Wealth and Righteousness

Do wealth and righteousness have anything to do with each other? If I am a really good person and follow all of the Bible’s teachings, does that mean I will be wealthy?

There are many people today and throughout history who would say that having wealth is a sign of God’s favor. Perhaps God has used wealth to demonstrate His glory through people at times in the Bible and in history, but just because He did it at one time to one person does not make it true for everyone. If wealth equals favor, does poverty equal punishment? Or, if wealth equals favor or righteousness, how do you explain the wealth of drug lords and ruthless business people?

Matthew 6 gives us some very practical insight into this question. This chapter is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:1 (ESV), Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your father who is in heaven.”

Following this warning, Jesus gives three examples of how people tended to “practice their righteousness” before others.

First, they would make a big deal out of their giving to make sure everyone knew what they were doing.

Second, they would stand and pray long eloquent prayers to be heard by many.

Third, they would fast from food and walk around miserable and pouty to make sure everyone knew they were fasting.

Finally, after giving these three examples, Jesus tells the people not to lay up for themselves treasures on earth. Too often this last part of this passage is separated and taught on its own, but I believe it is best understood when we start from the beginning of this section. You see, during Jesus’ time, the Israelites believed that if you were wealthy that meant you were righteous. As a result, they would strive to demonstrate their righteousness by showing off their wealth. Jesus calls them out on this and tells them that not only will their things rot and rust, but they will have received their reward in the rotten and rusty things.

When our treasure is on earth, we tend to want the praise of other people and the enjoyment of things. Jesus warns and says that if these are what we treasure, that is all we will get – empty praise and rotting junk. However, if we treasure the things of eternity our hearts will pursue righteousness for the glory of God and we will store up treasures in heaven that do not rot or rust.

When we pursue righteousness with the belief that it will lead to wealth or glory, then we have moved our focus from following Jesus to glorifying ourselves. Our god in that situation is ourselves and the only reason we want God to be involved is for our own comfort and benefit.

So my answer to whether wealth and righteousness are related is no. God could certainly bless someone with wealth as a reward for righteous living, but I think Jesus is saying that earthly wealth as a reward for righteous living is a pretty terrible reward. After all, that stuff rusts and rots. Why not hope for a reward that will NEVER rot or rust. The wealth we should desire from righteousness then is eternal wealth.