Question: "Is it better, spiritually, to be poor than to be rich?"
Answer: How does one’s financial status affect one’s spiritual status? Or is there any effect at all? Which is better, to be poor or rich? This topic has long been debated within the church. Israel was promised freedom from poverty if the people followed God’s laws (Deuteronomy 15:4). Yet Jesus taught that the poor are blessed (Luke 6:20).
The apostle Paul addressed the issue of wealth in 1 Timothy 6:8–10: “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people 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.” Having money is not wrong, but loving money is. The abundance of money or the lack of money is less important than our spiritual condition.
In Jewish culture, poverty and even disability were often seen as the result of someone’s personal sin. In John 9:1–2, the disciples of Jesus asked, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” While human nature often attributes poverty or other weaknesses to something wrong a person has done, God can and does use such circumstances to work His perfect plan.
The account of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17–22 shows how riches can be a spiritual stumbling block. Jesus told the young man to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The man walked away sad because he was a man of much wealth. In this case, the man’s wealth was a negative since it kept him from following Christ. He loved his money more than he loved Jesus.
While many of the psalms and proverbs speak matter-of-factly regarding the benefits of wealth and struggles of poverty, the Bible is clear that both poverty and wealth can be the will of God and a blessing from God. Jesus lived in relative poverty; Solomon was blessed with significant wealth. King David had a humble beginning and a wealthy ending. The apostles followed Christ to persecution and martyrdom; they were not regarded as wealthy, but they used all they had to share Christ with others (Luke 18:28). “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).
The human perspective sees wealth as a blessing and poverty as a curse. God’s plan is much greater and uses both wealth and poverty to accomplish His will. We are to avoid the temptation to see wealth as God’s only blessing and instead be content in any and every circumstance, knowing that God’s blessings are not defined by our possessions in this world but are found in their fullness in a kingdom not of this world.