Plain Truth Magazine
December 1978
Volume: Vol XLIII, No.10
Issue: ISSN 0032-0420
QR Code
Jeff Calkins  

Today many religionists are demanding, in the name of God, that governments should "soak the rich." Many say that God loves only the poor and hates the prosperous. Is God really on the "side" of the poor? Is He a Communist who has taken sides in the "class struggle"? Here's the astonishing truth about what the Bible really says about wealth and poverty!

   "Christianity is a religion of the poor, of the proletariat, of the exploited class," proclaims a recent issue of a prominent "radical Christian" periodical.
   Other writers take much the same line. "God is on the side of the poor," declares Peter Davids in a recent issue of Sojourners, an evangelical publication.
   In recent years many religionists have hopped aboard the God-hates-the-rich bandwagon. And by rich, it seems they do not mean just John D. Rockefeller of J. Paul Getty. They appear to include the average middle-class person in the Western world who enjoys such "luxuries" as owning his own home or renting a quality apartment, living in clean surroundings, having a car to drive and maybe a savings account. According to the radical Christians, God is angry at those who aren't dirt poor. God, they believe, is the "God of the poor" who is "working in history" to "liberate" the poor from oppression.
   A person supposedly oppresses the poor if he enjoys a high standard of living. Radical Christians are forever pointing out that the United States, for example, consumes about a third of the world's resources, yet accounts for only six percent of the world's population. This fact supposedly indicts Americans as "oppressors." (What they forget is that "resources don't do anyone any good until they are developed into usable wealth, and the fact is that the U.S. and other Western societies produce more wealth than they consume, and share the balance with poorer countries)
   So-called liberation theology takes the idea from the Bible that God loves the poor and oppressed (which is true) and combines it with the idea of Karl Marx that any time a man sells his labor to another there is "exploitation" (which is false).
   Thus, according to this reasoning, God hates oppressors who turn out, because liberation theologians have bought wholesale the economic theories of Marx, to be anyone who employs someone else. Karl Marx taught that industrial societies are divided into two classes, the workers and the middle class (though today, much to the consternation of Marxists, many workers have become middle-class). Thus liberation theologians conclude that because God and Christ do have some kind words in the Bible for the poor and some harsh words for their oppressors, He must therefore hate those the middle and upper classes who have acquired wealth, or capital, in this world.

Ignoring the Kingdom of God

   According to the radical Christian view, God, because He is concerned about needy people, has taken sides in the "class struggle." Thus God is supposed to condemn all accumulation of property. He requires that those who have the means should give up all their possessions and become poor. He even counsels violence in order to "liberate" the poor.
   Many of these radical Christians say, God is the "Lord of history." He is supposed to, be "at work in history casting down the rich and exalting the poor. God is "not neutral in the struggle for justice."
   The above view is radical to be sure but it is definitely not Christian. In the first place, God is not taking sides in man's affairs in the way most people, including professing Christians, think. Satan not God is the ruler of this world, this age (II Cor. 4:4). The world to come the Kingdom of God is God's world. God's primary work now is preparing the groundwork for the restoration of the government of God (Mark 1:14-15). (Read our free booklet Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God?)
   God is not working in history as radical Christians use the words to "liberate" the poor. What they seem to imply is that God is working through the Communist party or other radical groups. This is why the Marxist groups in Rhodesia, for example, are treated favorably. Such groups are seen as the voice of the poor rising against their oppressors. Along the same lines, radical theologian Robert McAfee Brown once made the very revealing comment that "confronted with a choice of supporting the [Communist] Castro regime in Cuba or the [non-Communist] Pinochet regime in Chile," he would quickly choose Cuba because it is a country where "the poor" have their "basic needs" met. It is, of course, true that if Communist regimes say they have any purpose for their existence, it is to meet the basic needs of the poor, even if human liberty must be crushed (as it has in Cuba) in the process.
   The Bible, however, gives a different picture.
   The real salvation of the poor is the Kingdom of God which Jesus Christ will establish on earth at His return. Christ warned that in this "present evil world" (Gal. 1:4) the "poor always ye have with you" (John 12:8).

The Passion for Equality

   The reason why some religious people actually want to use violence to overthrow free-market economic systems or, at the very least, cajole governments to adopt soak-the-rich policies is because of a zealous belief in equality. No one, they believe, should have more than anyone else: "No Christian should prosper while others suffer."
   The attitude is similar to the one noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, a famous French writer (1805-1859), who said that some people would rather be "equal in slavery than unequal in freedom." The scripture which is used to bolster this belief is II Corinthians 8:13-15: "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
   But this scripture upholds equality only in the sense of God's equal compassion for all human beings. The context is the apostle Paul's appeal for famine relief. The equality that is being spoken of is an equality in the basic necessities of life: Paul is saying that he did not want any of the members of the Church of God at Jerusalem, for whom the famine relief was intended, to starve. The value here is compassion, not the "equality of result" which so many advocate today.
   The truth is, God values equality for its own sake far less than most people realize. He places much greater emphasis upon spiritual maturity combined with responsible concern for others. This is clearly revealed in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In the parable, Christ 'likens Himself to a man who goes off to travel and first entrusts his assets to his servants. Some servants are given more responsibility, some less; each servant is apportioned "according to his several ability" (Matt. 25:15). There is no equality in how the assets are divided: It is according to "ability." Afterwards, the man returns and demands to know how each of the servants has done in managing what was entrusted to him.
   Again there is inequality. Two servants have done well; one has done poorly. But instead of equalizing the shares, Christ gives the one talent of the servant who did not develop or increase his talent to the servant who increased his share the most numerically even though he and the other faithful servant both increased their shares the same proportionally.
   The lesson, of course, is that God expects those with ability and talent to diligently use what they have been given.
   While this parable primarily refers to our spiritual service to God, something God does not measure "equally" it also certainly shows that there is no divine preference for equality for its own sake.
   The fact is that God does not. choose sides in the "class struggle." Those who seek to make it sound as if God only loves the poor and loves the poor because they are poor, not because they are the descendants of Adam and potential sons of God almost never quote the injunction in Exodus 23:3: "Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause." Neither do they mention Leviticus 19:15: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty." A poor man, according to these verses, shouldn't get special treatment simply because he is poor. His economic status should have nothing to do with justice. This point is reiterated by the apostle Peter, who stated that "God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

Christian Violence?

   Those who believe in the radical theology have very little hesitation about using violence to overthrow "oppressive governments." They believe that because they are on the side of the poor, violence is justified. Should they succeed in coming to power, they leave little doubt as to what they would do. They would have the government confiscate the earnings and wealth of the middle and upper classes. And they would do so in God's name!
   But they would be wrong to use the authority of Scripture for what is really just baptized Communism! The Bible teaches that when those who have money or wealth provide for or give to the poor, they should be doing so individually out of genuine concern and love, not because the government tax collector is threatening them with jail terms. As the apostle Paul said about giving, it should be "every man according as he purposeth in his heart... not grudgingly, or of necessity" (II Cor. 9:7).

But What About the Poor?

   One of the radical Christians puts it very simply: "The Bible regards poverty in the midst of plenty as sin." Another says, "The idea of individuals 'within the community of faith accumulating wealth while others suffer need is abhorrent to the biblical authors." The implication is that as long as there are poor people around, none of the others should ever enjoy plenty, or quality goods, or anything more than just the bare necessities of life.
   But this view is not biblical! The Bible has many kind and compassionate words for the poor but only the poor whose poverty is no fault of their own. Their poverty is
The Bible teaches that there is nothing wrong with working hard and earning wealth in a good, honest manner.
the result of dependency, or circumstances beyond the individual's control. This is the poverty which is suffered by widows and orphans, the sick and disabled, the aged. Here the Bible is clear: Christians are obligated to compassionately assist these unfortunate individuals, even to' the point of sacrifice. The relief of such human distress is one of the fundamentals of true, religion. There is, indeed, a duty to give to the poor when you have the means to do so.
   But there is another class of poor persons that the Bible speaks of. As harsh as it may sound, some people are poor through their own fault. To be blunt, some people are poor because of laziness. The Bible makes this very clear:
   "He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand" (Prov. 10:4).
   "The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets [that is, he makes excuses for not working]" (Prov. 22:13).
   "He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster" (Prov. 18:9).
   "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down" (Prow. 24:30-31).
   This last proverb is particularly appropriate to the poverty of many urban slums. Unless people are willing to expend the effort to care for their property, it soon deteriorates. Consider the almost proverbial case of the slum family which is moved by a city redevelopment agency to a nice middle class suburb and, within a short time has allowed their new quarters to get into a run-down, dilapidated condition. It is because 'they are unwilling to take care of what they have!

Pleasure Before Work

   For many people, the inability to restrain themselves from giving in to the pleasures of the moment_ is the cause of poverty. This fact is vividly brought out in The Unheavenly City, a book by a Harvard professor of urban studies, Edward Banfield. Dr. Banfield documented what Solomon had first recorded in the Bible that plain old laziness, and the inability to control one's emotions and desires, is the reason why many people live in slum conditions.
   Dr. Banfield shows that in many big-city slums, poverty is the direct result of an inability to defer gratification, even for a short period of time. Some people simply cannot deny themselves the pleasures of the moment in order to break out of their impoverished condition. Such a person, says Banfield, lives "from moment to moment, If he has any awareness of the future, it is of something fixed, fated, beyond his control.... Impulse governs his behavior he cannot discipline himself to sacrifice a present for a future satisfaction... whatever he cannot consume immediately he considers valueless. His bodily needs (especially for sex) and his taste for 'action' take precedence over everything else and certainly over any work routine." Indeed, as Solomon said, "He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man" (Prov. 21:17).
   In the New Testament, too, some people's poverty is also laid at the door of laziness. The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, scolded "busybodies" who had quit their jobs and were sponging off others, waiting for the return of Christ (II Thess. 3:11-12). Paul laid down this rule, applicable to every able-bodied Christian: "If any would not work, neither should he eat" (II Thess.3:10).
   Elsewhere, Paul told the evangelist Timothy that a man who does not put forth the effort to provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, "hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (I Tim. 5:8).
   Of course, there are many poor people in the world whose poverty is no fault of their own, and the Bible also speaks eloquently to their condition. It is injustice when people who have superior learning take advantage of the poor in contracts (Amos 8:6). It is an abomination to God when poor people who are not lazy are not cared for (Ezek. 16:49). And the Bible emphatically teaches that employers have a duty to show love and concern for their employees, particularly their less-educated, or feebleminded employees.
   The central concern in all of these scriptures, however, is always compassion the humane concern that human beings should not suffer lack of food or shelter due to conditions' beyond their control. But the Bible does not countenance the belief, founded more on envy than on godly love, that individuals who work hard and do well should have everything they earn stripped away from them lest they enjoy more than the poor.

Hard Work vs. Fraud

   There is nothing wrong in acquiring wealth through your own honest effort exchanging something you do for money, or using your mind to invest money you already have. There is nothing wrong with acquiring wealth through gifts, such as an inheritance.
   In other words, there are two ways in which a man can acquire property justly. He can exchange it for something else, such as his own labor, or he can have it given to him. Both ways are found in the Bible. Jesus said, "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7). Gift giving is certainly not condemned: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13)
   Moreover, there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself The Old Testament shows clearly that "blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.... Wealth and riches shall be in his house" (Ps. 112:1-3).
   Other scriptures show the same thing: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord.... whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:1-3).
   "And the Eternal was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man.... the Eternal made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him [God]" (Gen. 39:2-4).
   "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon" (Ps. 92:12).
   Finally, some of the most righteous men of the Bible were not only middle-class, but really rich. Abraham had over 318 servants (Gen. 14:14). After his trial, Job was given twice as much as he had before (Job 42: 10), and he was quite wealthy to begin with (Job 1:3).
   The New Testament likewise shows that there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself:
   "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health" (111 John 2). Jesus Himself said: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
   The Bible teaches that there is nothing wrong with working hard and acquiring wealth in a good, honest manner:
   "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Prov. 13:4).
   "The substance of a diligent man is precious" (Prov. 12:27).
   "The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness" (Prov. 21:5).
   "Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever" (Prow. 27:23-24).
   The fact of the matter is that God has set the laws of success in motion. Some people put these laws to work in their lives, and, after payment of God's tithe, offerings, and basic charity to relieve those who are truly needy, they deserve to keep what they have. (You can learn about these laws by read our free booklet The Seven Laws Of Success)
   As the editor of Plain Truth, Herbert W. Armstrong, pointed out more than a quarter century ago, prosperity and the enjoyment of high-quality consumer goods is the reward of good, hard work (Plain Truth, October 1951).
   "What would happen," asked Mr. Armstrong, "if there were not a few leaders who had taken life seriously when they were young, who had spent their evenings in study and self-improvement while the majority were out seeking pleasure and good times, who had made the most of their opportunities, who had vision and enterprise, who slaved and worked long hours during hard years, planning and building a business which now provides employment for others who spent sleepless nights carrying all the worry and responsibility of the enterprise so they could meet the payrolls, while those on the payrolls had their good times and got their sleep without any load of responsibility?"

Seek God First

   While the Bible does say that it is possible to be prosperous without incurring God's wrath, it does command us not to put our heart in material goods. The true basis of happiness is indeed not material but spiritual.
   While wealth can be legitimately earned, we must not forget that the Bible clearly commands us not to seek riches as a goal. Christ said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33). The apostle Paul did say that "they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6:9-10).
   And we must not forget that the Bible absolutely condemns the acquisition of wealth or prosperity by ungodly means, i.e., by force or fraud. The apostle James shows what God thinks of those who unfairly take advantage and defraud the poor: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth" (James 5:1-4).
   David confronted the problem of those who became rich by unjust means. But he realized that God, who wields final justice, would chasten them in the end: "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.... Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.... all the day long have I been plagued.... Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou... castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors" (Ps. 73:3, 12, 14, 17-19).

The Right Use of Wealth

   Clearly the Bible teaches that prosperity is not an end in itself. To demonstrate this, Jesus spoke a very poignant parable about a rich man who accumulated goods, then tore down his barns to have room to store still more goods. He was a fool, Jesus said, because he died before he ever got a chance to enjoy the goods himself. The lesson was that we should "take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
   This basic truth was driven home by Christ in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) and was also expressed by Solomon when he said: "There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners
But the Bible also tells us not to put our heart in material goods. The basis of happiness is spiritual, not material.
thereof to their hurt" (Eccl. 5:13).
   The right use of wealth is indeed compassionate. It should be used to preach the gospel (I Cor. 9:6-7, 14); to support the work of the true ministry of Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:5, 11, 17); to celebrate the feasts of God (Deut. 14:22-26) and to help others to do so (Deut. 14:27); to relieve the distress. of those who are poor through no fault of their own (I John 3:17, James 2:14-17). The right attitude toward wealth was expressed eloquently by Paul when he told the Ephesians: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Eph. 4:28).
   But after all of this, God lays no burden on the Christian to give up all his wealth for the sake of equality. There is a right place for material possessions in God's way of life: "Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him:, for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God" (Eccl. 5:18-19).
   The principle is one of right balance on material wealth. On the one extreme, wealth is not to be sought for its own sake: "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver" (Eccl. 5:10). On the other hand, we do not have to be joyless ascetics either; for "it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor."

The World Tomorrow

   In God's world, individuals will be able to enjoy the fruit of their own labor: "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined" (Isa. 25:6).
   God's economic plan as revealed in Exodus and Leviticus shows that private property is a sacred right, as revealed by the commandment against theft (Ex. 20:15). The "means of production" will be in private hands. However, the harsh aspects of unrestricted capitalism will not be allowed. In fact, God's "welfare system" is remarkable for being both humane and at the same time preserving private incentive.
   Arable land will be divided up among families and will not be allowed to be sold for more than fifty years (Lev. 25:23). Every seventh year all consumer debts will be abolished. A "third-tithe" system will be established to relieve the distress of the needy: but this system will cost only a fraction of what man's bloated welfare system costs today, because it will be primarily self-administered and will not require armies of bureaucrats.
   In terms of direct redistribution of wealth to the poor, God's plan will take less than four percent of the national income, though this figure goes up some when we consider some of the indirect "welfare programs" of the Bible: the year of release from debts (Deut. 15:1-2); the land reverting back to the original owner every 50 years (Lev. 25:10); the no-interest consumer loans (Lev. 25:35-36); and the ungleaned fields left for the poor (Lev. 19:10). But even with all these measures, the percentage of "redistributed" wealth will be far less than it is in today's "capitalist" welfare state. More importantly, it will go to help those who are truly needy and not to pay hordes of middle-class "welfare bureaucrats."
   In the world tomorrow, each family will own its own private property. But individuals who want to build, to construct, and to create will be allowed to do so. While it will be impossible to accumulate large tracts of land to the exclusion of the small farmers, it will still be possible to serve one's fellowman by industriously creating new goods and services.
   As Herbert Armstrong has said, "In the world tomorrow employers will live God's way. They will be concerned for the welfare of their employees. And workers will put their hearts into their work. Production will mount, prosperity will increase for all, and the masses will have the money to supply a ready market for a greatly expanded mass production."
If you would like to read more about this soon-to-arrive era of peace and prosperity' read our free booklet Coming - A New Age.

Back To Top

Plain Truth MagazineDecember 1978Vol XLIII, No.10ISSN 0032-0420