Rich Christians–An Oxymoron?

December 10, 2006 at 1:04 am | Posted in Bible, Christianity, Faith, Life, New Testament, Opinion, Random, Rants, Religion, Teachings of Jesus, Theology, Thoughts, Uncategorized | 21 Comments

There isn’t much in the bible about whether the rich need to divest themselves of their riches to be true Christians. (fn1) The most well known passage is this:

Jesus said to his disciples ‘Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter the kingdom of heaven with difficulty. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were exceedingly astonished, saying ‘Who then can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Matthew 19:23-26. (NIV)(fn2)

One thing we might find strange about this passage today is that the disciples were surprised by this teaching. They were “exceedingly astonished.” The reason they were surprised is that their culture viewed riches as a sign of God’s favor. To them, riches were a sign that the holder of the riches was a righteous person. If they were righteous, then of course they would go to heaven. So in the disciples’ view, if it was difficult for a rich man to enter heaven, it would be impossible for anyone else. Therefore, they asked “Who then can be saved?” I think Jesus was trying to correct these beliefs concerning the spiritual state of the rich. I think he was pointing out that the rich were no more likely to go to heaven than anyone else, and that they might even be less likely than others to go to heaven because their riches might distract them from seeking the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus responded “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” In other words, though it is impossible for man to put the “camel” through “the eye of the needle,” it is possible for God. Of course, it is impossible for any man, rich or poor, to enter heaven by his own merits. Man has fallen, but God has made it possible for us to enter heaven. He did this by sending his Son to die for our sins. Salvation becomes possible through God’s grace, not our works.

These verses in Matthew 19 are preceded by the encounter with the rich young ruler, who wanted to know “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments. The young ruler replied that he had done that since he was a child, and then asked “What do I still lack?” Jesus replied “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” It is significant that Jesus first reply to the question was simply to keep the commandments. Only when pressed did Jesus respond with the direction to sell, give to the poor and follow Jesus, if you want to be perfect. (fn3)

If we were perfect, we would follow Christ’s advice, sell all we have, and give it to the poor. Most of us are not perfect, and cannot do that. But that does not mean we are not Christians, or that we will not go to heaven. By God’s grace, the rich Christian will go to heaven, because with God all things are possible.

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 also throws some light on the question. Zacchaeus was very wealthy. But, when he said that he would give half of his riches to the poor, and pay back anyone he had cheated, Jesus said “Today salvation has come to this house.” So it appears that Zacchaeus did not have to totally divest himself of his riches to obtain salvation.

Does this mean that, as a Christian, we can proceed with all due speed to work our way to wealth? Not exactly. Paul does have a caution for the person who is not rich, but wishes to become rich. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:8-10:

People who want to get rich fall into temptations and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

In other words, we first need to be careful about how we acquire riches. We need to follow Christian principles while we do it. (fn4)

So it is possible to be a rich Christian. But we still need to follow Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

Command those who are rich in the present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age…

Of course, if the rich could not enter heaven, then there would be no reason to give this advice. Paul would simply have told them to sell all they have and give it to the poor. Since he did not do that, it appears that Paul did believe that the rich could enter the kingdom of heaven. But he also felt it was important to remind the rich Christian not to forget his Christian principles.

In conclusion, some simply look at the camel through the eye of the needle statement and say that there can be no rich Christians. A more thorough reading of that passage, and the other passages quoted here, indicate that the rich can be Christians. They do need to be rich in good deeds and be generous and willing to share. They should also not be arrogant, realizing that, but for the grace of God, they could just as easily be poor. And, of course, they need to be careful that, in pursuing wealth, they do not develop a love of money and wealth, which may cause them to stray from the true path of Christianity.

________________________________________________________________

fn1: A preliminary question is: What level of assets makes one “rich?” Several things make this a difficult question. First, the “poor” in the USA today are infinitely “richer” than the poor in Biblical times. Second, there wasn’t much of a middle class in New Testament days. Would the upper middle class today be “rich” by Jesus’ reckoning? I believe that less than one per cent of the people in Jesus’ time were considered rich. If only the wealthiest one per cent of US citizens are considered “rich,” this would mean a minimum net worth of about $5,000,000.00 today.

fn2: My first thought about this passage is that the analogy doesn’t ring true, and that there may be something missing in the translation. Who would think of trying to put an animal through the eye of a needle? Some people have tried to make this passage more understandable by claiming that the phrase “eye of the needle” referred to a small gate in the Jerusalem wall. They say that it would be possible for a camel to pass through this gate, but it would be very difficult. The problem with this idea is that there was apparently no such gate. It is not mentioned anywhere in the bible or in other contemporary writings. My favorite explanation is that the word translated as “camel” here was also a slang word for a large strong rope, which was made from camel hair and was thus referred to as a “camel.” So the verse would read “It is easier for a large rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” This still means it is very difficult, but the analogy makes more sense.

fn3: While Luke’s account of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-24) does not include the “if you want to be perfect” qualifier, I still believe that my interpretation is correct because of the other biblical references in this article.

fn4: While it may seem paradoxical to recommend a book about a Muslim as an outline for the Christian way to riches, I believe that the book, The Richest Man in Babylon, does exactly that.
For a short discussion of the principles of The Richest Man in Babylon, go to free money finance.

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  1. I think also that the word for “perfect” means something different in greek than in our contemporary english. Here it is generally understood to mean “mature, whole, complete”. Notice that Jesus said, “one thing you ‘lack'”. He was incomplete in his pursuit of God. This was for his love of his riches, which was a snare to him. Riches have not been a snare to everyone, but I don’t know nothin’ about that. I’m blue collar all the way baby!

    But this is a great examination of the potential dangers of riches, especially a love/trust of them. If we love/trust riches then we too will become lacking in our pursuit of God. John Wesley said something very insightful about money: “Whenever I find money in my pocket, I get rid of it as quickly as possible before it finds its way into my heart”. I think Jesus was telling this rich young ruler the same thing, in essence.

    Is it okay for christians to be rich? I reckon so, it just seems like it would be real hard to stay rightly related to Jesus.

    Anyway, my two cents…
    mark jr.

  2. I think you’re right that Jesus was pointing out that the rich young ruler’s problem was his love of money, not the money itself. Some other thoughts:

    1. What would be the response of the Jesus who gave us the parable of the talents to John Wesley’s getting rid of any extra money God placed in his way?

    2. What would Jesus’ response be to Warren Buffet giving away 30 billion dollars. Would it be-you shouldn’t have had it in the first place, or well done, thou good and faithful servant?

    3. Who’s life revolves more around money: the person with a mortgage free house and a million dollars in investments, who can focus on areas of his life other than making money or the person with a first and second mortgage, credit card debt, and his car insurance coming due?

    4. Being blue collar is not a sentence to financial mediocrity. Read and follow the financial precepts of The Richest Man in Babylon, and you can provide for a comfortable existence in the future. What you do with the money later on in life is up to you.

    • PJVS, you are nothing other than a heretic. Jesus Christ would spit you out of his mouth for believing something as patently unChristian as “who’s life revolves more around money: the person with a mortgage free house and a million dollars in investments, who can focus on areas of his life other than making money or the person with a first and second mortgage, credit card debt and his car insurance coming due?”

      So, the economic slave owners of our society are closer to Christ, because they are cushioned by the wealth made off the backs of those at the bottom of society? You are an apostle of the Romans (as in Herod-type Romans) not Christ!

      And how interesting that your main advice to this man (who in no way shape or form indicated he is dissatisfied with his blue collar life or level of income) is: “Hey, dude! Quit thinking about spiritual topics and, instead, go read The Richest Man in Babylon’ and get your mind solidly back on money and finance where it NEEDS to be!”

      Whatever. Great thinkers throughout history have noticed that the bulk of Christianity does not follow the real Jesus Christ at all — “at some point Christ and Christianity got a divorce” and “Christ is probably very glad he is Christ and not a Christian” — and oh my Lord are you living proof of that.

      • Who are you to decide who is a heretic?

      • well said Diane. Mega-dittos.

  3. Two thirds of the world is wondering where their next meal will come from. Countless children will die from poverty or poverty related diseases in the time it takes to read this response. I wonder how many will be sold into bonded labor before the day is done. I don’t even want to think of those that will slip into eternity in the next 24 hours without ever hearing the name ‘Jesus’. It seems to me we should be spending less time in discussing what to do with our earthly “wealth” and more time making an impact on eternity.

  4. I think that we have become so focused on money in this American culture that we constantly attempt to find ways to justify our possession of it.
    Jesus merely states as your blog points out that don’t focus on it but rather focus on the Kingdom and all that represents and the other things in life, such as money will be taken care of in your life. Besides, the deepest meaning in life is not to go swimming in a pool of money but merely to get wet in something.

  5. I asked the question, “Is it ok to be rich”? Then I searched the scriptures for the answer. My determination was put in a book “Its Okay To Be Rich But Seek Ye First The Kingdom Of God”.

    There is nothing wrong with Christians being rich as long as they keep things in perspective. Keep God first in all you do. Make all the money you can and let God lead you in how to use it for the good of others and bring glory to Him.

    God uses people that are willing to be used to meet the needs of others. The poor can not help the poor financially. Will you be used by Him?

    • “When you give money, you give nothing: it is only when you give of YOURSELF that you truly give.” Giving large sums of money to charity is what pagans do to feel better about the fact that they’d rather have a comfy, financially secure life than to ‘give themselves wholly to God and follow Him wherever He leads.’

      Thank God the poor cannot help the poor financially: this means they have no choice but to give of themselves and, thus, give in the only way God and Christ desire and bless. The only people in our society who truly help the poor are those who pick up Christ’s cross and live in solidarity with the poor . . . because you cannot truly know or understand a fellow human being unless you have lived in his or her shoes.

      Read David Wagner’s ‘What’s Love God to Do with It? A Critical Look at American Charity’ (New York: The Real Press 2000) on how charity in America does nothing BUT reinforce for the poor that Christians are hypocrites who provide them with ‘fish for a day’ because they have no intention of EVER teaching them ‘how to fish.’ As Tracy Chapman sings, “They don’t realize that people do not want handouts, but just a way to make an honest living” . . . and making an honest living includes work which does not require that they demean themselves as human beings. Most lower income jobs in America are supremely demeaning to the worker as a human being, and most wealthy Christians could care less that this is the reality.

    • It is certainly wrong to be rich as a Christian. After reading the Bible several times and trying to find a way around it, I couldn’t. The best thinking I can come up with for why it is wrong is the golden rule. If you can afford to have others live as wealthy as you, by all means live wealthy. If you can’t, don’t. Since not even Bill Gates is rich enough to provide for the REST of humanity, none of us are. As such, I now give away 40,000 a year, keeping 20 for myself. It is the only Christian thing to do.

      -Zarko

      • Amen.
        I wholeheartedly agree and I am praying for the miracle.
        From a sinner who not deserve to be saved.

  6. We give God the glory for the rich Christians and the poor. They are both justified by the death of Christ on the cross. We have recieved gifts from both and consider all gifts large or small a gift from God. God calls many rich to fund missions just like ours. Preach the Word of our Holy God in truth and love; Exalt the name of Jesus Christ; always give God the glory.
    Saved by God’s sovereign grace that opened my eyes to His Holy Word that brought about saving faith in Jesus Christ for God’s glory.

    http://www.brotherskeepermissions.com

  7. I intend to come back and join in the dialogue, but at the moment have to stop to put my sons to bed. I have observed a vow of poverty (on my own, without affiliation with a religious community) since 1996 and have quite a few thoughts on this topic. I noted a few of them today in my blog; check it out if you get a chance. http://dianestranz.wordpress.com. Have a blessed week.

  8. This is ridiculous. You can do without your material possessions. Who ever wrote this has no understanding of the teachings of christ.

    • I TOTALLY agree. When I first came across this blog post in February and made my short note above, I hadn’t read far into the main post and hadn’t read any of the comments. Coming back to it now, I am in total agreement with you, Henry.

      “Prosperity” doctrines are the leading heresy of the 20-21st centuries and books like Og Mandino’s (about Jesus being a great salesman), Jesus CEO, The Richest Man in Babylon, etc., are all completely heretical. C.S. Lewis hit the nail on the head his awesome book ‘The Screwtape Letters’ that hell and demons have their most exact correlations to the structure and operation of modern business enterprises, where genuine human relationship and Christlike compassion are replaced by non-committal ‘networking’ relationships and financial charity (to the extent that a nice tax deduction results from that charity). Christ must groan in agony that His life and reality are so twisted and perverted by deceived humans, amen.

      God’s Kingdom on earth, when it is finally established, will be a genuinely democratic community where there is no government, no corporations, no Stock Exchange, no insurance companies, no money (or other fake human-created basis of exchange), no “networking” or similarly fake form of human relationship, and every human being will be accorded the basic dignity to work in accord with his or her own God-directed calling (which will usually involve the practice of a trade or craft with God and clients as the only “bosses.”

  9. Luke 16, the parable of the unjust steward. I think it has to be said that there is some major light on what Jesus said was highly exalted and what God thinsk is commendable. He said everything that is highly commended in man’s eyes is disgusting in God’s eyes. I think the stewardship was that thing highly exalted man, but leaving things to God to justify was highly commended by God. Its love oneor the other, God or mammon. Its a heart issue. If we understand the doctrine of justification we will understand just how significant the cross and resurrection of Jesus was. Justification is tied into the resurrection, and thatt occurs after the cross. Its a pattern of things. We are to lay down all to the cross and let God take them up. We are taught to take up our cross, and not to save ourselves. Our culture is all about the rights of saving ourselves and so we have a conflict of mind-sets. I hope these snippets of ideas are coming across because a blog cant really do justice to the ultimate undertanding of refusing to justify ourselves. I agree with another blog, the American way is all about justifying its ways, but Jesus is about true justification not only by the death of his whole earthly realm, but the resurrection unto glory. Its virtue of His spirit of grace as is righteousness. Now Jesus said to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We are not there until we can wrought the spiritual power of God on earth. Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom is demonstrated by Jesus when he went around with power to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick. There are a few on earth doing that today, but they all took up the cross to get there. And they are all having a blast! What the heck is up with the resot of us?

  10. The words of Christ are simple for people to understand,for people who has compassion for others. But for those hardhearted ones they cannot understand this so they tend to twist it and make it complicated. Let the young kid with enough understanding read the verses of Matthew 19:23-26 then let him explain it in his own words because young kids do not have the tendency to twist what they understand not like most adults do ( Mark 10:14). For the true Christians are only focus to a spiritual growth and of little concern to material gain. Like the rich man in the bible I fell loneliness when I read the verses of Matthew though I did not not tend to twist it I close it and it took me years to open it again. And now I try to teach my kids honesty and every manual and mental skills I could teach them hoping they would develop resistance against the lure of riches and make them more confident though poor in wealth(Matthew 6:25-34). It is not O.K. to see sufferings around us while keeping ourselves wealthy. Rich Christians is indeed an oxymoron.

  11. To Whom It May concern,

    This is Rev. Robert Wright, Editor for http://www.Christian.com which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian’s needs. Christian.com has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice and to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward for your response regarding the matter,

    Thanks!

    God Bless

    |Rev.Robert Wright|Christian.com|
    |1 International Blvd.|Mahwah, NJ 07495|
    |rev.robertwright@gmail.com|

  12. URGENT PRAYER REQUEST

    PROLONGED DROUGHT; HUNGER AND FAMINE

    The Lord is leading us to share and let you know of the tough situation we are facing in our country and the people.

    Since last September 2010, rains fade away and for several months now many parts of our country has not been receiving any. Our people depend majorly on Corn Maize as staple food which is planted during March and harvested in as from August. The stocks are few and already alerts have been given, rains have not come and the Meteorological Dept. say will be untill late May..

    We already experience tough times and since the planting is usually done in March, it will be a dying time for harvest to come. We have started receiving many nomadic herders and visitors who travel from Northern and Eastern sides of Kenya in search of pasture and food. We too have very little. Commodity prices have shot due to revolution in oil producing countries and the scarcity of food itself.
    Many people, cattles, Donkeys, Carmels, Goats, and Sheep have died from hunger/ famine.Life has become so tough on the majority poor making some to opt for Human and animal urine for water. People in the Northern suffer the most for they have to walk over 100 miles in search of little or no water.

    It has reached a point of no return and we have to ask our Heavenly Father for His mercies and salvation. This is not usuall. Media has not done enough to publisize the reall picture on the ground.

    We have been touched to share about this to you for your one-statement prayer important to cause life and restoration to the Land. We thank God for putting us together in His Spirit and for His love and work of Salvation as we interceed for this catastrophie.
    Hebrews 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
    Jeremiah 27:18 But if they be prophets, and if the word of the LORD be with them, let them now make intercession to the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, go not to Babylon.
    Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
    Romans 8:27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

    Together we stand for Christ and Saints and proclaim the Kingdom of God forever as we remember Japan in our prayers.

    May the Lord bless you as you go forth in His mighty name, Jesus Christ!

    Blessings…..
    Brother Bushebi and Ministry.

  13. […] Rich Christians-An Oxymoron? I think Jesus was trying to correct these beliefs concerning the spiritual state of the rich. I think he was pointing out that the rich were no more likely to go to heaven than anyone else, and that they might even be less likely than others to go to heaven because their riches might distract them from seeking the kingdom of heaven. […]

  14. URGENT PRAYER REQUEST FOR GOD’S VISION &PLEASE HELP ME
    *Dear PASTOR in Christ,PRAISE THE LORD

    *Iam U.SUNIL from visakhapatnam,INDIA. my wife U.VISHALA and my son
    U.SUMMIT VINESH conveying our love and blessings for you and your
    ministry in Jesus name. I want to share the God’s vision in our life*,*(God
    has sent his servant of God Mr.Rev.M.THOMAS to my home and Explained God’s
    vision & prophecy in my life .)The some vision has by another sister
    Dr.DEENA GRACE. as the holy bible says in the book of James 1:27- Religion
    that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after
    orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being
    polluted by the world. we request you to pray for the god’s plan in our
    life that we should fulfill his vision,and he should provide us the finance
    required to start this project . Kindly pray that god should provide us his
    love and compassion through out this project and we should work for the
    glory of his kingdom. Please do convey your valuable answers from God
    through a mail or a phone call in this regard. PLEASE PRAYER FOR THIS
    PROJECT YOUR DAILY PRAYER’S.AND IF YOU INS PER GOD’S VISION, PLEASE HELP ME.AND SUPPORT ME.
    PLEASE COME TO INDIA.

    *Expecting for your encouraging answer from God.PLEASE SEND YOUR REPLY.

    *Thanking you,*
    *U. Sunil
    E MAIL- sunil.vishala@gmail.com
    MY CHURCH– ZION PRAYER TEMPLE(VISAKHAPATNAM)
    *MY (CELL PHONE) NO-+91-9848075073

    MY RESIDENCE (ADDRESS)
    U.SUNIL
    S/O LATE. NOOKA RAJU
    DOOR NO-36-94-303\7,
    RAMJI ESTATE,
    KANCHARAPALEM .PIN CODE-530008
    VISAKHAPATNAM,
    ANDHRA PRADESH,
    INDIA.


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