I have heard it said that if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish somewhere else, you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy. When I think about this, I realize that, in a sense, I am wealthy.
Are there people who have more than me? Of course there are. Are there people who have less than me? Absolutely. Wealthy is a relative term. It all depends on whom we compare ourselves to. If you compare yourself to someone living in Beverly Hills, then you probably are not wealthy. But when compared to a mega-millionaire, perhaps someone in Beverly Hills would think she is not all that wealthy. And a mega-millionaire may not perceive himself as wealthy when compared to Bill Gates.
There is always someone with more. And there is always someone with less. But it is my belief the lowest American on the rung of our economic ladder would be considered rich in comparison to a good portion of humanity living in the rest of the world, especially in developing nations.
So whether we have more or whether we have less, how should we be living? What does the Bible have to say on the subject? We are told in 1 Timothy 6:17–18:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (NIV)
Three instructions are given in these verses for the person who has resources.
First, don’t be arrogant or put your ultimate hope in that wealth, because it is uncertain. Not only that, you can’t take it with you. I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul. That which is valuable on earth has no value in heaven, and often that which is undervalued on earth has maximum value in heaven.
Second, enjoy what God has given you. Notice we are not told to feel guilty about what we have. Sometimes people will suggest there is virtue in poverty, but the Bible doesn’t teach that. One story that is often cited is that of the rich young ruler. After an exchange with Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NIV). Sometimes people will refer to this story as though it were a prerequisite for being a Christian. But Jesus said this to only one man, only one time. And the reason he said it to that man in particular was that he was ruled by his possessions. This was proven by the fact that he was unwilling to give them up when Jesus told him to.
I am surprised at how often I hear the misquote, “Money is the root of all evil.” The Bible does not say this. What it does say is, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10 NIV, emphasis mine).
There is a difference. You can have a lot of money and not necessarily love it. Or, you can have very little money and love it a lot. It is not even how much you have; it is your attitude toward it. Money is neutral. It is not moral or immoral; it is amoral. The problem with wealth is not in having it. It is when it has you. It is how we get it, how we guard it and how we give it. It can be used for good or for bad.
The Bible tells us that God can and will bless a person, and that can include monetary blessing. However, I don’t subscribe to the teaching of some who say that God wants every Christian to be healthy, wealthy and have unlimited resources. Nor do I subscribe to the idea that God wants every believer to be impoverished. I know that God can bless a person materially. The pages of the Bible include believers who had resources in varying degrees, such as Abraham, David, Joseph of Arimathea and Barnabas, to name a few. God can bless Christians in this way. So if God has blessed you with things, go ahead and enjoy them.
Third, use your money to do good. You can tell a lot about a person’s spirituality by his or her giving – or lack thereof. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NIV). It has been said that we should give until it hurts, but Jesus taught that it should hurt when we cease to give. It is a real test of our faithfulness to God.
I find it interesting that the Bible tells us Jesus paid attention to what people did with their money. Mark 12:41 tells us, “Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. …” (NIV) He watched as wealthy people put in large amounts, and then he saw a widow drop in two small coins. He called his disciples over and told them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (verses 43–44 NIV). Jesus didn’t condemn the others, but he reserved his praise for this woman. It wasn’t a performance on her part; she simply carried out the act of giving. Jesus saw her give, and he sees when we give as well.
God will not be your debtor. Whatever you have given up for him has been duly noted by God himself. It is a blessing to give. Yet a lot of people have not yet discovered this blessing in their lives.