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Wealth and Poverty - Part 1

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth . . . For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

According to my socioeconomics teacher in college, “the typical American Christian is an economic conservative with a guilty conscience.[i]

The Bible can be confusing when talking about money and wealth. On the one hand, severe warnings are given to the rich (see Mark 10:25 and James 5:1-2, for example); but on the other, God promises wealth, riches, and prosperity to those who obey his commands.

The seeming contradictions have led to two extreme schools of thought within the Christian community: 1) The Prosperity Gospel which teaches that you can “command” God to bless you financially and riches are a sign of God’s blessing; and 2) The Poverty Gospel which teaches that all Christians should forfeit worldly wealth and commit to a life of poverty.

So how do we reconcile these two polarizing views on wealth and poverty? The Bible does not condemn wealth, and neither should we. The Bible does not uphold poverty as the pathway to righteousness, nor should we.[ii]

The common explanation that there is nothing wrong with being rich if we love God more than our material possessions is an over-simplification of a complex problem. If the answer is that simple, the Bible would not contain over 2,300 verses referring to money! Think about that. This is more than the teaching of heaven and hell combined. Scripture tells us more than you may think about socioeconomics.

One thing is clear throughout Scripture: God wants us to prosper spiritually, financially, socially, etc. The Creator of the Universe didn’t need to care for the health and welfare of his creation, but He does. He could have made us His slaves, but He didn’t.

Instead, God created an elaborate plan to show mankind how to prosper. From the beginning of time, we see basic social and economic principles in action in early civilizations. Abraham, the man credited with being the “father of many nations,” was very wealthy: he owned property, planted crops, hired workers, accumulated possessions, and protected his assets.

After the famous escape of the Jewish people from Egypt, recorded in the book of Exodus, Moses is tasked with establishing a new, sovereign nation. The remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy record God’s laws and instructions for this brand-new society. These books record detailed instructions, among other things, on how to build buildings, plant vineyards, and prepare supplies they will need for survival.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai outlined the rule of law for this new nation and provided a basis for all civilized societies. Worship God first and only. Respect God’s name. Honor your parents who gave you life. Don’t murder. Don’t sleep with someone else’s spouse. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t crave your neighbor’s stuff.

These commands exemplify God’s natural order. When properly applied, these rules can, and have, benefited every individual and society known to man since the beginning of time. When these laws are disregarded, however—such as “don’t murder”—the results are devastating.

What does the Bible say about how to build wealth? Why does God warn against being rich? A lot of debate has transpired in recent days about capitalism versus socialism. What does the Bible reveal about these economic systems? Starting next week, we will discuss the 3 keys to financial prosperity outlined in scripture.

Join us as we explore these questions and more about Wealth and Poverty.

[1] God and Caesar: Biblical Faith and Political Action; John Eidsmoe 1997

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