The Blessings and Responsibilities of the Rich
The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, the young bishop in Ephesus, telling him to instruct the wealthy members of the church on the proper use of money, saying,
“17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (I Timothy 6:17-19, NIV).
Having Wealth for Oneself
Verses 17-19 presuppose that it is not wrong to be rich. If it were, then Paul would not have said,
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (I Timothy 6:17a).
A person, then, can be a Christian and rich at the same time, provided that he or she has the right attitude toward money. St. John Chrysostom, much like St. Paul, sees both the positive and negative aspects of wealth. With respect to the positive, Chrysostom says,
“Wealth will be good for the possessor if he does not spend it only on luxury, or on strong drink and harmful pleasures; [and] if he enjoys luxury in moderation….”1
There is also, according to Paul, a certain anxiety associated with the accumulation of wealth (cf. v. 17). That is to say, the more money a person has, the more he or she has to lose, say, through some financial misdealing or misfortune. A person, then, may be haunted by the risk of losing some or, perhaps, all of his or her money.
Having Wealth to Help Others
Paul teaches that a person does not posses wealth for self-centered purposes. In other words, he or she becomes wealthy not only for himself or herself but also for others, to help meet their needs (cf. I Timothy 6:17-18). The proper use of wealth, therefore, is to make a person’s life, as well others’ lives, better. For example, he or she can use his or her money to alleviate human need and suffering.
Why the Wealthy Need to be Generous
Thus, a rich person should “do good,” “be rich in good deeds” (6:18a). He or she must “be generous and willing to share” (cf. v.18b). A person, then, morally and spiritually speaking, needs to be generous, being willing to help others with his or her money and possessions, so as to overcome an inordinate or excessive attachment to them. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas,
“The function of generosity is to moderate our inner passion [desire] for possessions and stop us [from] desiring and loving them too much….”2
Therefore, God blesses people with wealth, allowing them to have more than others, but he does that, says Chrysostom, “for you to distribute to those in need.” and put food in “the stomachs of the poor.” Then, Chrysostom says, “wealth is a good thing.”3
1. St. John Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty, trans. Catharine P. Roth (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 136.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation, ed. and trans. Timothy McDermott (Westminster, MD.: Christian Classics, 1989, paperback ed. 1991), II-II, Q. 31, Art. 1, p. 361.
3. . St. John Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty, pp. 50, 136, 137.