Which is More Godly: Poverty or Riches?

by Joe Plemon on February 12, 2010

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Symic

Some say that poverty equals Godliness while others insist that God wants all Christians to be rolling in riches. Is either extreme right or is the truth somewhere in the middle? Let’s dig in:

Does poverty produce Godliness?

If it did, the bible would surely record numerous instances of God stripping wealth from the rich so they will start loving him. This never happens in scripture because poor people are no more spiritual than rich people. Some might site the case of Job losing his wealth, but Job was already upright and blameless BEFORE losing everything. Therefore, when God allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth, it wasn’t to make him spiritual, but to test him. And God certainly wouldn’t have restored Job’s wealth twofold if poverty was essential for Godliness.

So does God want all Christians to be wealthy?

This one takes a little more explanation, so let’s set some parameters.

It all belongs to God; Christians are property managers.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell." Psalms 24:1 God owns planet Earth, the solar system, the galaxy and the universe. If it all belongs to God, then none of it belongs to us. Yes, he allows us to manage his assets, but managing another’s property is not the same as owning our own property. If we define “Christian wealth" as owning lots of stuff, we have created an oxymoron. Any proper discussion of Christian wealth must therefore be framed in the context of how much of God’s assets he trusts us with.

OK. Let’s rephrase the question. Does God want all Christians to manage lots of His money?

That’s better. I don’t think so, but I do think that if we do a good job of managing what he gives us, he will expect us to manage more. Let’s dig some more.

Parable of the Talents and Christian Wealth

The story (Mat 25:14-30) starts with the owner entrusting his money to three servants and ends with two of the three even wealthier and the third one broke. The first two, who clearly understood they were responsible for the master’s money, wisely invested it and were rewarded. The third one buried the master’s money and was punished.

This parable teaches that when Christians prove themselves to be responsible with our Lord’s money, he will reward us with more money and more responsibility. Does it teach that all Christians will be managing large portfolios? Not at all. Even the two responsible servants in the parable were not rewarded equally. Some will manage little, some will manage much. All Christians are not gifted with good management skills.

The gift of generosity is not for all.

One of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 is the gift of generosity (Rom 12:8). The implication is that God would not expect someone to be generous unless he was also gifted at building wealth. God’s children are diverse. Not all have the same gifts. Therefore, we can expect that those who are gifted at generosity will manage more money than those who aren’t.

Should we desire more wealth?

We learn from the parable of the talents that God will give more wealth to those who are responsible with what they already have. But should we desire more? Perhaps, especially if you are gifted with generosity. However, because of our propensity to sin, more wealth could undo many of us. Personally, I like the attitude of wise Solomon, who prayed “…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. (Prov 30:8-9)

Summary

There is much confusion in the world about the place of money in a Christian’s life. Some seem to think that poverty is virtuous, while others preach that Christians should expect great wealth. Both views seem to forget the perspective that Christians are property managers for God’s assets. The poverty view wilts when one understands that God owns everything. But great wealth for all Christians isn’t a logical conclusion either because not all Christians are gifted with management skills, nor are all Christians mature enough to be responsible with huge assets. While God does reward those who prove themselves to be responsible money managers, I would be cautious about asking for more riches.

I like the balanced approach Solomon used: he knew that extreme riches or extreme poverty could lead him from God, so he wanted neither.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Williams February 12, 2010 at 9:45 am

From what I read in 1 John 3:17, I find it hard to believe that not all Christians have the gift of generosity (or that it shouldn’t be expected of all Christians). It says:

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him?” 1 John 3:17 (WEB)

If the love of God does not dwell in us, are we truly following Him? And it seems clear from this verse, among others, that God’s love will move us to sacrificial generosity out of compassion for the needy.

I just think it’s dangerous to think that not all Christians are called to generosity. After the extreme generosity God has shown us, how can our response be any different?

But your post is very good just the same. I, too, like the quote from Proverbs 30. When combined with Jesus example for prayer, those verses clearly show why praying for a huge house and fancy cars probably isn’t within God’s will.

Reply

joeplemon February 12, 2010 at 10:52 am

Paul,

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Yes, all Christians, as you said, are called to be generous. I John 3:17 certainly makes it clear. While it sounds like I am splitting hairs, I see a difference between being called to generosity and being gifted with generosity. I believe those who are GIFTED at generosity have received a special ability from God to be generous.

In the discussion of whether all Christians should desire great wealth, I said in my post, “we can expect that those who are gifted at generosity will manage more money than those who aren’t”. My logic is that those who are so gifted will keep a better perspective of what the wealth is for, while most of us probably wouldn’t.

My conclusion remains that not all Christians should desire great wealth. Great wealth is a blessing to those who are able to keep the proper perspective of ownership, but could be a curse to those who lose that perspective.

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Paul Williams February 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

Ah, I see what you mean now, Joe. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Your explanation makes it much clearer. It’s still good to discuss though.

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joeplemon February 12, 2010 at 11:44 am

Paul,

Thanks for pointing it out. If it wasn’t clear to you, it probably wasn’t clear to other readers. This discussion helps!

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FinancialBondage.org February 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

God is not against riches. He just does not want us seeking riches instead of him. Of course if we are poor, we certainly can not help others financially.

I like proverbs 30:8-9

Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?"
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name

Reply

joeplemon February 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Financial Bondage,
Your words summed it up well: “He does not want us seeking riches instead of him”.

And yes, Proverbs 30:8-9 are a great and insightful commentary on the dangers of either too much wealth or too much poverty.

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Deacon Bradley February 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Great post Joe! I especially like this observation: “Some seem to think that poverty is virtuous, while others preach that Christians should expect great wealth. Both views seem to forget the perspective that Christians are property managers for God’s assets.” Maintaining the focus that we are stewards has improved so many of my attitudes about money (generosity, management, giving, etc.).

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joeplemon February 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Deacon,
Yes, I believe that single perspective is the absolute starting point for understanding personal finance from a Christian viewpoint. Knowing that I am partnering with God is a huge concept; easy to understand but also easy to forget in day to day living. I hope to get it so deeply entrenched that it will become second nature in me no matter what happens around me.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Stop by anytime!

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Joe M January 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I do not think it is possible to measure “Godliness” by the size or lack of a bank account. But let us not play the part of what the Bible regards so many times as the “fool”.

Who’s will are we led by? What are we willing to sacrifice in our life to surrender to God?

I say without a doubt that any rich man who finds God’s calling and does not ignore it will GIVE UP the wealth? Jesus told us plainly how difficult it would be for a rich man to inherit the Kingdom. He said it is impossible. It does not matter what other scriptures you attempt to use to justify worldly wealth. All that matters is what Jesus told us and showed us.

Look around you. See what worldly wealth does to the people of the world? One man becomes rich. He wants more. And he exploits and manipulates as many as he can to get more. He wheels and deals with other rich men. You end up with corporate evil and politics. Money cannot be present in stacks without nurturing greed. NO MAN IS ABOVE IT. And it is the sole reason why we are living in such a Godless society. It helps remove the focus upon God and creates atheists. People not only have forgotten the Truth. But it is deeply hidden in the ways of the world. One would have to personally seek the Truth diligently to find it. Rich men hide the Truth because they know it would liberate people from their chains. People would become less material and more spiritual. Thus, needing far less wealth to survive and be happy.

The popular concept of God that we find in churches is a diluted form of the Truth, designed to tolerate worldly ways. It promotes pride and vanity. It allows a status quo amongst the masses of fools who blindly follow a half-god life. Pastors are misleading crowds and causing them to simply “love” and not sacrifice anything at all. Jesus did not tell people to stop sinning, just so He could go die on a cross and eat His words. He made it clear that He came to change nothing in the practical sense. When He took up for the prostitute, He didn’t excuse her lifestyle choice. He forgave her. But He also told her to SIN NO MORE. We are to live as Godly people because our spiritual state is important to God. To live like Catholics, committing endless Sin and hanging out in confessional booths is of pure worldly deception. Trickery. And they are among the wealthiest of the religious.

I speak of personal perspective in my own life. I have seen my own poverty and also had money. And I have also seen what money does to all those around me. Money is only good for getting rid of, not keeping it. The fact is, there is NOTHING in this world that justifies having wealth for more than a single day. Why? Because the world is full of needy people. Any wealthy man who trusts the Will of God would spread ALL his wealth to those needy people in one shot. But we never see this happen. Because it does not. No rich man wants to be poor. And he will not be because a lot of money equals heavy temptation. If we are led by God’s Will, we will always do what is right. So, to not be led by the heavy temptation of money is IMPOSSIBLE. Hence the reason why it is important to not have a lot of it. It should only be around to fulfill a need. Anything more, it promotes evil. If you win the lottery, be prepared to spend it fast. And hope you do it using GOD’s Will and not your own.

If you think having a lot of money can get you salvation, you are deceiving yourself and others. Jesus had money. But He chose poverty. And that money went only for the needy.

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