Those with a prosperity theology will point to rich dudes like Job and Abraham and suggest that all real Christians should have heaps of cash. Those with a poverty theology, however, will point to the rich young ruler and suggest that all real Christians should be poor like Jesus.
So who’s right? In my opinion… neither. I’ve recently become convinced of an alternative (and actually Biblical) theology. I’m calling it righteousness theology.
The main point?
Righteousness is more important that richness.
To illustrate, here’s four categories you’ll find in the book of Proverbs concerning wealth. I first heard them in a sermon by Mark Driscoll, but I became convinced of their validity after reading this paper by Raymond Van Leeuwen.
I’ll say it again, righteousness is more important that richness. You need to be in quadrants 1 or 4! I’ve fleshed out the details of each quadrant below:
1. Righteous Rich
14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
22:4 Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.
Riches are a blessing and can sometimes be a reward for being righteous and working hard. This is the Christian who works hard, applies himself and who God decides to bless by entrusting him with his money.
This type of person may succeed at university, may get promoted, may get good Christmas bonuses, may get head hunted for a new position, and/or may be exceptional in their area of expertise.
If this describes you, it could be that you’re being righteous, working hard, and God is blessing you. It is possible to be righteous and rich so get over the corporate cringe! Job and Joseph of Aramithea are good examples of the righteous rich.
2. Unrighteous Rich
11:16 A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth.
18:23 The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly.
Some people get rich by being unrighteous, or are unrighteous because they’re rich. This is the workplace bully who gets ahead because nobody is willing to stand up to him or her, the person that uses intimidation tactics, or sabotages other people to make themselves look better.
There’s also a certain arrogance that often comes with rich people. A sense of entitlement and superiority. You see it at restaurants when the food’s too slow and they get obnoxious, or when they’re impatient and rude to the person who’s further down the corporate ladder.
If this describes you, your riches aren’t a reward. Just because you’re rich, it doesn’t make you righteous. You need to repent. Laban and the Rich Young Ruler are good examples of the unrighteous rich.
3. Unrighteous Poor
20:4 The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.
13:25 The righteous eat to their hearts’ content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry.
Poverty is sometimes the result of being lazy and wicked. This is the person who’s just plain selfish. They can’t afford food because they can’t be bothered to work! Or, they’d rather go to the beach all day and bludge off the generosity of others than get a job!
If this describes you, your poverty isn’t a badge of honour. Just because you’re poor, it doesn’t make you righteous. You need to repent. The sluggard in Proverbs is a good example of the unrighteous poor.
4. Righteous Poor
28:6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.
11:4 Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
It’s nice to be rich, but it’s nowhere near as valuable as being righteous. Why? Because money won’t save you on the last day.
These are people who, through absolutely no fault of their own, just can’t get work. Maybe they have a disability, or a disease, or a personality disorder, or maybe employers just aren’t hiring. They’re faithful, hard working Christians who just can’t afford to put food on the table.
Or it may be the people who lose their jobs, can’t get a job, or are overlooked for promotion because they refuse to make unethical decisions. They won’t lie and they suffer for it!
If this is describes you, then please remember, righteousness is far more valuable than richness! On any scale that actually matters, you’re richer than Bill Gates! Ruth and the widow who gave her last penny are good examples of the righteous poor.
Are you rich or poor? I don’t think it really matters… At least nowhere near as much as your righteousness does! If you want my take on it, you’re probably rich. Most of us have bedrooms bigger than the average person’s house.
If you’re a Christian, God’s far more concerned with how you earn and how you spend your money than he is with how much you have.
Question: Do you drift more easily towards a prosperity or poverty theology? Leave a comment by clicking here.