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Does God want you to be rich?

By John W. Kennedy

Does God want us to live in a mansion, drive a new sport utility vehicle and take an around-the-world luxury vacation?

Or does God want us to take a vow of poverty, eschew all worldly pleasures and consign ourselves to a life of austerity?

Both financial extremes are taught in Christendom today. Proponents in the first camp, epitomized by the health-and-wealth preachers who dominate televangelism, proclaim that a lack of financial blessing is an indication followers are outside of God’s will. The flip side posits that showing concern about material resources indicates a lack of spirituality.

While proponents of each position quote isolated biblical passages, the majority of some 2,000 Scripture verses dealing with money and possessions don’t sustain either one.

“God wants us to be spiritually rich, but that doesn’t always involve money,” says Carolyn Castleberry, whose books include Women, Take Charge of Your Money. She explains that the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10 wrote that he could provide spiritual riches to others despite being poor.

“The biblical definition of rich is the ability to share,” says Kregg R. Hood, senior vice president at AG Financial Solutions in Springfield, Mo.

Hood, whose new book is Rich Toward God, says Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33 that those who first seek God’s kingdom won’t have to worry about what they will wear or eat. And when the apostle Paul talked about being “made rich in every way” in 2 Corinthians 9:11 (NIV),  “rich” dealt with a full and complete life, not the size of a bank account.

“Most of the promises of blessing in Scripture should be interpreted in a spiritual rather than financial sense,” says economist Charles M. North, co-author of Good Intentions: Nine Hot-Button Issues Viewed Through the Eyes of Faith.

Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 that there is a long-term cause and effect between sowing and reaping, Hood says.

“But there isn’t a correlation between an individual act of giving and receiving,” Hood says. “God isn’t a heavenly vending machine.”

Castleberry says 1 Timothy 6:6 puts material belongings in context by showing that godly contentment is what truly makes Christians well off.

“We can never follow God for the sake of gaining money,” says Castleberry, who is co-host of ABC Family Channel’s Living the Life. “If money is our first priority, we will fail or we will be miserable because it never satisfies.”

Assets aren’t innately evil. Some Christian entrepreneurs who have become wealthy — such as Chick-fil-A’s Truett Cathy, Auntie Anne’s Anne Beiler and Hobby Lobby’s David Green — have started a variety of philanthropic endeavors to share their blessings.

On the other hand, half a dozen “name-it, claim-it” televangelists have so enriched themselves with donations from “ministry partners” that they’ve attracted a Senate investigation. The probe resulted from reports of opulent lifestyles by leaders of tax-exempt ministries, including operating private jets for personal use, driving Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, living in multimillion-dollar mansions and earning excessive salaries.

For many televangelists, the central message seems to be that God’s goal is for the viewer to be rich. Hood disagrees. “The fundamental appeal of the rewards theology preached in the prosperity gospel is covetousness,” Hood says.

Hood, citing 1 Timothy 6:9, notes that God warns against the desire to “get rich” because it can lead to destruction. “It’s not God’s heart that we be trapped with the temptations of wealth,” Hood says. The attitude of the heart is key, according to Hood. He says the possessions that the rich fool had accumulated in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12 didn’t cause the problem. Instead, the man’s greed and unwillingness to share his gains led to his downfall.

The wealthy heroes in the Bible, Abraham and Solomon notwithstanding, are a distinct minority, Hood says. Those who teach a prosperity message have bought into their own warped theology, Hood believes.

Those who have amassed exorbitant wealth have a greater responsibility in managing it, says North, referring to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. North says those who own more have an obligation to curtail their consumption to free up resources for helping others.

And, North says, it’s incorrect to presume that everyone who is wealthy has gained that affluence as a result of being blessed by God. “There are a lot of Bible passages suggesting that people with the money are the ones causing problems,” North says.

Castleberry says Christians in the United States are susceptible to temptations of wealth because we live in an entitlement society yearning for the latest fashions, be it in clothes, technology or elsewhere.

“The overriding American culture that emphasizes material success has spilled over into the church,” North says. Two Baylor University Religion Surveys show that as income rises the percentage of church giving actually declines, according to North. Those with less actually donate a larger chunk of their wages to Christian causes.

Experts warn that it’s easy for Christians to put trust in bank accounts, real estate and accumulated possessions. But 1 Timothy 6:7 warns that we take nothing out of this world. The only place we can store up eternal treasure is in heaven (Matthew 6:20).


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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