Having great wealth — or at least enough money to be financially independent — seems like an admirable goal. But if you let it get the best of you, wealth can leave you just as ruined as poverty.
We’ve been beating up a lot on poverty lately, talking in various articles about how poverty is caused by sin and how righteousness leads to prosperity. Based on these ideas, it would be easy to think that having wealth means you’re in the clear, safe from danger and leading a good life. But money is no guarantee of safety, and wealth without wisdom can prove terribly dangerous.
Whereas the dangers of poverty are obvious — hunger, lack, addiction, etc. — the dangers of wealth can be much sneakier. Poverty can eat away at the body, but unbridled wealth will wither the soul. In order to keep wealth from warping us, we need to keep our hearts and attitudes in the right place.
The Fleeting Nature of Wealth
The Bible has numerous warnings about the dangers of wealth, especially in the New Testament. Let’s start this study by looking at this passage from Luke 6:24-26, which talks about the short-lived benefits of worldly wealth:
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
In these verses, Jesus is warning people who are wealthy and satisfied that their happiness is not eternal and their wealth is not secure. We never can be sure what will happen next in life, and disaster may always be lurking right around the corner. If you put your hope in the money you have now, your security and comfort will never endure beyond today, because tomorrow’s circumstances are not guaranteed.
Warning Against Rich Oppressors
There are numerous dangers that come along with trusting in our own wealth. One is that we become too confident in our ability to provide for ourselves, and lose sight of the fact that God is our one true provider. The second is that if we satisfy and secure ourselves with our own wealth, we become capable of doing abhorrent things in order to grow richer.
Unfortunately, this pursuit of wealth leaves a lot of broken people in its wake. James 5:1-6 issues a strong warning of anyone who becomes wealthy by abusing others:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
When we let wealth get the best of us, and we begin to mistreat other people in our pursuit of money, we can be assured of our ultimate destruction. God gives us wealth to bless us and to use as a tool in building His kingdom. When we use that wealth to build comfortable lives for ourselves, and cheat others on our way to doing that, we warp God’s intent and use money to fuel sin. On this point, scripture is clear: Abusers of wealth will reap far worse than what they have sown, and their present riches cannot save them from the suffering that is to come.
Wealth in Context
So are these verses a condemnation of all rich people? Is all wealth inherently sinful? No and no. Given its proper context, wealth is a gift that we can use to glorify God and make a positive impact on the world. But like anything else in life, wealth only works when it is submitted to the authority of God.
Photo by Frederic Bisson. Used under Creative Commons License.