IS IT A SIN TO BE RICH?
By Rev. Ted Pike
4 Dec 13
Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
Jesus and New Testament writers are unsparing in their condemnation of the selfish rich. Yet present-day Pentecostal prosperity teachers say God wants us wealthy! Many Christians are confused. Medieval monks and ascetics taught that God required an oath of poverty. Today, many televangelists and mega-churches teach that people can enjoy great wealth as long as they tithe some to charity and God’s work. Who is right? This article will attempt to arrive at a Biblical and practical balance.
Many Scriptures are critical of the rich:
Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.(Luke 6:24)
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. (Mark 10:25)
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)
James 5:1 is scathing:
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. 5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. 6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
I Timothy 6:6 agrees:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.… 17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.
What are the riches the Bible denounces? They are an abundance of wealth gathered to oneself far above one’s personal needs -- wealth not intended to help relieve human suffering or assist God’s kingdom work. Such excess reveals the coldness and inhumanity of the unregenerate heart, which rarely wants to consider or be troubled by the sea of human need. The fundamental sin of the rich man lies not necessarily in possessing great abundance, but in not wanting to consider the need of his neighbor. Yet such coldness and inhumanity can exist in a relatively poor man. Jesus describes it in His contrast between the two ways a householder could respond to his neighbor's request for food late at night.
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? 7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. 8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. 9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Just as God is always open to the humble plea of anyone, so we are to be like the householder snugly tucked in bed surrounded by warmth and food who denies himself to respond to the needs of hurting humanity. We will not harden our hearts, just as God does not harden His. He expects us to seek out human need, partly because He wants to find out whether in practical terms we share His compassion.
In Mark 10:17 a very likable young rich man who had sincerely followed God’s law all his life came to Jesus asking how he might be sure of eternal life. Jesus said he must give up all that he had and give it to the poor and follow Jesus as his disciple. Does Jesus require this of everyone who has wealth?
He did not require it of Zacchaeus, a rich tax gatherer. Luke 19:1-10 tells the story:
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus allowed Zacchaeus to keep as much as necessary to generate new revenue to help the poor for the rest of his life. Christ’s terms of approval of Zacchaeus were contingent on lifelong obedience and continuance of the repentance and resolves at his conversion. He expects the same of us.
The account of Zacchaeus' radical change thus provides an exception to the impression that Jesus condemned all wealth. He did not condemn a rich man who used as much as possible of his capital for God’s missionary work, which includes helping the poor. He only condemned those who keep excessive wealth that serves no humanitarian or spiritual purpose. Jesus recognized that often it takes capital to do God’s spiritual and humanitarian work. Jesus never taught extremes of poverty as a necessary part of being His servant.
Certainly, in the Old Testament we find people of very great faith, such as Abraham, David, etc., who had great wealth. Christ’s new agenda in the age of grace focused on concentrating all resources in the early church toward getting the good news of the gospel out into a darkened world. The Book of Acts tells us that Barnabas, who was relatively wealthy, possessing houses and lands, sold everything and laid it at the apostles' feet.
With this in mind we may ask: If a billionaire gives $100 million to feed the poor, does he have God’s approval to enjoy the remaining $900 million himself? Absolutely not. Jesus wants everyone who wants to go to heaven to be a continuing missionary in their use of wealth. Just as the missionary in a pagan land is willing to live only on what is necessary for his personal needs and survival, so the wealthy must use as much of their wealth as is reasonable to do God’s work. They cannot sit on their wealth for self-indulgence or security apart from God, Who is our only security. Just as a poor man who trusts more in one dollar than in God is condemned, so also is the wealthy man who trusts in and is made confident by any amount of prosperity. The issue then is not how much you have but how much you are willing to devote to God’s work and consider yourself His fulltime missionary.
Is it a sin to be rich, to amass wealth with no intention of sharing it with the needy? Absolutely. Otherwise there is no meaning to the many Biblical denunciations of the wealthy. Truly, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than such a rich person to go to heaven. This leads to the question: What, in practical terms, should the wealthy do? How can the wealthy, possessing riches which have served no spiritual or humanitarian purpose, come into God’s favor? The answer is that, just as they are zealous to make diligent inquiry concerning new financial and material investments, so they should be in search of substantive human and spiritual need. This may not be simple, with tales of charity fraud abounding, but the rich are not daunted in search of the best business and financial investments. The task of finding legitimate need is well within their powers.
Scripture does provide a vital guideline. It says Christian donors should prioritize giving to the household of faith, to causes that bring the gospel to the spiritually as well as physically impoverished. (Gal. 6:10) Christian missions must advance ideas that further true Christianity and freedom-preserving values. (This excludes gifts to the anti-Christ state of Israel.) The free proclamation and practice of Christian values is increasingly threatened even on the local level in the United States and Canada. If we feed the poor yet lose the right to speak in evangelism, the poor will continue to exist and the Christian witness will not.
Today, Jewish supremacist-inspired, anti-Christian and pro-homosexual hate and bias crimes laws severely threaten free proclamation of the truth in America as well as Canada, the British Isles, Australia, and many other countries. Those who are wealthy and want to make best use of their gifts for the kingdom of God must consider the necessity not just of saving the poor from hunger but saving Christian freedom. They should be open to helping groups such as the National Prayer Network as it stands often virtually alone in publicly opposing the freedom-destroying social and legislative assaults of Jewish attack groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.
All too often, wealthy Christians only want to donate to non-controversial charities. Years ago the private secretary and assistant of a wealthy Christian entrepreneur told me her boss read my book Israel: Our Duty, Our Dilemma and was very impressed. Later, she told me his business was growing rapidly, now worth $200 million. I asked if he would consider a contribution to NPN’s unique opposition to the Jewish supremacist threat. She said that was out of the question, as he is a respectable Christian businessman. He could not take a chance on its becoming known that he had contributed to an organization critical of Jews and Israel.
Wealthy Christians are usually under the guidance of policies rather than being strategists with the Holy Spirit (as was Barnabas) concerning how their wealth might serve God and freedom. But if freedom is lost to a Marxist/Judaic one-world order, the wealth of the rich Christian will be confiscated and he will sit in the same prison cell with the poor.
Over 30 years I have addressed millions of readers and listeners, including the wealthy, attempting to save their freedom to amass even greater riches. Yet, to my knowledge, I have not heard from the rich in my request for subsistence in operating funds. It is time anti-Zionists of wealth heed Christ's warnings, lest they heap treasure unto themselves but allow those fighting on the front lines of defense of freedom to lose the battle for lack of supply.