Many Christians believe that they can only get to heaven when they are poor. The idea is that poor people are pious and wealthy people are not. My guess is this comes from Luke 6:20 “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” Maybe it’s because Jesus said, “some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.” Luke 13:30 NLT. Whatever the reason, it cannot be true.
There is more to Jesus’ teaching about money than just money. He warns us about greed, jealousy, fear, and making a bad bargain.
The Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 6, right in the middle of the sermon on the mount, Jesus talks about money. He begins with charitable giving (v. 1-4) to the needy and ends with money and possessions (v.19-34).
Charity. We are to do our good deeds privately and not to be admired by others. From his other teachings, and calling the Pharisees hypocrites a lot, this idea of privately doing the right thing because it’s the right thing translates to everything we do. We do good deeds in private because doing the good deed is its own reward here on earth. Jesus also points out that God is pleased when we do good deeds which means that if we do the good deed because it’s the right thing to do, God will further reward us. There is a double benefit here.
The converse is also true. If we do good for benefits, the benefits are the only reward. For example, if a large company donates supplies and food to an orphanage for the tax break, the news coverage, and the increased goodwill for customers, that is the only benefit that it will get. If we give to a charity for a tax break rather than our care for the charity’s service goals, there is no additional benefit.
Money and possessions.”No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other…You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Matthew 6:24 NLT. Jesus follows this statement with instructions not to worry about our everyday life, our clothes, our food, our provision. (Matthew 6:25-34) We are to get these from God. As always, he is a wise teacher.
When we worry, we are focused on our abilities and not on our God’s ability. When we worry, we forget all the thousands of times that God has provided for us whatever we need, when we need it. Everything we have has been given to us by God. When we worry about how we will provide for our needs, we forget that God has already done it. This misdirects our focus so that we cannot focus on God and we lose faith and fall away. “The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth so no fruit is produced.” Matthew 13:22 NLT.
The rich man. Jesus has an interaction with a rich man that is recounted in three of the four gospels. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21 NLT. A similar recounting was told in Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22. In each of the recitations, the young man goes away sad because he had many possessions.
Jesus’ response was “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, 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!” Luke 18:24-25 NLT. Then the people ask him who can be saved if this is true and Jesus says the famous line “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 NLT.
Then Zaccheus. He was the chief tax collector and was also rich. (Luke 19:1-9) He wanted to see Jesus and so he climbed a tree. Tax collectors were not and still are not the most favorite people in society. In Biblical times, they skimmed extra and so were even less popular.
Jesus invites himself to Zaccheus’ house that day – it appears he had a plan for Zaccheus because Jesus usually accepts hospitality instead of requesting it. His host gladly and joyfully accepts the imposition and Zaccheus has a close encounter with life-changing results. Zaccheus publicly announces “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 NLT
Zaccheus does what Jesus instructed the rich man to do which made him go away sad. He didn’t have to ask he just did it.
Not What We Think it Means.
Jesus also said, “if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11 NLT. What is a good gift? The example he used is a child’s request for food to a parent – do they get hardship instead. The answer is no. Think about how children behave – children will ask for food if they’re hungry or not.
Jesus also said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 NLT. Another version translates it “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 1010 NKJV. In Greek, the word Abundant above means what is superior, excessive, and advantageous. He did not mean that we’d be rich and satisfied as half-starved and wearing worn, dirty, and torn clothes while begging for food. Abundance does not look like that.
The Bad Bargain.
Jesus talks about both the physical world and the spiritual world. He talks about how we live life here on earth (physical) and about how we get to heaven and get right with God (spiritual). He frequently warns against the exchange of heaven for the world.
Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with this bad bargain when he takes Jesus to the highest mountain and says “I will give it all to you…if you will kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4:9 NLT. He responded that he would not worship anyone other than the Lord. Jesus said it plainly here “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” Matthew 16:26 NLT. He says – don’t exchange heave for the world – money, power, fame, and lust.
Consider Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. He went to the leaders who were in charge of the temples to discuss how to betray Jesus. “They were delighted, and they promised to give him money.” Luke 22:5 NLT. He was greedy and lustful. Later, Judas gave back the money and hung himself for what he had done. (Matthew 27:1-10) He betrayed Jesus even after having heard all Jesus taught about money. Judas exchanged heaven for money in his betrayal.
Consider the rich man who went away sad. He would not sell his things which symbolizes that the things meant a lot to him. Along with wealth comes a life of ease and luxury. There are many indulgent things that we can obtain with wealth. Often we serve the self with our wealth. What Jesus was saying is devalue the things and value the service to others. In doing so, the rich man would be following Jesus. We get to heaven by belief, faith, and following Jesus. The rich man was unwilling to follow Jesus and serve others with his wealth. He exchanged heaven for money.
Reliance on God matters more than anything else. Living in a way that pleases God – from the inside out is what matters. He cares about our hearts and our souls the most. Our heart posture matters more than anything we can do and earning money is not bad in itself. However, most of us have never experienced giving something up to follow Jesus in service. We want a mission, a ministry, a purpose with none of the sacrifice. Yet, the sacrifice is what Jesus says we give in order to follow him.
Jesus also said, “Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.” He says this as he sends out his disciples to spread the gospel. If we work – we deserve to be paid. I think this is more directed to Kingdom which is pleasing to God and is bearing good fruit. He says to the disciples when they return “don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” Luke 10:20 NLT. He is saying if we make the sacrifice, we get the reward.
Kingdom work isn’t necessarily profitable – it might just be charitable. Charity given in private without a prideful motive is pleasing to God. When we have faith that God will provide, he will provide profitable work for us too. When we work, we deserve to be paid for it.
Jesus told a parable of some servants who did well with what they are given and those who did not. The conclusion was “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given … those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” Matthew 25:29 NLT. This is both spiritual and physical. When we use our spiritual gifts, to do Kingdom work, and we are good stewards we are rewarded.
It is not that monetary poverty is rewarded; it is the humility and reliance on God that comes with poverty that is rewarded. It is not the money that prevents the rich from getting into heaven, it is the lack of need of God for the provision and the resulting less faith that is the preventative element. It is not how much money we have or don’t have – it is our belief, faith, and focus on God that matters. Having money interferes with our God relationship if we are not good stewards.
The rich man was greedy and traded heaven for the world. Zaccheus was changed from the inside out and gave up the world for heaven. The servants who used their gifts were given more and those who did not were thrown into the fires. When we are charitable and have a right heart posture God is pleased and more will be given. When we are poor stewards, what we have will be taken away because we are untrustworthy.