Can you be rich and a Christian at the same time?

So this rich and popular guy comes up to Jesus and asks the standard question, “How can I be blessed?” Some thought him blessed already, because he was rich, and popular. He may have been popular because he was rich. Jesus gives the standard reply, “worship God and be good.” They both know there’s a follow-up coming. “I do all that” says the rich and popular guy, and he probably did do it all. Lots of rich people worship God and tell the truth, look after their parents, are faithful to their spouses, recycle diligently and wouldn’t dream of hurting anyone. But Jesus looks through the rich and popular façade and sees the fear and the insecurity that lie behind. “Give it all away” he says.

Another rich (and no doubt popular) guy was having an employment appraisal with his boss (in a story Jesus told). He’d made his boss a lot of money, doubled his investment in fact. “Well done” says the boss, “here’s some more. I know you’ve got lots but I know I can trust you with more.”

It looks like one rich guy gets told to give it away and the other gets given more. Whatever we learn from these biblical stories it has to include the truism is that “the amount is not important”. We can point to any number of characters in the bible whose faith we can respect, from whom we can learn but who are rich (Job, Abraham, King David, Matthew, Joanna, Lydia) – and others who are poor (Job, Elijah, Amos, Paul, John).

I know rich people who are content.

I know poor people who are content.

I know rich people who are miserable.

I know poor people who are miserable.

I know that God loves them all and welcomes worship and love from each one. I know that His Son Jesus became poor so that they may all become rich. I am pretty sure that the amount of money that they have is irrelevant. The amount is not important.

Maybe the question means something different. Maybe we should ask, “Should being a Christian lead you inevitably down a road to poverty”.

It’s hard to find an example of someone whose faith has, in and of itself, led someone into poverty. Some of those who followed Jesus laid down their jobs and businesses in order to get into the impecunious trade of being fishers of men. But others stayed wealthy (particularly the women in Jesus’ entourage who may well have funded the team). There are plenty of invocations to give up everything, to sacrifice, to take up the cross; but equally there are many promises of blessing and fruitfulness.

I am often struck by Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “command those who are rich in this world to be generous…” (1 Timothy 6:17) He doesn’t say, “command those who are rich to get poor”. The inference from Paul’s words is that the “rich in this world” will continue to be rich and should continue to be generous.

Maybe our question should be re-phrased. Maybe we should ask, “Does being a Christian change your attitude to money or wealth”.

I think this was what Jesus was getting at when he looked in the rich and popular guy’s eyes. I don’t think Jesus was bothered about the amount of money; he was concerned about a heart in fearful lockdown. To press the point home Jesus told another parable about a rich farmer who hoarded grain in a fruitless attempt to suppress his fear and control his future. That very night he transitioned to a different life where the abandoned barns were of no help whatsover.

Money brings many challenges to our faith. For the poor the faith challenge is sometimes envy of the rich. For the rich the faith challenge is sometimes a lack of trust. It’s not that rich Christians should inevitably pursue poverty but that becoming a Christian pulls radically on those cords that tie money to our souls. Faith teaches us to worship the Great Provider first and foremost and gradually we learn contentment and trust and that the amount is not important.

This blog was first published by Stewardship on http://www.stewardship.org.uk/blog/blog

One thought on “Can you be rich and a Christian at the same time?

  1. The question wasn’t, “How can I be blessed?”, but rather, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, which many commentators interpret as, “the life of the age to come”. In other words, “How can I be part of the Kingdom of God and share in all its benefits”. For Him, the answer was, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven [i.e. treasure with God]. Then come, follow me.”

    I wonder how many of us really appreciate what “treasure with God” actually is – let alone what it’s really worth – and would sell everything we have in order to get it?

    This sentence seems wrong to me: “It’s hard to find an example of someone whose faith has, in and of itself, led someone into poverty”. I think there are thousands if not millions of examples – the next sentence even goes on to list some general cases – of people who have given up worldly wealth in order to follow Jesus. The rich young ruler would be an obvious and very simple example if he had done what Jesus had said.

    Comparing the rich young ruler with the parable of the talents doesn’t really seem like comparing like with like. One is a real life example of someone being told to give up worldly wealth, the other is a parable told in order to make a point – and the point is about how we steward all of our resources, opportunities etc. to the glory of God, not about how much money we can make.

    The “amount” we have might not be important in and of itself – and it’s certainly important to hold it lightly and be generous with what we do have – but to me it seems very important to consider where our wealth comes from and how we come to be in possession of it. It’s all very well being generous with what we have, but if we are using and accumulating our wealth such that we are contributing to a system that makes the rich richer (i.e. us) and the poor poorer, then we are undermining all of our generous deeds and turning the poor into charity cases who – without our “help” – might’ve been able to manage a lot better on their own!

    Like

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