Throughout history, there have been various different views on money and wealth. Some Christians have considered material possessions to be something dangerous that distracts people from God. And indeed, in Mark 10:17-31 there is the example of a rich man whose love for his possessions prevented him from following Jesus. And in 1 Timothy 6:9, the apostle Paul speaks about people whose desire for earthly treasures was so strong that they wandered away from God.
Others consider material wealth a proof of God’s blessing that may be enjoyed, or try to gain as much wealth as they can in order to help the needy. So what does the Bible actually say about this topic?
Wealth is a gift of God
God is the Creator of the universe, and everything ultimately belongs to Him. He rules the earth. This truth is expressed in 1 Chronicles 29:12. “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”.
We have the responsibility to provide for ourselves and our relatives if we can, by doing our daily work (1 Timothy 5:8; . We should not sit back and wait till God makes us rich. But we are dependent on God’s blessing: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). If we have received wealth and possessions, we are encouraged to enjoy them with a thankful heart. Being aware that our wealth is a gift of God, protects us against pride and arrogance.
Agur, a wise man whose words are transmitted to us in the book of Proverbs, considered it dangerous to have “too much”. He was afraid he would then forget about his dependence on the Lord. Therefore he asked God:
“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.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
The love of money can make us blind to the really important things
1 Timothy 6:7-8 warns us for the love of money. It says: “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content”. But why is it a problem to long for more? The answer is as simple as radical: “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).
The apostle Paul saw the consequences of trying to serve two masters among church members. People who longed to be rich fell into temptation, their desire for earthly treasures was so strong that they wandered away from God. And Paul knew for sure that losing connection with God would lead to their “ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Therefore he says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Not because the money in itself is something bad, but because the longing for money distracts our hearts from something more important. The desire to become rich can tempt us to compromise on ethical standards, or it takes up all the time and energy that we would otherwise spend on serving God.
God does not promise his servants material prosperity
Some people think that serving the Lord will automatically lead to material prosperity here and now. But Jesus nowhere promises that this will be the case. Sure, there are many examples of people who received material blessings. God is able to give us anything. Yet, Biblical blessing is primarily focused on the relationship one has with God. Spiritual blessings are far more important than money, gold or silver.
Nevertheless, Jesus promises us that He will “repay” us for everything we give up for His sake. Both family relationships and material possessions can suffer from our devotion to the Lord. Think of missionaries who leave their loved ones to spread the Gospel elsewhere. Or think of believers who are persecuted for their faith. The costs of faithful discipleship can be high! But Jesus assures us that it’s all worth it. His children will inherit eternal life and receive “a hundredfold” of all they sacrificed for Jesus’ sake.
We should use our money to promote righteousness
Money brings power. All over the world, politicians and officials take bribes. Poor people are exploited by their moneylenders, since these exact huge interests. God condemns these practices. He even forbids the Israelites to exact interest from others: “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.” (Exodus 22:25).
This commandment does not automatically apply to the system of capitalistic investments where people borrow money from a bank to set up a business or to invest in expensive machinery, for example. This can be a valid business model that has nothing to do with exploitation. God’s commandment is about people who are poor and who need the money to cover their basic needs.
An example is found in Nehemiah 5, where poor Jews were exploited by their brothers. Their situation was really bad: they were mortgaging their fields, their vineyards, and their houses, and some even had to sell their children as slaves to get some food. Nehemiah exhorted the rich to stop these practices and to give back what they had been demanding.
Generosity is highly valued in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 6:18, affluent people are exhorted “to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”. The Bible does not require us to give a certain percentage of our possessions to the poor, but the whole Bible makes clear that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Being rich in God
Material wealth is not the most important thing on earth. Jesus points us to something better, which He calls “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). The apostle Peter describes this as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). The most glorious “treasure” is knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. In comparison to Him, everything else is worthless.
Material wealth ultimately can’t fulfill us, and certainly does not maintain its value after our physical death. We can’t take it with us when we die. (And we don’t need to, actually, since in the new Jerusalem even the streets will be pure gold, see Revelation 21:21). But the blessings of eternal life and the “treasures in heaven” will last forever.