In this third portion in our study on Biblical Prosperity, I would like to look at Jesus’ thoughts on the subject. Today, there are many churches that put a heavy emphases on God’s desire that we be materially blessed. It often sounds quite spiritual, as people will say that these blessings are for us because we are to be the ones who should finance the spread of the gospel to the world, and that in seeing our many blessings, others will be drawn to Christ. But is this how the Bible describes prosperity and the spread of His kingdom?
Often, the Old Testament was the foreshadow of things to come. The physical things of old were pointers to the spiritual things of this present age. In the times of old, God’s Kingdom was a specific race of people and a measurable piece of land (See the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15: 18-21). In the time since Christ, God’s Kingdom has become a spiritual army of people from all over the earth. The covenant of Abraham promises that all the nations of the earth would be blessed because of Abraham (See Genesis 12:1-3, 17:6, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14). Ultimately, Jesus was the seed of Abraham who would be blessed, and we are blessed through Jesus! Galatians 3:16 says “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” (See Galatians 3: 13-18) Acts 3:25 says “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
But what is this blessing? Galatians 3:14 above tells us:
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 everyone (Jew and Gentile) being able to receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. The blessing is our salvation! Galatians 3:7-9 confirms:
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
Our being saved by grace… our being in faith as Christians is the blessing of Abraham.
While Abraham looked towards a plot of land and a race of people who would represent God’s Kingdom, today, we are a spiritual kingdom made from all races of the earth.
So if accepting Christ makes us one of Abraham’s children, and if the blessing of Abraham is the opening of the gospel to all people through Jesus, then what does this salvation and blessing look like? What character traits describes Christians in regard to spiritual and material blessings? What is the Christlike example we should follow, and what should be our attitude, desires, and expectations towards material wealth?
Jesus said several things regarding money, as He spoke often on the topic. Matthew 6:19-21 says the following:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In telling the parable of the unjust steward, Jesus says in Luke 16: 13
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
In Luke 6:27-31 Jesus says
Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
Luke 12:15-21 says
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
And in Luke 12:32-34, Jesus says
Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here, the “money bags which do not grow old” are immediately defined as “a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”
In Mark 4:18-19, Jesus is explaining the parable of the seeds. In regard to the seeds sown among thorns, Jesus says
Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
In reviewing the above verses, it becomes clear that we need to be careful of our heart. Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven (the “eye of the needle” phrase refers to a large camel loaded with goods entering a small door which was not big enough to accommodate the camel’s pack), but Jesus said that while this may be impossible with man, it was possible with God (see Matthew 19:16-26). However, it is far too easy to just say or assume that our heart is right and that we are not operating in greed or desire for money. We must remember that our heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; only God truly knows our heart (see Jeremiah 17:9-10).
And what about the other side. Did Jesus only speak with negative caution about the desire of money and having material blessings on earth? Several proponents of the belief that God desires that all Christians be materially wealthy rest their arguments on the teachings of Jesus. One such example is found in Matthew 6:33.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
When read alone, this verse is easily taken out of context. The full passage of scripture reads:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:24-34).
A read of these verses makes it clear that God will indeed provide, and that we should not allow ourselves to be worried about His provision, but to say that these verses speak to riches as we think of riches is stretching the verses beyond their original intention. Another common phrase of Jesus used to show God’s “law of giving and return” is found in Luke 6, specifically Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
It is indeed true that if we give, we will receive in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. However, is this referring to material riches? A full examination of chapter six is needed. Specifically, look at Luke 6: 27-45. In reading these scriptures, we see that the “give and it will be given” passage is in the midst of a set of admonitions regarding how we treat others. Verse 38 must at least be read in light of verse 37
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
What we are to give is the gift of not judging and not condemning. We are to give forgiveness, and if we do, we will receive abundant forgiveness in return. The very next verses Jesus speaks refer to the fact that we need abundant forgiveness, for we are blind, and not above our teacher (as we may suppose) and that compared to our brother with a speck in his eye, we have a plank in our own eye. “Give and it shall be given” refers to the Christlike attitude of mercy we should hold towards others for which we will receive abundant grace in return.
Matthew 25: 14-46 tells the parable of the talents and Jesus’ subsequent words regarding our actions to help others. While the fullness of these verses could never be covered in a single essay, they do offer relevant material for this discussion on the biblical idea of prosperity. As shown in the parable of the talents, not everyone has the same starting point (One was given 5 talents, one was given 2, and one was given 1). Some of us may have abundant wealth – received from the master, and others of us may have a smaller amount of wealth – received from the master. What showed success in the lives of the servants was whether or not they used the talents they were given. The third servant hid his talent, and even though he returned to the master all of what he was given, he was still considered a “wicked and lazy” servant. To him who has a lot, more will be given, but everyone is expected to wisely use what he has – whether a lot or a little. Also, we must notice that the talents were always the master’s talents and the gains made were given to the master. It is the same with us and Jesus – as He works through us, and we wisely invest our talents, it is for the gain of His kingdom – not ours. Finally, even though the parable uses money as the example, we must consider the words of Jesus which immediately follow. Matthew 25:31-46 gives strong warning against poor treatment of others (by ignoring the needs of others). “…as you did [it] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did [it] to Me.” Jesus speaks of clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting those who are sick, etc. Some of these actions will require our talents of finances, and others will require talents of compassion and mercy. We are to use our talents, whatever they are, to help others as we are able to do so.
Remember, the master in the parable gave the same reward and compliment to the man who had been given five talents as the man who had been given two talents. They each worked wisely with what they had been given, and as they did, they were rewarded with greater opportunities. It was only inaction that was considered lazy and wicked.
In life, our needs will be met as we stand in faith in God’s provision. I would not deny that God enjoys for us to have nice things, as every good and perfect gift does come from the Father (See James 1:17). However, in studying the words of Jesus, it appears that beyond this provision, prosperity is in advancing the kingdom, which is more often a matter of our heart than a need for financial gain. While money is needful for provision in our society, there is no certain amount of money that is deemed needed to advance the kingdom of God. In Mark 12:41-44, the widow woman who put in 2 mites “put in more than all those who have given to the treasury.” This is not to say that money is not helpful. However, considering the words of Jesus, it does appear that in this life, money is not to be our goal, and material wealth is not a promise we can legitimately claim. Wealth and prosperity in the gospel is simple: Our needs will be met as our hearts seek to know God, become Christlike, and advance the Kingdom of God in the lives of those around us.
Having currently looked at Jesus’ words in regards to money, in the next entry on Prosperity, we will look at the rest of the New Testament’s teachings on the subject of our heart and material wealth.