Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


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Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

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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)


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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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