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Does God Want Us To Be Poor?

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The Reason for this Page

Money is an issue that needs clarification. The viewpoint of most people with respect to money is not correct—including the viewpoint of many Christians who think they are following the Bible’s teachings. In fact, although slavery is not a term we think about much today, there are probably more people in financial slavery today than our Earth has ever seen before. Still, although money is involved, this financial slavery is not connected to the amount of money people have. The relationship we have with our money (compared to our relationship with God) is what is important. You see, God wants to remove anything that gets in the way of a personal relationship with Him. (If the idea of a relationship with God sounds strange, click on this sentence.)

The Eye of a Needle

There is one Bible story dealing with wealth that is misused and misunderstood more than any other. Unfortunately, many people read this story and believe that Jesus is teaching that it is best to be poor (where we got the title of this page). The same story appears in Matthew chapter 19, verses 16 to 30; Mark chapter 10, verses 17 to 31; and Luke chapter 18, verses 18 to 30. Let’s look at the account recorded in Mark.

    Mark 10
    17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
    18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
    19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
    20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
    21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
    22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
    23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
    24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
    25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”
    27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
    28 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
    29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,
    30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
    31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

What do you think? Does it look like Jesus is implying that everyone should give away all of their money and live like a homeless person? Many do, but they should not. Let’s look at the following points:

Jesus looked at this man and loved him.

It would have been obvious in those days if someone was rich, perhaps more so than today. (You were considered rich if you had more than food, clothing, and shelter.) Notice that Jesus did not criticize the man for being rich—He loved him. It is obvious that having great wealth was not the man’s “problem” in this story.

When Jesus told his disciples (followers) that the rich would have a hard time getting to heaven, their response was, “Who then can be saved?”

The disciples were surprised to hear that rich people would have trouble getting into heaven. The reason is that in their culture, people believed that the rich were being blessed by God, and therefore the most likely to go to heaven. The following verse is one of many that shows us why.

    Deuteronomy 8
    18 “And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Many of the people obviously approved by God in the Old Testament were wealthy. Job, Abraham, Jacob (Israel), and Solomon are good examples. If God wanted His “best” people to stay poor, would the following scene have taken place?

    1 Kings 3
    5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
    6 And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant* David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
    7 Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
    8 And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.
    9 Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
    10 The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing.
    11 Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice,
    12 behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.
    13 And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.
    14 So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

*Here King Solomon refers to his father King David and himself as “servants.” That was a way of showing submission and respect in that culture.

Since God rewarded Solomon’s request with wealth (and many other things), those people reasoned that God rewarded “good” people with wealth. Therefore, people thought that being wealthy was the sign of being approved by God. This is the opposite of what many people believe today. Notice in both cases how the focus is still on money and not on God.

The Meaning of the Story

With those two points in mind, it should be clear that the rich man’s problem was not that he was a bad person, nor that he was rich. His problem was that he loved his money above everything else—and even thought it proved he had a “ticket to heaven.” His question to Jesus may have been to confirm to himself what a great guy he was . . . and he was badly disappointed.

The reason it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God is because most rich people are too much in love with their money to enter the kingdom of God. They are not being kept out, they are keeping themselves out. The point of the story therefore is not that money is bad, but that the rich man’s focus was wrong. To prove that, notice how differently God treated Solomon. God was pleased not only because Solomon did not ask for money, but also because he did not ask for other self-centered things, either. Then God turned around and rewarded Solomon greatly. Solomon’s focus was clearly on what God would want (for all of His people).

Notice that Jesus confirmed that people would be rewarded richly for anything they give up for Him and the gospel—now and in heaven (Mark 10:29,30). God doesn’t want you wealthy or poor, he wants you to follow Him. He will then reward you appropriately. If you have money problems, your relationship with God may not be as perfect as you think it is.

A Personal Story That You May Relate With

Years ago, I earned my living as a “commission only” salesman. That is, I only made money if I sold something. It was possible to go all month and earn nothing—something that happened many times. It was a stressful time for both my wife and myself.

Each year I would usually have one larger-than-average sale that would supply between a quarter and a half of our yearly income (depending on how good the year was and the size of the sale). One year, a customer that was satisfied with a small purchase from me decided to follow it with a large order. When their buyer called, the owner of my company happened to answer the phone. Later, the owner told me that the buyer made the purchase because they knew each other. Although it violated our contract, the owner did not pay me any commission (about $12,000 US dollars). He took two international vacations shortly afterward—something he had not done any other year that I had been there.

I was looking for another job (and had been looking for awhile) but I could not find anything. It was what Christians call “a time of testing.” It sounds noble when it happens to someone else, but it is awful when it happens to you. My wife was temporarily disabled (repetitive stress injury) and could not work at the time, either. We were giving about $5 a week at church—about 10% of our income some months—when my wife wrote out a check for $15. I felt sort of a sinking feeling, because I knew that was about all the money we had—and I did not want to bounce a check to the church.

“Fifteen dollars?” I asked.

“In Malachi 3:10 it says that you have to give to get,” was her reply, “and we have to do something.”

“Well, I won’t stop you, but we can’t give that much on a regular basis,” I warned her.

About that time, I told a few people at church about our situation, and asked them to tell me if they knew of any job openings where they work. I never heard from any of them, and felt from the way they looked at us that they did not really care. (Maybe you have been there.) It was not their fault—they probably had “slavery problems” of their own.

As it turned out, several amazing things happened:

  • I did find another job. About six months after being hired, I got an unexpected bonus of approximately $12,000.
  • The customer became unhappy with something done by the owner of the business I used to work for, and demanded their money back. They later settled for a “token” refund of approximately $12,000.
  • Our family income is more than before, and as a result we can easily give a weekly offering that is much larger than $15.

We believe Malachi 3:10 literally proved itself in our lives.

Putting It All Together

The reality is that God is the only one who really cares about your financial “health.” How do we know? The Bible refers to money more often than it refers to faith, praying, and love combined. The reason is straightforward—God does not want you focusing on or worrying about money instead of Him, so He wants your finances to be in order.

We want you to know this because we do not want anything to damage your chances of having a good relationship with God. One thing that will really help is getting your financial life straightened out, so money is no longer a priority and you do not have to think about it all the time. If you would like more information on the subject, Dave Ramsey wrote a terrific book entitled Financial Peace that we recommend. While it is not a “Christian book,” it does have a lot of solid advice—and is sold in both Christian and secular bookstores. You will not regret taking the time to read it.

Speaking of reading, someone has accessed this page 652 times since Jan. 1, 1999. As you can see, money is not a popular topic, yet it is a thing most people constantly desire getting—in ever increasing amounts. The reason is obvious: most people are focused on themselves and their financial desires, not on God. You may not have thought about it this way, but it takes less mental work to stay a financial slave (rich or poor) than to behave responsibly. Still, congratulations are in order—you made it through this page, which sets you apart from the crowd already. We sincerely hope this page has been helpful.

A Final Warning

A lot of religious fakes (usually on TV) claim that if you give money to them, that God will give money to you. Although we cited several passages that show how God will “give to givers,” God is against all people whose only interest in religion is making money. (That means that money is their “god”—get it?) Avoid money-focused religion like the plague.

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Copyright © 1999 by Clarifying Christianity (SM).
Printed copies of this article may be circulated if it is reproduced in its entirety, along with this copyright notice. You may not charge for, request a donation for, or seek reimbursement from anyone for such copies. Links are OK. All rights reserved.

All Bible passages were taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

All information contained in Clarifying Christianity is a resource for questions dealing with Christian issues. It is not to be taken as Christian counseling. Seek a qualified Christian counselor for help with all such issues. If you choose to work with a Christian counselor, it is your responsibility to ask pertinent questions before you begin, to assure yourself of their qualities and abilities.