What does God want our attitude toward money to be?
Well, in Scripture the apostle Paul teaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10). That’s important, but it must always be stressed that it is the love of money, not money itself, that is condemned. So there are rich, greedy villains in the Bible (see, for example, Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus), but there are also rich good guys (like Boaz, and the father in the Prodigal Son parable), and God Himself sometimes uses riches to reward the faithful (Job) and to adorn Heaven (Revelation). There does not seem to be anything wrong with having money, or with working diligently to acquire it. Indeed, the sluggard is condemned in Proverbs, and likewise Paul urges diligence (see verses collected here).
The Ten Commandments are also instructive, for what they say and perhaps also for what they do not say. We are commanded not to steal, and also not to covet, but we are not commanded to be penniless. Certainly it would be wrong to worship money, for it to become an idol, and we are told to keep the Sabbath holy — but, on the other hand, it is apparently contemplated that we will be working to some end on the other six days of the week.
There is a superficial tension between the commandment not to covet and Jesus’ instruction to share our belongings. Couldn’t the coveter demand the sharing? Likewise, what is wrong with attacking wealth disparities as a political matter: Is it not simply a demand that we do Jesus’ will and share — or is it nothing more than putting covetousness into a political platform?
In fact, not coveting and being generous are not in tension at all. Both, rather, share the same core principle: Material things ought not to be of central concern in our earthly lives. Greed for what one does not have is spiritually no more defensible than greed for keeping what one does have, and vice versa.
Let me conclude with two quotes.
John Wesley famously said (emphasis added), “Gain all you can, without bringing harm to yourself or neighbor. Save all you can by avoiding waste and unnecessary luxuries. Finally, give all you can.”
And here’s a quote from my post (“Ten Thoughts on Politics and the Bible”) elsewhere on this blogsite:
[D]oes it follow that, since Christians are to be generous (even giving away our tunics, Luke 6:29), therefore we should vote for aggressively redistributionist policies? Not necessarily, for at least a couple of reasons. First, there is a big moral difference between voluntarily giving away our own tunic, and ganging up with a bunch of other people to force some third party (unpopular with you and your friends) at gun-point to give away his tunic (to some other person deemed, by you and your friends, to be more deserving of it). Second, in the long run you may not be doing even the tunic recipient any favors if you teach him lessons against self-reliance (spare the rod and spoil the child and all that). What’s more, a system where extra tunics can be taken away is a system that in the long run will produce fewer tunics for everyone. None of that is to say that we should let people starve to death in the streets if the only entity that can feed them is, as a practical matter, the state.
I know that’s quite a drop — from John Wesley to me — but Christianity is a big tent. And it includes both the poor and the rich.