The Problem with Being Independently Wealthy
“11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands,
his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day….
17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’
18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant,
which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Deuteronomy 8:11, 17-18 NIV
Dear Church Family,
We’ve been studying Solomon on Sunday mornings. First Kings chapter 10 tells of the Queen of Sheba, who came to marvel at Solomon’s wisdom and wealth. The chapter declares that “nothing was made of silver” in Solomon’s kingdom (v. 21), because “The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones” (v. 27). Solomon’s wealth and wisdom were beyond compare. First Kings 11, however, takes a drastic turn. Solomon’s hundreds of wives and concubines turn his heart away from God, his enemies grow in power, there is open rebellion, and Solomon dies. For all of his wisdom, Solomon should have paid more attention to the commands of God against marrying women who did not follow Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 7:1-5). However, Deuteronomy 8:11-18 suggests one other possible cause for the negative turn in Solomon’s life and reign: the very riches that were a blessing from God.
It is undeniable in the Bible that God sometimes blesses people with riches as a response to their faithfulness to him. It is just as true that some people accumulated wealth on their own in defiance of God through greed and wicked practices. Because of this, wealth in and of itself is not a good proof of God’s blessing, but it is also not necessarily a sign of greed or evil. So far from being a cause of pride, wealth should lead to greater humility and gratitude as we thank God for what he has done. Deuteronomy 11:18 emphasizes that even our ability to produce wealth comes from him.
The New Testament is also full of warnings about materialism (see Matthew 6 and most of the Letter of James). The danger of wealth is that it combines with the tendency of humans to lie to themselves. Wealthy people convince themselves that they are better than others—those who have less wealth. Humans believe they have become “independently wealthy.” Consequently, they forget God; they forget that God is the source of everything we have. As 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “what do you have that you did not receive?”
Because of the tendency towards self-deception, Deuteronomy 8:11 warns, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.” “Forgetting,” here, does not just have the neutral sense of, say, forgetting my second cousin’s birthday. I can’t even remember if I have a second cousin. Rather, this would be more like me forgetting my anniversary. There’s something culpable—something blameworthy—in forgetting something I should remember. One thing I should absolutely remember is that there is no such thing as being “independently wealthy.” I remember that best, by the way, when I continue to give something back to God out of what he has given me.