Being rich and famous is not sinful. However, making that a primary pursuit in life is sinful. “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9, NLT). “Do not toil to acquire wealth” (Proverbs 23:4, ESV).
The world would have us believe that the only way to become rich and famous is to set goals and pursue them doggedly. The Bible paints a different picture. Consider three biblical figures whose examples speak to this issue:
1. First and foremost is Jesus. When tempted by Satan, He intentionally rejected the opportunities to become rich and famous (Matthew 4:1–11). Jesus devoted Himself to the tasks God gave Him (John 5:19). We are compelled to take the attitude of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing. . . . He humbled himself” (Philippians 2:5–8). What was the result of Jesus’ humbling Himself? “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (verse 9).
2. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. As a slave, he had no ambitions to be rich and famous. He only did the work that was put before him. In Potiphar’s house, Joseph’s faithfulness resulted in his being put in charge of everything. Later, in jail, he helped his fellow prisoners, earning a trust that ultimately led to his being put in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In short, Joseph focused on what God wanted him doing, and as a result he became one of the most powerful and famous men in the world (see Genesis 37—41).
3. He was not wealthy, but the apostle Paul was perhaps the most famous Christian ever to live. How did his fame become worldwide and timeless? He simply did what God put him on earth to do: make disciples. He certainly had a claim to worldly fame, describing some of his accomplishments in Philippians 3:4–6. Yet what did he think about these pursuits that would have warranted fame? “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (verse 7). Paul’s ambition was never to become famous or gather the accolades of men. His burning ambition was to do God’s work and glorify Christ. That was his higher calling.
In Matthew 6:10–20, Jesus teaches us not store up treasures on earth, but in heaven. Then He says, “You cannot serve both God and money” (verse 24). And “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [the basic necessities of life] will be given to you as well” (verse 33). That is, stop trying to be rich and famous, and instead simply seek after God, living out His purposes for your life. If God wants earthly riches to come your way, they will.
For those whose ambition is to be rich, the Bible has many cautions. Jesus said that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24). Material wealth has a way of taking our eyes off of what’s important and eternal. Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16–21 teaches that it is foolish to store up earthly things and take no thought of heavenly things.
As for pursuing fame, the Bible is equally cautioning: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled” (Matthew 23:12). Paul says that “a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:29, NLT). James asks, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Those who are rich and famous often struggle to obey basic biblical commands such as “Be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5) and “Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16, BSB) and “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you” (James 5:1).
To be clear, it’s not wrong to have wealth. It’s the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). But those with wealth should understand where the wealth comes from (God), the purpose for having it (to further God’s work), and it’s transitory nature (see Proverbs 23:5).
Ecclesiastes 2:24 notes, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.” But the same passage clarifies the Source of our blessings: “This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (verses 24–25).
We should not make fame and fortune a primary pursuit in life. Rather, we should make glorifying God our primary goal. We love Jesus and obey Him (John 14:15). We follow Jesus, which means we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow wherever He leads (Mark 8:34). Jesus blesses the meek (Matthew 5:5); being rich and famous is not usually His plan for His children in this world.