The Oxford English Dictionary gives six definitions to the word “rich.” Interestingly, only one of those refers to money, where it defines it as “having a great deal of money or assets; wealthy.”
Much of our world revolves around this kind of rich. There’s no situation, event, or moment that is untouched by money and the pursuit of it. Money isn’t a bad thing, neither is it avoidable. Even medieval monks, withdrawn from the society, used money. After all, a monastery won’t build itself.
Hebrews 11 calls us “foreigners and strangers” on the earth, who long for a heavenly kingdom. Part of being a new creation means changing our minds about the things that we had previously accepted, rejecting the gospel of the world for the Gospel of Heaven.
So, if the pursuit of prosperity is the agenda of people who are not following Jesus, what does that mean for Christians? Should Christians be rich?
Let’s clear the first obstacle first; “Can you be a Christian and rich?” The short answer is “yes.” Citing the story of the rich young ruler, where Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” is not enough. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for ANYONE to enter the kingdom of God. It cost the blood of the Son of God to get you or I into the kingdom, whether we’re rich or poor. It is theologically possible to be a Christian and financially wealthy.
But, that’s not our question. Our question is, “Should a Christian be rich?” Prosperity preachers would tell us that financial blessing is proof we are Christians – that Jesus loves us and wants us rich and happy. The martyrs of Hebrews 11, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated, raise their eyebrows.
Paul encouraged Timothy that he should… “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant, nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
Paul didn’t tell the rich to stop being rich (his assumption was that there would be those in Timothy’s church who were wealthy), but he gives instruction for what being a Christian with wealth should look like. He commands (a strong word in our snowflake age of gentle encouragement and suggestion) that they give their money, that they share it, that they recognize its divine source, and that they refuse to allow it to be their “hope.” Be a rich Christian, just don’t be a stingy, rich Christian.
And yet, documented in bright red letters, Jesus looks at the crowd and plainly speaks… “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
That “Do not…” is pretty strong too. A great crowd of witness, monks, and saints, nod frantically at these words. So, should Christians be poor? Is money to be rejected, a trapping of the world that the Christian has no business accumulating?
Christians have often led the way in poverty relief. Helping the poor is central to Christianity. But, it’s hard to help the poor when you are the poor.
We start to reach maturity as humans when we are able to hold two ideas in tension. Should Christians have six figures in their banks accounts? Yes. Should Christians sell all they own and give it all to the poor? Yes. Should Christians be the most generous people in the world? Yes. Is financial blessing from God? Yes. Should Christians be completely content with having nothing? Yes … because we ultimately possess everything.