To read other parts of the series, go here.
There are a lot of misconceptions and false teachings concerning wealth and poverty in the church today, so in response to that I am producing a series of approximately ten parts called “God vs Wealth”. This is the first part.
I’ve heard countless pastors, preachers and priests who say that there is no problem with being rich, as long as you don’t worship your money you can be as wealthy as you want. I’m having some serious trouble with this teaching. Why on earth did Jesus say “woe to you who are rich” if there are no problems with being rich? “Woe” is not a positive word, it’s a warning.
James, the brother of Jesus, is also warning rich people:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (Jam 5:1-6)
If there’s something James is not saying, it’s “There’s no problem with being rich”. He is not talking to the rich in a certain city but to all rich Christians, since his letter lack a certain adress. And his message is that need to get rid of their wealth to escape coming misery.
The sin that the rich have commited is according to James not that their wealth has hindered their relation with God in some way or has become an idol. This of course are bad things, but even if their faith in God remains strong, the simple fact that they own wealth is what James critisize: “You have hoarded wealth in the last days… You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence… You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter…” Why is this? Well, I believe verse 6 is a key to that: “You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”
According to the UN Millenium Campaign, 50 000 people die every day because of poverty. That’s 18 million in a year. It’s a triple holocaust. Rich people who got money to help the poor but instead buy unnecessary stuff are accomplices of their suffering and death. i John 3:17 says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” If we are rich, we have to give our resources away so that we stop being rich. If we keep our money for ourselves, people suffer and die.
Some misinterpret me when I preach this. I’ve met people who say “But if we quit our jobs and stop earning money, we have nothing to give!” I haven’t argued that we should quit our jobs. Ephesians 4:28 says that we “must work, doing something useful with [our] own hands, that [we] may have something to share with those in need.” Earning money is not wrong, keeping more money than you need is. Earning a lot of money is a temptation, but not necessarily sinful, as long as they are earned through a righteous and sustainable business.
Another common misconception is that I preach that we all should be poor. But not being rich doesn’t automatically mean being poor. There’s a prayer in Proverbs 30:8 which says:
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
This mid-level between wealth and poverty is what we should should strive for, for all people. God doesn’t want some people to live in luxury while others are going hungry, He wants equality. And equality is what part 2 in this series will be about.