by Brian Tubbs
What the Bible Says about Poverty, Getting Rich, Debt, and Spending
How should Christians handle money? Is it okay for Christians to want to get rich? Doesn’t the Bible teach that money js the root of all evil? And didn’t Jesus teach his followers to give all they had to the poor? What about debt and spending habits? What lessons can one take from the Bible concerning money?
Priority of God’s Kingdom
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets the tone for his ministry and teachings. He tells his listeners to not “lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). He goes on to say that his people should not worry about the future (including their financial future), but should “seek first the kingdom of God” and trust God to provide for their needs (Matthew 6:33).
Clearly, the priority of God’s people is (or should be) the kingdom of God. When God’s people shift their focus to the things of the earth, they are focusing on that which is perishable and will not last.
Rejection of Lust and GreedIs it okay for Christians to want to get rich? Taking Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into account, Christians are not to focus their lives around “laying up treasures on this earth.” This would indicate that the accumulation of earthly wealth is not to be one’s primary goal in life – if at all.
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul places the “love of money” at the “root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10). While most modern English translations have softened this to say “the root of all kinds of evil,” the original King James Version seems to be more accurate to the original Greek. The “love of money” represents greed – the desire for gain. Sociologists today would be hard pressed to deny that greed and the desire for gain — for possession – is not at the source of all our social pathologies.
Compassion and Love
Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor. In the context of these commandments, he challenged the “rich young ruler” to “sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18:22). The young man refused and left Jesus.
Many commentators conclude that this passage sets a works-based standard for salvation or establishes a requirement that one eschew any financial ambitions in order to be a part of the family of God. A more contextual reading of the account, however, takes one back to the Mosaic Law itself, where people were told to have “no gods” before Yahweh. Jesus correctly identified riches and wealth as the rich young ruler’s ultimate “god” and, therefore, the young man’s barrier to God.
The Bible teaches that a person must fully and passionately love God and his or her fellow human beings. This means putting personal wealth on the back-burner of one’s priority list, and instead extending love and compassion to those around him or her.
Money is, however, a reality of today – as it was a reality of Jesus’ day and Moses’ day. It was not wrong for Christians then or now to earn or possess money. If it were, why did God allow great Old Testament figures like Joseph and Job to ultimately acquire great wealth? What’s more, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, while counseling contentment to young Timothy, nevertheless acknowledged the need to provide for one’s “food and clothing” (I Timothy 6:8).
There’s also the book of Proverbs, which contains numerous wisdom sayings concerning work, provision, and wealth.
Taking all these scriptural principles together, what seems to emerge is an ethic of putting God first, other people second, and yourself last. With those priorities in place, there are scriptural principles of hard work and stewardship that should be brought to bear in one’s daily living, including the need to and ability to earn money.
Guard Against Debt
One of the most frequent exhortations from Scripture is the warning against debt. In Proverbs, the reader is warned that the “borrower is servant to the lender.” And in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he tells them flatly: “Owe no man anything.” (Romans 13:8).
Submission to God’s Will
The bottom line then is that the people of God are commanded to submit to God. If a person puts his or her dreams and desires ahead of God and God’s principles, it leads to idolatry and greed. If one submits his or her desires to God, it leads to wisdom and contentment.
As the Apostle Paul tells Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6).