If you don’t subscribe to the idea that capitalism is the only moral economic system, an idea boldly proclaimed by Christians infatuated with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and you dare mention inequality, you will probably be accused of class envy. Or, you will be labeled a socialist. It matters not to these ideologues that you reject socialism outright.
By almost any standard of measure, I am rich when compared to the vast majority of humans who have ever lived. And so are most Americans. So, when anyone accuses me of class envy, they must be referring to an envy of those richer than I am.
But I don’t envy people who have more wealth than me because the Bible gives me many reasons not to. I will mention only a few.
Perhaps the most obvious reason is the Bible’s prohibition of covetousness (Exodus 20:17). Riches can become an idol.
Seeking riches will often wear us out so that we have little time or energy to pursue God’s will (Proverbs 23:4,5). Wisdom bids us to spend our time wisely, storing up treasure in heaven instead of storing up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).
Why would any Christian envy those richer than themselves given the potential risk described in 1 Timothy 6:9-10?
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
I don’t envy people who are richer than me because I already am tempted to depend on wealth rather than God for my security:
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall (Proverbs 18:11).
I don’t envy the rich because, unless I have been rich toward God, any treasure stored on earth is useless on the night my life is demanded from me (Luke 12:13-21).
I don’t envy the rich because, often, the fortunes of the rich and the poor are reversed in eternity.
Looking at his disciples, he said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26
Jesus provides convincing evidence of the power of wealth to turn hearts away from God. The beatitudes and woes are specific genres in the Greek and Jewish worlds. Beatitudes and woes function as congratulations and condolences in the present for certain outcomes in the future.1
Though it is possible with God for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:26), Jesus clearly states that wealth becomes an obstacle for many a rich man or woman (Matthew 19:21-25).
The rich don’t merit our envy, but some rich people deserve our pity.
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- Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke, (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 69-70.