in trouble; if you are living for the glory of God, rather than money, you may get rich or you may not. Either way, your calling is clear.



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