Three Tests of Wicked Wealth

wicked wealth
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A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited some missionaries in Germany. One family we saw lived in a small, rural village in the countryside. When we arrived in their village, it was dark and difficult to see our surroundings. But the next morning, as I looked outside my window, I thought I had been transported to a poem. It was the most idyllic German hillside you could imagine. Sheep were grazing on the green, rolling hills. A windmill spun in the distance. Even the sky seemed a little bluer. But our hosts ruined the beauty of the scene during breakfast. They told us that just beyond the picturesque scene was a slaughterhouse. All those tranquil sheep, living their best lives, were simply being prepared for slaughter. It was a picture of wicked wealth.

Stunningly, the book of James says this is what the lives of the rich are like (James 5:5). Their boastful posture toward wealth breeds a God-like confidence of expecting tomorrow and fulfilling their own destiny (James 4:14–16). Our lives, when viewed from God’s vantage point, are as fleeting and fragile as the mist. Those with wicked wealth, like the sheep on that German hillside, have a hard time remembering this.

Money, in and of itself, is not sinful. Being wealthy isn’t synonymous with being evil. But James puts his finger on something deeply disturbing: When untethered from devotion to God, our wealth can store up judgment for us.

What is Wicked Wealth?

So how do we know what makes for wicked weath? Here are three tests:

1. Hoarding

Saving up money can be wise, as the book of Proverbs says. But when it becomes our mission to pile up wealth on earth, especially at the expense of generosity or in a way that ignores the needs of those around us, that’s evil (James 5:1–3).

Does that mean there’s a magic number, above which any wealth automatically becomes evil? I don’t think so. But our society gets this completely backwards, so we need to be incredibly cautious. Our culture says, “Give sufficiently and live extravagantly.” A heart touched by the gospel says, “Live sufficiently and give extravagantly.”