The Spirituality of Being Poor or Rich


But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)


Being rich is to be in an ambivalent position in the New Testament, at least when rich means monetary wealth.  There are those passages which are definitely antagonistic toward the rich (see for example Matthew 19:23-24; Luke 6:24-26; Luke 16:10-31; James 2:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:6-19). On the other hand, there is a richness which is blessed in the New Testament. God is rich in mercy and Christians are told to be rich in faith and good deeds as well as to be rich toward God. We know of some being rich but foolish as in Christ’s parable:

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)


Wealth can be a terrible burden or temptation to many. Wealth, as the aphorism says, is a good servant but bad master. Unfortunately, many submit themselves and their goals to the tyrant wealth. Jesus said that the poor are blessed and will attain the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20) but He makes no such claim for the wealthy.

St John Chrysostom, who extolled voluntary poverty as well as the rich if they provide for those in need, does offer some nuanced thought regarding a spirituality of being poor or being rich:

For this reason Paul says about those who live in piety and prosperity: ‘I thank God that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge‘ (1 Corinthians 1:4-5). And to those who are impious, the Blessed Jeremiah says, ‘Maybe they are poor; for this reason, they could not hear the word of the Lord‘ (Jeremiah 5:4). Do you see that he calls poor those who have distanced themselves from piety? Therefore, he is merciful to those who sin because they are spiritually poor, and he places demands on those who act justly because they are spiritually rich. To the former He gives freely, on account of their poverty; from the latter He collects with great care, on account of their wealth of piety. That which He does to the righteous and to the sinners, He does to both the rich and the poor. As He raises the sinner by clemency and makes the righteous fear being cut off, in the same way He extends His economy in worldly affairs. (ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, pp 92-93)


Wealth in and of itself is not the problem – the love of money, however, is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Prosperity can be a gift from God, a gift given to some so that they might provide to those less fortunate.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)