Is It a Sin to Be Rich?

I’ve seen some sentiment recently “shaming” rich people. One said that the category of billionaires should not be allowed to exist because no one should have that much more money than anyone else.

Is it a sin to be rich? The Bible has much more to say about the subject than can be contained in one blog post, but here are a few thoughts.

Some of the patriarchs were rich: Abraham, Job, David, Solomon. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man who took Jesus’ body from the cross and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57). There were also bad people in the Bible who were rich: Nabal in the Old Testament and the rich man at whose gate Lazarus stayed (Luke 16) as well as others. So just the fact of having riches doesn’t indicate whether one is good or bad.

Problems and dangers of riches

There are some who gain riches unjustly, and they are certainly wrong, grasping for more than God intended for them and oppressing others to do so. Some put all rich people in this category, but not all fit.

Yet God does warn that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Notice it doesn’t say money is the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money is.

There are certainly dangers to being rich. One of the worst is trusting riches instead of God.

See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction! Psalm 52:7

  If riches increase, set not your heart on them. Psalm 62:10b

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:28

Another danger is that “the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God from taking root in the soul (Matthew 13:18-23). Jeremiah told Jehoiakim:  “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen’” (Jeremiah 22:21). Jesus warned “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He told of a rich man who increased in goods and built bigger barns but neglected his soul, concluding:

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:13-21).

Jesus told His disciples:

Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Lady Selina Shirley Huntingdon used to say she was “saved by an M,” pointing out that 1 Corinthians 1:26 did not say “not any noble,” but rather that “not many noble” after the flesh are called. She rejoiced to be counted among those called and used her wealth and influence to further the cause of Christ.

Not all rich people are oppressive, but the Bible warns those who are:

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. Proverbs 22:16

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool. Jeremiah 17:11 (see also Micah 6:10-16).

Righteous poor are better than evil rich:

Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked (Psalm 37:16).

Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice (Proverbs 16:8).

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6

Riches are not reliable. The Bible warns in many places of the fleeting, temporary nature of riches (James 1:9-11). Proverbs 23:4-5 says of wealth: “suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Right perspectives

In Psalm 73, Asaph is troubled over the prosperity of the wicked until he goes to the sanctuary and is reminded of their end. He encourages himself that God is with him and will take care of him.

David had the right perspective in 1 Chronicles 29. The people had just given tremendously toward the building of the temple. Overwhelmed and grateful, David prayed, “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all” (verse 12). He went on to say, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (verse 14). He acknowledged that everything he had came from God and was His in the first place.We’re only stewards of what God has entrusted us with.

Both riches and poverty have their own problems and temptations. I have often felt like Agur in Proverbs 30: 7-9, desiring to be somewhere between the two:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Jeremiah 9:22-24 clarifies: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”

After Timothy warns about the love of money, mentioned above, he says a few verses later:

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. 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).

He also encourages contentment: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

James warns against partiality towards the rich (James 2:1-13) and has harsh words for those who “have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (James 5:1-6).

On the other hand we have the “prosperity gospel,” which promises believers that God will shower His followers with riches. Those who preach and follow this somehow miss all that the Bible says about trials, persecutions, contentment, and warnings about riches. But that’s another post for another day.

I have no problem with the person at the top receiving more money. After all, if you received a promotion that called for more responsibility, would you be nearly as excited about it if you didn’t also receive more compensation? However, the CEO shouldn’t be living in luxury while the lowest workers are living in poverty.

Practically speaking, it’s often the rich who provide jobs and put money into the economy. In one article I saw, a man who had come from a rich family wanted to turn his back on the lifestyle. Among the things he wanted to do away with was the yacht industry. But what about all the people who work in that industry, who would lose their jobs if that industry shut down?

Some rich people also begin and sustain charities.

A Sunday School teacher once commented that God needs and uses people at all economic levels, all classes, all types, to reach those within their influence.Wealthy people have a platform as well as money, and many use that influence for good.

We’re all richer than someone. If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country, you know that most Americans seem rich by comparison. Before we condemn the rich and advocate stringent measures towards them, we need to stop and evaluate our own position.

Lawbreaking, corrupt rich should be taken to court, of course. But is being rich in itself a sin? It depends. We need to seek God’s wisdom for making the best use of the resources He has allowed. In Christian history, some, like Lady Huntingdon, have used their wealth and position to help others and further the gospel. Others, like missionary C. T. Studd, have given almost everything away. Our ultimate example is Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Not rich with worldly goods: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

We don’t need to worry that some have more than others. We’re all accountable to God for what we do with what He gave us. When we know Him, we can be content, trusting Him to supply our needs. We’re not to covet or envy what others have; we’re to be generous and giving towards others.

I like how the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14). If God gives us plenty, we can enjoy it, being careful to do what Timothy said above by being generous towards others. If God allows adversity, we lean on Him and learn what He has for us.

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