Neither Poverty nor Riches – A Short Summary of a Summary

NP or RICHES

This book is the most impressive summary of a Biblical theme I’ve ever encountered. Having already read and reviewed Blomberg’s other book in the same series, I was expecting something pretty good from this one. After all, I had (along with many other people who are much smarter than I) already decided that Blomberg is one of the very best writers on the New Testament living today. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how good this book was. But still, I was. I couldn’t agree more with DA Carson who says, “In my view, this is now the best book on the entire subject.” It took me three times longer to get through this book than any other book I’ve read in the series because there was just so much good stuff to take in. Blomberg is original, articulate, studied, personal and pastoral all at the same time.

Blomberg has some sort of gift I’ve rarely seen. In this book he is somehow able to cover an overwhelming amount of material while at the same time maintaining oodles of nuance, description, and fresh insight. All the while writing in a very condensed straight-forward, easy to read fashion. Blomberg’s summarizing Scripture passage on this entire theme is highlighted in the title of the book, which comes from Proverbs 30:8b-9. It says,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” 

Blomberg highlights this verse and many others like it to show that the avoidance of extremes of wealth and poverty is a consistent recurring mandate (68). Blomberg shows how in Scripture we are not always called to renounce our material possessions, but we are always called to “sit very loose” with respect to them (185). Actually, neither the amassing of riches nor their lack is seen as a necessary good (or evil) in Scripture (82). Instead, generous giving amidst contentment, rather than selfish hoarding, and accompanied by compassionate commitment to doing what will most help the genuinely needy, is to be one of the main priorities for God’s people (175).

As the Apostle Paul said, we are to be content with either poverty or riches (Philippians 4:11) while we are now living in the “not-yet”, but Scripturally, the ideal on earth is neither poverty NOR riches. So for now, while we may in God’s freedom enjoy the fleeting pleasures that wealth can provide for a short time in this life, we dare not put our trust in material possessions. Instead, we must lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (211). Trusting in God (not money) is another major theme throughout…

For me, highlighting just a few of Blomberg’s conclusions doesn’t do near-enough justice to the book. I mean, how do you summarize in words a work of word-art? However, it’s all I can do in the time I’ve got. So I’ll conclude this short blog post with some of the main conclusions of the book.

But before I do that, I would like to say that I recommend every one who can, to buy this book and have it on their shelf. This book is such a valuable resource not just for the answers and conclusions contained. But much more than that, there is a lot of value in just following Blomberg in the process he takes to get there. He is an expert, expert Bible-guide. So now for the overly-simplified summation:

In summarizing the entire OT message on riches and poverty, Blomberg shows how the 5 main categories of sin of Israel are (as shockingly contemporary as they are):

  1. Worshipping idols made of costly materials
  2. Trusting in ritual rather than in repentance
  3. Extorting, robbing and oppressing to gain more land
  4. Boasting in wealth, and
  5. Corrupt financial motivation for leaders’ ministry.

God then offers the Israelites 5 primary alternative responses throughout the OT:

  1. Seek justice for the marginalized
  2. Rather than boast in riches, be generous in giving them away
  3. Lament as a way of repentance
  4. Seek the welfare of the city you are in
  5. Cling to God’s promises of restoration

That’s the first 100 pages of the book, or so. Then later, after going through all the relevant passages in the NT, Blomberg points to 5 similarly unifying motifs of Scripture on this topic as a way of trying to capture the diversity of the whole Scriptural witness:

  1. Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for people to enjoy.
  2. Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.
  3. A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.
  4. There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable, and,
  5. Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more “spiritual” matters (243-246)

Therefore, five contemporary applications can be the following:

  1. If wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy…
  2. If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.
  3. If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives.
  4. If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of this book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.
  5. If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances (247).
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