The Lie Some Christians Like to Tell You about Being Rich

I won’t tease this one. I’ll give it to you straight. Here’s the lie:

The more money you have, the more evil you are.

Photo Credit: Reza (CC)

This lie is proliferated on several fronts:

In the political sphere.
From the pulpit.
In the workplace.
In literature and cinema.

Envy often fuels this sentiment, but I think there is something more underlying the argument.

You probably have heard the following quotation from Jesus:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25

This is the source material for the lie that Christians like to tell. They extrapolate this verse to mean many things:

If the rich man can’t enter the kingdom of heaven, then he must be evil.
If the rich man is evil, that must mean that the poor man is righteous.
Therefore rich = bad, poor = good.

Job's Lousy Friends Were Wrong

What if I told you that this spectrum used to be the opposite? That those who were rich were considered morally superior, and those who were poor considered evil?

As weird as that sounds, that’s exactly how things were in Israel for centuries until Jesus began his ministry. The wealthy were considered righteous. Blessed by God. And why shouldn’t they have believed this way? Their patriarch Abraham was one of the richest dudes alive. Same with Isaac. Same for King David and Solomon.

Then there’s Job.

Do you remember what his lousy friends said when he lost everything? When his whole family died, and his wealth vanished? Instead of offering condolences or comfort, they told him it was his fault. They said that he must have lost favor with God. That he sinned:

Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. Job 4:7-8
Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers. Job 8:20

The reader knows the action behind the scenes, that in fact the reverse is true. God was holding Job up as a beacon of righteousness, testing him by allowing Satan piece by piece to remove his health, his wealth, his children. But in the end, God restored Job’s wealth (and then some) because Job refused to curse his maker.

Much of the wisdom literature in the Bible makes the same argument: live God’s way and you will prosper. Live your own way and you will be poor. (See Psalm 1 and Proverbs 3 for examples.)

How to Enter the Kingdom of God (Regardless of Your Net Worth)

Israel still possessed this mindset when Jesus turned thirty. And it is the paradigm from which the disciples asked him the following question in regard to the blind beggar in Jerusalem:

"Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:2-3

So you see, this is the perspective Jesus was combating when he said:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25

And it explains the disciples’ reaction:

They were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Matthew 19:25

They thought that the rich became rich because of their favor with God. Or, as commentator John Gill puts it:

They did not imagine there was any difficulty of rich men coming into the kingdom of the Messiah, which they took to be a worldly one, and would be filled with rich men.1

So if even those blessed by God can’t enter His kingdom, who could? I like the way Jesus responds in Luke’s account:

What is impossible with man is possible with God. 18:27

Can a camel go through the eye of needle? Impossible.

But you see, His response did not just address the rich. The disciples’ question wasn’t, “How can the rich be saved?” But, “Who can be saved?”

Is it possible for the poor to enter the kingdom without God?

You see no one—rich or poor—can enter the kingdom on his own accord. Therefore, “what is impossible with man” is only possible with God.

Two Reasons Jesus Singled Out the Rich

So why did Jesus only mention the rich?

Two reasons:

1. As we discussed, it was assumed already that the poor would not enter the kingdom of God. They were sinners. From the Pulpit Commentary:

It was the current idea and popular doctrine, not only that all suffering in this life had its origin in sin, ... but furthermore that every peculiar disaster pointed to some special or particular sin.2

2. It is easy for the rich to rely on their wealth for security.

Quick story:

Suze Orman’s people sent me an email to announce her PBS special last week. I skimmed the email with foggy eyes while my coffee did its voodoo. But there was a phrase in the email that removed the glaze on its own. It made me stop and re-read. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since:

The goal of money is to make you feel secure.

I mulled that statement over, criticizing it, questioning it.

Is that really the goal of money?

I reacted negatively because of that penultimate word: “feel”. As I calmed down a bit, I tried my best to pull the log out of my eye, realizing that a great deal of what I do with money is used to secure me and my family: savings for emergencies, life insurance, health insurance, and retirement. These things are all about security.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re using money to feel secure. Not only is that a pipe dream, but it’s a sin. Our only security is in Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. That and that alone.

When you have money it is tempting to believe that you are self-sufficient. It is tempting to trust in the work of your own hand.

That’s why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

But make no mistake: simply having a lot of money does not make one evil.

1 Timothy 6:10 reads, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” not “the possession of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Cash has no morality attached to it. It is your attitude toward money, how you use it, and how you obtain it that matters.

1. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible,
2. Pulpit Commentary on John 9:2,

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