Command those who are rich in this 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. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is desiring to be rich, evil?


Last week, I received an email from one of my blog readers with a number of questions regarding the desire for wealth. In today's post, I will do my best to answer this reader's questions.

The Email
Hi Larry,
What are your thoughts on "desiring to be rich is evil"? Almost all pastors and articles that I read said this:
"If you want to be rich to help others, it's right"
"If you want to be rich for yourself it's wrong!"
But how can anyone be so one sided? Regardless of helping people or not, when people are rich surely they will seek better things for themselves (better neighborhood, better food, better education for children etc). Except for few really EXCEPTIONAL people, every Christian I know seek better things for themselves when they have more money.
I've been struggling with this issue, I am 26 yo (just became Christian 3 years ago). I love helping people, even when I am not rich today I still help people. I want to be rich so I can help more people. I want to sponsor more orphaned kids so they can get proper education but I also have the desire to get better things for myself. I want financial security so I can focus on non-profit works and hobby, I want a better education for my children, better quality of life for my family (better food), better car, I would love to go to Antartica someday etc.
If I follow the advice mentioned above then that means we can't desire those worldly benefits. And when we are blessed with abundance of wealth we must maintain our old lifestyle (whatever it is) and donate the rest of the wealth. The Bible seems to agree with this as well. 
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5)."
Don't get me wrong, I am always grateful of what I have. Even when life is down at the moment, I am thankful for the inspiration and power He gave me to stay motivated and focused. It's just I wonder if God just want us to be unambitious and que sera sera.
I am curious about your thoughts on this.
My Response

Dear, T.

These are wonderfully complex questions, and to be honest, I struggle with many of these same thoughts! I certainly do not claim to know all the answers, but here's what I have learned through my own journey in Christian personal finances and life in general.
  1. If you live in the United States, you are already rich. Compared to the majority of the rest of the inhabitants of planet earth, even the poorest Americans are extremely wealthy. Now, with that being said, I will readily admit upfront that there are some pretty substantial degrees of wealth here in the U.S. Also, the U.S. standard of living is considerably higher than many other countries, but our poor often own a vehicle, have a roof over their head, food on the table, clothes on their back, and a couple of TVs to boot. Plus, we live in a land of great opportunity, even during a time of financial hardship.
  2. Recognize that everything you have is the Lord's. Psalm 24:1 says, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." On your personal finance journey, always keep this at the front of your mind. Everything that God has entrusted to you today is His. You are simply just a manager of His wealth.
  3. Demonstrate to the Lord that you are a capable money manager with what He has entrusted to you, today. If we truly recognize that everything is His to begin with, we will begin to manage His money, possessions, and resources in a more responsible way. Our mindset should be somewhat like a Chief Financial Officer in God's Kingdom work and we are managing the finances of a franchise store. If we manage what He has entrusted to us in a faithful, capable manner, I believe it's very likely that He will give us even more to manage. See my blog post on Pastor Rick Warren's journey regarding wealth, money management, and giving. Also, see my post on You don't really have money problems regarding money management.
  4. God gives wealth to whomever He chooses. The pursuit of wealth in and of itself can be a very slippery slope. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation 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." God is going to bless some with great wealth and some with less, and He most likely has a purpose behind His decisions. He knows that some believers can handle wealth in a responsible manner and others can't. He may also give some individuals wealth in order to test them, spiritually. Again, our response should be on managing with excellence what He has chosen to bless us with in this moment. See my post on The Parable of the Talents as well as my post He's God, I'm Not.
  5. Live with an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for where you are and what you have, today. I believe this is the essence of contentment. Even during times of financial hardship, we can all be thankful for something. See my post on Living with an abundance mindset for an even greater explanation regarding living out a life of gratitude.
  6. Live with an attitude of generosity. In your email, you mention that you already have an attitude of giving, and that's great! Keep fostering that mindset. I truly believe that God blesses generous people in order that they can give even more of His money away. I have blogged extensively on the topic of generosity. You can read all of those posts here. The key is to focus our giving on a desire to build God's Kingdom and send our wealth "on ahead" for eternal rewards. We can't take our stuff here on earth with us when we die. Life here on earth is extremely short. Eternity is forever.
  7. Focus on your relationship with the Lord. God wants our hearts. Period. Unfortunately, when we become focused on obtaining wealth, money becomes the desire of our heart instead of God. In fact, Jesus addressed this issue in Matthew 19:16-30 with the story of the rich young ruler. The Lord loved this man and desired that he become a follower, but he also knew that this man loved his wealth. This is why he asked him to give everything away. Jesus wanted his heart, but the rich man walked away because he loved money more than God. Love God with everything you've got, including your money. Allow money to be a tool and a resource, but never an object of desire.
  8. Allow His desires to become your desires. I believe desire and ambition are admirable qualities that should be cultivated, but we need to make sure our desires line up with God's Word. The Apostle Paul had some incredibly ambitious goals to spread the gospel in what is now modern day Turkey, Italy, and Spain. Although he had many great Kingdom-minded goals, he stayed open and flexible to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the end, the Holy Spirit directed him to Macedonia instead of Turkey, and then Paul ended up in Italy as a result of a prison sentence, a couple of trials, and an appeal to Caesar. You can read my post on Paul's journey here. I know in my own life, I have been incredibly ambitious since I was a teenager, but unfortunately the goals of my teens and 20s were selfish ones. As I have matured in my walk with Christ, my selfish desires faded away and my desires have gradually become His desires. I can testify that I have more joy, peace, and contentment today as a result of pursuing His desires for my life.
  9. Pray it through. As believers in Christ, we are children of Almighty God. We so often forget that He is our Heavenly Father, and we have access to a loving, caring, and really wealthy dad! Pray through all of these struggles you are having. Pray for God to provide for your needs, because He has promised us that He will provide. Pray for wisdom as you manage what God has currently blessed you with. Pray in faith for more financial blessing in order to give even more away and to be a blessing to others.
  10. Wait on God's timing. I admit upfront that patience and waiting on God is not easy for me, but I have found that as I focus on all of the points above, God blesses me beyond measure. He blesses me with spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and financial abundance. Does this mean that I never have problems or struggles? No, quite the contrary, but I think I become more thankful and content as I wait on Him.
  11. Focus on how God has SHAPED you. The acronym SHAPE stands for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. God has created all of us as unique individuals. He has given to all of us different gifts and abilities. He has given us individual personalities and passions. When people pursue a career or business with the sole purpose to gain wealth, they often will not succeed. The missing ingredient - passion! Focus instead on how God has designed you and use your passion to help people. When we pursue God's life design and gifting, the financial reward often follows over time.
  12. God wants you to provide for your family. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than unbeliever." Does this mean we should provide our family with food from Whole Foods Market, designer clothes, and private education for the kids? Probably not, but God understands that we have needs in these important areas of life. I think we can make intelligent, frugal, healthy choices in the "needs" department without spending a boatload of money in order to build margin into our family's budget so that we have more money to give away and save. Believe it or not, the majority of millionaires are very frugal when it comes to their choices in homes, clothing, and education purchases. See these two posts I wrote regarding the book The Millionaire Mind by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley.
  13. God wants you to enjoy what He has blessed you with. 1 Timothy 6:17 states, "Command those who are rich in this 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 everything for our enjoyment." Being an excellent manager of God's wealth doesn't mean that we need to sit around in our homes, collect lint, and only come out on triple coupon Tuesdays (Dave Ramsey quote). If you have been a good financial manager, and you have budgeted and saved for a night out with your spouse, a summer vacation with your family, or a better, more reliable used car, I believe God is happy that you are able to enjoy His blessings here on earth.

American Christians live in a very unique time and place in history. We have wealth, resources, and freedoms that very few people have enjoyed in all of history. With much determination, noble goals, and a lot of hard work, we all have the possibility of climbing the social-economic ladder here in the United States. This is all very different from Biblical times. I do believe, however, that God has blessed American Christians with great financial resources, not to get filthy, stinkin' rich in order to satisfy our own selfish desires, but rather to build up the Kingdom of God. In the end, we should ask ourselves better questions regarding the wealth God has blessed us with. Instead of "how much do we really need to give back to God?", the better question to ask ourselves may be "how much should we keep?" Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to this question. Allow God to work in your heart and mind. Over time, He will reveal that answer to you if you remain a faithful manager to Him. In the meantime, enjoy the journey as you continue to wrestle with these questions. The journey and the struggle is where we mature in our walk with Christ. God's will for your life is a process.

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