In part 1 of this series, we observed the fact that the Bible says in many places that following God will lead to prosperity (sorry to hedge a bit there: actually the Bible uses the word rich)…
Rich. Wealthy. “Having jack”. Well-heeled. Capitalized. We modern Christians (at least if you come from anyplace like where I came from) have an almost reflexive repulsion to the very word and concept. I was conditioned to be suspicious of, if not outright revile, those among us who have money to spare. …and I now say that reflex is devilish and needs to be stomped out, post haste. (If it’s not… I should be prepared to hate any of my brothers who obey the handful of commands we cited earlier! …because God will do what He says He’ll do, and His ways don’t change, whether it offends me or not.)
We tend to romanticize those who lived during Bible times, but ancient peoples didn’t get squeamish at ALL about wealth. Scraping by on whatever they could eke out, if any family could sidestep disease and bandits long enough to get entrenched, and happened to have a patriarch who led them into prosperity, everyone rejoiced! …because that family became a source of income (you could work for them, if you were fortunate), blessing (they maintained their land beautifully: great hunting, vibrant streams and lakes, plant life and animals that produced for everybody in the area), and abundance (they gave generously to those less fortunate… and they could do so! They were loaded)!
We, in contrast to our spiritual ancestors, are so consumed with selfishness and materialism that we don’t know any exceptions to the grotesque picture of the ostentatious American who stingily hoards his money away from others but lavishes himself with every luxurious display he can get his hands on. That is grotesque… but it doesn’t mean that wealth is evil just because it can be perverted and idolized. If it did, then, again, we’d have to hate Bible characters like Job, Joseph, David, Peter, Mary of Magdala, Lydia, Joseph of Arimathea, and even Abraham (shut your mouth)! There must be a way to handle wealth that’s actually God-honoring, holy and, dare I say it, un-American. I want to understand what that is, and I want you to know that secret too. Let me make 3 very clear points, though, before we proceed:
1. Greed is evil, demonic, and deadly—and also not my topic.
Maybe you think, “Wealth is almost all the way to greed! Aren’t they really synonyms, anyway?” While I understand that sentiment (again, I’m on my home field with that feeling; I’ve spent a LOT of time there), the Bible draws a sharp line between the two. Paul taught Timothy that “the LOVE of money [not money itself] is the root of all kinds of evil”, and boy we’d better take that to heart. If you try to go through God to get money (that is, MONEY is your end aim, NOT God Himself), things will end up dark indeed (He Himself is the end, the goal, the Final Pursuit. Attempt manipulating Him for any other end at your grave peril). Wealth is not the end, though it is the unavoidable result of the passages cited in part 1 (and many others). Greed is NOT a necessary condition of wealth. Matter of fact…
Greed can exist on its own, with zero dollars attached to it, thank you very much. We all know by experience that you don’t have to have money to love money. Plenty of not-wealthy people are greedy, selfish, and money-grubbing. Nevertheless, loving what you’ve got IS a very present danger, and I would never discount greed as a non-issue. It will ALWAYS be an issue; always be something to be investigated and actively avoided. Jesus warned of greed, and not for no reason… it’s a pit that American culture has fallen into very deeply. We will roundly denounce greed around here, and with regularity. So please humor me by letting me discuss financial prosperity apart from greed. (I do trust we can agree that wealth without greed is at least possible, just like we can agree that talent without vanity is possible, or that wisdom without pride is possible, right? For now, I’m going to leave it at “Greed is evil. And not what I want to discuss right now.”)
2. Many people don’t get to experience the results of Proverbs 10:4 et al in this life.
If you are a Defender/Crusader type (like I am, naturally), you HAVE to have been thinking, “What about poor believers around the world? What about Jesus, for God’s sake? He had nothing, and they have nothing!” I know, I know. There are millions upon millions of believers in the world today who live in poverty. It’s gross and lamentable. The faith of many (most?) of them is purer than my own, their dependence upon God is greater than mine, and their hope in eternity is much more tangible than my own. I don’t doubt for a second that these saintly people know the LORD (I’ve personally met thousands of them. They do.) and that He watches their every step and has deep, deep love and active compassion for them. Again, I don’t doubt that their love for God might be greater than mine. They are not JV believers; on the contrary, they might be the varsity and I might be on the practice squad. You are NOT hearing me say, “Godly people have money, poor people are outside God’s will.” Fie on that. No no no; I’ll never ever say that. (If I did I’d have to throw out Hebrews 11 and John the Baptist and, yes, Yeshua. I’m… I’m not going to do that.)
And yet, poverty is not holy. It is unbiblical (Paul teaches us to work, so that we might not only be provided for, but in order to have something to give), and is an evil spirit. It’s a curse. God’s plan for humans isn’t scarcity, deprivation, and little; it’s generous abundance, fullness, and plenty. Cite me a Bible passage and prove me wrong. Poverty is something Christians over the millennia have battled against like the satanic stronghold it is. Poverty is a malicious killer, not a gentle friend, and we oppose it strenuously in the name of Yeshua.
Now here’s my premise. Follow me on this. I submit that IF:
- External forces are neutral/conducive (Read: open markets vs. controlled markets or, if you will, capitalism vs. socialism, or just… economic freedom exists)
- The spiritual landscape is clean (Read: there is no spirit of poverty at work, no greed, no self-doubt nor self-hatred nor bitterness nor unforgiveness, fear, rebellion, etc…. BTW these things all lead to poverty. That is a free tip.)
- You’re not outwardly persecuted for your faith (that is, you’re given equal freedom to do business, not taxed exorbitantly, and not physically harried for loving Yehoveh.)
- A family obeys God’s statutes over generationS (no debt, giving generously, forgiving fully, obeying sacrificially, submitting to authority).*
…you just can’t end up NOT wealthy. You can’t. The poor but righteous believers I referenced earlier do not have the above conditions—and that’s a result of sin, and not necessarily their own. But if the above conditions are met, then the scriptures from Part 1 come alive and you experience abundance (or wealth, or riches, or prosperity, or however you want to term it).
This idea, that sin prevents many of God’s principles from being enacted, is not exclusive to the arena of money. Sin ALWAYS prevents God’s perfect will from coming to fruition. That’s the wages of sin: DEATH that God hates! If you don’t forgive, you’ll be tortured (God doesn’t desire this to happen to you). If you harbor fear, you’ll not experience His love fully (this is a scenario God doesn’t like). If you give place to idolatry (and Mammon—the spirit of money—is absolutely on the list of potential idols), you won’t see God. I could go on. But the fact that there are people who DON’T experience God’s fullness, like the heroes of Hebrews 11, doesn’t mean that God has no fullness to offer, or that He’s not ready and willing to bless. This takes us to our third and last point today:
3. God’s favor is real, and He is the lavish Giver of All Good Things.
I often refuse my kids’ requests for sugar. This is not because I don’t want them to enjoy pie (Oh man! Pie! Hallelujah!), it’s because I want them to enjoy MORE than pie. I want them to enjoy everything in life, including the radical benefits of self-control, and keep sugar in its proper place. I have an all-encompassing desire for my children to experience MAXIMUM SATISFACTION in all of life, leaving no categories out. I want them to have the BEST relationships (which is why we walk through apologies and fair play, for instance), I want them to have the BEST kind of fun (so we mandate lots of outside and imaginative play), the BEST experience with education (so we encourage exploration as well as guided stuff like memorization), and yes, the BEST experience with money. I have an ambition that every part of their lives will be plentiful and satisfying.
Now then, what do you think God’s ambitions are toward YOU, His child? Be honest with yourself as you think about this.
You may think that God wants the “best” for you in some areas (“He wants me to be honest, because it’s better for everybody and you sleep better at night”), but that he wants “not quite best” for you in others (“clearly, I’m in an unsatisfying marriage, and also it looks like we’ll never be financially free”). If you did a close, honest inspection, you probably think this about several (problematic) areas in your life. You think that God wants “best” for some of His kids… but not for you.
This is, to use a technical term, “B.S.”.
I am NOT saying that God wants equal outcomes for His kids. That is not so. We don’t all derive the same euphoric delight out of Korean food that my friend David does. We don’t all have to thrill at writing like my pal Jeff. But I tell you this: God wants to favor you in every area of your life, and He has gone to great pains to articulate barriers that keep you from that favor.
We may talk about some of the pathways into God’s favor at some point (fear of Yehovah, honoring your parents, and sewing faithfully would be a little teaser list for ya), but I just want to challenge your perception of God if you think there are any limits to His goodness or desire to bless. James 1 says that EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from Him. That means a delicious turkey sandwich, a clear cool day, the beauty of a leaf, and a great sexual experience with your spouse all emanate equally from the hand of a Loving and Dedicated Father, Who ONLY has good planned for His children. We all love Jeremiah 29 (“I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and NOT to harm you! Plans to give you a hope and a future!”), but boy is it hard for us to believe it. This desire of God’s is tied to His favor. As His child, His favor (I’ll define that as “His unnecessarily generous desire to have things go well for you”) is there waiting for you at all times, to receive and to act on. Check these out and tell me whether God favors you or not:
I saw Yehoveh always before me, because he is at my right hand, I will never be shaken. (Acts 2:25)
Blessed is the man… [whose] delight is in the law of Yehoveh… whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
Your goodness and mercy will hunt me down all the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6)
Are you out of your mind!? These are nearly unbelievable statements! But if they’re true, and if God is really my Father, and He’s really good… (two huge IFs; you have to deal with what you believe about them), then He wants you to prosper:
- Spiritually (so that you’re godly, Christlike, and wise)
- Relationally (so that you’re deeply connected to wonderful friends, and live at peace with those around you, and have the right enemies)
- Physically (so that your rhythms are life-giving and you live out the fullness of your days)
- Intellectually (so that your mind is renewed, at peace, creative and anchored in His Word)
- Financially (so that you prosper, with plenty to give to your family and others)
Chances are you struggle with one or more of the above… and hey I do too! We’re all over the map as God continues to conform us into the image of His Son. And this world’s system is engineered by the enemy to make as many poor as possible, robbing them of the life God intends. But may we never demean God’s unimpeachable character, which includes His desire to bless and equip and prosper His children in all things.
You ready for Part 3, on the multigenerational nature of Biblical wealth?
*You know, you might not be able to do anything about the markets, or whether you’re discriminated against, or whether you live in a town with a spirit of lewdness or greed hanging over it… but you can (and must!) do a LOT about creating a culture of discipleship in your home. Grooming good character, joy in obedience, fealty to the Word, a good work ethic, compassion for others, etc underneath your roof… this is 100% your purview. Nobody else’s. (That’s why we created this blog, BTW. We want to help you! It’s a huge job!)