For the Christian, there are additional factors regarding wealth in the fallen world. Christians are called to be stewards of their labor and money and to use them for God’s kingdom. They do this by first providing for themselves and their loved ones (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Thess. 3:10-12) and also caring for those who are not able to care for themselves (Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Moreover, the Christian’s attitude toward wealth must always be tempered by a love for Christ (Lk. 12:33; 14:33) and a willingness to follow Jesus no matter what (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:3). Whatever wealth Christians possess, they possess it temporarily as stewards of God.
It is difficult to say where American society is headed in the near future, but it is likely not toward greater economic freedom. With each economic crisis, politicians and cultural elites preach about the virtues of state-controlled, collectivist-style economics and the unmitigated evils of free market capitalism.
Worse are calls within evangelicalism for Christians to address economic inequality through redistributive policies, calls which seem to grow louder by the day.
Christians who are serious about economic justice should be concerned about this move away from economic freedom, for it reveals a pervasive and fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible’s view of wealth and poverty. We need to respond to this shift by using sound biblical and philosophical arguments, but many Christians might not know how.
What does the Bible actually say about wealth, poverty, and economic inequality? What role should governments, churches, families, and individuals play in addressing economic problems? And is any economic theory compatible with a biblical worldview?
These are big questions, but let’s briefly try to answer them.
A Biblical View of Wealth
The Bible’s view of wealth is morally ambiguous. Wealth can be good or bad depending on how it is gained, valued, and used. As ethicist Daniel Heimbach explains,
[Scripture] distinguishes valuing wealth the right way from lusting for it, earning it the right way from stealing it, and using it the right way from using it badly.
Heimbach goes on to explain that, on the one hand, the Bible commends hard work and savings (Gen. 41:35-36; Prov. 6:6-8) and using wealth to honor God (Prov. 3:9; Acts 2:45). Wealth can be used to support the ministry and to care for those in need, both of which are commendable. On the other hand, Heimbach notes, the Bible condemns wealth if it is acquired through violence (Mic. 2:2; Jas. 5:6), oppression (Isa. 10:1-2), or deception (Mic. 6:11-12). For this reason, the Bible contains many warnings about the dangers of wealth (Prov. 16:8, 19) as it can lead to pride, self-sufficiency, and idolatry (Matt 13:22; Mk. 4:19; Lk. 8:14).
Wealth gained through sin is obviously not good, but poverty is also not good (Prov. 10:15; 19:6-7). Poverty can cause pain and suffering (Prov. 10:15), social isolation and shame (Prov. 14:20), economic dependency (Prov. 18:23), and even rejection of God (Prov. 17:5). None of this means poor people are sinful, but only that the condition of poverty presents many challenges and it is not how God originally intended human beings to live.
To see this, consider that a world of material abundance — rather than a world of poverty and starvation — is closer to the way God originally ordered creation. In the beginning, God created a good world that could provide material abundance for all human beings, but sin broke that world.