Is it wrong for a Christian to want to be rich and famous?

Being rich and being famous are simply put: having financial abundance and great popularity. Being rich and famous are not wrong in themselves. It is also not necessarily wrong for a Christian to want to be rich and famous. The risk is not in the achieving of wealth or celebrity status, but rather in the choice to live our lives worshiping something other than God. Our ultimate goal should be honoring God in all we do, not in worldly success, material abundance, or worldly fame (Colossians 3:17; 1 John 2:15–17).

Jesus, in His teaching called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7), clarifies how our obedience is revealed more by our motives than by our actions. Jesus tells us that intentions and thinking such as anger and lust are just as wrong as evil actions such as adultery and murder (Matthew 5:21–30). Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God looks at our motives, "For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). And we learn in Proverbs 21:2: "Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart."

This is how it is with desiring to be rich and famous. We must ask, What is my reason for the goal? What is my motive? What is my heart's desire? We may think that it is good, but we need to ask God to reveal to us whether it is good. We should ask as the Psalmist prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts" (Psalm 139:23). God wants to create in us a clean heart (Psalm 51:10), one that is motivated by trusting and pleasing Him. And God promises to do this saying, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you" (Ezekiel 36:26a). Living with this new heart means living a life where a growing relationship with Jesus is our most important goal.

The New Testament warns of the danger of desiring wealth: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:9–10). James warns about how desiring what we do not have can cause quarrels and division (James 4:1–10). He says, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). If our desires to be rich and famous are rooted in worldliness, they are sinful.

James also warns about gaining riches by exploiting others (James 5:1–6). Sometimes people who pursue being rich and famous do so at the expense of others. Any Christian desiring wealth and popularity must be careful that his desire for those things is rooted in a desire to honor God and that any actions he takes to gain those things are ones that honor God.

Another warning about wealth and popularity are that they can provide a false sense of security, easily becoming an idol, but riches and fame cannot save us. In fact, we cannot even count on riches or fame to last. Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:15–21 exemplifies this. James 4:13–15 warns, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'" Putting our trust in our own plans or our own wealth or the way others perceive us is ignorant. If a desire to be rich and famous is a desire to be self-sufficient or to achieve some sense of worth or peace or status apart from God, it is misplaced, sinful, and will ultimately fail.

That being said, being rich, having more than we need to live, is not a sin. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest man who ever lived. His wealth was not sinful but he knew it caused more heartache than joy. He said, "Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!" (Ecclesiastes 5:10–11, NLT). God gave men like Abraham, Joseph, and David in the Old Testament riches. These men did not make obtaining riches or popularity their life goals. Rather, these things were given to them by God, and they eagerly acknowledged Him as the source (Genesis 14:17–24; 50:15–21; 2 Samuel 7:1–28).

Being famous, having widespread name recognition, is not a sin. Jesus is the most famous man who ever lived. His fame was not sinful. Most importantly, Jesus lived a life that was pleasing to His Father (Matthew 3:17; John 8:29; Psalm 22:8). He did not come for the purpose of popularity or fame. In fact, "though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6–11). When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he offered him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow to him. But Jesus did not circumvent the cross. Instead, He willingly submitted to God's will (Matthew 4:1–11). Had Jesus simply wanted to be rich and famous, He had no need to come to earth for our salvation.

One of the many truths that Jesus proclaimed has to do with worshiping anything other than God, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). Here, Jesus is highlighting (1) the importance of our relationship with God, and (2) that money and earthly things can be an obstacle to our willingness to serve God. More broadly, Jesus is saying that when we pursue a goal, any goal, just because we want to, we run the risk of making the goal more important than God, and that is wrong.

Now, it is good to have money, because then we can help others. The Bible tells us to "to share what you have" (Hebrews 13:16), to work so that we "may have something to share with anyone in need" (Ephesians 4:28), and to love to give, especially to the poor (Proverbs 21:26; 28:27). The rich have great opportunity to give generously to others. Not only can they help those in need, they can support the work of ministry by giving to their local church or to missionaries, as can we all. Jesus was not wealthy (Matthew 8:20). He and His followers relied on God's provision through the generosity of others to support their ministry (Matthew 10:9–10). Later in the New Testament we see people contribute to the material needs of others as well as to support the work of the apostles (Acts 2:42–47; 4:34–35; 1 Corinthians 9:4–14; 2 Corinthians 11:7–11; 1 Timothy 5:17–18; James 2:14–17). No matter how much we have, we are stewards of the wealth that God has entrusted to us and should spend it and give it according to His direction. Again, riches are not the problem. The problem comes when we love riches rather than loving God.

It can be good to have fame, because this naturally encourages others to listen to our message. Fame can be a helpful platform for sharing the gospel. Jesus tells His followers (and us) that they are "the light of the world" and that they are to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Fame can lead to people seeing Jesus and then praising God. But whether our name is recognized by millions or only a few, we can be lights for Christ. Often the most effective witness is not on a large platform, but through daily one-on-one interactions in which we share the love and truth of Christ. Like Jesus, Christians should "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3–4).

If being rich and famous is our goal for ourselves, then being rich and famous will cause us to be a slave to a master other than God, and this is wrong. If we have a goal of becoming rich and famous so that we can give glory to God and give generously to others, then it might be a good goal. But it is a slippery slope and we all would do well to consider the caution that "Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live" (Proverbs 15:27). God knows the motives of our hearts. We can ask Him to reveal them to us and to also make in us a clean heart that seeks to trust and please Him so that we live our lives with our primary goal being in a loving and growing relationship with Jesus. If it furthers God's kingdom for us to be rich or famous, then He can make it so. Our focus should be on honoring Him in all that we do for His glory and with thanksgiving (Colossians 3:17).

Related Truth:

What does it mean that you cannot serve two masters in Matthew 6:24?

What is a biblical definition of success? What does the Bible say about success?

How can I know what pleases God?

I want to live my life for God. How do I do that?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

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