Is it Really a Sin to Be Rich?

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“And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need” (Acts 4:34-35, The Message).

Luke’s account of the early church describes a group that shared everything and gave away anything extra to look after the poor around them. Does this mean that accumulating wealth is a sin? Are rich people rejecting the gospel?

Some Verses about Money

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul teaches that the rich should not be “haughty, nor [] set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 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” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

“No one 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” (Matthew 6:24).

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Some Monetary Implications

Simply referring to the verses above, Scripture makes at least three points:

1. Loving money is dangerous.

2. Money will not provide long-term happiness.

3. It is possible to be rich, wise, and godly.

There are many other points to derive from the verses above, of course, but starting with these, we see that having money is not sinful. The writer of Hebrews says that “love of money” is where a person gets into trouble.

And the writer of Ecclesiastes says if your satisfaction comes from money, you will soon become dissatisfied. Jesus warns about covetousness or jealousy: wanting what others have. Covetousness is a sin.

Whatever another person has, whether material or personal, we need to be happy for them instead of yearning for their privileges. The dissatisfaction Christ points to is a matter of life and death — life is not found there.

One can gain wealth wisely and slowly and regard wealth in a righteous way (Proverbs 13:11) when one’s eyes are fixed on Jesus.

A scholar at Bible Ref explains: “A person sincerely serving God will not organize their lives around the acquisition of wealth. Money, for a righteous person, is just another tool given by God to be used for His purposes.”

When we recognize that everything belongs to God, we view money as a means of doing God’s will, not as an indicator of superiority or entitlement.

The wealthy in Christ do not regard themselves as better than the poorer people around them. They are not “haughty” or “wise in [their] own sight” (Romans 12:16).

Joe Rigney wrote that “wealth is good, and wealth is dangerous.” He addresses the rich west — the United States particularly — with its love of possessions and how these become ultimate things.

Paul taught Timothy about “the rich in this present age,” which includes many ordinary householders today with their “houses, iPhones, blue jeans, minivans, central air-conditioning, central plumbing, access to medical care, Chinese food, comfortable tennis shoes. Even amid a pandemic, we’re still unfathomably wealthy compared to 99 percent of people in history, which means that Paul is speaking directly to us here.”

These trappings are not the problem; worshiping them and rejecting Christ is the problem.

Who Is Rich?

In the West, one tends to picture a billionaire with at least two homes, several cars, and servants. First World Countries perceive the West as rich.

The Greek word plousios means “wealthy, abounding in material resources” or “abundantly supplied.” When a person has enough and then some extra, whether monetarily or in terms of goods, friendship, talents, etc., he or she is wealthy.

Rigney lays out four purposes for wealth as assigned by Scripture. Firstly, he argues that God wants us to enjoy riches: “God lavishly gives us a gift. We receive it. We enjoy it with thanksgiving, acknowledging God as the Giver.”

Secondly, we are to do good works with our wealth. If someone needs food, shelter, clothing, or medical care, we are to provide it. The Message puts it this way: “Do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The third exhortation is like the second, except that the riches invoked are those of time or ability: “be rich in good works” (v. 18). Volunteer at a family center; offer English tuition to refugees; team up to renovate the home of a single parent. Babysit for a cash-strapped couple. Make meals for someone who has just lost her husband.

The fourth instruction is to share generously (v. 18). Invite someone to the table. Hand down clothes, toys, and bikes to the neighborhood’s next generation.

Riches From a Rich Heart

As he explores 1 Timothy 6, Rigney stresses, “The accent of this passage is on the generosity that overflows from our enjoyment.” But the reverse is also true: “How do we test whether we’re enjoying God’s gifts rightly? Answer: by our generosity.”

Generosity should flow from joy in the Lord, but also joy in the Lord will be demonstrated in our generosity.  “If wealth comes to us and we’re enjoying it, but it’s not spilling the banks and flooding the lives of others, then something has gone wrong in our souls.”

This is how a person knows whether riches have become a snare. The accumulation of wealth is a joy in itself with no other end. Riches are the idol one worships, but there is never enough. The riches in themselves do not satisfy; sharing is not a joyous opportunity but a fearful thing.

Here is one way that sin enters — when wealth becomes a person’s treasure, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

If one does not treasure Jesus, it is easy to turn material things into idols; that is, we look to them instead of worshiping Jesus and following his example. Enjoy Christ and give; give and experience more joy.

But there can be another snare: while giving money and time, and energy to help those less fortunate is an example of good works and can even be a testimony of faith, sin can still be at their root.

One must ask, “Why am I doing this?” Is it out of guilt? Is it out of pride? Or is it out of love for Jesus and for others? A heart that loves sees a need, is moved by that need, and seeks to meet it for the glory of God.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “Love” is not a wishy-washy thing; love is not “being nice” or “live and let live.”

A gospel-centered life wants to use wealth (time, money, talents) firstly in order to proclaim Christ and then also to serve others, producing a deep sense of satisfaction and peace.

We can look after our financial needs, and it is wise to do so, but if we can give from an honest desire to serve Jesus without regret, this is a righteous choice.

The Outcome of Generosity

Paul wrote that those who are generous are “storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). Wealth comes from the Lord; generous Christians want the world to know Him.

The rich in Christ know that their wealth is temporary and is not their entitlement. They choose to emulate the sacrificial nature of Christ’s impartial love.

But with a maturing Spirit, they learn to recognize that there is no shame in being well-off if they steward their resources well and use them prayerfully in the service of Christ and the service of others.

For further reading:

What Is the Meaning of Lazarus and the Rich Man?

How Did Jesus View Wealth and Poverty?

Does the Prosperity Gospel Seek God or Money?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/theyshane

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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