By Kelly-Jayne McGlynn, Crosswalk.com
Whether you have a lot of money or not, if you’re a Christian, you have probably wondered whether or not it is a sin to be rich.
I find myself asking this question whenever I am hoping to earn some extra money for something “superfluous,” like a nice shampoo or a vacation. Because of the culture we live in, and because of our misunderstanding of God’s plan for money, it’s so easy to feel guilty about wanting more.
Think about mainstream movies that you’ve watched. The mean girl in high school is always rich and spoiled. The superhero’s villain is always rich and devious. We expect all rich people to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
So, it makes sense that we wonder this question. But I think the guilt is a distraction from Satan. What if we changed our mindset to focus on God’s provision with our money, instead of just focusing on ourselves?
Is It a Sin to Be Rich?
I can assure you right off the bat that the answer is a solid no. Being rich is not sinful in itself. But with everything God gives us, it’s about what we do with it.
Hear me out on these three ways you can be confident that it is not a sin to be rich.
1. If It’s a Sin to Be Wealthy, You Might Already Be in Sin
If you’re reading this in the United States and are asking yourself this question, the thing is that you’re already considered rich by much of the rest of the world. One third of the world lives on less than $2 a day. So, a huge number of people in this world would point to you as wealthy, even if you’re living on $500 paycheck to paycheck. That’s still significantly more than much of the world. Wealth is very subjective, as this video aptly points out and shares additional wisdom.
This is not to guilt you, but more to relieve you. If you were living on two dollars a day, would you think that earning your current salary is sinful? Would you assume that everyone who earns as much as you do is automatically a wicked, selfish person?
Or would you have the perspective that you live within your means, take care of yourself and those around you the best you can, and have your heart set on God?
Your salary doesn’t determine this! Your heart does. And that wouldn’t change if you were living in the poorest country or the richest one.
So, I hope this perspective sets you free from the totem pole of comparison, and helps you to realize that it’s your heart that matters at the end of the day. This will be a theme throughout this article.
2. Other Biblical Characters Are Wealthy
Wealth equaling sin is incongruent with many of the biblical characters that we admire. Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism and Christianity, was very wealthy: “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold,” (Genesis 13:2).
His son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob, were both rich by their standards as well.
Job was wealthy, and it was not because of this that he was tested by Satan.
In the New Testament, we meet many wealthy Christians in the book of Acts. For example, Lydia was a dealer of purple cloth, which signifies much wealth. She used her wealth to welcome Paul and other Christians to stay in her home.
We know that Philemon must have been very wealthy because his home was also big enough to host a house church.
You get the idea. Many heroes in the faith had money, and yet their hearts were obviously devoted to God. It is never the presence of money or the absence of money that determines one’s integrity; only how money fits into their walks with God.
3. Some Scriptures about Wealth Are Misinterpreted
I can hear you saying already, “but what about money being the root of all evil? And what about the Rich Young Ruler? Why does Jesus say it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God?”
I know, these verses can cause a lot of stress and guilt around money. But thankfully, they don’t mean what we typically think they do.
For starters, the saying “money is the root of all evil” isn’t just a misinterpreted Scripture, but that’s not even the full Scripture. The full sentence is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” and goes onto say “By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).
“Money is the root of all evil” makes it sound like money automatically equals evil. But that isn’t true.
Money itself does not lead to evil. But it’s the love of money, or the intense greed for material gain, that is the issue. Craving money is not the same thing as genuinely desiring more money. You can desire more money and still pursue righteousness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. It’s loving that money more than you love God or people that is what leads to all kinds of evil.
And what about the Rich Young Ruler? Wasn’t he told to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor? Wasn’t it this inability to do so what disqualified him from the kingdom of God? Well, yes and no.
Matthew 19:22-24 tells us that after Jesus told the man to sell his possessions so he could have treasure in heaven, the following occurs: “When the young man heard this, he went away in sorrow, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”
Some scholars interpret “the eye of a needle” as referring specifically as a name to the gate of Jerusalem. Camels had to stoop low and have its baggage removed if it is going to pass through it, which would make this story about submission rather than simply wealth.
Even if you don’t accept that interpretation, though, and some scholars do not based on the fact the each of the three synoptic gospels use different language to describe the eye of a needle, it is still clear that Jesus meets each person where they are at in their heart.
Whatever it is that is blocking them from surrendering their lives to God is what Jesus will go after. In Matthew 8, Jesus tells a specific disciple to “let the dead bury their own dead,” because that was what was holding this particular disciple back individually. We can’t hold onto our old lives if we are to experience new life through Jesus.
Let’s say you took what was said at literal face-value with no contextual interpretation. Maybe it is really difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But that is because it is so easy to cling to the comfortable things in this world that help us to feel safe. Trusting God, who we can’t see, is hard. But still, that doesn’t automatically make being rich a sin.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/lovelyday12
What Makes Something a Sin?
The word “sin” is originally an archery term, meaning “to miss the mark.” We sin when we miss the mark of God’s commandments to live righteously and be holy in all we do.
Romans 3:23 reminds us that “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We sin when we don’t live up to our godly potential, when we choose to go after our own sinful desires rather than reflect God’s glory.
But does being rich automatically disqualify someone from reflecting God’s glory? Absolutely not. We are all capable of reflecting the glory and goodness of God through our money, no matter how much we have.
What Does the Bible Say about Wealth?
It is clear from Scripture that the wealthy have a moral obligation to the poor. This doesn’t mean that it’s a sin to have wealth, but that it’s a sin to hoard wealth and not use it to lift up those in need.
Jesus gives a powerful example of this obligation. In Matthew 25:34-40, he says:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
The ins and outs of how to accomplish this kind of generous love can manifest itself in a myriad of ways: giving time, getting involved in causes you believe in, giving up a portion of your salary to give to charity, etc. It doesn’t call for those who have wealth to not have wealth. But rather, to share their blessings so others can experience love through it.
The call for God’s people to provide necessities and to protect the dignity of the poor has been there from the beginning. We read in Deuteronomy 24:19-21 about the Law of Gleaning: landowners were not to harvest their land completely, but rather leave some for the poor to glean for themselves. Thus, the poor were able to work for their food and not become completely dependent on charitable giving. The wealthy were able to provide for the needy out of their abundance.
However, the Bible certainly also warns against greed. Ecclesiastes 5:10 warns “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”
You can desire more abundance without being greedy. It’s all about where your heart is.
Read more about what the Bible says about wealth in this great article: Rich and Poor 2.
How Can I Use My Money to Honor God?
There are so many ways to answer this question. But let’s start here, with Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Before getting into practical actions about how to best use your money, start with this stature of the heart. It’s not about perfection and it’s certainly not about performance. But it’s about aligning your life and everything you have and everything you do with God.
Once your heart is there, beautiful opportunities open themselves up with endless ways to use your money and resources for God.
Proverbs 14:31 says “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
So, what can you do to be kind to the needy? What kindness can you show to “the least of these” that can honor God and share his love?
Get creative with your own passions and talents, study the Proverbs for wisdom about saving and lending money, and trust God to bless your generosity. And remember, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
BBC News – Where are you on the global pay scale?
Crosswalk.com – What is Sin? It's Origin & Meaning in the Bible
Christian Bible Reference – What Does the Bible Say About Money and Wealth?
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sergey Nazarov
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earrings on Instagram and her website for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.