“As Christians, we should think about making money the same way we think about going to the bathroom,” my acquaintance explained as he took another sip of his expensive coffee.
His comparison of money-making to defecating had come about because my acquaintance had given a lecture the the week before about how Christians who desire to make money as a result of their careers are ignoring the higher call of ministry. When I and a few others raised some questions about this perspective, he asked me to meet with him individually a few days later to more clearly explain his thoughts regarding wealth.
I learned then that one of his primary convictions it that it is sinful for a Christian to pursue wealth. To him, the pursuit of wealth is a worldly activity which is inherently sinful and should be rejected by everyone at all times. But, as I and others were trying to ask him, is that really what the Bible teaches? Are all human desires to earn wealth inherently sinful? I don’t believe so. In light of biblical teaching about wealth, I believe there are essentially three possible attitudes towards the activity of earning wealth:
1. The first, and most warned against in the Bible, is an idolatrous attitude.
2. The second is Pharisaic, or religious in the negative sense.
3. And the third is a redeemed attitude. I'll explain the spiritual underpinnings and implications of each of below.
The idolatrous attitude embraces the desires for worldly success and wealth without restraint or recognition of God's ultimate authority. This attitude is most clearly and emphatically warned against throughout scripture perhaps because of the powerful allure of materialism. Jesus warns listeners in Matthew 6:24: "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 The cannot serve God and money."
If we let wealth become our Master, we will be devoted to money instead of God. Jesus goes on to say that the love of money will cause us to hate God. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul warns Timothy:
"But 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."
This warning further illustrates the danger of unbridled desire for wealth. The passage tells us that the love of money causes many kinds of evil including pulling us away from God and into destruction. Lastly, we see Jesus warn a rich young ruler about the destructive power of wealth in Mark 10:21-27.
"And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
In this sobering passage, we have a clear example of a man who idolizes his wealth. We see his idolatry clearly when he chooses to cling to his wealth and possessions rather than obey Jesus’ specific command to him to ‘sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow.’ The camel and needle example illustrates that wealth can pose a spiritual danger which may make it impossible for us to enter into the kingdom of God.
Christians must learn from these warnings that wealth can have a powerful and dangerous control over us, if we let it. We must soberly examine ourselves to see if our wealth, or anything else for that matter, has surpassed our love and devotion toward God. We can only serve one master, and if our master is not God, then we’re guilty of idolatry.
After reading these clear biblical warnings that we must avoid the idolizing wealth, it raises the question: how are we to do so? Because of the difficulty of the task, some Christians believe we must adopt a blanket denunciation of the pursuit of wealth. This approach is the opposite extreme of the idolatrous attitude. Christians who hold this perspective claim to reject all desires for success and wealth as sinful and idolatrous. The dangers of this perspective are more subtle but still extremely destructive.
At first glance, the Pharisaic view may appear to be right considering the many warnings in scripture about the potential for idolizing success and wealth. However this attitude goes beyond heeding the warnings of scripture and adds to the teaching of scripture by constructing extra-Biblical, man-made religious rules. Christians must be careful not to add our own biases to the warnings of scripture.
For example, in the same conversation I referenced earlier with my acquaintance, he made another telling statement. When I asked him if it was inherently sinful for a Christian to be successful, wealthy, and to have many worldly possessions, he didn’t directly answer the question—but he did tell me he believes it is always a sin for a Christian to own a multi-million-dollar home.
This might sound vaguely virtuous to some, but is it actually biblical? Does God use the value of your home as a measurement of your holiness or devotion to him? Creating arbitrary rules like this is a symptom of artificial religiosity. This strangely specific multi-million dollar house rule, common among those who oppose all acquisition of wealth by Christians, is another form of the Pharisaical hand-washing that Jesus condemns in Luke 11. Jesus disapproves of made-made rules and their façade of holiness because he knows that if we rely on human willpower for holiness, we will fall into a religiosity which, like idolatry, will not bring about the redemption and flourishing he desires for humanity. That's why it's important to understand that simply because wealth has the possibility to become an idol, that doesn’t mean we should go to the opposite extreme of rejecting all use and pursuit of the object. To do so is both unlivable and illogical for multiple reasons.
First and most obviously, it is impossible to completely reject the desire for wealth because we need wealth on a daily basis to supply ourselves, our families, and our communities with life’s basic necessities. Shortly before warning Timothy about the danger of idolizing wealth, Paul told him that "if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." A desire to provide necessities for one's family is therefore not only a godly desire, but a moral duty incumbent upon all Christians. We cannot desire to provide these necessities without desiring to first obtain wealth. Secondly, it is illogical to draw the conclusion that the proper biblical way to avoid idolatry is to reject all desires for potential idols. By following this logic, we would need to reject nearly all our desires (such as food, sex, and health) because they have the potential to become idols.
Rather than giving in to the idolatrous allure of wealth or regimenting ourselves into a Pharisaic life of rule-following, I believe Jesus wants us to have a redeemed attitude toward wealth. To have this redeemed attitude, we must first recognize where our attitudes have strayed from God’s will for us as it relates to our wealth, and then we must seek the redemption that only God can offer us through Christ.
Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
When we receive God’s mercy of salvation, we are set free from the destructiveness of idolatry and the bondage of man-made religiosity. We become transformed and empowered to live new lives. It is in this new life that everything we do, including our wealth-generation, is done as an act of worship to God.
Christians with a redeemed perspective don’t pursue wealth for the sake of pride or riches, and they don’t reject these desires for the sake of man-made religiosity. Rather, Christians with the redeemed attitude desire wealth for the sake of being good stewards of their God-given gifts and abilities. They leverage their wealth, career, relationships, and every other aspect of life for the sake of God’s kingdom and His purposes. They live their lives as acts of worship to bear fruit for God as good and faithful servants.
Jeff Schober is a guest contributor to Staseos. Jeff is the founder of Faith & Business MHK, a group of Christian business men and women who are passionate about helping one another live out their faith in the context of their everyday work.