What Does the Bible Say about the Shrinking Middle Class?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2018 6 Sep
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
In our Bible study group last Thursday night, one of our ladies brought up the shrinking middle class in America. “It’s just not fair that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” she said. We talked in circles, but we didn’t reach any conclusions. Is there a biblical perspective on this?
Yes, the Bible does speak to this issue. In fact, it explains exactly why money flows to some people and away from others.
Mark 4:24-25 records one of Jesus’ profound statements regarding money and finances:
“Consider carefully what you hear. Then with the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
In its most basic terms, I understand this Bible verse to mean, “The person who has something will receive more, and the person who doesn’t have anything will lose the little he or she already has.”
Those words are contrary to how most people think.
If you assigned the average person to rewrite this section of the Bible, the results might read something like this: “The person who has something shouldn’t get any more, because he already has enough. The person who doesn’t have anything should get something because that’s fair.”
This revised approach sounds like a deal that everyone would like!
But the biblical truth of Mark 4:25 plays out in our finances every time. We are either in a position where money flows to us, or we are in a position where money flows away from us.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6, Paul teaches the same principle, saying, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
However, just because money flows in is no sign that God is blessing some people over others. Psalm 49 is the Psalm about the rich materialist. This Psalm parallels what we see happening all around the world. People of all ages are lusting for material things as they fall simultaneously into spiritual poverty. In eternity the materialist will lose it all and have nothing left! Not even his/her own soul!
“Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die” (Psalm 49:16-20).
What causes money to flow either toward us or away from us?
The prophet Haggai explained that one of the reasons money flows away from us is because we have a money bag with a hole in it.
“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it’” (Haggai 1:5-6).
Our wallets and pocketbooks today are the same as money bags in Haggai’s time. When we ask God for financial blessing, our focus is typically on God pouring more in the top. “If I just had $150 more a month, everything would be so much better.”
What if God looked in our money bag and saw a hole. Would it make sense for Him to keep shoveling more in the top?
I have had occasion to counsel with individuals who earn relatively high incomes. In spite of their substantial cash flow, they were having financial difficulty. The remarks they made were familiar: “I don’t know where it all went”; “I don’t have much to show for it”; etc. They often had a debt problem as well. Such stories illustrate that money can flow from us, even if the income is large.
Our response to the biblical principles places us in a position where money either flows powerfully to us or powerfully from us.
Woven throughout the Proverbs are some 20 to 25 verses that show cause-and-effect relationships regarding our actions and our income: “If you do this, you will lose money” or, “if this action repeats itself in your life, money will go from you to a stranger” or “If such-and-such an impulse is out of control in your life, it will lead you in the direction of poverty.”
Solomon’s wisdom covers virtually all the possible financial mistakes a person can make.
Consider the following verses as you reflect on any “holes” in your personal finances:
Spiritual and Moral Habits and Actions
Ignoring the poor: “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). Unfortunately, researchers demonstrate that the richer we are, the less we give to charities and to people in need.
Not being generous with the Lord and others: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24). Generosity is a blessing to those who receive as well as to those who give.
Immorality: “Keep a path far from her [immorality]… lest strangers feed on your wealth and your toil enrich in the house of another” (Proverbs 5:10, see also 29:3). If someone becomes immoral or perverse such as by engaging in adultery or fornication or addiction to pornography, this text says clearly that “strangers [will] obtain your wealth.” Consider the impact of child support, alimony, and financial slavery to pornography.
Loving pleasure or wine: “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” (Proverbs 21:17). This passage is not just about wine. Illicit drugs, cigarettes, and hard liquor are also in play.
Overeating: “For drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (Proverbs 23:21). Is there any doubt that drunkards and gluttons are the fattest and most out of shape people in the world?
Refusing corrections: “Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (Proverbs 13:18). Once upon a time we had a country where morals, values and ethics meant something. All of that changed when the Supreme Court took the 10 Commandments out of public schools and replaced them with nothing.
Abuse, stress or pain on your family: “Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.” (Proverbs 11:29). The American divorce rate is now over 50 percent. Seventy-eight percent of second marriages end in divorce.
Financial Habits and Actions
Unwise use of debt: “The borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Arguably, not all debt is created equal. The most crushing is the uncollateralized kind that brings in no income and ends up on credit cards. Paying 15 to 20 percent interest is like having a siphon hose in our back pockets. Resolve to stop immediately accumulating this kind of debt.
Not having and holding to a budget: “Any enterprise that is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts” (Proverbs 24:3, author’s paraphrase). Christians need to study money management. We must learn to budget as well as make wise purchases. As the adage goes, “When my outgo exceeds my income, then my upkeep becomes my downfall.”
Co-signing a note: “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.” (Proverbs 11:15). Can Solomon make it any clearer than this?
Unwise use of credit: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1). An incentive to being debt-free is to think about what could be done (both giving and increasing) with that money if it wasn’t servicing all that debt.
Giving to the rich: “One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.” (Proverbs 22:16) Think socialism. While this political system claims to make everyone financially equal; the truth is that the average person gets poorer while those at the top get richer.
Charging inordinate interest (usury): “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor” (Proverbs 28:8). Is it any wonder that credit card companies charter in the state of Delaware where they are allowed to charge as much as 19 percent interest?
Get-rich-quick schemes: “The stingy are eager to get rich and are unaware that poverty awaits them.” (Proverbs 28:22). Playing the Lottery is like driving through the Circle K parking lot and throwing money out the window
Lack of sales resistance: “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” (Proverbs 14:15)! When is the last time you dealt with a used car salesperson and felt good about it?
Work Habits and Actions
Sleeping too much: “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9-11). Many would call this welfare!
Not being diligent: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4). Paul says, “Take care of your family. Go get a job.”
Talking too much: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverb 14:23). Dreamers make big plans but never follow through.
Chasing fantasies: “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19). Solomon is talking about get rich quick schemes.
Holes Can Be Caused by Attitudes and Motives
Greed: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). The Book of James was written to Christians who desired material things. They asked God but did not receive. Why? They were greedy.
Making decisions based on money alone: “You cannot serve both God and man” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus was addressing motives with His disciples. He is in no way excluding His followers from having money. Rather, He was warning against making decisions based on our pocketbooks.
How to Close the Holes in Our Finances
The wisdom of God tells the believer to find out what created the hole. The next step is to find out what is necessary to repair it.
Closing the holes begins with following God’s plan of biblical economics.
Trust in God’s provision: “Don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:21).
Tithe 10 percent of our income to the Lord: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42).
Pay taxes according to the law: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7).
Stay out of debt on depreciating items: “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously” (Psalm 37:21).
Maintain a positive cash flow: “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down” (Proverbs 21:20).
Save a portion of income for future needs: “Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer” (Proverbs 30:25).
Respond to the needs of others: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (2 Corinthians 8:14).
Focus on the Bottom of the Bag
It is always easier to ask God to pour more into the top of our “money bag” when we know in our hearts that we have repaired the hole in the bottom. It all comes down to attitudes, motives, and making wise decisions.
Proverbs 22:4 states: “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.” Humility is an attitude; the fear of the Lord is a motive. This verse implies that if the right attitudes and motives find a place in our hearts, then instead of riches, honor, and life flowing from me, they can flow toward me.
We can quickly evaluate our motives by measuring them against Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
“Seeking first the Kingdom” means having God’s interests at heart. Whatever is important to Him must be important to us.
Jesus wraps up the results in Luke 6:38, when He says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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