Is poverty good or evil? Why would anyone say, as I did in India, that it is God’s will for people—pastors, in this case—to be poor?

The New Testament has much to say about poverty and wealth. Privation is never regarded as an evil, as it is currently in many cultures. A lack of the necessities for living is simply addressed as an understood state in the New Testament, and that Christians, in response to that state, should care for those in need (Matthew 19:21, 26:11; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:3).

But poverty’s opposite, wealth, is addressed at length—and it’s not good news.

Jesus made it clear that an affluent person is in danger.

First of all, He said that wealth makes it difficult for people to enter the kingdom of God:

“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” (Mark 10:25).

This should be important to Christians. I’m not convinced that it is.

Jesus reinforced this truth when He told us that riches are deceitful: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

He also indicated that being rich in this world would mean that since we have already received our consolation or comfort, we might not receive such comfort or consolation at some future time: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).

Jesus told the Christians at Laodicea that their prosperity had caused them to think they needed nothing, when, instead, they were in reality “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15–18). He rebuked them for their prideful ignorance. In fact, the Laodicean Christians had been so blinded by their riches that Jesus was not even in their church—He was knocking at their door, trying to gain entrance (Revelation 3:20).

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, we find that after the wealthy man died, he found himself in a terrible condition—Hades, in fact—while the beggar Lazarus, formerly covered with sores, was abiding in a very good place, at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:19-30). Prosperity and health does not necessarily mean one is blessed, from an eternal perspective.

Jesus also warned about the hazards of wealth in the parable of the rich and covetous man who, having prospered said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:18–19). To finish His parable Jesus said, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20–21). In this teaching, Jesus addressed our attitude about earthly possessions, not the possessions themselves.

Jesus reinforced this mindset about affluence when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Again, this statement has to do with one’s heart toward wealth—being mastered by money, not the possession of it. A person could be relatively poor and yet devoted to and the slave of money.

In this well-known verse, Paul warned that the love of money imperils Christians: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Again, one’s heart in regard to money is emphasized, not the possession of it.

Finally, James taught that it is beneficial to be poor:  “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).

So, is poverty evil? No, it can actually be a good thing and God’s will. However, nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to live in abject poverty. Money in and of itself is not evil. It is one’s attitude toward it that is problematic; however, undoubtedly prosperity causes one to sail into treacherous waters. I must confess that I take great comfort from Proverbs 30:8–9: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This is my prayer also. It has been an interesting and challenging journey to endeavor to follow Jesus while living in the relatively wealthy culture of the Western world.

The New Testament makes it clear that riches have the potential to bring us to a very bad state spiritually, so when we are prosperous, we should be wary. One of the evil characteristics of people in the Last Days is that they will be lovers of money (2 Timothy 3:2) Christians should consider these truths and warnings with a healthy sense of fear. We should realize that neither poverty nor wealth is evil in and of themselves—but affluence is the condition that puts one at spiritual risk, not poverty.