How should Christians handle money? Few questions cause as much confusion and controversy as those dealing with Christians and money. Many churches and families have unfortunately suffered due to myths and misconceptions about money. With this article, I hope to uncover those misconceptions and show what the Bible really says about money.
Before we dive into this, it’s important that we address two things. First, not all of my readers believe in the Bible. Whether you embrace a particular faith is your choice, but even non-Christians often have opinions about what the Bible says or doesn’t say about a given topic. And few topics are as widely discussed or prevalent as money. So even non-Christians will, I believe, find this article informative.
The second thing we must do is define our key term: money.
When we think of money, we must understand that it is a tool used for the exchange of goods and services. We should not make it more complicated than that. Money is a tool for exchange. Without coinage or currency, societies resort to barter. For example, a farmer may offer a portion of his crop in exchange for medical care for his family. When he does so, that crop portion becomes essentially the same as money.
Of course, the earliest and best known form of barter is labor. Adam Smith said, “Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things.” What is typically the case now is that we labor for money – and then we use money to acquire the goods and services we need or desire.
With that understanding of the term “money” in mind, here are five of the most common misconceptions surrounding money:
MISCONCEPTION #1: “Money is the root of all evil.”
This is one of the most misquoted (not to mention misunderstood) teachings in the Bible. It stems from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to his young protege Timothy. In his letter, Paul writes: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (I Timothy 6:10, KJV).
Note that Paul places the “love of money” at the “root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10) — not money itself. In fact, if you read the entire passage and consider the nature of “money” in the ancient world, you’ll see that Paul isn’t talking about bills and coins so much as he is about greed and covetousness. The “love of money” represents greed – the desire for gain. Sociologists today would be hard pressed to deny that greed and the desire for gain — for possession – is not at the source of all our social pathologies.
Nevertheless, while the Bible most certainly condemns greed, it does not condemn money or possessions. It certainly doesn’t place money or possessions at the root of all evil. Those who do are not in step with the Apostle Paul or with the Holy Spirit who inspired him.
MISCONCEPTION #2: “We shouldn’t save money because Jesus says not to ‘lay up treasures on earth’.”
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his listeners to not “lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,” but to instead “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). He goes on to say that His people should not worry about the future (including their financial future), but should “seek first the kingdom of God” and trust God to provide for their needs (Matthew 6:33). Clearly, the priority of God’s people is (or should be) the kingdom of God. When God’s people shift their focus to the things of the earth (either due to greed OR to worry), they are focusing on that which is perishable and will not last. All that is true, but…
Jesus is not telling us we shouldn’t save money. It’s frankly ludicrous to read His teaching that way. If Jesus were against saving, investing, or earning money, He would be undermining the premise of His own parable on stewardship (see Matthew 25:14-27)! He would also be overturning some of the wise teachings in the Book of Proverbs concerning money.
Money (in whatever form) is a tool. It’s a tool used in this fallen world. And it’s one that God’s people are encouraged to make proper use of. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people are told how to handle money and possessions. We see examples of this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As long as we put our ultimate trust in the Lord and treat money as a means to an end, we are fine. When we let money become more than that, it becomes (at worst) an idol or (at best) a source of worry and stress. God wants neither for His people. He wants better for us. But…
The Bible never tells us we should ignore money. As long as we live and breathe in this fallen world, we will be working with money (in some form). It would behoove us to do so wisely.
MISCONCEPTION #3: “We must give up all money in order to be saved.”
Many are familiar with Jesus’ famous (some might say infamous) challenge to the “rich young ruler.” This man questioned the Lord about obtaining eternal life. After the man claimed to have followed all the commandments, Jesus responds: “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.” (Mark 10:21, NKJV). Many Christians and non-Christians conclude that this passage sets a works-based standard for salvation and/or establishes a requirement that one eschew any financial possessions or ambitions in order to be a part of the family of God.
A more contextual reading of this account takes one back to the Mosaic Law itself, where people were told to have “no gods” before Yahweh. Jesus correctly identified riches and wealth as the rich young ruler’s ultimate “god” and, therefore, the young man’s barrier to God. The Bible teaches that a person must fully and passionately love God and his or her fellow human beings. This means putting personal wealth on the back-burner of one’s priority list, and instead extending love and compassion to those around him or her.
Lest you think I’m reading into the passage, Jesus Himself points to the emotional burden this man carried with his wealth. After the young man walked away “sorrowfully,” Jesus remarked to His disciples: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). With this comment, Jesus is making clear that this man’s problem relates to his riches, and not simply to the fact that he had money or possessions.
Okay, maybe Jesus was only talking about riches – and not simply having money. Maybe He’s not asking everyone to give up every single coin, dollar bill, or asset in order to get saved. Maybe He is directing this command specifically at a man who made wealth his idol. Many still have a dim view of money, and they will say…
MISCONCEPTION #4: “Rich people can’t go to heaven.”
This notion that rich people can’t make it to heaven comes, of course, from Jesus’ teaching that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” This feat is, of course, impossible, so many have concluded that it’s impossible for rich people to get into heaven.
Here is how Mark describes this conversation:
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 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! 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.” -Mark 10: 23-25
Some commentators have postulated that Jesus wasn’t referring to the eye of a sewing needle, but rather to a gate in which a camel had to have its baggage unloaded before passing through. There is a great deal of dispute over this possible interpretation, so we will set that aside and focus on the conclusion drawn (initially) by the disciples and (still to this day) by many readers of Jesus’ words, namely that Jesus was describing an impossible (not difficult – but impossible) feat.
So…it’s impossible for rich people to get to heaven, right? Well…
If it’s true rich people can’t make it to heaven, then Abraham, Job, and Solomon are all roasting in hell right now. I don’t mean to be crass or insensitive, but sometimes, I can only shake my head at the shallow way many people read the Bible. In some cases, the shallowness is painfully obvious, because…
They fail to read the verses above and below the verse they focus on!
Many misunderstandings and misconceptions would be cleared up if people (Christians and critics alike) would read the entire relevant passage instead of just a verse or two here and there. Jesus’ teaching on rich people and heaven is one of the best examples of this.
As the passage makes clear, the rich young ruler refused to give up all he had and walked away. Jesus then turns to His disciples and says that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” But the passage does NOT stop there! Upon hearing this (and after witnessing the exchange with the rich young ruler), the disciples are “astonished” and ask among themselves: “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). And then comes Jesus’ response…
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” -Mark 10:27
Do you see it?
Without God, it’s impossible for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God. But with God, it IS possible. And this is why many rich people, including Job, Abraham, and Solomon, are in heaven today.
Okay, so it’s not necessarily a requirement for all to give up all money and possessions to get to heaven and it is possible for rich people, thanks to God’s omnipotence, to get into heaven, but many will still say…
MISCONCEPTION #5: “It’s wrong to desire more money.”
In his third epistle, the Apostle John conveys to Gaius his wish “above all things” that he may “prosper and be in health, even as [his] soul prospers.” (3 John 2). This gracious wish, expressed as a greeting from one friend to another, implies very strongly that the Apostle John (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) saw nothing wrong (at least not inherently) with financial prosperity.
Lest you think I’m reading too much into a greeting, we need to consider the opposite of prosperity – and how that has played out in Scripture. The direct opposite of financial prosperity is poverty. And the Bible provides some stark and painful examples of poverty and deprivation. In the book of Nehemiah, we see the people of Jerusalem suffering in misery and despair, because their walls were in ruins and the gates burned up. Jerusalem was therefore incapable of civil order or economic self-sufficiency. The people of Jerusalem were so desperate, that some families were selling their children into slavery, so they could eat! Because of this horrific suffering, God moved Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem! When he did, Jerusalem was able to get back on its feet. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall, so the people of Jerusalem could rebuild their lives.
Over the years, I’ve seen the unfortunate consequences many Christians have experienced in thinking the Bible discourages them from being conscientious and responsible for their needs and those of their loved ones. There is no inherent virtue in poverty. Not for the people of Jerusalem. And not now. If God intentionally calls you to a season (or life) of poverty and deprivation, then that’s one thing. But it’s quite another to conclude that the Bible somehow endorses poverty, financial obliviousness, or personal irresponsibility for all of God’s followers.
As a pastor, I’ve personally encountered the ignorance of some Christians on this issue. When you reflect on how many Christians are skeptical about other Christians desiring or earning money, you can imagine how these same Christians get when pastors desire additional funds. The Bible is clear that pastors shouldn’t be greedy (just as no Christian in general should be greedy), but the Apostle Paul made tents for extra income while being engaged in missionary and pastoral work. If Paul can make tents, pastors today can likewise (unless God personally tells them otherwise) take a second job, write books, give outside speeches, mow lawns, or whatever to supplement their income. In many cases, they need to do this, and it would be financially irresponsible to their families if they don’t. Biblical admonitions to provide for one’s family apply to pastors too, and if the churches they serve are not able (or willing) to adequately meet their needs, then pastors must make arrangements accordingly.
The Bible is clear that we are to put God first and trust Him to provide for our needs, but many Christians read these teachings to mean that we are to be passive victims in the face of hardship and challenge. The Bible never countenances foolishness or laziness. We have a responsibility to provide for ourselves and our loved ones (I Timothy 5:8, Proverbs 13:22). In fact, the Bible encourages us to work hard so we can be a blessing to people in need — not just our loved ones (Ephesians 4:28).
It is not wrong for Christians to earn, possess, or desire more money. If it were, why did God allow great Old Testament figures like Joseph, Job, Abraham, and Solomon to acquire great wealth? This isn’t to suggest that God wants everyone to be as wealthy as Solomon, but it’s a grievous error (at best) to conclude He wants everyone to be poor and destitute.
We are to work for a living. Yes, we should trust God, but we also must do our part. To think or do otherwise is irresponsible and inconsistent with God’s Word, common sense, and plain decency.