If I am going to write about rich people getting to heaven, we had better clarify what we mean by “rich”. Because most of us compare ourselves with neighbors or fellow workers or bank presidents or movie stars, we can agree that the “richness” is a relative trait. Right?
In that case, by that standard, we have just defined you as rich. According to Global Rich List, if you have an annual income of more than $850, you are richer than half the people in the world. If you prefer to think of richness in more elitist terms — say the top 10% of income earners – you are rich if you make over $25,000 annually. So…my guess is that you are rich even by the “elitist” definition.
“So,” you may be wondering, “does the bible say that rich people can’t get to heaven?” Well…sort of. Some have made that conclusion based on Jesus’ conversation with a rich young man (Mat 19: 16-26) who, although he was morally upright, was not willing to give his possessions to the poor in order to gain treasures in heaven. As this young man, who evidently had great wealth, walked away with his head down, Jesus told his disciples that a rich man has about as much chance of entering the kingdom of heaven as a camel does of passing through the eye of a needle.
“Well, Joe”, you are thinking. “Doesn’t that settle it? Jesus is the ultimate authority and it is impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. By world standards, I am rich. I am also doomed. Right?”
Not so fast. Let’s examine exactly what took place during this encounter.
The young man had a false concept of entrance to heaven.
He started his conversation with Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” If our entrance to heaven is based on our good deeds, we are all in serious trouble.
The young man was self-righteous.
When asked about keeping the commandments (at least six of them), he said, “All of these I have kept.” Really? ALL of them? Without ever slipping even once? I don’t think so, and he was deceiving himself if he thought so.
His possessions came between him and God.
Those six commandments were all about how well one treats his fellow man. Because the other four (there are ten altogether) are about one’s relationship with God, Jesus tested that relationship by offering treasures in heaven if the young man would give his possessions to the poor. Of course, we know what happened: he walked away sorrowfully. Why? Because his stuff was more important than his relationship with God.
All things are possible with God.
After the man walked away, Jesus’ dumbfounded disciples asked what you and I would have asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?” Jesus answered, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
“Joe, this is all a big riddle to me. Tell me flat out: can a rich man get to heaven?”
OK. The answer is yes. Here is why:
- Access to heaven is a free gift. (Eph 2: 8,9) It has absolutely nothing to do with being good or having money or keeping commandments. Just as good deeds will not open heaven’s doors for Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, riches will not close those doors for Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Entrance is based on one thing and one thing only: accepting God’s free gift.
- By seeking right standing with God through his good deeds, the young man was asking the wrong question: Jesus simply pursued this erroneous line of thinking until he reached this young man’s chink in his armor: his possessions. We all have similar “chinks”, whether they be our stuff or our time or our selfishness or temper or…well, you get the idea.
Maybe this free gift stuff makes sense, but Jesus DID ask the man to give all of his possessions to the poor. Doesn’t that mean we should do the same?
Not necessarily. We are reading a narrative of a one time only event where Jesus confronts a rich man about what is standing between him and God. We should not read into this narrative a command that Jesus expects all of us everywhere to always give every penny we have to the poor. Think about it: we would then be the poor and the recipients would then be expected to give it back. Very confusing.
But shouldn’t we be willing to give to the poor?
Ahh. Great question. We should be willing to do whatever God leads us to do. If he wants us to be very generous (and he does), we should be very generous. To reiterate, this generosity has nothing to do with earning a spot in heaven; it is the natural result of being changed on the inside when we become God’s children.
OK. This is starting to sink in. Should I, therefore, go ahead and seek my millions?
Maybe. If you are able to handle those millions in a way that pleases God. Some have misconstrued Jesus’ words “with God everything is possible” as license to go ahead and accumulate wealth. I would remind them that Jesus also said, “ When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” Luke 12: 48.
A rich man can indeed enter heaven, but a rich man is also responsible for how he handles those riches.
Readers: How do you define “rich”? Do you think it is harder for a rich person to get to heaven than a poor person? Why?
Money Beagle says
If you make your riches knowingly taking money from others to obtain your own, then those are the people that I believe were referred to as unable to get into Heaven.
Clyde Benson says
We have a man in our church who owns a beautiful home – not extravagant, but probably in the upper 10% of home values for our area. He opens it constantly for weekly youth meetings, small groups, gatherings, etc. I can’t imagine how many people know the code to open his garage. This is so inspiring to me, how this “rich man” treats his possessions as God’s property.
Ashley Zappe says
There is more than one way to “give all your riches to the poor.” Handing them cash is one way, sure. (And some holy people have done exactly that and then lived in poverty themselves for the glory of God). But, that is not the only way to give it all away. Choosing carefully what you spend your dollars on, who you give your dollars to, and what you invest your dollars in, so that the money is indeed going to people who need it most, is also a way of giving to the needy. For example, using your money to start a business with the express purpose of creating jobs for those who need it most, is also a way to give all your riches to the poor. Did not the person who started this business ( http://www.empowermentplan.org/ ) which gives opportunity to impoverished women give his money on behalf of the poor? or didn’t the person who created a nonprofit that gives job training to women escaping trafficking ( https://thistlefarms.org/ ) “give” what he had to the needy? When we look at our money as not our own, but really recognize Ceasar’s face on it, and we see that there is no such thing as being a money-rich Christian. There is no way to be a self-serving Christian, no way to fill our bank accounts with selfish intentions and still say we are stewarding it for God. Money may come abundantly to us, but we do not attach ourselves to it. We cannot store it up in barns, keeping it for ourselves and no one else. The only purpose Ceasar’s money can have in our lives is to be a benefit to those who bear the image of God (which includes, but is not limited to, ourselves). Maybe we don’t all need to hand over 100% of our cash to the poor and become impoverished ourselves as that particular rich man did, but yes, every single dollar of ours should indeed be used to ‘love others as you love yourself.’ And then, when all of our millions of dollars are being intentionally directed to serve the poor and needy (even when they technically are still in our own accounts), then can’t we say with a straight face that we have given it all away to the poor for God’s sake, but it has been returned back to us? (Luke 6:38, Malachi 3:10, Matt 16:25, etc)
I’m really growing in my giving as a Christian ,thanx Bob
Tim Kiser says
Extremely helpful take on the rich young ruler.
Giving can be complicated and obedience is vital. The Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8 gave out of extreme poverty.
This article has been helpful. Thank you!
L. Vaught says
What if you want to leave your money for the security of your children ? How can you do good things with your money and still live with security and also leave for your children? Will that have the approval of what God (Jesus) wanted us to do. Sometimes people are poor because of worldly bad addictions. Would like opinion and advise.
Jesus made himself poor in order to make others rich the kenosis. anybody in Christ he will draw to this as in the perfect will of God which of course everybody will compromise with their disobedience including those who are rich and claim to be rich in good works. the ot believers were not in Christ and since they were in a just men not made perfect state they are irrelavent. how hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven refers to the the rich who have faith and occurs after they are sealed by the Holy spirit as in Jesus unconditionally working out their kenosis with great difficulty. being selfish is a sin and rich christians are selfish. even the seculars know that.
Endar Malkovich says
A decent response yet still tip toes the line of thinking wealth is bad. Christians are blind if they think being rich is ungodly. Find me an OT character who was poor.
The only thing I’d argue about in this article is the idea of going to heaven. That concept has plagued western christianity for 1500 years.
Death > resurrection > earthly kingdom with Yahshuah
Greek/western christiantiy/ plato view
Death > Heaven vs. Hell judgement > individual lives on in a non material existence in one of those two locations