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.

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