Prosperity Part 3: The Blessing of Abraham and the Christlike View of Material Wealth

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.

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.