Every false religion has an element of prosperity theology. This can be seen in Hindus’ ritual daily puja, folk Muslims’ community-wide ceremonies to appease evil spirits, and Theravada Buddhists burning of incense; in practice the goal of each is the same – physical and material blessing. I was reminded of this truth recently on a visit to Bali. Each morning, it was commonplace to see Balinese Hindus offering a season in front of businesses or in their homes. It was their way of seeking prosperity and blessing upon their families and place of work. Blessing, then, for most people in the world is seen in terms of wealth and physical well-being.

Curse or Blessing

I want to address a passage of scripture that tells us how wealth can be used to glorify God, but before doing so it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the nature of wealth. Is it a curse or a blessing? This is a question that must be asked when you encounter what the Bible teaches about money and possessions. There are so many passages, especially in the Gospels, that teach about wealth’s condemning power. Perhaps most notable is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:23-24, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell 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.” On face value, then, it seems like the scriptural verdict is against wealth in favor of poverty. After all Jesus did say, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20), words never uttered about their more “fortunate” counterparts.

But, after studying what the Bible does in fact teach about wealth, here is the conclusion I’ve come to about its nature: Wealth is a curse if used unrighteously and can be a blessing if used righteously. We see that wealth is a curse to the unrighteous with these sobering words in James 5:1-5,

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”

Due to the ungodly and superfluous way in which these people used wealth, they had only increased the severity of their judgment. Like cattle given an inordinate amount of food to fatten them for slaughter, wealth was the means through which these people’s hearts were made ready for God’s terrible judgment.

But, we also see in the Bible that wealth can be a blessing to the righteous. God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 show as much,

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

It must be mentioned that the Bible interprets God’s blessing of Abraham in two ways. The first and primary way in which God’s promises to Abraham must be understood is in terms of spiritual blessing. So, when we consider these promises in light of redemptive history, they are about much more than physical-temporal realities. Ultimately, these promises are about God justifying people from every ethnic group through the person and work of Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 3:8). Abraham himself also understood these promises to be about much more than temporal blessing, for the author of Hebrews tells us that when Abraham left his country and kindred, he wasn’t just searching for a physical land. But, “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (v. 11:10) and “[he] desire[d] a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (v. 11:16). And, the nation God created from Abraham wasn’t simply a physical nation either, but ultimately and eschatologically it was those who are a part of that “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), who like Abraham their father believe God (Romans 4:16-17).

However, the historical context of Abraham’s life also shows that there definitely was a physical dimension to these promises. Many years after the promises of Genesis 12, Abraham’s servant was able to say about him, “The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys” (Genesis 24:35). And Abraham’s wealth was so great that the pagan Hittites declared, “you are a mighty prince among us” (Genesis 23:6).

But, notice the reason why God blessed Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God blessed Abraham so that he would be a blessing to others. As mentioned above, ultimately this points to the things of eternity. But, it also meant that the physical blessing received by Abraham and his offspring was intended to bless others. Perhaps this is why God later said to Israel, “For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow…” (Deut. 15:6).

In Abraham’s life we see how and why wealth can be a blessing – he was blessed in order to bless others. Abraham is an example of the righteous rich because he used his wealth not for his own selfish ends but as a means to bring blessing. He was able to do this, as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, because his hope was not in this world, but “looking forward,” his eyes were fixed upon eternity. Wealth, then, can be a curse or a blessing depending on how it is used. There are unrighteous rich and righteous rich. The one uses his wealth for his own ends; the other uses his wealth for the benefit of others.