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Is poverty the result of sin in my life?

It’s true that bad choices can make us poor.[1] But in a world damaged by everyone’s sin, there are all kinds of reasons for poverty. To view it as a sign of specific sin in our lives is neither helpful nor accurate.

If poverty means there is sin in our lives, why would Paul say this about the churches in Macedonia: “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”[2] Later Paul wrote, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.”[3]

If Jesus was poor, would we dare say that his poverty was a sign of sin in his life? Of course not! Yet Jesus claimed to be homeless. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head,” he said.[4]

Significantly, many passages in the Bible warn against ill-gotten riches. So we might just as easily ask: Is wealth a sign of sin in my life?

The prophet Jeremiah warned, “Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid, so are those who get their wealth by unjust means.”[5] And the book of Proverbs says, “Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.”[6]

The apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”[7] Yet he too warned against the dangers of wealth. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth,” he said.[8] Then he warned, “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[9]

Jesus said, “Don’t store your treasures here on earth.” Instead, he urged, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”[10]

It’s dangerous and unfair to generalize, especially when making assumptions about rich or poor people — including ourselves. Material wealth (or the lack of it) is a poor indicator of whether we are following God’s ways. God is building his kingdom with people from across the economic spectrum. What matters most is how we use what he has given us.

[1]. Proverbs 10:4

[2]. 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

[3]. 2 Corinthians 8:9

[4]. Matthew 8:20

[5]. Jeremiah 17:11

[6]. Proverbs 11:18

[7]. Philippians 4:12

[8]. 1Timothy 6:6

[9]. 1 Timothy 6:9-10

[10]. Matthew 6:19-21

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