How to Know If God Hates Your Wealth

A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited some missionaries in Germany. One family we saw lived in a small, rural village in the countryside. When we arrived in their village, it was dark and difficult to see our surroundings. But the next morning, as I looked outside my window, I thought I had been transported to a poem. It was the most idyllic German hillside you could imagine. Sheep were grazing on the green, rolling hills. A windmill spun in the distance. Even the sky seemed a little bluer.

But our hosts ruined the beauty of the scene during breakfast. They told us that just beyond the picturesque scene was a slaughterhouse. All those tranquil sheep, living their best lives, were simply being prepared for slaughter.

Stunningly, the book of James says this is what the lives of the rich are like (James 5:5). Their boastful posture toward wealth breeds a God-like confidence of expecting tomorrow and fulfilling their own destiny (James 4:14–16). Our lives, when viewed from God’s vantage point, are as fleeting and fragile as the mist. Those with wealth, like the sheep on that German hillside, have a hard time remembering this.

Money, in and of itself, is not sinful. Being wealthy isn’t synonymous with being evil. But James puts his finger on something deeply disturbing: When untethered from devotion to God, our wealth can store up judgment for us.

So how do we know if our wealth is wicked? Here are three tests:

1. Hoarding

Saving up money can be wise, as the book of Proverbs says. But when it becomes our mission to pile up wealth on earth, especially at the expense of generosity or in a way that ignores the needs of those around us, that’s evil (James 5:1–3).

Does that mean there’s a magic number, above which any wealth automatically becomes evil? I don’t think so. But our society gets this completely backwards, so we need to be incredibly cautious. Our culture says, “Give sufficiently and live extravagantly.” A heart touched by the gospel says, “Live sufficiently and give extravagantly.”


2. Self-indulgence

James 5:5 says, “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (ESV). This is more than enjoying a few nice things, like driving a reliable car, blessing someone with a college education, or taking a nice vacation. The self-indulgent person lives in such a way that totally disconnects them from the people around them and their needs. They seek to flaunt their wealth and make a statement.

In our day, most of us would define self-indulgent as “someone who enjoys nicer things than me.” But Scripture encourages us to do more honest soul-searching. Look around at the people living in your neighborhood, in your kids’ school, in your city. How does your standard of living look to them? Are you serving others or indulging yourself?

3. Injustice

This appears, for James, to be the biggest problem of the three. It’s not merely that the rich were self-indulgent and gluttonous, but that their greed meant the poverty of others.

Some people’s wealth, then as now, came by way of exploiting and defrauding others. James puts it this way: “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” (5:4). In other words, James is calling out those who manipulate the legal system to keep people from their due. The luxury of the rich was built on the backs of the poor.

I know Christians don’t all agree about the best ways to care for the poor in society, or how to pursue justice in government matters. But regardless of your political stance, the bottom line for the Christian is that the poor are our responsibility—because they are God’s responsibility—and we must seek their welfare.

For those of us who have money, James urges us to consider why God gave it to us in the first place. After all, James 4 tells us that it’s God and God alone who makes us rich. He asks us to steward all that he’s given us—no matter how much or how little—entrusting us with a responsibility to fulfill his purposes through it.