What are the
social responsibilities of wealthy Christians? Must they prove their loyalty to
the Lord by selling their possessions and giving to the poor? Are there simple,
universal answers to these questions, or are these questions that must be
answered personally and individually?
Some of these
issues were raised decades ago in Ronald Sider’s classic work Rich
Christians in an Age of Hunger, originally published in 1978. With many
of us in the West having so much and many in other countries having so little,
what would Jesus ask of us?
took exception to Sider’s approach, writing, Productive
Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J.
Sider in 1981. In Chilton’s view, Sider’s view violated the productive
principles of biblical economics.
Now, in our day,
“Red Letter Christian” leader Shaine Clairborne has asked whether Jesus is King
of Kanye West’s bank account. He writes,
“The same Jesus who said we need to be ‘born again’ also commanded his
disciples to ‘sell everything and give it to the poor.’ This is the one who
said it is easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich
person to enter the kingdom of God.”
requires all of us to surrender everything to Him if we want to
be His disciples. As He said to the large crowds that followed Him, “. . .
those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke
In context, He
didn’t simply mean every possession. He meant everything – our wills, our
desires, our relationships, everything.
discipleship 101. Being born again means that Jesus is Lord of our entire
called one particular rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the
poor. But that was not because his wealth was sinful in itself. Rather, it was
to expose his covetous heart. In order to really follow Jesus, this man would
need to break the power of materialism and greed. He was not willing. (See Mark
On the other
hand, when Zacchaeus the tax collector encountered Jesus, he immediately
repented, pledging to give half his money to the poor. And, if he had defrauded
anyone, he would pay him back fourfold. (See Luke 19:1-10.)
And note that
Jesus rejoiced in this act, recognizing the reality of Zacchaeus’s conversion.
He did not say, “That’s not good enough! You need to give away all your
Each heart and
each case is different. (For Jesus’ words to His twelve disciples, see Luke 12:32-34.)
Third, the Bible
consistently warns against putting our trust in earthly riches. As Proverbs
states, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own
cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will
surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” (Proverbs 23:4–5;
see also Matthew 6:19-26.)
Scriptures warn even more strongly against using the gospel as a means for
acquiring wealth, noting that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of
evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). That’s why Paul spoke of “people of corrupt mind, who
have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to
financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:7).
Those are strong
Fifth, both the
Old and New Testaments emphasize the importance of hard work and good
stewardship. The Scriptures teach that we reap what we sow and that the
generous, not the stingy, will be blessed.
The promises to
the generous are clear and undeniable. (See, for example, 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.)
Sixth, Paul gave
clear instructions to rich Christians, not condemning them or making them feel
guilty but rather commanding them to live with an eternal perspective.
He wrote to
Timothy, “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.
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for
the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1
have helped fund the gospel around the world as well helped lead the way in
meeting the needs of the poor and hurting. And many of them are rich because of
the blessing of God.
But, as Paul
urged, they must not be arrogant. They must not put their trust in earthly
wealth. And they must be generous in giving and rich in good deeds.
At the same
time, what they do and how they do it may not be known to the general public.
And it’s also possible that God will call them to maintain their same lifestyle
as believers, living in a wealthy community and hobnobbing with the rich and
influential. This is their mission field, and Jesus died for these people too.
And this means
that it’s not for us to sit and judge by mere outward appearance, since often
we don’t know what’s going on in the heart.
pray for those who are wealthy not to get caught up with the things of this age
so they lose sight of eternal principles. Instead, empowered by those eternal
principles, may they use their wealthy for the glory of God.
And should the
Lord – their Lord – tell them to sell everything and give to the poor,
But should He
tell them to keep much of their wealth and invest it to make more money so they
will have much more to give way, that’s wonderful too.
Rich Christians, just like poor Christians, give account God, not to you or to me (Romans 14:4).
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Playing with Holy Fire: A Wake-up Call to the Pentecostal-Charismatic Church. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter, or YouTube.