A Biblical View of Wealth Part 1: “Poverty Gospel”
Have you ever heard of the Poverty Gospel? It is a worldview which believes that being poor makes one holy, that wealth should be avoided because it is not healthy to one’s faith, or that having material possessions are inherently bad.
It is not difficult to imagine how the term filthy rich comes about. For those who hold this view, “money is the root of all evil,” despite the fact that the actual verse says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, italics mine).
Hence, suffering is equated with sacrifice, and some choose this path as a way of denying themselves, picking up the cross and following Jesus (Matthew 16:14).
Obedience is better than sacrifice
Perhaps the right goal would be to wholeheartedly pursue and obey God. After all, 1 Samuel 15:22 (MEV) states, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” Interestingly, the rich young ruler was the only one Jesus told to sell all his goods and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21). Jesus did not say that to anyone else. As such, the requirement to sell everything one owns has no regular place in the Lord’s teaching.
How do we know that? Matthew 6:24 states, “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.” For the rich young ruler, it is clear who, or what was his master. Jesus was merely revealing to him what his stumbling block was.
Significantly, many of Jesus’s disciples were likely to be rich. Peter, James, and John would have used their own capital to purchase their own fishing boats. Wealthy women like Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna supported Jesus and his disciples out of their own means. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy enough to buy a new tomb, which he laid Jesus in after the crucifixion. For the disciples, it was clear that Jesus was their master.
Here we can do well to differentiate materialism from wealth. Materialism is the continual compulsion to define ourselves by what we already possess and also those things yet to be possessed. This means that just about anyone can be materialistic. Whether rich or poor, anyone can be enslaved by materialism.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit?
Perhaps the term “poor in spirit” has been misunderstood by those who subscribe to the Poverty Gospel worldview. The phrase in the Beatitudes begins with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). So what does “poor in spirit” actually mean? When we consider those who are financially poor, such images come to mind; bankruptcy, powerlessness, and hunger.
But when we shift our focus from financial poverty to spiritual poverty, we see that it refers to those who are bankrupt spiritually, powerless against the powers of darkness, and hungry for God. Only when one hungers for God, can one enter the kingdom of heaven.
It is not surprising then that Jesus often spoke against the Pharisees for their arrogant self-sufficiency, self-confidence and self-seeking ways. They have no need for God. Indeed, only those who are “poor in spirit” recognise their inability to earn their salvation and acknowledge their entire dependence on God.
Using our talents for God’s glory
Notably, Jesus has a story to tell about money. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master refers to God while the servants represent us. The word “talent” has been translated variously as money in English. However, “talents” can also refer to any kind of resources that God has given.
The parable teaches that faithful servants make good use of what is given, while wicked and lazy ones bury theirs – neglecting their responsibilities and perhaps thinking there would be no personal benefit from putting the talent to work. It is significant that Jesus used money to teach about stewardship.
The parable shows that there are those who are given much, and also those who are given little according to their abilities. When we view money as one of our many God-given resources, then our attitude towards wealth can change. When used wisely, wealth can be used for God’s glory.
Read: A Biblical View of Wealth Part 2: “Prosperity Gospel”
Read: 5 Steps to Handling Money Well (YMI)
Study: Six-Week Course on Finances God’s Way (Our Daily Bread University)
Download: Money: Why is it Never Enough? (Looking at Life)
About the Author
Among the different vocations he has had, Wee Siong Tan was a door-to-door salesman, a self-learnt IT specialist, and a seminarian. Now, he contributes to digital marketing, theological review, and church ministry in Our Daily Bread Ministries Malaysia. He thrives on coffee, commentaries, and cinema.
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