Is it a sin to be rich? This is a tough question if you’re a Christian. Our faith tells us that God is to be our first love, that He provides for our needs and we’re to trust Him in all that we do. The world tells us that we need to strive to be the best that we can be in all that we do, and that includes finances.
When it comes to money, the world tells us that more is better—the more money we have the better protected we’ll be, the more opportunities we’ll have and even that the more we have the more we’ll have to share with others.
Truth be told, it’s hard to argue against the worldly compulsion to have money, and plenty of it. In fact the entire financial realm is based on the idea that money is something to be nurtured and grown. Look at all the articles and advertisements for retirement planning; they promise us millions of dollars for a secure retirement. I know all about the inflation thing, but from where I sit, having millions of dollars sitting in a retirement account looks a lot like being rich.
The pursuit of financial security itself seems more like a money chase than anything else.
So here are the relevant questions: if we need a certain amount of money to achieve some level of security in life, how much money will be enough? Is it possible to carry the pursuit of financial security too far? Can the pursuit of “financial security” turn into—or mask—the quest for riches? And finally, is it a sin to be rich?
Is It a Sin to be Rich? Biblical Positions Against Riches
Most of us can easily cite passages that warn against wealth and its potential for sin. Proverbs deals a good bit on wealth and has a lot to say on the subject, both good and bad. Among the bad ones,
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.—Proverbs 11:4
He who trusts in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall blossom like a branch.—Proverbs 11:28
From Jesus we have one of the most famous Biblical rebukes of wealth in Matthew 19:24:
”…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Perhaps scripture contains so many verses warning against riches precisely because we’ll be drawn to it—our sin nature virtually guarantees it.
Biblical Positions Favoring Riches
Less well known however is the fact that there are times where the Bible portrays wealth as a virtue, such as in Proverbs 10:15:
The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the ruin of the poor is their poverty.
I could be interpreting this verse incorrectly, but it seems as if Solomon is according wealth to be the rich man’s reward—the very insulation we see money to be today.
Another example from Proverbs 19:4:
Wealth makes many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbor.
Once again, Solomon seems to pointing out a benefit of wealth, that is “makes many friends”. This too appears like a reward for being rich.
Finally, in Matthew 27:57-60 we have the story of Joseph of Arimethea:
”As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”
Like many figures in the Bible, we know very little about Joseph of Arimethea—in fact, we know nothing about him other than that he was “a rich man” and he was from Arimethea. Yet this rich man did something that will exalt him forever—he provided for Jesus’ burial at a time when even his closest disciples had abandoned him for fear of their own lives.
Clearly not all rich people are outside of God’s love and there’s a message in there us all.
The Christian Conflict On Riches
There’s a notion in some quarters of the faith that we’re to swear off earthly riches and maybe even to live a life comparable to monks in monasteries. There is merit to this: if we aren’t participating in the pursuit of earthly riches we won’t be corrupted by them. But for the majority of us who feel that we need to be out in the mainstream of life to be the “salt and light” that Jesus called us to be, money IS a factor.
We do need a certain amount of money just to function in the world, and beyond that there is also the question of providing for our loved ones. Since the vast majority of us no longer grow our own food and barter hardly exists, we must earn money in order to survive in the world. But beyond basic necessities, we also need to educate our children, provide for our old age so we don’t become a burden to others, and to leave sufficient assets to our loved ones that they’ll have a fighting chance when we’re no longer around to take care of them.
Just exactly how much each of us needs depends on our individual circumstances, but there is a need for a certain amount of money—of riches—in order to accomplish those goals. To that extent, riches aren’t necessarily bad; they’re how we handle our responsibilities.
This Is A Complicated Subject—What Are Your Thoughts?
I don’t think there’s a right answer to the question, is it a sin to be rich. But the question is hardly irrelevant. There’s a line we can cross that can turn being rich into a sin, yet there is a certain level of wealth that we need just to get by in the world.
What do you think?
Is being rich a sin? Or is it only when we cross a line?
If so, where is that line? Is it being rich, or is it something about the pursuit of being rich?
Or is there a better question that I haven’t asked?
photo by pasotraspaso