Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)1
Wealth vs. Success
When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of [greedy for, TEV] his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:1-5)
Solomon warned us to neither covet what belongs to someone else nor labor to be rich ourselves. However, laboring to be rich and laboring to be successful (by which some people become rich), is not necessarily the same thing. Keeping in mind that wisdom begins with the fear of Yahweh2 (Psalm 111:10), consider Solomon’s instruction provided just one chapter later:
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength. (Proverbs 24:3-5)
A wise man takes his god-given talents, gifts, and resources and does his best to employ or invest them to increase his strength, his position, and standing – spiritually, physically, financially, and materially. A wise man, a man who fears Yahweh, strives to this end, in accordance with the principle of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.
The difference between laboring to be rich and laboring to be successful is motive. Motive is the difference between the man who labors only to enrich himself and the man with the greater objective of Yahweh’s Kingdom.
From a purely practical perspective, the kingdom of God needs successful people. In fact, the most successful people should be found in Yahweh’s kingdom. Why is it then that most “successful” or wealthy people are usually non-Christians? More often than not, Christians3 are so heavenly minded that they have no interest in what they describe as polishing brass on a sinking ship. One of the reasons the ship is sinking is because of narrow-minded and shortsighted theology that produces people whose focus is on taking a future trip to heaven rather than on their immediate responsibilities as Christian ambassadors here on earth.
Some Christians shun success because of the dangers that can accompany wealth. After Yeshua4 (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) required the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Mathew 19:16-22), He warned His disciples:
…Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23-24)
Wealth can steal your heart – and, as a result, your very soul, and Yeshua declared that even the entire world is not worth your soul:
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)
Solomon made essentially the same point:
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. (Proverbs 13:7)
Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich. (Proverbs 28:6)
However, this does not mean Yahweh necessarily expects His disciples to take a vow of poverty. From the sum of Yahweh’s Word (Psalm 119:160, NASB), we know He desires to bless and prosper those who serve Him. The problem described by Yeshua in Matthew 19 is one of spiritual immaturity, not wealth itself.
When, in Matthew 19, Yeshua warned His disciples of the dangers of wealth, they were “exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” (verse 25). Of course, Yahweh can save rich and poor alike, and when someone’s heart belongs to Him, He promises treasures – both spiritually and materially:
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, … every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (Matthew 19:26-29)
This does not mean that a man who puts Christ above everything else is going to receive a hundred wives or a hundred children or a hundred times his property or possessions. This is figurative language, which assures Yahweh will liberally reward us for putting Him above everything else. The reward may be manifested in the form of material blessings, or it may come to us as described by the Apostle Paul:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…. As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9; 6:9,10)
Material blessings some times are the result of putting Yahweh first and keeping His laws:
Praise ye YH.5 Blessed is the man that feareth YHWH, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever. (Psalm 112:1-3)
Nevertheless, we are not to seek godliness in order to be materially rewarded. In fact, we are to shun those who do so:
If any man … consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness [godliness is a means of gain, NASB] from such withdraw thyself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
Many pastors preach that godliness is the way to wealth. Usually the only people who get wealthy from such preaching are the preachers themselves. The Apostle Peter warned against such charlatans:
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you [in their greed exploit you, NASB]: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
In 1 Thessalonians 2:5, Paul described this sin as “a cloak of covetousness.” Such preachers cloak their own covetousness in false promises that often exploit the covetousness of their supporters.
Although godliness can result in riches, material wealth ultimately comes from the hand of Yahweh:
Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” But you shall remember YHWH your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18, NASB)
The blessing of YHWH, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it. (Proverbs 10:22)
Godliness is the end, not the means. Any wealth gained therefrom needs to be viewed from a steward’s perspective. It is a means by which we can better serve Yahweh and advance His kingdom. Gain itself is not godliness; however, godly men use godly gain for godly purposes to help further advance Yahweh’s kingdom.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life…. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips. (Psalm 63:3, 5)
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
Because covetousness is a sin of the heart, only a virtue of the heart can counteract it. Contentment is the opposite of covetousness. The covetous man is not content, and the content man is not covetous.
Is it possible to be content with only food and clothing? It is if we embrace the teaching in the epistle to the Hebrews:
Let your conversation [behavior, YLT] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)
Paul’s intent is sometimes misconstrued to mean that Christians should never own more than the essentials of life. This pauper mentality is far too prevalent with some Christians and only contributes to non-Christian dominion. Paul did not write that we should possess only the essentials of life, but rather that we should be content with them if that is all we have at any given time. Paul talked about his own contentment in his epistle to the Christians in Philippi:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul’s financial status had nothing to do with whether or not he was content.
If you cannot be content with food and clothing, then it is better not to become rich. Those who are discontent with food and clothing are likely already covetous, and riches will only exacerbate their ungodliness. Riches are never the answer to covetousness.
…if riches increase, set not your heart upon them. (Psalm 62:10)
The following advice from Paul is also often misinterpreted:
But they that will be rich [wishing to be rich, YLT] fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
Those who wish to be rich, not those who are rich, fall into temptation. The latter state – being rich – is a state of being. The former state – wishing to be rich – is a state of mind, or heart. Poor and rich alike can covet riches, but a person can be rich or poor without coveting.
Paul provided some of the answers for anyone inclined to be covetous:
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:11-19)
Dangerous pits surround wealth, but not for the contented man whose priorities are Yahweh and His kingdom. If you are content with food and clothing, you will probably handle riches without falling into the pitfalls of wealth, and will have the means to advance the kingdom in ways that others cannot.
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1. All Scripture is quoted from the King James Version, unless otherwise noted. Portions of Scripture have been omitted for brevity. If you have any questions regarding a passage, please open your Bible and study the text to ensure it has been properly used.
2. Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. “The Third Commandment,” a more thorough explanation concerning the sacred names of God, may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
3. Not everyone claiming to be a Christian has been properly instructed in the biblical plan of salvation. Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:36-41, 22:1-16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; and 1 Peter 3:21 should be studied to understand what is required to be covered by the blood of Yeshua and forgiven of your sins. For a more thorough explanation concerning baptism and its relationship to salvation, “Baptism by the Scriptures” and “Fifty Objections to Baptism Answered” may be read online, or the book Baptism: All You Wanted to Know and More may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for free.
4. Yeshua is the English transliteration of our Savior’s given Hebrew name. Jesus is the English transliteration of the Greek Iesous, which is the Greek transliteration of the Savior’s Hebrew name Yeshua. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the sacred names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
5. Where the Tetragrammaton – the four Hebrew characters transliterated “YHWH” and representing the personal name of God – has been unlawfully rendered the LORD or GOD in Scripture, I have taken the liberty to correct this error by inserting YHWH where appropriate. For a more thorough explanation concerning the sacred names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
*We are admonished in Matthew 10:8 “freely ye have received, freely give.” Although we have a suggested a price for our books, we do not sell them. In keeping with 2 Corinthians 9:7, this ministry is supported by freewill offerings. If you cannot afford the suggested price, inform us of your situation, and we will be pleased to provide you with whatever you need for whatever you can send.
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