Prosperity Part 2: NT Word Study, Job’s Friends, and the Abrahamic Covenant

There’s a lot of talk in the Church today regarding God’s promises of prosperity. Preachers full of promises make millions convincing others to sow a seed so that the giver can receive a hundredfold reward from God. Followers are convinced that it is God’s desire that we have everything we want, and that we can give our way to riches. Are ideologies like these an easy to follow solution to our money problems or are they misplaced hopes in a reward we are never promised in the first place?

God’s Word does say that God wants to bless us. This is found repeatedly in the Bible. God’s Word does say he wants us to prosper, even as our soul prospers (3 John 2). The Greek word for prosper here is the word εὐοδόω (euodoō). This word is only used four times in the New Testament and this word does mean “to prosper.” However, more clearly, it means “to grant a prosperous and expeditious journey, to lead by a direct and easy way.” It is the same word used in Romans 1:10 which says “Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (KJV)”

So while 3 John 2 does say that John’s prayer was for us to prosper, even as our soul prospers, we must realize that both words “prosper” are the same Greek word. Our selves and our souls are to prosper in the same fashion. So, better stated, it is John’s prayer that we would have a prosperous and expeditious journey in life, led by God in the ways of Jesus (remember, his yoke is easy: Matthew 11:30), just as our soul has been saved by God through Christ, and is on a journey that will ultimately see us in Heaven. While this does not deny any monetary or material blessing, it does not promise one, either.

The only other time this word is used in the New Testament does speak to material prosperity, and setting aside for God’s work a portion from what God has prospered someone with. However, there is nothing in the text which suggests a promise of any particular amount of blessing or abundance (See I Corinthians 16).

For a discussion on the Hebrew word for prosper and prosperous, please see the previous entry.

The Bible doesn’t limit its discussion of prosperity to these single Greek and Hebrew words, though. There are many passages that speak to God’s blessings that utilize other verbiage.

Common in our society is the idea that material prosperity is a sign of God’s favor. Some even say that prosperity is a sign of our faith and taking God at His word that blessings are ours. “If we only have faith,” we are told, “we can receive the blessings promised us.” Others say that if we are not being blessed, it must be because of some secret sin, or due to our lack of faith. This idea is not new, for even Job’s “friends” suggested that the calamity that befell him was due to some hidden sin (See Job 8:5-7 and 22:21-28 – notice how much these words of his “friends” sound like many preachers today!). Job’s friends did not speak for God, though, as the remainder of the book shows. Others have said that Job’s trials came because he feared, and wasn’t acting in faith (referring to his regularly offering sacrifices for his sons, in case they had done some unknown wrong). But what does the Word itself say on this subject? Job 1:1 and 1:8 say “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil…8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”” The Word, God speaking even, says Job was a blameless and upright man. This is quite the opposite of saying he was a fearful man who lacked faith, and thus opened the door to the devil. Yes, Job was blessed, before and after the months of extreme testing, but the time of testing was permitted, and it wasn’t because Job had lost faith or favor with the Lord.

In looking through the Bible, there are many examples of men whom God blessed with abundant riches. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had excessive wealth. But Hebrews 11:24-26 says that “Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” God provided for Moses’ every need, but had Moses turn down the rich life he was naturally eligible for as a member of Pharaoh’s household.

We also must consider Elijah and Elisha. While God did provide for their needs, they by no means appear to have been overly wealthy by anyone’s material measures. Elisha probably came from a well to do home, but still was in a position where food and a place to stay provided by others appeared beneficial to him (See 2 Kings 4). Elijah went through times where he had to be fed by ravens and depend on a widow woman for sustenance (See 1 Kings 17). Did God provide for their need? Absolutely! Did God give them wealth as we would consider wealth today? The Biblical evidence suggests… no.

In the Bible there is a mix of people from a variety of economic backgrounds who were faithful and served God. In all cases, God provides for need, but for more than that, it is difficult to stand on a “for everyone” example that we can legitimately apply to our lives. This does not mean that people don’t attempt to make such applications. There are common Bible passages and scriptures which are misappropriated by some regarding material wealth being promised for God’s children today. Sadly, in misapplying these promises to material wealth, the true, greater spiritual significance is sometimes missed.

The Abrahamic Covenant is commonly pointed to as the source of promise for spiritual and material blessings for believers today. I have regularly heard it taught that if we have faith, then the blessings of Abraham can be ours – for we are all children of Abraham. Faith is stated to be the “key” to unlocking these blessings. But is this really a covenant of faith in the sense being taught?

Genesis 15 tells the story of the covenant God made with Abram (Abraham). The promise was to give to Abram and his descendents the land mentioned, and that Abram would have an heir from his own body (a son), as he and his wife were childless at that point. Further, the promise of God says that Abram’s heirs would multiply and be numberless, just as the stars are numberless. Abram did believe God when God showed him the stars, explaining that his seed would multiply, and that was accounted to Abram as righteousness. But as it happens with many of us, he did later waiver, as seen in he and Sarai’s actions with Hagar. But nowhere was Abram told to claim any promise by faith in order that it come to pass. In fact, the promise was absolute; it was not conditional on any action of Abram. If it were, it would have failed, as Abram and Sarai (Sarah) proved their later lack of faith by trying to make the promise come to pass in their own strength. Like many humans do, they tried to make God’s Word come to pass by their own actions. Their plans failed miserably. A read of the scripture shows that Abram was asleep when the actual covenant was made. God was the one – the only one – who passed between the two halves of the animals. It was all on God. It is the same with Christ, who passed between God and us, sealing our redemption and reconciliation to God. All we have to do is believe, and the covenant will come to pass – we will be saved. We may even at times waiver as Abram and Sarai did, but just as it was with them, it is with us – the fulfillment of the promise is on God.

The covenant with Abram was to make from him – from his seed – a nation of God’s people. We are “children of Abraham” in that we are also born into the race of the Kingdom of God through salvation. That’s all it is – a promise of salvation. A promise of God making Himself a nation of believers. It has been established in the preceding paragraph that it was not a promise that required “enough” faith to make it come to pass. When the sun went down and Abram was asleep, Genesis 15: 12 says that “a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.” This represents us, lost in darkness, asleep in the horror of our being lost. While in that condition, God made the covenant, wholly of Himself, to make of Abram a great nation for God. Abram had simply believed God’s word that the promise was true – that simple belief was counted to him as righteousness. We, like Abram at the time God provided the covenant are in darkness, asleep in our own horror of being lost without Christ, and we, like Abram, simply have to believe that Christ, wholly of Himself, made a covenant whereby we could be saved. This is indeed a marvelous promise and foreshadow of what was to come through Christ.

The covenant is absolute – to Abram who believed, and to all of us who believe. Even when Abram laughed in his heart when God reminded Abram of the covenant He would bring to pass in Genesis 17, the covenant was still absolute, wholly founded in God. It was not a covenant of faith, as we sometimes teach faith today. It was a covenant that came to pass despite Abram’s laughing, and misplaced actions to make it come to pass in his own methods. God only appears to have required Abram’s initial belief in the promise, and not a continuous, exercised, proclamation of faith in God’s absolute promise.  And with this simple truth, we can also say it was not a covenant of abundant material riches, because if it were, as some propose, it would still be wholly founded in God, and even those who laugh in their hearts saying “how shall I, a poor nothing be rich and prosperous” would be rich and prosperous because of the covenant. But this is not the case of this covenant, for it is a covenant of salvation – of making a nation for God.

I find it interesting, and we should find it load lightening that despite Abraham’s obvious attempts to procure God’s plan via his own means, and his and Sarah’s obvious lacking of faith at times, that Hebrews 11 states that things did occur for them “by faith.” Eventually, after some initial wavering and realizing their human methods were not producing success, they came to be fully assured that what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:21). Also remember that the righteousness granted to Abram was based on his initial belief in God’s Word before the covenant and previous to his laughing at the idea of the promise and attempts to make it come to pass on his own. Too many people have made faith into a military discipline that can not be slacked on without the grave consequences of failure to obtain. But the Bible seems to speak of faith as being God provided to all of His fallible servants, in correct measure, and that this faith can work despite our occasional doubts (see Romans 4 in light of Genesis 15-17; Romans 12:3; and Hebrews 11). This is not to lighten the importance of faith. We just need to realize that faith is from God, delivered to us by His Word (See Romans 10:17), for the purpose of His Word, and it is not something we can mold to do our bidding.

Finally, the prosperity of God’s making for Himself a nation from the seed of Abraham is not only valid for his biological seed, but because of Christ, is valid for all peoples – both Jew and Gentile. Galatians 3:14 confirms “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” The blessing is the promise of the Spirit through faith, which is salvation available to all mankind who chooses to believe. This is prosperity indeed.

Click here for part 3.

Prosperity Part 1: OT Word Study

A lot is said these days about God wanting us to prosper. The prosperity bestowed upon servants of God is one of the great truths of the Bible. However, how God defines prosperity and how Western civilized churchgoers define prosperity often differs markedly, and this difference leads to confusion and disappointment among those who don’t see man’s version of prosperity playing out in their lives.

The Hebrew word often translated “prosperity” is tsalach. This word means to go over or through (as a river); to attack, to fall upon (used of the Spirit or God falling upon a man); to go on well, to prosper, to succeed; to flourish (as in a plant); to make successful, to prosper; to accomplish prosperously, to finish well; flow, to be poured out as water. This word is translated in the King James as prosper (44 times), come (6), prosperous (5), come mightily (2), effected (1), good (1), meet (1), break out (1), and went over (1).

To get a better understanding of the biblical use of the word, let’s look at it in context.

The first use of the word is in Genesis 24: 21, 40, 42 and 56. Here, Abraham’s servant is prosperous in his journey to find a wife for Abraham’s son. The prosperity speaks to his success in his journey.

The next use of the word is in regards to Joseph, who prospered in the house of his master, Potiphar (See Genesis 39: 2, 3 and 23). Joseph, even though he was a slave, was given responsibility and position because of the prosperity in everything  he did. His prosperity was a blessing to his Egyptian masters, as well as to himself.

One of the more famous verses is Joshua 1:8

This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success.

Judges 14:6 and 19 speak to the Spirit of God coming on someone giving him strength in battle (against both a lion and men).

Judges 18:5 again speaks to a successful journey, and as seen by Judges 18:6, was successful in that it was a peaceful journey under the protective eye of the Lord.

1 Samuel 10:6 uses the word to speak to the Spirit of God coming on Saul to empower him (turned into another man).

2 Chronicles 26:5 says of Uzziah, “and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.” The same is said of Hezekiah (See 2 Chronicles 31: 20-21). Psalms 1:1-3 confirms this for everyone who keeps himself in God.

However, prosperity is not always associated with those who wait on God. In Psalm 37:7, we are reminded to not fret because of him who prospers in his wicked ways. Also see Jeremiah 5:28, and 12:1.

Psalm 118 speaks of Jesus as being the answer to the prayer “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity” (See Psalm 118: 25 and surrounding verses).

Proverbs 28:13 juxtaposes lack of prosperity for hiding one’s sins with mercy for confessing and forsaking them. Here, prosperity is seen as the mercy of God forgiving us of our sins.

Another commonly quoted verse which uses the word tsalach is Isaiah 54:17

No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

Here again, prosper refers to success in a mission. While the enemy’s weapon will not prosper in its mission against us (the mission is slander, as seen in the next line), I pray we would all prosper in advancing the mission of the gospel (Our mission of speaking forth the good news of Christ).

Similarly, God says His word will prosper in Isaiah 55:11

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (See John 1). Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost (See Luke 19:10). God’s word of salvation will prosper!

If you place your confidence in anyone or anything but the one and only God, you will not prosper in your misplaced confidence (See Jeremiah 2: 37).

From the many verses above, we see how God uses the word tsalach. From these examples, we can surmise that in our life’s journey, as we place our trust in Him, we will be successful in moving forward in God’s mission for us – and that mission is to bring the message of forgiveness of sins, and salvation to those who are lost. The Spirit of God will prosper in making us who He needs us to be for His purpose. Others may appear to have worldly success, but we are to pay them no heed. Others may try to speak against us, but their words will prove to be false. We are God’s servants, and the mercy of God will prosper in covering our sins as we confess them and continue forward in growing fruitful as we meditate day and night on God’s Word.

For the New Testament word for prosper, please see the next entry.

Ambitions

Matthew 20-28 tells the story of James and John (apparently, via their mother) asking Jesus to grant to them the honor of sitting on His right and left hand in His Kingdom. This request was made shortly after Jesus had told the twelve that He would be betrayed, crucified, and raised again. Jesus’ reply was as follows:

But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  They said to Him, “We are able.” (Matthew 20:22)

Jesus confirmed that indeed, they would drink of the same cup, and be baptized with the same baptism, but as for the request, it was not His to give. Those spots have already been prepared for those whom God has prepared them. The other disciples were understandably annoyed, but really, all of the disciples had the same mindset, wanting to be known as “the greatest among them” (See Luke 9:46; 22:24 and Mark 9:33-37). And even today, it is so often the same with us. We want position and power, riches, and honor, and every other good thing we claim we have coming. But what did Jesus say?

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20: 25-28)

Just as… Jesus came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. The path to greatness in God’s Kingdom is through service. There is no other way. We are to serve others, as if to Him (see Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23). And while God will provide abundantly for us to be able to serve others, we must not forget that it is our position and honor to be servants. Our ambition should not be the abundant provision which enables us to serve – it should be to serve, even if to the point of giving our life as a ransom for the Gospel. We will remember, James was one of the first to be martyred for Christ (Acts 12:2). He did indeed “drink of the same cup.” We may be called to do the same. Conversely, John was not killed, but a study of his life shows he still drank of the cup Jesus did. History tells us that most of the original 12 were killed for their beliefs. They were persecuted greatly. And God was with them. He never failed them.

One of the great deceptions of our times is the idea that if we accept Jesus as our savior, then all will be well, we will be prosperous, everyone will like us, and our great earthly successes will be a light of the Gospel to others.

This is not Christ’s Gospel. It is a gospel of shallow soil, and when negative things happen to new Christians who have been led to believe “all will be well,” they are left hurt and confused, feeling lied to about this “Jesus” they had decided to follow. Many will fall away because of the troubles of life, for which they were very ill-prepared (see the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13). If we want to be fruitful Christians, and if we want to bring others into the forever lasting fruitfulness of the Kingdom, then we need to be sure we are speaking and hearing a gospel that is rooted in good soil – an honest gospel that not only preaches the good, but preaches the good that never leaves us, so that we can get through the bad.

Mercy

“Sic ’em, God.”

Far too often I’ve heard one or another derivation of this phrase. Whether in casual conversation or even prayer, it seems we hear people who call out to God to deal harshly with sinful people, cities, or nations. But is this the heart of God for us?

While it is true that man’s sin calls out for the judgment of God (see Genesis 4:10; 19:13, Exodus 22:22-24), we must always remember that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). We are to call out for mercy; we are not the accuser.

The story of Sodom is found in Genesis 18 and 19. While the city was not saved, we see some keep points regarding our relationship with God and His willingness to save many (an entire city) for the sake of a very few (one family). The first show of God’s mercy in this account is in God’s telling Abraham of His plans to destroy the city. This opened the door for Abraham to plead for mercy for the city. Upon hearing God’s plans, Abraham tarries with God and talks with God. If Abraham were like many in our society today, he may have said something like this:

I agree, God… they are a wicked bunch. They go after strange flesh, they’re prideful, wasteful of their time, they don’t help the poor or the needy, and they commit abominations before You… Go ahead, wipe them out (See Jude 6-7, Ezekiel 16:49-50).

But Abraham wasn’t like many in our society today. He never even once mentions their sin. His focus in negotiating with God is always on the righteous. “Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23). “Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). And each time, God agreed with Abraham. He would not destroy if he could find just (50, then 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally 10) righteous in all of the city. Abraham stopped at ten, but I personally believe he could have continued, and would have found a point at which the city would have been saved. Great evidence of this is found in Genesis 19:22. When the angel of the Lord was rushing Lot and his wife and daughters out of the city, and had given them permission to go to the nearby city of Zoar, the angel said, “Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there”

The angel of God Could Not do anything until Lot was safe. The presence of just one family related to righteous Abraham stymied the wrath of God against an entire city.

Further evidence shows that God will pardon an entire city for the sake of just one righteous. Jeremiah 5:1 says “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places If you can find a man, If there is anyone who executes judgment, Who seeks the truth, And I will pardon her.” Here, God looked for a man who was righteous, so that He could pardon the entire city on behalf of one man. Grace indeed.

If this is the example of the merciful heart of God in a time before Jesus’ sacrifice had paid the price for the sins of the entire world, we are without excuse if we call for anything less than complete mercy in this present dispensation of God’s purchase of salvation for all who will believe and receive. Yes, we can acknowledge the horror of the sin around us, but just like Christ, we are to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). It’s not that the stories of society’s sin aren’t true. It’s not that those sins won’t ultimately be judged at the end-time judgment of God (see Revelation 20:11-15). But until that time, our only job is to be Christlike, and to follow the example of the One who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Christ is the mercy of God presently stymieing the justice of God. He paid the price for the sins of the world. He is the Redeemer. He is the Savior. And “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

But how often do we really behave as if we are representing Christ to this world? It is so easy to just sit back and complain about society, to put down our neighbors and leaders, as if in our flesh we are something better (We are not – see Romans 7:18). Without Christ, we are nothing better than even the vilest of sinful people. Without Christ, we deserve all the judgment and condemnation we attribute to others. But we are not without Christ, and as the redeemed, our only goal regarding judgment should be to save others from the same fate we were saved from ourselves.

Humility

Matthew 23:12 (Amplified Bible)

Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and whoever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.

James 4:10 (Amplified Bible)

Humble yourselves [feeling very insignificant] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up and make your lives significant].

Philipians 2:3-11 (NKJV)

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By nature, we are not humble creatures. Far from it. Yet, somewhere along the path to Christlikeness, God will deal with us, and begin to ask us to humble ourselves, so that He can then do something significant with our lives. But what does it mean to humble ourselves? In the three verses above, the word for humble(d) is the Greek word tapeinoō. (Strongs 5103). This word can be defined “to make low, bring low; to level, reduce to a plain; reduce to meaner (poor) circumstances; to assign a lower rank or place to; to abase; to be ranked below others who are honored or rewarded; to lower, depress; to bring down one’s pride; to have a modest opinion of one’s self; to behave in an unassuming manner; and devoid of all haughtiness.”

Strong stuff. Fortunately, it isn’t God’s desire to do this to us. What a terrifying blow that could be! It is, however, His goal that we do this to ourselves. “Humble yourselves” His Word says. And if we do, He will then lift us up, and make our lives a place of honor. Ultimately, our example to follow is Jesus. More than anyone in history, Jesus humbled Himself. He was from the beginning with God and was God (See John 1). But, he lowered himself, reducing himself to poor circumstances, and assigned to himself a lower rank among men, as man. He gave up His position with and as God to take on the flesh of man, and even fully submitted Himself to man’s sin. This is not to say that Jesus sinned, but he did take our sin upon himself (see Luke 22:41-42). He who knew no sin became sin for us (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). And when He did that, the reality is, God poured out His wrath for sin – upon Jesus – so that it would not have to be poured out on us.

Are we willing to follow in that example? Could we give up our position the way Jesus did? Jesus took our sin, and suffered our punishment trusting that ultimately He would be raised by God and given a Name above all names and a position above all. But His purpose in taking our sin wasn’t the ultimate position of glory. He had glory before he took the form of a man. His purpose in humbling himself was for the salvation of mankind. And so too should our purpose be when we work to humble ourselves.

And that’s the key. The purpose behind striving for Godly humility. If we’ve fallen deceived to someone who has told us to humble ourselves because we’ll be given a place of honor by God, then our attempts at humility will be futile. The place of honor is not to be our goal – it is never the “because” for our humility. The place of honor is not the purpose. Just as it was with Jesus, the place of honor is the reward for being willing to humble ourselves in the giving of our lives for the salvation of mankind. We must see ourselves as lower than all of mankind – so that all of mankind is in our eyes more worthy than ourselves. We must see ourselves as ones who will die to save them – because they are the important ones.

Who is important to you? Is it the guy down the street? The unwashed man on the corner? The coworker who slanders your name every chance he gets? Until our humility tells us that these people are more important than us, and that their needs are more important than ours, and that their lives are worth the cost of our own, then we have not fully traveled the road towards humility.