Money is an important topic in the Bible. We all need things, and it is quite clear that money helps us get those things. Sometimes it can be a delicate balance to maintain a comfortable living, while also being generous and following the Bible’s commands regarding money.
In another article, I discuss what the Bible says about money & wealth. The Bible does indeed include many stories of people having incredible favor with God, and at the same time being granted with vast material wealth.
King Solomon is described as being one of the wealthiest Kings Israel has ever known. Abraham had a lot of money, as did King David, Job, and many others. Yet at the same time, we are confronted with several warnings of wealth. A wealthy young man approached Jesus one day, and asked what it takes to get to heaven. What Jesus said is very interesting.
Is it Easier For a Camel to Pass Through the Eye of a Needle than for a Rich Person to Enter Heaven?
When a Rich man approaches Jesus to inquire about how to get to heaven (eternal life). This young ruler must have been greatly impressed with outward appearances, for when he approached Jesus, he calls him “good Master.” Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus immediately knew this man didn’t understand his own need for a savior, or his own fallen state.
Jesus responds that he should follow the commandments to inherit the kingdom of God. Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, no one can keep the commandments. Jesus is testing this man’s heart.
The rich man then replies that he has kept all of those commandments from youth. The important thing to keep in mind about this entire account is that this young rich man doesn’t understand theology. The Bible clearly teaches that we have all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Yet, this young man thinks he has kept all of the commandments since youth. Obviously, Jesus knew better.
So then Jesus adds one thing. He instructs the man to sell all of his possessions and follow Christ. The man didn’t like this too much, and the Bible says “he went away with sorrow, for he had great possessions.”
This young man was impressed with outward things. He did not feel as if he was a sinner in need of a savior, and instead trusted in His wealth. Jesus’ line of questions and statements cut to the heart of the issue, and quickly revealed the man’s true motives.
Right after this event, Jesus says something interesting. This is what he said:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)
This shocked the disciples. At this point in history, if you had money, people thought you were blessed by God. So when Jesus says that it is “HARD” for a rich person to enter heaven, the disciples didn’t know what to think. They thought if you had money, you had favor with God. In other words, they thought the richer you were, the easier it was to get to heaven.
So they immediately question Jesus about this. They ask him, “Who then can be saved.” In other words, they are thinking, “What!” If a rich person who is supposed to have God’s favor isn’t going to heaven, who on Earth is?” Jesus then replies that, “”With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
So notice that Jesus didn’t say a rich person “won’t” get to heaven. He just said it is more difficult for a rich person to enter heaven.
The takeaway from this story is not that Jesus condemns having wealth. Many great Christians have built large sums of money, and they have been able to bless other Christians and help expand the Kingdom of God. In this story, Jesus revealed the man’s own sinful heart, and the man didn’t like it. He revealed the man’s greed, and the man didn’t like it.
This passage is not a call for all Christians to sell all of their possessions and be homeless. Rather, this passage illustrates the man’s own sinful pride and materialism. Jesus cut to the
chase and revealed this by telling him to sell all of his possessions. Sure enough, the man couldn’t do it, and went away sorrowful.
What is the Eye of a Needle? Is it Figurative, Literal, or What?
Some people have speculated that the “Eye of the Needle” Jesus is referring to is not an actual needle, but instead a doorway in Jerusalem. Some say that there is a gate entrance that is very small, and it was difficult for a camel to pass through it. While this may have been true, the most plausible explanation is that Jesus is referring to a sewing needle.
Of course, this helps us to understand why the disciples were so surprised at this statement. A camel going through the eye of a needle is impossible. and would make the story even more shocking, because of the sheer impossibility of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
Why Is It Hard for the Rich to Get to Heaven?
The problem with some rich people is illustrated with the man in this story. He backed away from following Jesus. Why? He didn’t want to depart from his material wealth. In other words, Jesus clearly says that if he simply sells his wealth and follows him, he gets heaven. Yet, he chose money over eternal life in this example.
Wealthy people tend to trust in money. Money pays rent/mortgage, it buys groceries, it buys cars, it can buy us the best medicine and doctors, and more. It makes us feel secure. It can buy us great material things.
But money isn’t the place to put your trust. Where does the money help when you get cancer? Sure, you may be able to get the best doctors and chemotherapy available, but you will still die eventually. You can’t take money with you. You can’t take your porsche, house, yacht, or anything else in the grave, and if you tried, you wouldn’t enjoy them.
This is what Jesus illustrates when he asked the question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul.” This makes incredible sense, and it is so true! If you buy something for $100, and then resell it at $90, what is your profit? Nothing. In fact, you lost $10 in the deal. If you gained the whole world, but lost your soul, what did you profit? Nothing. In fact, you lose EVERYTHING! There is no profit!
Death is an absolute fact in life. As the saying goes, death and taxes are the only 2 certainties in life. So why put your trust in money? It only provides benefit for a short time. Yet God’s benefits are eternal.
So Why Did Some Rich People Have Money in the Bible? Was that a Sin or Not?
God granted these people in the Bible with wealth, so obviously it wasn’t a sin. Why not? Well first because God gave it to them. Second, we can see quite clearly that even though they were blessed with wealth, they weren’t greedy! They put their trust in God, and realized money is just something we need to live on, nothing more, nothing less.
We can see many acts of kindness from these wealthy people with their money. Job is talking to God, and says, “I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.” (Job 29:16).
We also have stories of Abraham tithing to a King, and various other generous acts. In other words, even though these people were wealthy, they put their trust in God. They didn’t deny the poor. They weren’t attached to money, they were attached to God. Even though they sometimes had a lot of it. Though they had wealth, they also tithed, helped the needy, and were generous with their blessings.
How Much Personal Money or Wealth Is Acceptable for Us to Have in God’s Eyes? What Makes us Rich? What Makes us Greedy?
The Bible makes no set amount of money Christians can possess. The important part is this: What do we do with our money? How do we treat it? Do we put trust in it, or God? Are we willing to part with our money? Do we obey God with our finances by tithing, being generous, helping others, etc?
Here’s a quick account balance of some of the wealthiest people in the Bible:
- Job-He ended up having 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, 1,000 female donkeys, and some other miscellaneous wealth (Job 42:12). Translation: Probably several millions in today’s terms. If we estimate that 1 sheep cost about $100 of today’s money, you can see that 14,000 X $100=1.4 million bucks! And that is just the sheep. Again, I have no idea how much a sheep would be worth back then, but I assume probably around $100, or at least worth more than today since food was more scarce back then. And that doesn’t include his other animals. Even if a sheep was less, I am guessing he is at least a multi-millionaire in today’s terms.
- King Solomon- The Bible goes into detail of how wealthy Solomon really was. The temple alone is absolutely extravagant! He had tons of stuff. If I had to estimate Solomon’s wealth in today’s terms, I would say probably hundreds of millions, possibly billions. But keep in mind, he also had to sustain an entire country with that wealth! So you can consider Solomon is also basically like the national treasury for his country!
Just those two examples alone show a couple of men blessed by God, who the Bible describes as being upright, and God fearing people. Again, even though they had these millions, they acquired it honestly, was very careful to manage it, did not deny any poor that they came across, and put 100% of their trust into God. Even notice Job’s attitude when he lost it all–it is a true testimony! This is what Job says when all of his property is taken away (which would have been millions): “(Job 1:20-21) Job arose and tore his robe & shaved his head & fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came into my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
That is a very powerful testimony! Wow! After losing MILLIONS, Job is sad, but quickly shrugs it off, and then even blesses God!
It Isn’t How Much We Make, It is How Much We Give That is Measured
What I find interesting is that God isn’t really interested in dollar amounts. This is illustrated many times in the Bible. The amount isn’t important to God. In fact, it reminds me of a joke:
A man had a dream and was talking with God. He said, “What is a million years like to you?” God replies, “A million years is but a minute to me.” The man then asked, “God, what is a million dollars to you?” God responded, “A million dollars is like one penny to me.” The man then thought he would be clever, and he asked God, “God, can I borrow a penny?” God then responded, “Sure, give me a minute.”
So money itself is nothing to God, just like time. But look at an example in the Bible.
41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (Luke 21: 1-4)
In this example, people were donating large sums, but the sums were really not affecting their wealth at all. Imagine having $20 Million in the bank. At 5% interest, you would make $1 Million a year in interest. Therefore, you could easily donate 1 Million out of you wealth, and it literally wouldn’t affect you much at all. In fact, you still have the 20 million in the bank, and it will draw another million in interest next year.
Yet this poor widow gave almost all she had. She had no interest, she had no wealth. She gave a very small sum and didn’t try to call attention to herself. Yet Jesus was more impressed with her offering, than he was with the hypocrite Pharisees donating large sums. This just illustrates my point, the dollar amount we make or give makes no difference to God, and Jesus knew this. It is the nature of our heart when we give.
She gave out of almost nothing. These others, while it looked like they gave a lot, really in their hearts were being very cheap in their offerings and just doing it to get attention. This reminds me of many celebrities today. They will donate money to someone, and them immediately go & submit a press release to get “honored” for it. The Bible commands us to give in secret! You can give in public, but you get your reward right then and there. If you give in secret, God remembers your deed and rewards you! I would rather have God reward me than society any day!
Should We Work for Wealth? Is it Okay to Make Millions of Dollars?
The Bible also gives a story of the “Master and his talents.” A “talent” is a measure of money (today we would call it a dollar or something else). The parable Jesus gives is about a man giving his servants “talents” (money). It was their duty to be a good steward of this money. Let’s see how this story plays out in Matthew.
- The first servant was given 5 talents, and he made with that 5 talents more (for a total of 10 talents). This pleased the master, and he gave him even more responsibilities (a raise).
- The second servant was given 2 talents, and made 2 talents more (for a total of 4 talents). This also pleased the master, and he too was given more responsibilities.
- The third servant, however, was given one talent, and instead of increasing the wealth, he hid the talent and did nothing. So he was given 1 talent, and only had that same talent to give back to him master. His master was furious! He called him a slothful (Lazy) Servant! He dismissed him, and gave his responsibilities to the other servants.
This story shows us something interesting. We are to work hard for money, manage our money wisely, grow our money, and then give it back to our master (God). Our money is never really our money. It’s always God’s money. He owns it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making millions, billions, or even trillions–so long as God is in control of your life, including your finances.
It isn’t easy to make millions honestly, and obviously everyone can’t do it. In fact, making the money is the hard part, giving it is the easy part! But there is nothing inherently wrong with making money.
John D. Rockefeller- Devout Christian, Mega Rich Guy!
John D. Rockefeller was the richest guy in the world in his own time. He was the founder of Standard Oil, the first major US oil company. He literally built this company into a behemoth company. He was a very blessed man, and if you ever read his biography, you’ll see how he really had a knack for business.
He also was an extremely devout Christian. He attended church every Sunday, taught Sunday school class, and even tithed 10% since his youth. On top of that, he ended up giving more than half of his wealth (on top of tithing) over his lifetime (which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars–the equivalent of nearly billions today).
Not only that, but he was EXTREMELY frugal and tight with his money, even when he had tons of it. I am not saying the guy was perfect, he wasn’t. He did have a golf course on his property, a nice house, etc. But considering his wealth, he was a penny pincher, and actually his property wasn’t as vast as others at the time.
John D. was so frugal, in fact, he even made his first and only son wear hand-me-downs….from his son’s older sisters! That’s right, they dressed their son in dresses from their daughters until about the age of 6! That is frugal (and inappropriate)!
His preacher had told him something interesting one day. He said, “John, your purpose in life is to make as much money as you possibly can, and then give as much as you possibly can.” Those words stuck in the mind of Rockefeller throughout his business career.
His story kind of reminds me of that parable above of the talents. He thought his purpose was to take the talent God gave him for making money, and use his talent to make a ton of it. He then gave large sums throughout his life (in addition to tithing) to various organizations, hospitals, churches etc.
The only thing a Christian must keep in mind is that they must not let the pursuit of money distract them from other commands God gives us. Don’t be making a business deal when you should be at home with your wife. Don’t be making money when you ought to be in church on Sunday. Don’t be counting your bank accounts when you ought to be witnessing to a soul. Don’t neglect giving to the poor or tithing to the church when you are considering our new mansion.
Can We Have Luxuries in Life? How Do We Maintain a Balance with Money?
We have some examples of people also doing things that would have been a “luxury.” For example, before Jesus’ death, a woman anointed him with oil. At first one of the apostles told Jesus that the oil was worth money, and they could have sold it for a hefty sum & donated to the poor. Jesus, however, said that it was fine, that it was going to die, yet they would still have the poor.
So right here, we see that Jesus himself accepted a luxury, even though he was going to be resurrected. We are also told by Solomon that we are to “Enjoy the fruits of our labor.” There is nothing wrong with having a few luxury things. But “few” is the key word.
Many people are in debt right now because they always have to have the newest cars, the newest computers, newest cell phones, newest clothes, newest whatever. This is called “keeping up with the Joneses.” They are trying to maintain a classy image. This isn’t really justified. We should be careful with resources. This attitude is really self-centerd, and greedy. They spend all of their money, and even charge up credit cards to bathe themselves in luxury.
God doesn’t really expect us to sell everything we have, and live in dirt houses. If we all did that, then we wouldn’t have an economy! We are allowed to use some of our income to not only pay our living expenses, but also to spend some on luxury items as well. But there must be a balance. Just like there is nothing wrong with having sex, as long as we direct that towards our spouses only and exercise discipline. Or there is nothing wrong with eating a great meal, but we are not to be gluttons. Or there is nothing wrong with loving things in life, but we shouldn’t love them above God. Again, greed falls into this same balance. We can have money, we can even buy ourselves some luxuries on occasion, but we are also to be balanced in this.
We must not neglect paying taxes, and giving back to God. I think the most ridiculous thing is for someone who owns a big yacht, or their own private Jet, or whatever. It is just silly. They could have used those hundreds of millions to help the poor, and instead just rented a plane or boat. Instead, I feel that greed has come into play with them.
There is nothing wrong with money, but we must grow it, manage it wisely, and give back. We must pay taxes, give back to God, and be good stewards of our wealth. To those whom much is given, much is expected! With great power comes great responsibility!
Have you made Jesus your master? Is the God of the Bible the God of your life? Do you trust in riches to save you, or do you trust in the risen Christ?