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Prosperity, A Biblical View

Prosperity

by Dennis Pollock

The idea that God wants His children wealthy is a relative newcomer in the realm of theology in the Christian church. For nearly two thousand years the church has primarily seen riches and wealth as dangers to be either avoided, or at the least not actively sought. With the advent of the faith movement a zeal for wealth and abundance has taken a firm hold on huge numbers of Christians the world over.

Many of the new heralds of prosperity not only preach the message, but enthusiastically live it. One such pastor boasts of owning a house worth millions, seven luxury cars, and various other emblems of his status as a King’s kid. Others are not so vocal in broadcasting their lifestyle, preferring to accumulate their wealth more quietly, for fear that the poor grannies and struggling young couples who contribute sacrificially to their ministries might have second thoughts about giving if made aware of the opulence of their heroes.

The prosperity message has been exported from America to the rest of the world in record time. In both India and Africa I hear reports about many of the American preachers who come there and emphasize prosperity as a main theme of their preaching. Considering how poor the Indians and Africans are, this message finds many eager listeners. Within a generation prosperity has gone from a non-issue to one of the major teachings heard in the Christian church.

God is not Santa!

Being as human as anybody else, I have often prayed and claimed the promises about God meeting our needs, and providing the desires of the heart to those who delight in Him. And I freely confess it is thrilling when the object prayed and believed for is granted by the evident hand of our loving and generous Father. Nevertheless I have always been distinctly uncomfortable with Christians who try to turn our awesome and holy Creator into a heavenly Santa Claus, and who pour all of their faith, prayers, and energy into a lifelong quest to attain more and more wealth and possessions. And  (to be blunt) preachers who follow one sermon after another with messages about how God wants us all rich make me nauseous.

In an attempt to bring a little sanity to this troublesome issue, I want to share a couple of brief thoughts. To my mind, these truths are (to borrow from the words of Jefferson) so “self-evident” that they can hardly be contradicted by any reasonable individual. But more than self-evident, they are Biblically clear. The only way to deny them is to deny the patent meaning and obvious intent of the Holy Scriptures.

Diligence and Plenty

1. A godly life tends toward financial well-being. (Surprised you, didn’t I!) Notice I didn’t say that a godly life makes one filthy rich. If great wealth is your goal, being ungodly is a decided advantage. That way you can cheat, cut corners, lie when necessary, and run over your competition ruthlessly in order to achieve your financial goals.

On the other hand there are some definite financial benefits accrued by those who allow Christ to shape not only their theology but their character. Take, for example, the Christian virtue of diligence and hard work. God is very much “pro-work.” Anyone who spends time in the word of God soon discovers that their heavenly Father greatly frowns upon laziness. And diligence in one’s work is highly commended in the Scripture. Perhaps more than in any other book, Proverbs speaks highly of the virtue of giving ourselves fully to our labors:

  1. The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slothful will be put to forced labor. (Proverbs 12:24)
  2. The soul of a sluggard desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich. (Proverbs 13:4)
  3. The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)


The New Testament confirms that the virtue of diligence has not gone out of fashion since the cross, as Paul exhorts: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…” (Colossians 3:23). To the Ephesians he addresses those who formerly made their living through taking what belonged to others: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

The virtue of diligent labor will tend to make a man or woman to prosper in the field in which God has called them. Although Proverbs does say that diligence “makes one rich” it would be foolish to suggest that this is the kind of riches that most prosperity teachers are talking about. It is the prosperity of a job well done that brings a fitting recompense. As that great theologian Louis Armstrong (just kidding!) used to sing, “A man wants to work for his pay...” Diligence in work will definitely not turn us all into millionaires, but it will, as a general rule, lead to a successful work experience and reasonable wages. Hard workers are usually the first to be promoted and the last to be laid off.

Self-Control

A second Christian virtue that leads to financial well being is the virtue of self-control. The lack of self-control is nowhere more evident than in the financial arena. Most Americans are in thousands of dollars of credit card debt. The enormous interest rates that they pay on this debt are literally robbing them of both their money and their peace of mind. One TV commercial shows a smiling man boasting of his beautiful house, fine possessions, and his country club membership. He asks, “How do I do this?” and then answers by saying, “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.” This would be comical if it weren’t so true of millions. Sadly most Christians are little better off than their secular counterparts in this area.

The Scriptures teach us that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus tells us that the first requirement of being one of His disciples is the willingness to “take up the cross” of self-denial. If Christians ever actually got around to practicing this in respect to their spending habits and their lifestyles, along with the diligent work ethic endorsed by the Scriptures, most if not all of their financial woes would soon be gone.

Warning!

2. The Scriptures strongly warn us of the dangers of being too materialistic. God seems to have no problem with His children having money; but He has a great problem when his children pursue wealth with undue affection. Paul warns Timothy:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:9,10).

The reason that the desire for money is so fatal to the believer is that it quickly supplants God as our master. When the great passion of our life becomes the accumulation of more and more toys, we soon lose sight of the reason for which we exist and the One to whom we belong. God is no longer the object of our worship but is seen as the satisfier of our lusts. When we sing “God is so good” we are no longer thinking of the cross of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins, but of the splendid possessions we are convinced He will soon be giving us in answer to our prayers and confessions.

Lest you conclude that Paul was just a grumpy ascetic, we find that Jesus was every bit as radical as Paul in His pronouncements about money:

  1. I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
  2. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys (Luke 12:33).
  3. No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and money (Matthew 6:24).


The reason for Jesus’ strong stance concerning money was His consuming passion for the “one thing needed.” Jesus, both in His teachings and His life, was entirely single-minded. God was everything, deserving of our supreme affection, allegiance, and devotion. Anything that vied for our affections was to be dealt with ruthlessly. Since He had more to say about money than any other potential distractions from God, we might conclude that He saw money as the greatest of all dangers.

He Knows Our Needs

It is not as though God is unaware of our need for material possessions. We live in a material world and we obviously have need of “things.” Coats, clothes, houses, cars, shoes, bowls, vacuum cleaners, beds, kitchen tables, books, computers, etc. are all useful and helpful. God is not some stingy deity begrudging His children of their basic needs, or even the simple pleasures of life. The Bible tells us that God “gives us richly all things to enjoy” and that He who spared not His only Son will also “freely give us all things.” Living in poverty is no more a sign of spirituality than living in wealth.

The key has to do with focus. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He says that when we do this all the material needs will be provided us (Matthew 6:33). The provision for our material needs and wants is never to be the foremost passion of our hearts or focus of our faith. Rather we are to expend our energy seeking God’s interests and God’s kingdom. As we do this, God will make sure that our needs and interests are taken care of. All things necessary (and many things not all that necessary, but nice) will be “added unto” us. Physical needs are to be the byproduct of a life spent in pursuit of God.

When Christians continually listen to countless teaching series on prosperity, when they spend most of their prayer time confessing and claiming wealth, when most of their giving is toward prosperity teachers who have convinced them that they will automatically receive 100 times as much back, and when their time and energy are spent for things rather than souls, they miss the point entirely.

Our Heavenly Father is not stingy; indeed He is quite generous. But He is no cosmic bellboy to come running to satisfy our lusts every time we call His name. He is a holy and a jealous God and He demands that the focus of our lives be upon Him exclusively. As we put His interests ahead of our own, and work for the building of His kingdom rather than our own little personal kingdoms, He will see to it that our needs are met and we are well provided for. Like Paul we will probably go through seasons where we learn to abound and those other times where we are instructed in how to be abased.

It matters little to those whose affections are set on things above. Our Father who clothes the lilies of the field and provides for the birds of the air will surely take care of us. The privilege of living for and representing the One who died on the cross and rose again, our Lord Jesus Christ, is worth far more than all the dollars, pesos, marks, euros, yen, rupees, franks, and schillings that have ever been minted or printed.





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