Is it Immoral to Be Wealthy?

Luke 12

13Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15Then he said, “Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

16And he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17In fact, his barns were full to overflowing.18So he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store everything. 19And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’

21“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago I saw the following tweet from Dave Ramsey who quoted and then commented on a statement from Larry Burkett.

If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s well known for teaching thousands, if not millions of people biblical principles for managing money, getting out of debt and building wealth.

Larry Burkett was Dave Ramsey before Dave Ramsey.  Burkett, founder of Crown Ministries, was one of the main voices teaching biblical money-management principles from the 1970’s through the 1990’s before his passing in 2003. Personally, I remember reading a number of Larry Burkett books in the early 1990’s that helped me get out of debt, stay out of debt and begin to save money that would become foundational for my future marriage and family.

Why do I bring this up? What’s the big deal about this tweet?

Actually, I only saw Dave Ramsey’s tweet because of a response to his tweet that showed up on my timeline.

In the response, the tweeter made the comment that he’s heard too many sermons that try to explain away passages like this by saying that it’s not wealth that is being condemned but it’s the motivation for that wealth that Jesus is condemning.

The problem, according to the tweeter, is that these Bible passages, like the one we’re looking at today, don’t talk about “attitude” but only mention the bigger barns and the tremendous wealth.

The implication is that Jesus was condemning great wealth and that building bigger barns is immoral. After all, that is what is stated in the story.

The responder had a follow-up tweet in which he stated that the challenge he was bringing up isn’t just a challenge for Ramsey but it’s a challenge for himself as well, because as a middle class American, he’s wealthy by global standards. Therefore, he is just like the fool who is building bigger barns.

Is this tweeter on to something? Is it true that Jesus was condemning great wealth?  Is it also true that if you are a middle class American, you too are a fool because you have great wealth by global standards? In short, Is it immoral to have wealth?

If Jesus is condemning wealth then he would be instituting a radical shift in understanding regarding what was taught and understood from the Bible regarding wealth.

Consider the following facts:

    • Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people. was quite wealthy, as were his sons Isaac and Jacob. It is clear that God blessed them and their wealth was God-ordained.
    • David too was wealthy, as was his son Solomon. In fact, God provided tremendous wealth for Solomon because he asked God for wisdom to guide his people instead of asking for wealth. God gave him what he asked for (wisdom) and threw in what he didn’t ask for (wealth) as a bonus.
    • Job was tremendously wealthy. In fact, the scriptures say he was the wealthiest man in the area. After he lost everything, God restored his wealth and gave him even more. Job is consistently described as righteous, despite his wealth, which is never condemned.

How do we reconcile the tremendous wealth of these great bible characters with this “new understanding” that Jesus is supposedly condemning great wealth?

A basic tenet of Bible study is that scripture interprets scripture. What that means, simply, is that our understanding of a passage must align with what is taught in other passages. Otherwise, we end up with the Bible contradicting itself, which would be quite problematic.

Given the fact that wealth in the Old Testament wasn’t condemned as immoral and that there are numerous examples of God Himself providing and blessing people with great wealth, it should be clear that Jesus must not be condemning wealth outright.

So what’s Jesus saying? What’s the point of His story.

If we take a closer look at the passage, it’s clear from the outset what the point of the story is. Jesus tells us plainly in verse 15 when he says:

“Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

What Jesus is condemning is greed, which is clearly sin. Jesus’ example uses a rich man who decides to tear down his barns and build bigger barns because otherwise, he would not be able to store all the crops that his fields are producing. Because Jesus’ example involved a “rich” man, one might conclude that Jesus must be against the rich. But that’s not the case.

Jesus defines what is foolish in verse 21 when He says:

“a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

What makes a person a fool is being greedy, which leads to an attitude of always wanting and needing more. This is why the rich man felt the need to build bigger barns.

It’s also clear from this passage that another aspect of being a fool is NOT having a rich relationship with God.

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that people are foolish when they are not content with what they have. Greed is not just a problem for people with money. Anyone can be greedy. Conversely, just because a person has wealth doesn’t mean they are greedy.

Greed is sinful because we seek to gain satisfaction and significance from material possessions instead of from our relationship with God. This is what Jesus is condemning.

We need to be very careful not to assume or project our motives onto others, particularly those who are wealthy. It’s become fashionable lately to malign those who have great wealth and condemn them as greedy.

The problem is that we cannot really know the inner motives of those who have an abundance of material resources. They “may” be greedy or they may not be.

The irony is that when we assume that those who have much are greedy and when we call for them to stripped of what they have so that it can be redistributed to others who don’t have as much, it actually demonstrates our own envy and sinful desires.

Wealth is not immoral. Greed is. Wealth is just a tool that can be used for good by those who are generous or it can be used for evil by those who are greedy.

Lastly, God Himself owns everything. He’s the wealthiest person in existence. The fact that He owns everything does not make Him selfish or greedy or immoral. He is none of those things. Instead, He’s extremely generous.

As believers, we should not be consumed with those who have more than us. We should be content with what we have and if we are blessed by God with much, we should be generous, just as God is.

Reflection

What has been your attitude towards people who are wealthy? What about people who have extreme wealth, such as billionaires? What has been your attitude towards their wealth?

What are some examples in your own life when you’ve been envious of others? What are some examples of greed in your own life?  How can you combat these attitudes and cultivate an attitude of generosity?

Do you agree with the tweeter or this author regarding how God views wealth? How does your view align with what the rest of Scripture teaches about wealth?

Why do you think so many people nowadays are attacking those who are rich and seeking to redistribute their wealth to others? What do you think are the reasons and motivations? 

 

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