In the last post, we looked at Jesus' thoughts regarding material wealth. In this post, we will continue the theme by looking at other New Testament lessons on the subject of material riches and prosperity.
In the three previous posts looking at what the Bible says regarding prosperity, the overall consensus has been been that while God does state that He will always provide for His children, and while God does desire to bless us, His blessings are not always in the form of material riches as is often taught. His provision is for our daily need. His prosperity is more often in spiritual growth leading to the growth of His kingdom. In the New Testament, we will see that God is calling us to be Christlike, and being Christlike involves learning to develop simple peace regarding our circumstances (whether good or poor), and the giving of ourselves for others.
Philippians 4:12-13 says "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Here, Paul discusses the heart we should hold no matter our situation. We are to be like Christ in that we are to be content, trusting in the strength given to us by God (see Philippians 4:11Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: and Hebrews 5:8Hebrews 5:8 (NKJV)
though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. ).
As a church, it would appear that God may bless some in material means, and not others. However, the call of God is for a fairness, in that those who have extra would give supply to those who have little, so that everyone would be without need. Look at 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 (Amplified Classic)
For it is not [intended] that other people be eased and relieved [of their responsibility] and you be burdened and suffer [unfairly], But to have equality [share and share alike], your surplus over necessity at the present time going to meet their want and to equalize the difference created by it, so that [at some other time] their surplus in turn may be given to supply your want. Thus there may be equality, As it is written, "He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little did not lack." (Paul quotes from Exodus 16:18Exodus 16:18 (NKJV)
So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one's need. )
However, we must be careful not to go too far in this. Neither party should be burdened. Also, before providing for others, we must make sure we are providing for ourselves and our families (See 1 Timothy 5:81 Timothy 5:8 (NKJV)
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ). Far too often we hear stories of families which suffer because they are giving away their money without providing for their own needs as well. Usually there are wrong motives somewhere, whether it be someone who gives in an effort to "buy" personal holiness (maybe even without conscious awareness of the reason) or someone giving because it has been heard that God will "pay back" in greater dollars than what has been "sown as a seed."
Occasionally, I've heard people who believe that they should not have to work, but instead should just trust God and have faith so that their needs will be (magically) met and they can enjoy life in abundance. As a younger man, I knew people who believed that because the Bible says that "the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous" (See Proverbs 13:22Proverbs 13:22 (NKJV)
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. ), that with faith, they could actually con sinners into giving them money, often through unscrupulous business schemes. However, none of these attitudes represent the Christlike nature we should attain to. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 says
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
This is not to say that it is wrong to pay those who work full time in ministry, as everyone is worthy of their hire. Sin comes when someone wishes to live off of the gospel without truly working for that purpose (See 1 Timothy 5:17-181 Timothy 5:17-18 (NKJV)
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." ).
God wants us to be rich so that others will see the blessings of God and get saved.
There is a certain logic to the sentence above. The concept has been heard by many Christians and non-Christians alike. It appears to work for some. It doesn't work for most others. In the Old Testament, it does appear that God often used material prosperity to show off His people. But what about now - is this still they way it works? If the physical symbols of the old often pointed to spiritual truths of the new, could it be that under the new and better covenant God wants to show off His people through their regenerated spirits, and Christlike attitude in all circumstances? What does the Bible really say?
In 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes to Timothy regarding attitudes. In the first two verses, Paul speaks about working with diligence for one's boss, whether Christian or not. This alone shows that not every Christian can be the "boss." Sometimes working for others will be the avenue through which God provides. Then 1 Timothy 6:5 says something very interesting. In speaking about people teaching false doctrines, Paul says, "people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain." Despite the certain popularity of the idea, it is contrary to sound scripture to believe that godliness is a means of gain. True gain via godliness is stated in 1 Timothy 6:6-11:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 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.
Prosperity in the earthly sense can be deceptive. If we do well materially, it is easy to feel that we are doing well spiritually. To the Church in Laodicea, Jesus said
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:15-19).
As we look around in our world, we see that there are both rich and poor, and everyone in between. It is the same in the church. This is why James says in James 1:9-12 (Amplified)
Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his elevation [as a Christian, called to the true riches and to be an heir of God], And the rich [person ought to glory] in being humbled [by being shown his human frailty], because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun comes up with a scorching heat and parches the grass; its flower falls off and its beauty fades away. Even so will the rich man wither and die in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed (happy, to be envied) is the man who is patient under trial and stands up under temptation, for when he has stood the test and been approved, he will receive [the victor's] crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.
And to those who are blessed with material wealth, there seems to be the stricter warnings, for it is far too easy to trust in those riches, and to trust in the future continuation of those riches. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Solomon was a wise man. As he observed in Ecclesiastes 5:10-15 (ESV)
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.
It takes a strong person to look into his heart and allow God to show him what is there. In western culture, it is far too easy to become deceived by goals which seem lofty and even altruistic. However, if not nestled in the goal of obtaining true self-sacrificing Christlikeness, our goals will often lead to our own folly and pain as we struggle to make God's will (as we see it) come to pass in our lives.