Biblical Economics – Does Jesus Hate the Rich?

It seems to me there is an increasing level of confusion on what Jesus thought about economics. This matters a lot because the claims being made on many sides of the current debate cut under the core message of the Gospel itself. In times like these, when everyone is rushing to say what Jesus thinks about capitalism, socialism, communism, Occupy Wall Street, taxes, government, etc. (even the Vatican has called for a Central World Bank), it’s vital we talk openly about these issues.

Some believe in Jesus the provider of riches. Scratch his back and He’ll scratch yours. Economic prosperity is God’s desire for everyone–we’re told by some. God doesn’t just want to provide for your needs. He wants you to have season tickets, a Bentley, and a vacation home.

Others believe Jesus is some sort of communist–or at least a socialist. More than anything, these people believe Jesus was about was economic equality…though there is hardly a statement made to suggest He felt that way in all the New Testament. He makes several statements about helping those in need–but one must rely on fairly fanciful interpretations of other passages to find those where Jesus commands or even strongly suggests economic equality as a biblical mandate–especially if it is executed by government–rather than by the Kingdom life of God’s people.

This isn’t to say God doesn’t bless people financially or that Jesus is a fan of economic inequality. It’s to say it seems we are a confused people on this subject right now at a time when society could use a clear voice on the subject. It seems to me that at this pivotal time in history, our politics more than our theology is coming through.

This series of posts isn’t intended to be a definitive voice but rather a discussion starter. These are some observations based on years of studying this subject. But, I’m not naive enough to believe I come to the subject bias free. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches a lot on money and possessions for a reason: God wants us to be faithful and avoid an idolatrous relationship with money–a potential affliction of both the rich, poor, and middle class.

So, let’s begin.

Jesus does not hate the rich. Jesus does make a statement that it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. However, His own treatment of the rich during His time on earth (take Zacchaeus for example), His calling of some known to be wealthy to be among His apostles, and His consistent teaching of love for all people (that would include the rich), defy the belief that somehow Jesus hated the rich…or even prefers poor people to them. If in fact Jesus does prefer the poor or only cares about the poor, why would we want to give them anything–if by doing so we are removing them from that spiritually privileged class? This makes little sense, and yet it is being taught from pulpits and publishing houses with great gusto and hyperbole–bringing injury to the Good News for all people.

Let me be clear: Time and time again Jesus calls on His followers to care for the needs of the poor. It’s at least on the Mt. Rushmore of His teaching–and perhaps Washington on that Mt. Rushmore. However, He never says He prefers the poor. He never says He dislikes the rich or that it is a sin to be rich. Jesus never calls on government to tax the rich to give to the poor. He teaches the transformative message of the Kingdom to rich and poor alike, calling all people (especially the rich) to live out the Kingdom will their whole being. This is particularly true of their wallet.

When people try to get Jesus to become King, he rejects it–saying His Kingdom is not of this world. If His isn’t, neither is ours. This by no means leads us to disregard or ignore the troubles of this world. It just means we don’t prioritize this world over Christ’s Kingdom. Rather, Christ’s Kingdom is what we bring to bear on this world through transformed, generous lives and the good news of the Gospel.

So, those who follow Christ love rich and poor. They avoid blanket demonization and hating their “enemies.” In our society, it’s common to talk about “fat cats” and use the term “rich” as a four-letter word. It isn’t. Where greed exists (both among rich and poor), we must call people to repent for the Kingdom is near. We must embody our preaching by living lives of justice and calling others to do so–without falling into the Constantinian trap of trying to legislate our values to all.

Lastly, we embrace a view of people that doesn’t demonize or favor based on salary. A person is far more than their paycheck. We always strive to love people as people and not paychecks–whether they have one or not–and whether it’s large or small. If a wealthy person loses their job and become poor, or a poor person eventually becomes more wealthy, God’s affection for them doesn’t rise and fall with that paycheck. He shows no favoritism.

His love is constant, and doesn’t change…regardless of what you make.

This is good news.

Thoughts?

 

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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6 Comments

  1. The word “poor” refers to many things – including the poor in spirit. We focus on the money part of it, but anyone, regardless of their financial situation, can be poor in spirit. Jesus told us to take care of the poor, and I don’t believe he was speaking only about monetary issues.

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    • I John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God dwell in him?
      Of course it can’t.
      The Bible contains more than 300 verses on the poor, social justice, and God’s deep concern for both. How we treat others is a reflection of our hearts. Google “The Bible on the Poor”
      Of course there are poor who should not be helped. Those who are poor because they will not work or want to squander. God says they don’t need help. Yet there are countless number of people on earth who are poor but don’t fall into that category. America is 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of it’s resources. Try telling God that we deserve to consume that much and leave the other 95% of the population 75% of the resources.
      If you claim to be poor in spirit but do not help the poor, you are deceiving yourself. If you are truly broken before God, you will not think you are more important than the beggar in India. Since you are not any more important than the beggar, why would you deserve to be living in comfort while he goes hungy daily?
      As the Bible says “teach us to number our days”.
      Read about Lazarus and the rich man. When you die, will God consider you another Lazarus or another rich man? If it’s the rich man, you are the one who will lose.

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      • Ana, as I read those texts, the crime isn’t being rich. In fact, throughout the Bible, God chooses to bless people with riches. What people do with what God entrusts to them, however, is another matter. God calls us to love all people, not just those we deem rich or poor. That is a much bigger concern of the Scriptures — and biblical economics as I see it is a matter of love rather than “justice” — as defined by our current way of defining what we think is “just.” Having said that–I don’t believe any Christian can please God and not care for the poor — both in word and action. I also think we in America need to take a hard look at our way of life and answer some of the questions you’ve posed. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. The only thing I’ve heard scripture say God hates is divorce. This seems like a loaded question and a nice way to get out of feeling bad for living in excess.

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    • Jordan,

      A loaded question, perhaps…but one that needs to be asked in light of what is being said today…even by Christians. Was there some place in the post where I gave an OK to living in excess?

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  3. We need to save lost poor people as much as the lost rich people. All who do not know Jesus are truly poor. Sharing.

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