This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.


My question concerns Christian wealth. In a situation where a truly Spirit-led Christian also happens to be rich or very wealthy, how should he responsibly use it? Matthew 19:24 reads, Christ speaking, "And again I say to you, 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.” My understanding is that this verse teaches that only through God's grace can we enter Heaven and that worldly possessions (and a dependence on them) can't assist there.

But is Christ also advising financially? I suppose my real question is, to what extent is it okay for a Christian to be rich? In a scenario where a Christian also made a lot of money, would it possibly be sinful to, say, take his family on a lavish vacation? Or buy a sports car, as opposed to some cheaper, less flashy vehicle? If a tithing, giving Christian, who was also rich, chose to spend ten-thousand dollars building a home theater, would that count against him for not instead giving it to the poor?

I recall the story of Judas and the perfume from John 12 and wonder if there is a relevance, as well. Can a Christian be rich? Or are we all called to be John the Baptists, living meagerly?

Your counsel is appreciated.

William Lane Craig’s Response

This is an intensely personal question which each of us who desires to live as a disciple of Jesus must answer for himself.

One reason the question is so difficult to answer is that what counts as “rich” is relative. We in First World countries may not think of ourselves as rich when compared with our compatriots, but it is sobering to realize that if you own a bicycle, not to speak of an automobile, then you are fabulously rich compared to much of the world’s population. But it would seem wrong to be consumed with guilt because you own a car in a society in which such a vehicle is close to a necessity. In such a case it seems that one should recognize that one is, indeed, rich and be grateful to God for so abundantly supplying one’s needs. The rich Christian who takes his family on a lavish vacation might be a generous philanthropist as well, who supports the Lord’s work and spends proportionally much less than most people on his holiday. Given the person-relativity of wealth, I think we are well-advised not to judge others but to judge only ourselves to see if we are being good stewards of the money God has entrusted to us.

I don’t think that Jesus was giving financial advice in the passage you cite but warning against the easy idolatry of wealth. Merely becoming poor would do nothing to solve the problem of materialism and the desire to be rich (Mark 4.19). A poor person could be obsessed with materialistic desires, while a rich person might be filled with gratitude toward God for His goodness.

Two passages in the New Testament lead me to think that God does not expect all of us to become John the Baptists. First is the familiar story from the life of Jesus about Zacchaeus the rich tax collector. As a result of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus proclaims, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor!” (Luke 19.8a). Only half? That might seem chintzy compared to what was demanded of the rich young ruler! Yet Jesus accepted this response on Zacchaeus’ part. “Today salvation has come to this house!” (Luke 19. 9).

The second passage comes from Paul's letter to Timothy, where he explicitly instructs,

As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed (I Timothy 6.17-19).

Nothing could be clearer! In the early Christian church there were those who were rich, and Paul’s instruction to them was not to give away all their wealth but to mind their attitudes, not to look down on others nor to make an idol of their wealth. Rather they were to be liberal and generous in their giving as an expression of their Christian discipleship. Having done that, they are free to enjoy the things that they have.

That seems to me to be relevant advice for us today. Compared to most of the world, many of us are indeed among the rich of this world. We need to be aware of the deceitfulness of riches. And we ought to be giving away a large proportion of our money to the Lord’s work. In Paul’s thinking, the model which we ought to follow is not mere tithing. Rather the pattern is that we should be as generous as we can in supporting the Lord’s work (II Corinthians 9.6-11). For us in the West today, I think that that may well imply that many of us should be giving away 30% to 50% of our income. We can get by on much less than we do.

This may involve a radical restructuring of our lives and a rejection of the cultural values of the materialistic West. Can we get by with just one car? Do I really need that fancy watch? Is it good stewardship to spend thousands of dollars on an engagement ring? Should I spend a lot of money amassing a personal library? These are the sorts of questions that we should ask, not about others, but about ourselves individually.

This Q & A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig’s website.