How to get rich–the Biblical way

Money is a controversial topic in Christian circles. On the one hand you’ve got people who say money is the root of all evil. The other extreme says if you do the right things, God will reward you with health and wealth and who knows what else.(This was the topic of my Bible study last night, in case you’re wondering. And I’m short of material, so I’m recycling. I’m also mixing in some insights people shared.)

For the record, 1 Timothy 6:10 says money is a root–not the root–of all kinds of evil. That’s somewhat less of a strong statement than saying it’s the root of all evil. So, money causes problems, yes, but it’s not the cause of every problem in this world.

To see some other causes and symptoms of evil, see 2 Timothy 3:2.

Isaiah 55:2 asks why we spend our money on what is not bread (when the Bible says “bread,” it’s frequently referring to the necessities of life such as basic food, clothing, and shelter) and on things that don’t satisfy. The main reason we do it is because we’re surrounded by messages that say this product or that product will change our lives. And while some products have changed lives, let’s think about it for a minute: Those kinds of things tend to come along once a generation, if that. I’m talking about things like the airplane, the automobile, and before those things, the railroad. Computers belong in that category. But the soda we drink is not going to change our lives, at least not for the better. Drink soda instead of water and it could make your life worse–regardless of what that 7up commercial with the bear says.

The American Dream is to give the next generation things the previous generation doesn’t have. Some have said that dream is dead, because we’ve become so affluent that we can’t think of what the next generation can possibly get that we didn’t have.

But it’s not working. Our kids have entertainment centers in their room that give a more life-like experience than the movie theaters of 20 years ago. They’ve got videogame machines that play better games than you could find in an arcade a couple of years ago. They have everything imaginable, and yet they’re all on ritalin and prozac. Meanwhile, their parents are both working, to pay for those two luxury SUVs and the next big home improvement project and all the toys and all the drugs that are necessary to keep themselves and their kids afloat in the miserable life they’ve built together.

My dad wasn’t always there for me. It seemed like most of the time he wasn’t. But it’s safe to say that when we ate dinner together 5 or 6 times a week, it was unusual. Most weeks we ate dinner together 7 times a week.

My American Dream is for my kids to have two full-time parents. Screw the luxury SUVs and the $300,000 house in the suburbs. My Honda Civic has more ameneties than I need. I’ll drive it for 15 years so I can have more money when things that matter crop up.

I told you how the Bible says to get rich. And maybe you’d argue I haven’t answered that question yet. I think Isaiah 55:2 can lead one to wealth that’s very enviable, but, yes, the Bible also tells how to gain material wealth. Check Proverbs 13:11. It’s especially relevant in the era of dotcom billionaires.

You’ve seen stories of wealty people who nickeled and dimed themselves to the poorhouse. What Proverbs 13:11 says is that you can nickel and dime your way to prosperity as well.

What the Bible doesn’t say is how, so I’ll share the concept of opportunity cost, which is one of two things I remember from Macroeconomics. I don’t know how many other people in my class picked this up from the dear departed Dr. Walter Johnson at Mizzou, so I’ll do my best to make my examples clear.

Opportunity cost says a 13-inch TV does not cost $99. That’s the amount written on the sticker, but that’s not the price. The price is about 30 lunches at my company cafeteria.

The monthtly cost of driving a new car every three years is about half my mortgage payment. But my mortgage will be paid off in 28 or 29 years and my house will be worth more then than it is now. In the year 2031, I will have absolutely nothing to show for the car I’m driving today. Those people who buy a $2,000 used Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla every few years and drive it until it dies have more money than you think they do.

Assuming you work about 240 days a year, two cans of soda every workday from the soda machine at my employer will cost you $240. But not really. What happens if you invest that money in what’s called an index mutual fund, which follows one of the major indices, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Historically, you’ll gain about 10% per year on your investment, which means you’ll double your money every 7 years investing that way. (That’s taking into account times of bad economy, like today, or worse.) Anyway, I just grabbed my calculator. If you take that $240 and dump it into an index fund, in 35 years you can reasonably expect it to be worth $7,680.

The real cost of a can of soda is sixteen dollars. Unless you’re not going to live 35 more years. But unless you’re going to die tomorrow, the real price is considerably more than 50 cents.

There are a total of 118 verses in the NIV translation that use the word “money,” and considerably more talk about the concept without using the word. Of those, Matthew 6:24-34 is poignant, as is Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. What I take from them is this: If you build your empire 50 cents at a time, you’ll never be as wealthy as Bill Gates. But you’ll have more than you need, and you’ll be happier than Bill Gates, and you’ll sleep a lot better.

And if your name is Jackie Harrington, I suggest you start selling autographed 8×10 glossy photos of yourself. Sign them, “Bill Gates just stiffed me for 6 bucks! Jackie Harrington.” Sell then for $10 apiece to people like me. Then put the money in an index fund. Then in 35 years, when you’re a millionaire, write a thank-you letter to Bill Gates.

7 thoughts on “How to get rich–the Biblical way

  • May 24, 2003 at 12:04 pm
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    Dave,
    I’ve read a number of your articles on religion and your views on religion. This article is confusing.
    Would you rather follow in the footsteps of Christ and Mother Teresa or Bill Gates? Has God called on you to do his work on earth or to save a few bucks? I would rather have God’s Grace than Gate’s billions.

  • May 25, 2003 at 9:21 pm
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    I don’t want Bill Gates millions. (well, it could be fun, but otherwise…)

    I’m not out to accumulate a large sum of money. I’d be happy just to get my finances straight. Without a handle on them, they are a giant in my life waiting to stomp on me.

    However, with God’s grace, and people like Dave (and my pastor who today preached on giant killers) who use the scripture to make a point, I learn something I might not have thought of before.

    I need to be faithful in the small things (like my small paycheck) before I can even begin to worry about God leading me to a better paycheck or job. Faithful in the small things.

    Thank you Dave for this post. I needed it today.

  • May 26, 2003 at 5:50 am
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    Hi Dave,

    Is Bill Gates really the benchmark of happiness
    in America ?

    best wishes
    Brian

  • May 26, 2003 at 1:47 pm
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    Joseph, I understand your question, I think. What Isaiah 55:12 says is that the wealth and pursuit of wealth doesn’t satisfy. Applying Proverbs 13:11 and cutting out the excesses won’t significantly reduce quality of life and may improve it by reducing stress.

    And I’ve seen people say they literally can’t afford to do God’s work. I would argue that they probably can.

    So to answer your question (I think), saving a few bucks is a means to a greater end, not the end in itself.

    And Brian, in the circles I run around in at least, Gates isn’t the benchmark for happiness, but he is very greatly admired. I would say that a very significant number of Americans live beyond their means in an effort to appear affluent. For many people, Gates is the greatest living example of the American Dream. Unfortunately.

  • May 26, 2003 at 8:52 pm
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    One other subtlety in 1 Timothy 6:10 that many seem to overlook — the love of money is the root of evil, not the money itself. Wealth can be used for good or ill. But if amassing a fortune is one’s goal, he can easily chase it over the brink of destruction.

  • May 28, 2003 at 2:09 pm
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    Pegasong – You may wish to invest in a book called “Debt Free Living”. I can’t remember the author’s name off the top of my head, but she’s a Christian author that teaches how to better manage your money AND how to work your way out of debt.

    It’s working for me. 🙂

  • May 28, 2003 at 11:10 pm
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    Thank you Dustin. I will look for it.

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