“Your Word Is Truth”
The Biblical View of Riches—Is It Contradictory?
JEHOVAH‘S approved servants of ancient times included rich men. In fact, Jehovah God is identified as the One ‘giving power to the Israelites to make wealth.’ (Deut. 8:18) Yet Jesus Christ exclaimed: “How difficult a thing it will be for those having money to make their way into the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24) Is this contradictory?
It is important to remember that Jehovah God has not given the same instructions to his servants at every period of human history. For instance, in view of the circumstances and God’s purpose for Jeremiah to serve as a sign, the prophet was commanded not to marry and raise a family. (Jer. 16:2-4) But none of God’s servants either before or since that time have specifically been commanded to remain single. Similarly, what the Bible has to say about riches must be considered in the light of God’s purpose respecting his people.
Faithful servants of Jehovah God, such as the patriarchs Abraham and Job, were not directly commissioned to make disciples. For this reason their time appears to have been filled mainly with caring for the physical and spiritual needs of their respective households. Jehovah blessed the diligent efforts of these servants of his so that they came to have much livestock, gold and silver, and many servants.
Though wealthy, these men were not materialists. They appreciated that their material prosperity was due to Jehovah’s blessing upon them. When given an opportunity to increase his wealth by accepting an offer of the king of Sodom, Abraham said: “From a thread to a sandal lace, no, I shall take nothing from anything that is yours, in order that you may not say, ‘It was I who made Abram rich.’ Nothing for me!” (Gen. 14:23, 24) Because of the right attitude shown by men like Abraham, Jehovah had good reason to protect them from being defrauded by selfish and greedy men.
As in the case of the faithful patriarchs, the material prosperity of the Israelites depended upon their maintaining a proper relationship with Jehovah God. It was Jehovah’s purpose that Israel, if obedient, would be a prosperous nation. Said Moses: “Jehovah will open up to you his good storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain on your land in its season and to bless every deed of your hand; and you will certainly lend to many nations, while you yourself will not borrow.”—Deut. 28:12.
The prosperity of the nation would have brought honor to Jehovah, constituting a powerful proof to surrounding nations that he was the Enricher of his people and that the Law he had given to them was beyond compare in securing the welfare of all concerned.
That Israel’s prosperity did move other peoples to glorify Jehovah is illustrated in the case of King Solomon. Having heard about Solomon in connection with Jehovah, the queen of Sheba, for instance, came from a distant land to see whether the reports about his wisdom and prosperity were true. What she saw moved her to praise Jehovah. The queen of Sheba told Solomon: “You have surpassed in wisdom and prosperity the things heard to which I listened. . . . May Jehovah your God come to be blessed, who has taken delight in you by putting you upon the throne of Israel; because Jehovah loves Israel to time indefinite.”—1 Ki. 10:1, 2, 7-9.
Of course, the prosperity of the nation did not mean that every individual therein was wealthy—or that those who had little were necessarily under divine disapproval. Unforeseen occurrences might plunge individuals into poverty. Accidents and sickness could temporarily or permanently hinder a person from performing necessary work. The coming of death could leave behind orphans and widows. Hence the Israelites were encouraged to be generous with their riches in giving aid to the poor and afflicted in their midst.—Lev. 25:35; Deut. 15:7, 8.
Unlike the patriarchs and the nation of Israel, the followers of Jesus Christ had the commission to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Fulfilling that commission required time and effort that might otherwise have been properly used in secular pursuits. Therefore, one who continued clinging to his wealth, if it hindered him from being able to use his time and resources to fulfill that commission, could not be a disciple of Jesus, with the prospect of gaining life in the heavens. That is why the Son of God said: “How difficult a thing it will be for those having money to make their way into the kingdom of God!”—Luke 18:24.
Christ’s followers, however, were not to reduce themselves to a state of poverty and then depend upon others for support. Rather, they were to work hard so as to be able to care for their families and also have “something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:10-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; 1 Tim. 5:8) They were to be content with sustenance and covering, not striving to become rich. Says 1 Timothy 6:9, 10: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”
Of course, this does not mean that a Christian cannot have riches. Even in the first century C.E. some wealthy Christians were associated with the congregation at Ephesus, Asia Minor. The apostle Paul did not instruct Timothy to advise these rich Christians specifically to divest themselves of all material things, but wrote: “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19) Thus these wealthy Christians had to watch their attitude, not letting either the pursuit or the maintenance of riches engross them, but keeping riches in their proper place land using them generously to aid others. Doing this, they would doubtless cease to expand their wealth, in fact, it might now diminish. But their “foundation for the future” would remain secure.
Truly what the Bible says about riches is always appropriate to the circumstances and God’s purpose respecting his servants. Throughout the Scriptures the emphasis is consistently placed, not on the possession of material riches, but on a good standing with Jehovah God, a standing that is maintained by a person’s continuing to do the divine will by faith. So the Biblical view of riches is harmonious, not contradictory.