This article was originally culled from The DeVoe Report and written by Michael Blue of the Ron Blue institute. The article has been posted in it’s entirety and nothing has been edited.
Do you feel wealthy? I am sure there are some reading this article who do, but my experience tells me that most people reading this article don’t feel wealthy. Perhaps that stems from living in a society that is so affluent that it has become hard to identify what it really means to be wealthy. Let me attempt to put this in perspective. If you make more than $100,000 a year you are wealthier than 99.92% of all the people in the world. If you make more than $15,000 a year (around the federal poverty line) you are wealthier than 92% of all the people in the world. Pretty amazing, right? Those at the poverty line in America are among the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people. The point is that whether you feel like it or not, you are almost certainly wealthy by the world’s standards. Think about it this way: have you ever worried if you would have food to eat tomorrow? Have you ever worried about whether the water you drank would make you sick and possibly kill you? Have you ever worried if a flu virus would wipe out your entire family? Neither have I. And because we don’t worry about these things, we should begin with the presupposition that we are actually wealthy.
Beginning with the presupposition that we are wealthy by the world’s standards, it would be wise for each of us to ask ourselves how we are living and working with that wealth and still maintaining our trust and reliance on God. I believe that wealth is one of the most challenging tests to our faith that any of us face. We don’t often think of wealth as a test, but it is a serious and subversive test. Jesus warned that our tendency when we become wealthy is to say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that [we] are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, English Standard Version) He also warns that we can’t serve both God and money; either we “will hate the one and love the other, or [we] will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Luke 16:13, ESV) Despite these warnings, it is rare to hear people cautioning about the dangers of wealth.
As a matter of fact, I believe wealth is one of the least talked about subjects in American churches. Since the vast majority of us don’t believe we are wealthy, we have a hard time imagining that we struggle with money-related sins such as greed or that our wealth may be having a negative impact on our faith. Tim Keller, a pastor from New York City, said in his book Counterfeit Gods, “As a pastor I’ve had people come to me to confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, ‘I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.’” (2011, p. 52)
Even though the Bible warns about the dangers of wealth more than almost any other topic, most of us believe that we can handle wealth without it affecting our relationship with God. In fact, most of us are so confident in our ability to handle the dangers of riches that we desire to be wealthy. For some reason, we think that we will be the ones who can handle wealth better than those poor folks about whom the Bible warns. The sad truth is that as most people become wealthier, they actually become more stingy and less generous. Wealth is really hard for most people to handle and that is exactly why Jesus warned about it so much.
What is it that makes wealth such a dangerous test to our faith? Simply put, prosperity robs us of our need to trust God. Without the need to trust God, we lose our ability to do so. Just like a muscle atrophies when it isn’t exercised, so does our ability to trust God when it isn’t used. Proverbs 30:8b-9 (ESV) says, “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” The author of Proverbs understood that both poverty and wealth have a tendency to negatively affect our relationship with God and so he desired neither. What if this were our attitude in life and work? What if we so jealously wanted to protect our relationship with God that we avoided anything that could hinder that relationship? What would that testimony be to the world?
If wealth and prosperity are such big tests and we are working under the assumption that nearly everyone reading this article is wealthy by the world’s standards, how are we to live within the tension of our wealth? We should all begin by asking the following questions:
- Why are we wealthy?
- What purpose could there be to our wealth?
From a purely spiritual perspective, there are two sides we should consider as to how our wealth may be used to hinder or enhance our trust in God. First, our adversary could use our wealth as a way to draw us away from God by convincing us that it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves in all things. If this is the case, then our immediate response should be to seek to remove the cause of that temptation. If our money is being used to pull us away from God, then we should fall to our knees and surrender everything we have to God and beg Him to remove the temptation from us, even if this means selling it all and giving it away. If that is what it takes for us to draw closer to God, then we should not hesitate.
The other spiritual possibility for why we are wealthy is that God has provided us with the wealth for a specific purpose. He has given it to us so that we can join Him in His work in some small way. When we understand wealth this way, our question becomes, what do You (God) want me to do with this wealth? John Piper said it well in his book Desiring God (1996) when he said, “God increases our yield, so that by giving we can prove our yield is not our god.”
Our wealth is not for us. Just as the wealth of the Israelites in the Old Testament was almost always for the purpose of demonstrating who God is, our wealth is always meant for another purpose. Our wealth should point people to God and His trustworthiness. Wealth will never point people to God because we have a lot of stuff; it will only point people to God when we willingly lay it at His feet and use it to bring Him glory. One of the best ways we do this is by generously, lavishly, and sacrificially giving. When we give, we demonstrate that our hope is in the provider and not in the provision. Giving says that we believe that God can and will provide for us in the future. It says that God is the one who gave us our wealth and our purpose with that wealth is to find a way to bring Him glory. That glory will never be demonstrated by us building bigger barns.
Whether or not you feel wealthy, you probably are by the world’s standards. What is great about this truth is that our wealth can be used as one of our most effective tools for witnessing to the world that God is a God who can be trusted. The way we handle the temptations of wealth will serve as a witness to where our hope lies. As you consider how you use the gift of wealth, I would encourage you to begin by asking this question of God, “What would you have me do with this abundance?” May God bless you as you grow closer to Him along this journey.
Piper, J. (1996) Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian hedonist. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books. (pg. 169)
Keller, T. (2011) Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.New York. Riverhead Books.