When reading the Bible, it can be easy to skip over the passages that are warnings to the rich. After all, we aren’t rich compared to who we know, so it doesn’t apply to us. However, living in a very wealthy society, means we are using the wrong measuring stick to determine if we are wealthy.
This post looks at what being rich actually is, what the Bible says about being wealthy and some practical points for you to consider.
Defining Who Is Rich
Defining how much someone needs to be considered rich can be difficult. It all comes down to who you compare yourself to. For example, when we compare ourselves to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, we would not be considered rich. However, that is not really an accurate comparison.
Perhaps a better way to define being rich is to look at what being poor is. This is much more easily quantifiable, and can provide a better picture of what being wealthy really looks like.
Every year the US government calculates the US poverty line. If your income is below the poverty line you are poor and qualify for government benefits. If your income is above the poverty line, you are not considered poor, and do not receive much, if any, government benefits. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a family of four making $30,000 or less In 2023 would be considered living in poverty.
However, comparing ourselves to others in the US is a bit problematic for two reasons. First, the US has a fairly small population compared to the rest of the world. As of 2023, there are approximately 7.9 billion people living on Earth, and only 334 million people live in the US (approximately 4.2% of the world’s population). Second, we are much wealthier than most other countries in the world. In fact, depending on what measure you use, the US could be the wealthiest nation that has ever existed on Earth.
If we compare ourselves with the rest of the world, we have a more realistic understanding of our situation. Using the same family of 4 making $30,000 a year, according to the World Bank that family would make more than 93.5% of the world’s population. The poor in the US are better off than the bulk of the world’s population financially speaking.
Here are a few more sobering statistics from the World Bank:
- in 2019 648 million people (8% of the world population) lived on less than $785 a year ($2.15 per day)
- in 2020 over 3 billion people lived on less than $2,500 a year ($6.85 a day)
- in 2019 4.5 billion people (59% of the world population) lived on less than $3,650 a year ($10 a day)
Whether you want to admit it or not, if you are an American reading this post, you are rich. This fact should have implications on how we live our lives.
Why Does It Matter If I Am Rich?
The Bible does not condemn wealth, but clearly warns us of the risks. These warnings are meant for us.
Here are several to consider:
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
You either love God or you love money. If you love money, it is idolatry.
Depend Upon God
Proverbs 11:28 “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.”
In Matthew 19:24 Jesus said “Again I tell you, 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.”
A rich person needs to be very careful not to put their faith in their wealth, but in God. Wealth gives us a false sense of control and makes it harder for our hearts to be truly dependent upon God. Ultimately, our wealth will let us down, but God never will.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
How we acquire and use wealth matters. If we are stealing from others, treating others unjustly or living in luxury there will be consequences.
1 Timothy 6:17 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
Being haughty means being prideful. A wealthy person can think that they brought about their wealth, and look down on others. If you are wealthy that is an expression of God’s grace and mercy in your life, not the result of your own doing (Deuteronomy 6:10-15). Live humbly in light of that truth.
Wealth is Deceitful
Matthew 13:22 “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
Wealth appears to be the answer for all our problems. It can certainly make life on Earth more comfortable, but it can deaden our hearts to the Gospel.
Gateway For Other Sins
1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Money is never condemned in the Bible, but the love of money is. When we allow it to take hold in our lives, it leads to many other types of sins.
We Will Be Held Accountable
Luke 12:48 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
In Luke 12:35-48 Jesus reminds us that we need to be faithful to do what the Lord wants us to do. Someday we will face the Lord and give an account for how we handled the wealth entrusted to us.
What Is My Response?
If God has blessed you financially, it is for a reason. It is not so you can use it all on yourself. He expects you to share the surplus He has provided with others. The only way to stop wealth from turning into idolatry is to hold it loosely. Giving it away to help others loosens the hold of money on our lives and allows us to focus our worship on God alone.
As 1 Timothy 6:18-19 says “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 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.”
What does this really look like? In addition to tithing (giving at least 10% to your local church), there are three main areas that the Bible encourages Christians to give towards:
1. Provide For Fellow Believers In Need
When you look at the early church in Acts 4:32-37, you see that Christians were eager to share their wealth with others in need in the fledgling church. This was a totally foreign concept at that time (and still is today), and had a profound impact on the unsaved world around them.
I John 3:16-19 says “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.”
A true sign of being a Christian is meeting the needs of fellow Christians. When we don’t share what God has provided to meet the needs of His people, the Gospel is not being lived out. It is not attractive to the lost around us. After all, we are just living like everyone else.
When the people of God’s church share freely with one another, it is unusual, and very attractive to the lost. We live in a selfish world. When someone lives unselfishly, it stands out.
2. Provide For The Poor
One of the main themes of the Bible is God’s loving care for the poor. He consistently calls His people to care for the poor. There are many passages that cover this, so I will only give a couple here:
Deuteronomy 15:10-11 “You shall give to him [the poor] freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
Isaiah 58:7 “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Luke 14:12-14 “He [Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Caring for the poor is a mark of a Christian. Though as Jesus noted in Matthew 26:11 there will always be poor people, we need to do our part to help them. However, we need to be careful to not just feed them physically, but also provide them food that will never perish, the Gospel.
3. Spread Of The Gospel
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus lays out the responsibility for all Christians: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We can’t all physically go to each person on the planet and share the Gospel, but we can support others who are doing so.
Sadly, according to the Joshua Project American Christians only give 1.7% of their income each year to any type of Christian ministry. Of that amount, 5.8% goes to foreign missions. Of that 5.8%, only 1.7% goes to people who have never heard the Gospel (unreached peoples). The Joshua Project notes that the average American spends more on Halloween costumes for their pets than American Christians do on supporting ministries reaching unreached peoples with the Gospel.
Here are a couple of other sad statistics from the Joshua Project:
- For every dollar of giving done by Christians, less than one penny goes to planting churches among unreached peoples.
- There is one missionary for every 7 million people in the neediest unreached people groups.
When you look at your giving, how much is going to support work in areas who already have the Gospel? How much is going towards those who have never heard the Gospel?
Throughout history wealthy Christians have struggled with how to handle their wealth. Some gave it all away and lived like an ascetic, while others hoarded their wealth and used it for their own selfish ends. Like most things in the Christian life, balance is key. God has provided wealth to meet your needs, but also to share freely with others. It is a test to see if you will value God more than money.
Money and how we use it is a barometer of what we truly believe about God. What does your use of money say about your view of God?
Points To Consider
- Is our comfort and security more important than the needs around us?
- Money is either the goal of our lives or a tool
- There is no formula on how or where to give, but we are to be intentional
- Our use of money reflects our heart priorities