Comfort & Counsel

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The Practical Christian Life

Jacob Ninan

Chapter 28

The Christian and prosperity

Preachers and writers want a large following, and so they offer the people what they like to hear instead of what they need to hear. Satan wants to lead people away from the true gospel of God, and so he entices them away from God with another ‘gospel’ that looks very appealing. That is what has happened with the ‘prosperity gospel’ or the ‘health and wealth gospel’. False teachers have arisen, leading people astray by misquoting and misinterpreting Scripture. Many are deceived because they are being offered what looks to be really good news for them and also it appears to be from the Bible, and they are not knowledgeable enough in the Scriptures to be able to understand when they are being deceived.

Two of the most serious things that cause suffering to people are sicknesses and poverty. We have already seen how an offer of health attracts people even though it is based on wrong interpretation of the Bible. Something similar is happening when it comes to the offer of prosperity.

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3Jn.2). Without realising that the third letter of John is a personal letter written to a brother called Gaius and that this is a line of greeting at the start of the letter, people are taking this verse to mean that it is a promise from God of a life of all-round prosperity! Actually if we understand the meaning in the original Greek, this would be equivalent to a modern writer saying, “I hope this letter finds you well in every way”!

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us … in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (Gal.3:13,14). Since everyone knows that one of the things that was promised to Abraham was that his children would inherit the Promised Land, this promise to the Christians is interpreted as material prosperity! But we only have to read the rest of the verse, “So that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” to see that God is talking to us about spiritual blessings!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2Cor.8:9). It really looks like God is promising us riches through this verse! But if we look at the context we can see that Paul is telling them to learn to give to others in need just as Jesus did to us! If we want to use this verse to mean that Jesus is going to make us rich, we have to put aside His teachings and example as well as those of the apostles.

That is what these false teachers go on to do. Just because Jesus and His disciples had a money box in the hands of Judas Iscariot to help them with their expenditure (Jn.13:29), they say Jesus must have had lots of money for His ministry! The soldiers at the cross divided His clothes to share them, but when they saw a tunic woven without seams (Jn.19:23,24), they did not want to tear it but cast lots for it. Preachers now say Jesus used to wear ‘designer clothes’ and expensive dresses! This too when Jesus dissuaded people from following Him for the sake of gain by saying He did not even have a place to lay His head (Matt.8:20), and it was a few people who were supporting Him as He and the disciples moved from place to place (Lk.8:1–3)!

It looks as if preachers have identified the great longing people have to have wealth, and in order to support such a pursuit found verses that can be misinterpreted to fit it to their theory.

Jesus said very plainly that we could not seek after God and wealth at the same time because one of them would take priority over the other (Matt.6:24). The love of money that propels man to run after it will soon lead him to all kinds of evil (1Tim.6:10). Those who are hankering after more and more money will fall into traps that will finally ruin them (v.9). For example, when we are in need, we think we would be content once those needs are met. But when they have been met and we have money in hand, needs that were beyond our means and dreams earlier become alive! Then we want to get more money. The more money and possessions we have, our worries and concerns about them also increase, as also responsibilities to take care of them. We become so preoccupied with such thoughts that there is less and less space and time for God in our thoughts. God becomes just someone who can give us money. We can also try to convince ourselves that the more money we get, the more money we will be able to give to ministry. But we may find in reality that what we spend for our needs is much more than what we give for ministry!

When we become occupied with our pursuit of money, we also find that we think it is alright to cut corners to avoid losing money and to get more of it quickly! We find excuses to justify our unrighteousness (‘Everybody does it’, ‘If we have to live in this world we can’t be so fussy with legalistic rules’, ‘Our intention is good’, ‘God wants us to enjoy life’, ‘We must be shrewd to get things done’). The Devil is eager to give us wealth so that he can get us caught in his trap.

We can argue that there is nothing wrong with money in itself and that it is the love of money that is wrong (1Tim.6:10). Jesus referred to money as the ‘unrighteous wealth’ contrasting it with true riches (Lk.16:11). Money can lead us to unrighteousness easily, but true riches are the spiritual wealth of becoming like Jesus. But we shut our eyes towards the love of money that comes in when we begin to go after it earnestly, and it begins to occupy prime spot in our mind, even when we tell ourselves we are only trying to meet our needs. But the funny thing is, our needs are never satisfied! The Bible tells us to learn to be content (v.8). But we point out that Abraham and Job were wealthy, and quote verses from the Old Testament. We don't seem to realise that the focus changed in the new covenant to becoming like Jesus (Rom.8:29) and gathering treasure for eternity (Jn.6:27). Jesus tells us to seek God's kingdom and His righteousness first and promises to give us all what we really need (Mt.6:33), and not to be like all the other people who are eagerly seeking after earthly things (vv.31,32).

There are riches that pass away, as Jesus illustrated in the parable of the rich (Lk.12:16-21), and treasures that will have value in eternity (Matt.6:20). There are pleasures that are sinful, or that take our mind away from God, and there is immeasurable pleasure living in the presence of God (Psa.16:11) and pleasures beyond imagination stored up in heaven for us (1Cor.2:9). When we set our heart on God, pleasures on earth will become less meaningful and less attractive. Our joy comes from being pleasing to God.

We also know that however much wealth we may accumulate here on earth, none of that will be of any use to us in eternity. What is eternally valuable for us is how much we have partaken of the nature of Jesus. This is the greatest promise for us in the new covenant (Rom.8:29).

How sad to fritter away our time and energy by pursuing after money and its pleasures while we are storing up nothing in heaven by serving God, His kingdom and His people! Let’s keep to the bottom line – we cannot serve God and wealth at the same time (Matt.6:24). It is better to believe this than to discover it too late!

At the same time, we are not saying that there is virtue in poverty. That is another extreme position some Christians take. Poverty means that we do not have enough to meet our needs and that we are constantly at the mercy of other people. This is a cursed situation because God’s promise is that if we seek Him first, He will give us all that we need. God does not want us to remain in poverty. Whether we were born poor or we became poor because of our folly or anyone else’s fault, God’s promise is to provide for our needs once we begin to seek Him. We may have heard sermons that tell us that God has only promised to meet our needs and not our greed, which is true. But we do not have to remain poor. We may need to temporarily ‘tighten our belts’ and learn to manage whatever money we have, and we also need to learn to work hard to earn more and to be able to save for the future.

Jesus said that sometimes the people of this world were smarter in handling their affairs than God’s children. Some of God’s children wrongly imagine that God would just give them money in some miraculous way and so do not work hard to earn it. If they are in debt they just pray and hope for a miracle. It is good to pray, but we must not palm off our own responsibility to God! Another thing people do is to give some ‘seed money’ to some preacher, thinking that God would give them back a hundredfold! It is these preachers who are getting rich at the expense of these poor believers, and they do not seem to have any heart for their brothers whom they are bleeding to deeper poverty! Just praying or making ‘positive confessions’ cannot substitute for hard work.

If we are in debt we need to cut down whatever expenditure we can afford to avoid and start paying back even in small instalments. There are things that are not absolutely necessary for us to have especially when we are in such difficulty that we need not buy, and there are other things for which we can buy less expensive brands. We need not try to keep up a good impression before the others, because that way we may end up making ourselves a spectacle before the others! We need to avoid buying things on credit because usually the final expenditure including the interest will be more than double the actual cost, and in the end we might find ourselves more in debt than before.

Some Christians think that if they saved any money, it would be like having no faith. But having faith does not mean avoiding doing what we have to do from our side. We trust in God to give us wisdom and strength and cause all things to work for our good, and then we do our part. The foolish thing is to sit quietly and expect God to do even our part!

A large part of our spiritual growth comes from learning from our mistakes. If we have made mistakes in the past, as all of us have, it does not mean that we have to keep doing the same things. We can make changes when God shows us what went wrong and make sure that every time we do things more wisely. God does bless and take care of those who seek His kingdom and righteousness first in their lives by providing for them all that they need. When we have what we need, we can be content, and when we have more than what we need, we can then help others who are in greater need. But the seeking for prosperity will end with our losing God in our life too.

Go to Chapter 29. The Christian and demons.

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