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Holman Bible Dictionary
Wealth and Materialism
The Bible and Wealth The Bible has two basic attitudes toward wealth. In the first place, wealth is acknowledged to be a blessing from God. This can be seen from the witness of the Old Testament. God chose Abram and promised to bless him and make his name great (Genesis 12:1-3 ). In the process, Abram became rich (Genesis 13:2 ). Further, we are told that God blessed Isaac; and he became very rich (Genesis 26:12-14 ). Solomon's wealth was seen as a sign of God's favor (1 Kings 3:13; 1 Kings 10:23 ). Job, too, was blessed by God, and his wealth increased greatly (Job 42:12 ).
These few examples do not allow us to assume that poverty is a sign of God's disfavor. The Bible does not say that. Jesus' references to money in the New Testament consist mainly of stories or parables which show the dangers of wealth. In the parable of the seed and the sower Jesus warned that riches and the pursuit of pleasure may keep some from maturing in the faith (Luke 8:14 ). A harsh warning against the destructive nature of wealth is sounded in the story of the rich farmer (Luke 12:16-21 ). In Jesus' words, the person is a fool who labors to lay up treasures on earth rather than treasures in heaven. Of greater importance is Jesus' statement that life does not consist of one's possessions (Luke 12:15 ). Personal worth and success are not to be measured in terms of material wealth or possessions. This is different from the way that the world views possessions.
Jesus viewed money or wealth as a spiritual power (Matthew 6:24 ), identifying wealth as an object of worship, a rival to God. For this reason Jesus often asked people to turn away from it (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33-34 ). Zacchaeus offered to give half of his possessions to the poor and restore four times to any one that he had cheated (Luke 19:8 ). This was a sign of his desire to follow Christ. The only way to defeat the power of mammon is to give it away (Acts 20:35 ). See Stewardship .
For a while members of the Jerusalem church pooled their resources for the common good (Acts 2:44-45 ). To provide for the needs of those in their midst, owners of land and property sold it and gave it to the apostles (Acts 4:34-35 ). While this kind of sharing may not be a requirement, it provides a model for the responsibility that Christians have for one another.
Paul likewise warned against the power of money. One of the qualifications of a church officer is to be free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3 ). Deacons likewise must not be “greedy for money” (1 Timothy 3:8 NRSV). The strongest warning is found in 1 Timothy 6:10 (NRSV): “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith.” Paul may be implying that people who love money will resort to all kinds of things to get it. The desire for money has a way of enslaving the person seeking it.
The answer to the wrong use of money is to use it for kingdom purposes. Money can be used to enhance our relationship to God and bless others. Paul commended the liberal giving of the Macedonian Christians (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; compare 2 Corinthians 9:7 ).
Hebrews encourages us to “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5 NRSV). Jesus admonished us not to be anxious over material things, but to trust the Heavenly Father to care for our needs ( Matthew 6:25-26 ). Christians are to recognize that God's kingdom is more important than money (Matthew 6:33 ). Material wealth is given to human beings as a stewardship. God is the owner of all things, and we are given a portion to use. At all times we are to keep in mind that we will one day give account to God for the use of our wealth.
The Bible and Materialism Philosophically, materialism refers to a view of life that sees physical matter as the only reality in the universe. According to this view, everything, including thought, feelings, and will can be explained according to physical laws. There is obviously no room for God in this view. Another kind of materialism tempts Christians. This is the view that values life in terms of the accumulation and consumption of goods, measuring success or worth in terms of wealth or possessions. Materialism leads us to justify spending on ourselves all that our income will bear.
Christians are to learn to possess money and not be possessed by it. Wealth is to be channeled into ministries that serve people and spread the gospel. The pursuit of wealth as an end in itself, or the desire for luxury and personal indulgence are evidences of materialism. Christians must take a stand against the persistent idolatry of materialism that focuses on the material stuff of this world and not God.
D. Glenn Saul
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Wealth and Materialism'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/w/wealth-and-materialism.html. 1991.