In February, my husband and I spent four child-free days in incredible luxury for a friend’s wedding weekend in Charleston. In between parties at centuries-old homes and perfectly worn-in clubs, we had oysters for lunch and meandered cobblestone streets. There were no cares. The richness was palpable. I loved every moment.
Staring out the departing plane window on Sunday, reality sank in: tomorrow I’ll be taking my children to Kroger in the rain and feeding my neighbor’s pet rabbits. (Silent, muffled scream.)
I pulled out my phone to look at pictures of the bliss I didn’t want to leave as discontentment settled into my heart. Unnerved by my idolatry, I texted a friend to confess my unusual difficulty coming down from the pleasures. She texted back.
"It’s all going to burn.”
Why Wealth Can Damn Us
In my discontentment on that plane, I was very close to thinking: “Never mind you and your heaven, God. You ask too much of me. I’d prefer to just enjoy the world I just saw. I’d rather have that kingdom serve me than serve you in yours.”
Well I’ll be damned.
First John warns us about this—about loving the world more than we love God. He calls it lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 Jn 2:15-16). If we love the world and not God, the love of God is not in us; it reveals that we love dead things that will pass away instead of the eternal living God (1 Jn 2:17).
Jesus warns us, too:
“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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” (Matt 19:23-24).
Jesus isn’t saying that wealthy people can’t be saved (thank God!); he explicitly assures that all things are possible with God (Matt 19:26). He’s saying that saving faith is difficult to come to when one is given many material goods and comforts. The more worldly powers and luxuries a person has, the closer the danger of loving the world—of preferring one’s own “kingdom” to the kingdom of God; of thinking maybe one doesn't need God at all.
But if wealth can be such an issue for our very salvation, why does God provide it?
How Wealth Can Bless Us
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
God provides material wealth in a physical world because he’s an unimaginably creative God of abundant pleasures (Ps 16:11). He provides for the common grace of all people; to care for the poor and provide for his church (2 Cor 8).
Wealth, provision, pleasures and abundance are part of God’s nature (Ps 81:10, 1 Chron 29:16). If we steward these things by faith in God, we can be part of his good purposes for them in our world: to show his character.
Wealth can be obtained and used in sinful ways, but possessing wealth—an abundance of material possessions or money—isn’t inherently wrong. Loving wealth—placing your heart's worship on your benefit from material things—is what’s evil (1 Tim 6:10).
After all, it's not just loving wealth that shows our unfaithfulness to God; contempt for wealth can too. A pious heart that scorns God-given material blessings and pleasures shows as much distrust toward God as a greedy heart that covets them.
Navigating a finite world of finite resources with self-serving hearts is what makes wealth such a source of temptation for us.
So how can we test whether we are stewarding wealth well? Here are some principles and questions to consider.
Principle 1: God is more important than wealth (Mark 12:30-31).
Two things I ask of you; deny them not me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9
+ Are you anxious about keeping material things that you have?
+ Are you anxious about obtaining material things that you don’t have?
+ Are you able to give of your possessions with joy?
+ Can you enjoy your possessions in peace with gratitude?
+ Do you think of your wealth as God’s money or your money?
+ Do you think your wealth makes you God?
Principle 2: People are more important than wealth (Mark 12:30-31).
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31
+ Does any part of your wealth oppress others?
+ What parts of your wealth are generous to others?
+ Does anyone outside of your immediate family benefit from your wealth?
+ When was the last time you sinned against someone over an issue pertaining to material things?
+ Are there people whose well being or feelings you are willing to sacrifice for something material you want?
+ Do you think you're more valuable than people who have less wealth? Do you treat people poorly because their wealth is less than yours?
One Day Wealth Will Abound for Everyone
When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too. Proverbs 11:7
Answering the above questions might betray a heart that needs repentance. But God's commands to value him and others over wealth aren’t cruel. Like all God’s commands, they’re to protect us and give us life (Ps 19:7-10).
We can faithfully, generously steward our wealth (or lack thereof) because God has promised a new creation for those in Christ where there will be material abundance like we can’t currently imagine (Rev 21).
All the richness and pleasures of this world will pale in comparison to the richness of God’s eternal, heavenly city. Cobblestone streets and oysters are a shadow of these pleasures—shadows so insufficient in glory that Jesus will burn them before creating the new (2 Pet 3:10).
Forsaking the eternal God to worship what he will destroy and replace is tragic.
Our God is the only one who ever deserves our worship. Even in the midst of the incredible perfection of the new heavens and new earth Jesus will make for us there will be “no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23).
Jesus will still be paramount—our life and our joy.
Consider then, how God is preparing you for this reality now through the wealth he has given, or withheld from you. And be faithful.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.