How Much Money Should A Christian Have?

Tim Clemens  —  — 11 Comments

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.

Righteous

Unrighteous

Rich

1

2

Poor

4

3

 

 

 

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.

So What?

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.

11 responses to How Much Money Should A Christian Have?

  1. Love it Tim!

    Righteousness is what counts, a good message to take away.

  2. Werner Pienaar July 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Great stuff! Its so often we find ourselves ‘impressed’ by money and wealth that we forget what we really should be impressed by!

  3. hey tim!
    love the blog.

    i’m sitting in luke at the moment;
    how does this proverbs stuff fit with luke 3:11 and 12:33?

    • Good question T-Pain. For brevity’s sake, Jesus in those passages is telling people/his disciples how to use their wealth, not making a statement about the rightness or wrongness of being rich.

      The last line of my post is helpful here. “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.”

      Presumably generous and rich believers enabled Jesus to do ministry for three years without working. Being rich is not bad, it’s how you use your money that really matters.

  4. Hey mate.
    This is along the same lines as Tom so maybe just warrants the same answer. Proverbs is great to get a sense of how the world works and how we should honour God ‘under the sun’… but the New Testament gives me a new filter for interpreting the world – an eschatological awareness or ‘Gospel urgency’. Maybe all I’d want to add is that being righteous post Jesus means understanding what matters and giving all I have to that – like the poor Macedonian church that gives out of their poverty because they get what really matters (2 Cor 8:1-5).
    Some of the language of “righteous rich” feels a little more ‘Under the Sun’ than perhaps a sense of gospel generosity.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Dan.
      I agree with everything you’ve said. As I said to Tom, the article is purely on the question of how much money you can have as a Christian, not so much on what you should do with the money that you do have!
      As you say, Biblical Theology now helps me to see what I should do with my money. Although funnily enough it’s not entirely different to the teaching of Proverbs either. The only thing Proverbs actually tells you to do with your money is give it away (to the Lord- 3:9, to the poor- 19:17, and to win friends- 19:6). As New Covenant people we’d obviously now add- to missions.
      Re: your point on ‘Righteous Rich’- i’m happy to stick with it. You and I both know some very rich Christians. They’re gospel hearted and generous… but they’re still massively rich. That’s New Testament Righteous Rich. Thus i conclude with the comment “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.”
      I was mainly trying to combat the idea that Christians have to be poor. It’s just not true. If good people aren’t allowed to have money, then by definition, only evil people will. I’d rather not go there.
      It’s a juggling act to be sure, but we need to walk the fine line between prosperity AND poverty theology. Neither is biblical. I know you’re not saying either of those, but i’m giving you the fuller answer for the sake of others who might read this comment.
      Feel free to come back at me if you want :)

  5. Nothing to come back with. I think we agree! :)

  6. Isn’t how much you ‘have’ essentially the same as what you do with your money though? If you ‘have’ riches, you have spent and are spending in a particular way in light of the fact that human needs continue to be unmet. I think I’d go with C. S. Lewis on this one:

    ‘I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.’ (Mere Christianity)

    I think the story of the poor widow sort of suggests that Jesus is concerned with how we spend not just in itself but also in relation to what we have.

    • Thanks Jess,

      In regards to what you ‘have’ being the same as what you do with your money, yes and no. If i have a billion dollars and give 99% of it away i’m still left with $10 million (i think). $10 million is a ridiculous amount of money, and far more than I will ever have. That person is still incredibly rich!

      Does that make them selfish and greedy? Of course not! They’ve given away $990 million. Who cares if they buy a boat or a fancy house! Let them enjoy God’s good gifts as long as they do it with thanksgiving.

      Sure they could give more away if they wanted, but they’re not sinning if they don’t. To suggest otherwise is just not scriptural. Taking your comment to it’s logical conclusion means that the only way to be a ‘real’ Christian is to be poor. I would suggest that Christian asceticism is more dualist than biblical.

      Applying C.S. Lewis’ quote to this scenario (which i entirely agree with by the way) is easy:
      - This person spends far less on himself than those in his income bracket.
      - His charity has ‘pinched’ him.
      - There are things he would like to do but can’t
      For example, He can’t buy himself a country. He can’t buy 100 boats, he has to settle for 1. Nor can he buy 10 holiday houses, so he endures the hardship of 1 or 2.

      Obviously he’s still living it up with lots of cash, but to suggest that he’s somehow sinful for doing so just isn’t right.

      Now… whilst i don’t have any billionaire friends i do have some incredibly wealthy ones. But i also happen to know that many of them give exorbitant amounts of money away. Could they give more? Probably. But i’m not going to tell them they absolutely must or else they’re sinning.

      As far as I can tell, its more blessed to give than receive. We’re not going to get to heaven and wish we’d given less away. But I also don’t think it means you’re not allowed to enjoy God’s good gifts now. Sure it’s a balance, and our generosity should hurt, but I don’t want rich Christians to live the rest of their lives burdened with guilt.

      Yes, they need to give money away! That’s partly why they’re rich. How much they choose to give away, however, will depend on the degree to which God moves their hearts to ‘excel in the grace of giving’.

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