Unless God has specifically commanded you otherwise, wealth provides clear evidence of sinfulness. As Jacob explains, “wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor.” (2 Nephi 9:30) No exceptions or loopholes are provided. Those that are rich, by definition, despise the poor. Why is this?
The Christian lifestyle is strictly simple and modest. As Paul describes, “having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) Any excess wealth, or anything beyond that which is required to satisfy our immediate, modest Christian needs, is to be used to help others in their immediate need. When you “lay up in store,” or save the excess, rather than giving it to the poor, you are despising them by not giving them that which the Lord intends for their use. Jacob teaches the principle in this manner, “Be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they many be rich like unto you.” (Jacob 2:17) We are supposed to give away all excess wealth until all are equal.
Reiterating the principle in modern times, the Lord counseled the Prophet Joseph that He desires His children to have the things of the earth in abundance, but that His abundance “is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the whole world lieth in sin.” (D&C 49:20)
The Lord repeats the commandment in Section 104: “I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low…if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (D&C 104:16,18). For the rich, lifting up one’s eyes from the torments of hell seeking relief is a clear reference to Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (Luke 16:19-26)
What great wickedness had the man committed that he was denied any relief amidst the sufferings of hell? He was rich, wore fine clothing, and fared sumptuously.
“For because they are rich they despise the poor.” (2 Nephi 9:30).
Christ specifically taught against accumulating savings: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19,21). Jesus explained further that “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word,” leaving us unfruitful in the gospel. (Matthew 13:22) Whenever we accumulate rather than give away our excess, we set our hearts upon our riches. Paul summarized the temptation succinctly: “the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things.” (1 Tim 6:10,11) Hugh Nibley translated the Greek root from which the term “the love of money” derives into the more accessible phrase, “the desire for money in the bank.” We can tell whether we love money by whether or not we have (or wish we had) any sitting in the bank. The Lord’s admonition to pray for “daily bread” is a reminder that His way entails ongoing dependence on Him, and not on the arm of the flesh, an employer, portfolio, or 401k plan. The Lord’s command to Ancient Israel to gather only a single day’s worth of manna (except in preparation for the Sabbath) is another example of the same principle. How ironic it is that the money we accumulate bears the overlooked reminder, “In God We Trust.”
When John the Baptist exhorted the Jews to do good works instead of relying on the legacy of righteous ancestors, they asked for specifics. His first example of worthy works was sharing one’s excess with others:
“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Luke 3:8-11)
Moroni saw our day and tells us we have polluted the holy church of God because we love money, stuff, and fancy clothes more that we love the poor and needy:
“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world? Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?“ (Mormon 8:35-39)
The scriptures provide an easy way to know if you have set your heart on riches. Do you possess or desire costly apparel? If so you fail the test. In the first chapter of Alma we find the Nephite faithful living according to the Lord’s laws of economics and sharing: “And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.” In summary, “they did not set their hearts upon riches.” (Alma 1:27,30) Nephi reaffirms the same principle in his condemnation of the prideful:
“They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.” (2 Nephi 28:13) When we purchase fine clothing we rob the poor.
Accumulating excess and giving it away to help the poor are mutually exclusive. Of course you could accumulate some excess and share the rest. But for each excess penny (i.e. the smallest unit of monetary measure) one has to decide whether he will accumulate it or give it away. You can only do one or the other. It is to this mutual exclusivity that Christ refers when he taught that “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and riches” (“mammon” is the Aramaic word for riches–Matthew 6:24). Serving God requires we give away our excess rather them setting it aside to address future needs, unless God has specifically instructed us to do otherwise.
“For because they are rich they despise the poor.” (2 Nephi 9:30).
After rejecting Jesus’ invitation to sell all, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him, the rich young man “went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (a phrase used to connote impossibility), than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:22-26) For sinful men, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God (1 Nephi 10:21), but with God (i.e. through the atonement), it becomes possible.
It is entirely predictable that at some point during this discussion the immune system of the natural man (or woman) has been activated. Whether through the natural man’s unending stream of both current and future needs, or simple unholy rationalization (“But I earned it!…”), we must anticipate at least a strenuous rejection of this naturally uncomfortable doctrine. The Lord understood this as he instructed King Benjamin to teach his people: “and also ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need…Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 4:16-19) It doesn’t matter why people are poor, just that they are when we’re in a position to do something about it. If we do not administer of our substance to him that stands in need, we have no interest in the kingdom of God. Even if we understand and obey the tenth commandment to not covet others’ things, it is likely we struggle with the Lord’s modern day explanation of the full principle when He commanded “that thou shalt not covet thine own property.” This is a poignant reminder that nothing is really ours, while all is really the Lord’s. (D&C 19:26) Having riches (excess) is simply a test from God. The most dangerous attitude we can take with regard to riches is to believe we have earned them ourselves and that we thus deserve them. This is a doctrine of devils. Remember that it was Korihor, the anti-Christ, who taught that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength.” (Alma 30:17) The Lord’s approach is the opposite: “For behold are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?…Oh then how ye ought to impart of the substance ye have one to another.” (Mosiah 4:19) Indeed, “The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.” (1 Sam 2:7) If we believe our wealth has come from God then we should use it as He directs and give the excess away.
“For because they are rich they despise the poor.” (2 Nephi 9:30).
This is not a fringe element of the Lord’s teachings, but a fundamental part of the “law of [His] gospel.” (D&C 104:18) It is the natural result of truly loving one’s neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39). Scriptures received through Moses (regarding Enoch), Nephi, Jacob, King Benjamin, Moroni, Jesus Himself, John the Baptist, Matthew, Luke, Paul, Joseph Smith and others all declare the same doctrine. The same principle was taught before the flood, by Christ in the meridian of time, throughout the Book of Mormon, and in this last dispensation of the fullness of times. We don’t need to wait to live this commandment. Our eligibility to enter the Kingdom of God already hangs in the balance. As Jesus taught, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible.” (Mark 10:23, 24, 26-JST)
This principle is a timeless and fundamental part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Spiritual blessings will be withheld until the Lord’s people start living this law: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6). When saints have achieved a Zion society it has required obedience to this portion of the gospel: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18; see also 4Nephi 1:3). Until we live this law our prayers for the redemption of Zion are in vain. As with all the Lord’s commandments, this one should be obeyed willingly and without institutional duress; we should give away our excess of our own free will. “Nevertheless in your temporal affairs you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly.” (D&C 70:14)
The solution to this problem is easy. Being rich is a sinful state that is 100% self-imposed, and entirely (as well as immediately) curable. Simply give away your excess to those that stand in need. As Jacob suggests, true Christians use their excess “to do good–to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:19) In our modern context liberating the captive might well take the form of paying off someone’s debts, allowing them to “pay [their] debt and live.” (2 Kings 4:7) Indeed, as the Lord told Joseph, “pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage.” (D&C 19:35) Liberating the captive from the clutches of debt is a high Christian privilege. By blessing the least among us we promote purity of motive, as they are the least likely to repay the kindness subsequently. Equality among His people is a precursor to the establishment of Zion.
The prosperity that the world seeks is very different from the prosperity the Lord offers. The world’s prosperity involves accumulating stuff. The Lord’s prosperity involves abandoning the trappings of mortality to literally know Him in this life–to converse with God and angels face-to-face and be taught His mysteries by the Savior and ordained heavenly messengers. God’s prosperity consists of knowing Him and partaking of his glorious presence. (see D&C 93:1, 88:67-68, and John 14) As Alma taught Helaman: “O remember, remember, my son Helaman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land–but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence.” (Alma 37:13)
When we get past the covetousness that defines our generation, we begin to see that the Lord has far more meaningful things in store for those that love Him and appreciate His commandments for the peace they bring to the obedient. It is with thankful hearts that we relinquish our place in the great and spacious building and seek the peaceable things of the kingdom.
“Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:7)