Is it Okay for a Christian to be Rich?

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The following is from Shane Claiborne in answer to the question, “Is it Okay for Christians to be Rich?”

Give it a thoughtful and prayerful read, then tell me if you agree or disagree in the comments and why.

Update: You can hear my thoughts on Shane’s article here.

SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE WEALTHY? – My response to Shane

by Shane Claiborne

Asking if it is okay for Christians to be rich is a strange question. It is like asking if it is okay for Christians to overeat, or watch too much TV. It may be permissible, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. I believe Jesus came to set us free — and one of the things he wants to set us free from is our obsession with money and possessions. Which is why he says such harsh things like “Woe to you who are rich…” (Luke 6:24).

Why would we want to try and accumulate the stuff that Scripture says the love of which is the root of all sorts of evil? John Wesley said so well, “If I have money in my hands, I get rid of it quickly lest it make its way into my heart.”

A constant thread in Scripture is that we are not to take more than we need while others have less than they need, a radical critique of the world we live in. The early Christians went so far as to say that if a Christian has more than they need while their neighbor is in need, the Christian is a thief. “If we have two coats we have stolen one.”

But here’s the important catch — this is about love. To love our neighbor as our self, redefines how we hold our possessions, and how we define what is “enough.” One of the signs of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, was that they all started sharing… Acts 2/4: “No one claimed any of their possessions as their own, but the shared everything they had… and there were no needy persons among them.”

In the end Jesus did not come to give us guilt — but to give us life. And the lilies and the sparrows know that freedom, and that trust in God… even Solomon in all his splendor could not compare to them. There is no greater thing to do with the gifts of God than to share them, especially with those in need. The best thing to do with the best things in life — is give them away.

Let me follow up with one more reflection. This one is especially for folks who look to the Bible as a framework for how we are to live. Building on the work of some great thinkers like Ched Myers and Ron Sider – let’s consider a “THEOLOGY OF ENOUGH.”

Rather than reacting to the extremes of the “prosperity Gospel” (God blesses people with wealth) or the “poverty Gospel” (God demands that all of us live in poverty), I want to suggest we build a new framework for thinking about money and possessions — a theology of ENOUGH. The idea is that God wants every one of us to have the things we need. And there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed (as Gandhi said).

There is a vision weaved throughout Scripture of “this day our daily bread.” Or as Proverbs says – give me neither poverty nor riches, for in my poverty I might be forced to steal and in my riches I might forget my God (Proverbs 30:8).

One of the earliest stories we have in the Bible is Exodus 16. Before God’s people even have the 10 commandments they are commanded by God to take only enough food for each day, and they are ordered by God to take one day’s ration in the ark of the covenant to remind them of God’s provision – and to remind them not to stockpile for tomorrow while folks don’t have enough for today. God even threatens to send maggots to eat up any excess they start to hoard.

We see this idea of “enough” reiterated all through Scripture, Old and New Testaments. Paul articulates this “theology of enough” as he scolds the early Christians for not sharing:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

The only reason any of this seems radical is that we have come a very long way from God’s vision for everyone to have this day our daily bread.

Just consider this: The world’s three richest people own more than the combined economies of 48 countries. 85 people own the same amount of wealth as 3.5 billion (half the world).

The average CEO in the US is making 380 times the average worker. That means the average worker needs to work an entire month to make what the CEO makes in one hour.

We live in a time of unprecedented inequity between the rich and poor. It’s time to rediscover this theology of enough.

We hear the echo of “enough” in the Lord’s Prayer as we are taught to pray for “this day our daily bread.” Not just “my bread.” Not tomorrow’s bread. But for all of us to have enough TODAY.

In the early Church, not only did they radically share their possessions with open hands “claiming nothing as their own” — they went so far as to do a community-wide fast if they were running short.

Until everyone could eat, no one would eat. In fact, it was the ethic of the early Christians that no one has a right to more than they need while others have less. Vincent de Paul demonstrates this ethic well when he suggests that when we give food to the hungry, our posture should be to get on our knees and ask forgiveness, for we are only returning what is rightfully theirs.

God did not create one person rich and another poor. Generosity is not a noble virtue of the saints, it is simply what Christians do … to love our neighbor as ourselves redefines how we hold our possessions. Generosity flows naturally from a heart of love. How can we pass by our neighbor in need and not share with them (1 John 3:17)?

What we are talking about is a global movement committed to loving our neighbor as ourselves. And the love we are talking about comes with a daunting responsibility that goes along with being “born again.” It means that if someone else’s child goes without, it is as tragic as if that were our own child. We start to feel uncomfortable buying stuff we don’t need when we realize that we have brothers and sisters who are dying because they don’t have a mosquito net that will prevent malaria… a mosquito net that costs $3, the price we pay for coffee. That’s tough to swallow.

But nonconformity doesn’t mean uniformity. There’s not one anecdote for how we are all to live. But loving our neighbor as ourselves is the goal, and seeking “this day our daily bread” helps refine our vision. Some, like Matthew in the Gospel, will sell everything. Others like Zacchaeus will sell half of everything and pay people back four times what they owe them. But for all of us it is call to radically reorient the way we think about money and possessions – lest the things we own begin to own us.

Here’s the deal. Generosity cannot be forced. It cannot be legislated. It has to be provoked… by love. That’s why we’re not talking about a new form of socialism or communism or anything that ends in “-ism.”

Jesus did not come to give us guilt, but to give us life. The current economic patterns are not good for the poor or the rich. Studies show that some of the wealthiest corners of the world have the highest rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide. Someone once said to Mother Teresa: “I couldn’t live like you if someone paid me a million dollars.” And she responded by saying, “I wouldn’t do it if someone paid me a million dollars either… I do it because it is what I am made for.” What we are talking about is the life we are made for. And many of us settle for something short of that life.

I will never forget learning one of my best lessons in economics — from a homeless kid in India. Every week we would throw a party for the street kids, kids 8-10 years old who were homeless, begging all day to survive. Each Tuesday we would get about 100 of them together and throw a party, play games, eat a big meal. One week, one of the kids I had grown close to told me it was his birthday.

So I got him an ice cream. He was so excited he stared at it mesmerized. I have no idea how long it had been since he had eaten ice cream. But what he did next was brilliant. He yelled at all the other kids and told them to come over. He lined them up and gave them all a lick. His instinct was: this is so good I can’t keep it for myself. In the end, that’s what this whole idea of generosity is all about. Not guilt. It’s about the joy of sharing. It’s about realizing the good things in life – like ice cream – are too good to keep for ourselves.

Update: You can hear my thoughts on Shane’s article here.

SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE WEALTHY? – My response to Shane

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Brandon Roberts

    Easy the short answer yes

  • This article is a bit all over the place for me. I am not sure whether to agree or disagree because some of the points are well intended but a bit disconnected.

    First off there needs to be some fact checking across the board. Scripture doesn’t speak against having stuff. In fact we know that some people have been created and shown favor by way of material possession. Abraham, Solomon, Jacob, Joseph, Job, I could go on. All of these men were considered rich. Some of them were extremely rich even by today’s standards and their wealth came directly from God so to say being rich is inherently wrong is a bit of stretch.

    In the opening statements of this article it’s kind of not clear as to whether or not the author is condemning the accumulation of stuff over the desire to have stuff as the culprit that we should be cautious of. The Bible doesn’t condemn those who have money or possessions. What the text actually says is that the love of money is the root of all evil. The operative phrase being “the love of” not money itself. So in one hand yes the Bible is giving us a strong warning against our “obsession” of money but not the money it’s self after all money is a God instituted thing. However just like anything else when taken out of order and out of context and used inappropriately money can consume and be And evil force in our lives but so can food so can relationships so can computers. The point is is not what we have but how we use it. The author seems touch on these things here and there And this is why it is a bit confusing.

    Another issue that I take with this article comes out of the argument that the concept of being rich is extremely relative and subjective to a person’s perspective.

    What is “Rich” to you may not be “rich” to me. What cost a lot of money to me, may not cost a lot it to another person. So how are we to accurately say that this person has too much or too little. That this person is not spending their money wisely in this area or this person is spending their money with the wisdom and another area.

    None of us can accurately say this because idea of wealth is subjective. If you don’t have money then buying the things you need may seem expensive. But for a person who has money buying the things that they need may not give them a second thought.

    How can I judge a person correctly if this is true. How can I say one person is using the resources wisely while another is not when my assessment of their wealth is from where I am standing and not from where they are standing.

    But again if having money is not inherently evil and the love of pursuing it is, then idea that a christian can be too rich is irrelevant. The idea that should be focused on is not the outside but what going on within.

    As Christians were not to judge other believers by the material possessions they have because unless we walk in the same shoes there’s no way for us to accurately gauge what exactly is excessive and what is insufficient. We are however to look at the fruit of a persons character, align that with what scripture says, then make a call accordingly.

    I have a very wealthy friend. He’s actually a Christian music artist. He’s done very well for himself. Is it wrong that by preaching the gospel he has made enough money to provide for himself and more? Is it right of me to make him feel like his success is somehow morally wrong even though he’s worked extremely hard and being been rewarded greatly for his work? I don’t see scripture supporting this idea.

    What many Christians like to do is look at is the exterior and because they see the flashy clothes and maybe they see a flashy lifestyle that supports an idea of wealth, they judge incorrectly and say things like “look at them, they are trying to be just like the world, they shouldn’t do that” But can we really make that call? do we really know whats going on in a mans heart? The bible says that man judges the outside but only God can judge the heart.

    Christians also like to say things that the disciples said in Matthew 26:9. Sure it sounds real “Christian” to say stuff like this. However the undertone is “it’s real Christian to help other people, don’t i feel good about being a real christian? don’t i look good being a real christian?”.

    We have to remember money is not the issue. If God wants to help all of the poverty-stricken people in the world, it isn’t a thing for him, He’ll do it and some. So if that’s the case why does it still exist? Why does God ask for our money? Why are to help those in need? Is if for their sake or our own???

    Jesus said that the poor would always be with us and yet Jesus is the one who had been given authority in all of heaven and all of earth, so why wouldn’t he just stop all of the madness and be done with social status’?

    The question is answered in the idea that Jesus allows these things to take place in order to teach us lessons. He allows people to be rich and to be poor In order for some greater purpose to be lived out.

    The question is not “why do you have so much wealth” but is more like “what do you do with your wealth” Or instead of wealth, “what do you do with the position that God has giving you?”. It may look like wealth to some but to others it may look like just your everyday average Joe. The point is it’s not your possession that gives you influence, it’s your position that gives you influence.

    Another thing to take into account when judging wealthy believers is the fact that you don’t see their giving, they don’t see the orphanages they have been built, you don’t see the cars that they have given away, you don’t see trafficking rackets that have been broken up because of their giving. What you see is the flash and based on that alone you say “oh you shouldn’t be rich. your supposed to be a christian” as if one is synonymous with the other.

    We don’t see the seed that has been put back into the ground as a result of the wealth that they have been given.

    What I have found to be true in many of these wealthy people’s lives is that they have had an upbringing from hell. And it’s almost like God is returning back to them what the locusts have stolen over the years. All we see is the now. What we don’t is see them when they were homeless or how they were raped and beaten or worse.

    It’s so easy to judge these people because all we see is their shiny exteriors and as Christians we like to think that a person of God should look a certain way. But this is not biblical nor is it morally correct.

    In reality, there should be Christians in every facet and every walk of life. We need to represent wherever God has placed us whether as a prince or a pauper. The focus should not be on obtaining more stuff as this is the attitude that I believe scripture is referring to when it says that the Love of money is the root of all evil, however we should be focusing on what we are to do with the responsibility and the position I got has given us.

    The Bible says that there are those who have been made for noble purposes and some who have been made for common purposes (romans 9:21, 2 timothy 2:20) There are people who have been position specifically and strategically for positions of authority, leadership, influence, wealth. And to a degree this is by no means an act of their own. This is by strategic plan from a providential and almighty God. And yet still there are others who have been positioned in hardship, struggle and poverty both locally and in third-world countries and from the outside we might say that that is living in “lack”. But this too is a strategic positioning from the Lord. Who are we to say what others should or should not have. Instead, what should we do about the amount of lack we see?

    I could say more but for the sake of the length of this response, I’ll quickly bullet point the rest:

    “…The early Christians went so far as to say that if a Christian has more than they need while their neighbor is in need, the Christian is a thief. “If we have two coats we have stolen one.”

    The author missed the point here. aside from the fact that these people weren’t known as christians which means they were still jews, till much later in the writings of Acts, John the baptist is talking to a group of people telling them that they need to learn how give and be fare to each other because the messiah is coming. This was not an instruct on christian living.

    Using exodus 16 as another instruct or admonition for only taking what you need is using a very specific word to a very specific people and time and using it in an impractical sense. Abraham was extremely wealthy and he came far before the children of Israel were crossing the dessert. So why did he not only take what he needed if this is a principle we are to take notice of as a message to all believers. Did solomon take only what he needed? Did David when he was rummaging through war spoils? again the list goes on and on.

    on the 2 Corinth. reference. CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT. Paul is encouraging a church known for being generous to continue to do so. He is also telling them that everyones needs are met when everyone does their part according to what they can give, not according to they can’t. Again there is a lot of subjectivity here especially if you are going to use this principle in modern day life.

    “God did not create one person rich and another poor” no, maybe not in the literal sense but he did purpose them for wealth. “before you were born, I knew you”

    “There’s not one anecdote for how we are all to live.” yet the author attempts to give several to justify his points.

    “Generosity cannot be forced. It cannot be legislated. It has to be provoked… by love”- agreed. I would add that it can not be assessed by humans either.

    There are a few more issues I take with the last story he gives about the indian kid if we are to live they way he is describing in this article but I think my point has being well made.

    Ultimately I don’t think that the heart of the writer is in the wrong place I just don’t think he communicated very well or accurately using scripture to support his ideas.

  • momgoober

    This is one of those extremely touchy subjects with Christians because the truth is money gives many of us comfort. We say it doesnt matter and if God told us to give it away, we would. But then an article like this gets posted and defences come out and walls go up. So could money have a tighter hold on us than God wants?
    A little background on me… my family and I got rid of our home and most of our belongings, we gave them away. We cashed in our retirement and paid off some debts. We had been doing street ministry, going out and praying for people. My husband had his own serveillence security camera business. But as He was going to a job quote he just wanted to focus on God and couldnt. His mind kept wandering back to what he was going to say at the quote to mak money. He came home and said he God asked him “If you only had to work 1 day a month, would u do it if Itook the money away?” My husband said, no. God told him, then he was serving the money.
    I too began to see that its the cares of this world and the DECEITFULNESS of RICHES that choke the seed. God tells many throughout scripture that you cannot be my disciple unless you forsake everything. The list goes on with Jesus. So, we were done serving the world.
    We wanted to be free to Go as God led us to stay and go as He desired. So we gave everything away and we one of my husbands clients gave us a truck and fifth wheel camper. We have been traveling 2 years and we left with just over $1000. We share Christ and his love. We have no church support, no donate button on our website…just God because he knows our Needs.
    You see Jesus is very clear that we cannot serve both God and money. It says that its the love of money that is the root of all evil, but that word love there is more similar to the word “like or to associate with”. Whatever we have is Gods and our understanding of blessing and being blessed has changed dramatically. But our blog is godsfunnel because that is what we are each to be. Funnels…as God pours in, we pour out so he can pour more in. Not hording or keeping it for our own funnels, but pulling the cork and letting everything he gives us flow out. An the more you understand Gods faithfulness, this isnt scary because you know God has you, so you can always focus on others because God will supply our needs! FREELY we recieve, FREELY we give.
    Imagine if Christians knew God would provide for them so instead of charging for everything, we gave everything away so the body could grow and learn and equip one another….working to help one another. But as long as we believe we are entitled to a certain amount of money or wage instead of trusting God to give us what we need then this wont work.

    What I have seen, is the more we let go, the more God steps in and our relationship grows. I didnt think money had a hold on us, till we walked this out. I think many of us dont realize how much it hinders us doing what God wants us to do. I have talked with many people who have walked away from Christianity and its not because they reject Christ, its because of greed they see within the church and in Christians lives. Taking care of themselves and being focused on self.

    Anyway, I am not out to debate, this is part of our walk and what we have seen and what we see as we look through scripture. There is so much more to write. But we will someday publish a free book as we walk this out more. Be blessed everyone.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Jesus didn’t say that it was impossible for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but He sure did say that it would be difficult. Why make things more difficult for yourself?

    John Wesley had a very good formula: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. There is nothing wrong with working diligently and well at all that God gives you to do (if it is ethical, and if it isn’t then it isn’t from God). If money comes from that then that is fine. The question then becomes what we do with that money, which is where the saving and giving come in. Chasing after money for its own sake, and especially by resorting to things that are unethical and ungodly to get it, is another matter entirely, and that does need to be forsaken, even if poverty is the price to pay for it. Unfortunately, there are very, very few rich people whose wealth was not acquired by or tainted by such in some way.

  • bradthayer

    Seems like an awful lot of proof texting. I agree with being generous and loving. However, money isn’t the issue rather it’s the love of money that is. Jesus commanded the rich ruler to give wealth away… If wealth was evil wouldn’t that be spreading evil? Also, didn’t Paul thank the people who were bank rolling his trips? Just seems like an extreme position that is pieced together using buzzword passages.

  • To even ask the question, “Is it OK for Christians to be
    rich?” already smacks of self-righteousness. Shane Claiborne then poisons the
    well by comparing being rich with overeating and watching too much TV. Why is
    that the case? No reason given. I could respond point-by-point, but it becomes
    tedious. The rest of the essay just seems like an exercise in envy. I’ll quote
    Paul also: “Command those who are rich … not to be arrogant nor to put their
    hope in wealth … Command them to do good…” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). For the
    record, I am not wealthy. I am a retired schoolteacher and work a part-time job
    to help my wife and I make ends meet. I don’t have cable TV. If someone has gotten
    rich through theft or fraud, it is the State’s business to punish him. If a
    rich Christian is not being generous with his wealth, it is the Holy Spirit’s
    job to convict him. He didn’t hand that job off to me or Mr. Claiborne.

  • Selah Project

    There’s always been haves and have nots. Some are blessed more than others. I believe our talents, used to bring value to others, indeed will bring reward.

    The “theology of enough” is important and the crux of the issue more than having riches. It’s what we do with that part after enough. Do we end up seeking extravagance for ourselves or look to the Spirit to find ways to serve our communities….both believers and non-believers.

    Yes, it’s ok for believers to be rich.

  • The answer to this question depends on how “rich” is defined. Is it wrong for a Christian to have a high income? No. (Wesley preached, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. So you can give all you can.” Higher income enables more giving.)

    Is it wrong for Christians to save? No. The Bible encourages saving.

    What is wrong, according to Scripture are hoarding (usually motivated by fear) and spending selfishly.

    Shane seems to define being rich as “accumulating stuff.” So I think he’s on the right track.

    My friend Keith (not his real name) is a doctor. He makes a generous income. But he lives in a modest home that he and his wife bought 30+ years ago. For over 20 years he has attended an inner city church that serves the poor (Roger grew up poor so feels right at home there) and gives generously to the church as well as to families in the church. He owns rental properties, many of whom are rented to low-income people in the neighborhood. I know of one of his tenants who is unable to pay any rent and would be homeless if he did not allow her to stay for free.

    Keith does have some savings, most of it, I believe, in the form of a foundation that he uses to manage his giving.

    So, some might say Keith is “rich,” but Keith lives modestly and gives generously, perhaps giving away most of his income. I think God is very please with how Keith manages his money. Everyone who knows him knows him for his generosity (giving is his strongest spiritual gift).