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Christianity & Wealth, Part 1: Can A Christian Possess Wealth?

I will attempt in the next 3 posts to address the question:  Can a Christian be a Capitalist?  I am doing this because of the inordinate amount of emails telling me that Capitalism is not compatible with Christian salvation.  Since this is a theological question, it will be answered using the Bible.  My proof technique will be akin to a mathematician’s method of geometric proof, where more complex problems are solved by logical progression of less complicated proofs.

As I thought about the question, it came to me that two preceding questions had to be Biblically answered prior to the third question being answered.  The first question is: “Can a Christian possess wealth?”  The second question is: “Can a Christian acquire wealth?”

First question:  Can A Christian Possess Wealth?
This is the short question.  A more succinct version would be:  Can a Christian possess wealth and true salvation simultaneously?  I will show that the answer is yes for four reasons:

  1. The 8th and 10th Commandments implicitly approve property rights.
  2. God gave wealth to Old Testament figures as a sign of favor.
  3. God used the wealth of New Testament figures to propagate the Gospel.
  4. The Bible contains no universal command to abrogate wealth prior to or after salvation.

 

First, the 8th and 10th Commandments implicitly approve property rights.  The noted Commandments are “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”  Obviously stealing could not occur without ownership, whether the object is land, material belongings, or money.  Likewise, the last Commandment forbids the envious longing for another’s possessions – thereby implicitly acknowledging the right of ownership.

 

Secondly, the Bible depicts God giving wealth to Old Testaments figures as a sign of favor.  God prospered ALL of the Patriarchs … Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  After the Egyptian conscript, God influenced the Egyptians’ hearts to give the Children of Israel much wealth in silver, gold and clothing (Exodus 12:35).  God also prospered Job after his sufferings.  God prospered Saul, David and Solomon … and many other Old Testament figures.

These Old Testament examples are important even for those under the New Covenant of the New Testament.  If one believes in the immutability of God, that is, God does not change (Malachi 3:6), one would expect an unchanging attitude by God towards riches and favor.  Furthermore, the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), but within the Godhead exists the three distinct persons of the Trinity.  Jesus is God, thus Jesus would have the same unchanging attitude towards riches and favor.  Which can be shown in our third point.

 

Thirdly, God used the wealth of New Testament figures to propagate the Gospel.  Whereas many disciples of Christ gave up their possessions before going into ministry, many also retained their wealth and used it for the spreading of the Gospel.  It can be shown that the persons who retained their wealth (or portions of it) were not excluded from salvation for doing so:

Luke 19
8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, …

What should be noticed is Zacchaeus’ willingness to give “half” his wealth.  He did not cede ALL of it.  Jesus did not command him to stop being a tax collector nor did Jesus demarcate a particular percentage as the “salvation boundary”.  What concerned Jesus was Zacchaeus’ attitude toward his wealth, even as Zacchaeus kept half of it.

We also note the rich man who provided Jesus’ tomb:

Matthew 27:57  Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.

Here we see someone as an active disciple and still retaining his wealth.  There is no further account in Scripture of this man releasing his wealth.

When the Apostle Paul went on his 2nd missionary journey, he accepted lodging from Lydia, a new convert and seller of purple dye, a very lucrative business back then (Acts 16:14).  Paul never ordered Lydia to give up her wealth or business, but instead accepted provision from her wealth.

 

Finally, the Bible contains no universal command to abrogate wealth prior to or after salvation.  Some say that Jesus’ encounter with the “Rich Young Ruler” shows that wealth and salvation are incompatible:

Matthew 19
16 Now behold, (a rich young ruler) came and said to (Jesus), “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
17 So (Jesus) said to him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
18 He said to (Jesus), “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’
19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

There are two possible interpretations here:  1.  Jesus is making salvation for all men contingent on the abrogation of wealth, or … 2.  Jesus is reading this particular man’s heart and discerning that his wealth and is more important to him than salvation.  Let’s look at both in context of Scripture.

If Jesus is making salvation contingent on the abrogation of wealth, how does this fit into the entirety of New Testament teaching?  Both Jesus and Paul taught that salvation comes by grace through faith alone … there is no work we can perform that can earn salvation or even partly earn salvation.  The outward act of abrogation of wealth would be considered a work.  The Judaizers in Galatians falsely considered circumcision as a necessary work for salvation.  Paul rebuked the Galatians and said that salvation is through faith alone.  Likewise, abrogation of wealth is an outer work that cannot be used as a prerequisite for salvation.  Therefore, Interpretation 1 cannot be reconciled with the entirety of Scripture.

Let’s look at the Interpretation 2 – that Jesus is specifically reading the Rich Young Ruler’s heart and discerns that the man’s wealth is more important to him than salvation.  Is it possible that a person can love their wealth more than God?  The answer to that is an unequivocal “yes!”  God wants to be our primary object of affection.  The First Commandment is:  “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).  To let one’s riches (or position or education) eclipse God is profoundly egregious in His sight.

The Bible indicates that the enticement and reliance on riches will keep many wealthy persons from acknowledging their spiritual bankruptcy before God.  And the sinner’s heartfelt acknowledgment of this bankruptcy cannot be sidestepped or substituted or bought with worldly wealth.  THIS is guilt of the Rich Young Ruler.  And there are other Scriptures that back this up:

Revelation 3:17  Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

 

In closing, I ask my readers not misconstrue me as a “prosperity” teacher.  Though I do not prescribe to the heresy that wealth is guaranteed under Christian salvation, I DO believe in Christ’s general material provision.  As David wrote:

Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.

God has the right to give (or take away) wealth from whomever He chooses:

1 Samuel 2:7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.

The mature Christian will be content whether in abundance or in poverty … just as Paul was:

Philippians 4
11 … for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Riches are indeed a two-edged sword.  They have the ability to grab and hold our hearts.  Riches have the ability to overshadow an awareness of our desperate need for the Savior.  However, riches in the possession of a Christian can be used for wonderful purposes.  Paul implicitly acknowledged a Christian can possess wealth with this admonishment:

1 Timothy 6
17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

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