Earlier, I laid the foundation for how I studied personal finance in the Bible. I gave you a light introduction to what I call God's Provident Plan and promised we'd look at each aspect in more depth. This is the third part of a series in which I'll share what I've discovered about personal finance in the Bible. Previously, we've talked about the importance of contentment in Christ and God's call for diligent work and good stewardship. Today, we'll look at what the Bible says about prosperity.
As we follow God’s teaching on contentment, diligent work, and good stewardship, He will bless and prosper us. When we think about prosperity our focus needs to be on having God’s view of prosperity and its purpose. Prosperity can come in many other ways than just material blessings, and God wants us to use our prosperity to honor Him – not make ourselves more comfortable. When God prospers us, it’s so we can further glorify Him as we give more and more to those in need.
God prospers us to meet our material needs. Jesus promised that God knows what we need and will provide for us but we should focus on seeking His kingdom first.
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NIV)
Note that Jesus said our Father knows that we need food, drink, and clothing. He didn’t say that our Father knows we need bigger houses, faster cars, name-brand clothes, and more gadgets. Our Father knows our needs and He will meet those needs as we seek His kingdom and righteousness first.
But God also prospers us to meet our spiritual needs. The abundance that God blesses us with can be used to meet the needs of others. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul asks the Corinthian church to complete their desire to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering from a famine. He provides wonderful counsel for the Christians in Corinth about God’s ability to bless them so they can be a blessing.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:8,10-11 (NIV)
God is able to prosper us so that we can be generous at every opportunity we find. It is up to us to use that opportunity to honor Him instead of following the worldly path of honoring ourselves. This is one of the main problems with the so-called “prosperity gospel”. Even though the “prosperity gospel” is false, there are small nuggets of truth in it that get warped into something ungodly. God desires to bless us so He can meet our needs – both physical and spiritual. But wealthy Christians are called not to merely go through life enjoying the wealth God has blessed them with but to use that wealth to honor God and help others.
When God makes Christians rich, it isn’t for our own benefit only – it’s so we can glorify His name by being obedient to our confession of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our response to that Good News should be unending thankfulness and amazing generosity – not a desire to spend lavishly and extravagantly on ourselves.
We must understand why the teachings of the “prosperity gospel” are false. We do not give to get and we cannot buy God’s blessings. That kind of giving is motivated by greed, but the kind of giving God desires is motivated by love. God is not our personal ATM. We can’t just name what blessings we want and expect to get them. James warns against this in James 4:3:
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3 (NIV)
We are to pray as Jesus did – not my will, but Yours be done. We must understand that it is not God’s will to make all Christians rich. Our daily bread doesn’t mean give us fancy cars and bigger houses – it means just enough. Contentment in Christ doesn’t require abundant possessions – we can be happy with just food and clothing. We should not expect to be rich and have easy lives as we follow Christ. In fact, Jesus warned us that life will be difficult and trying. He told His disciples:
2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.
33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:2-3, 33 (NIV)
And finally, we must understand that poverty does not simply come from a lack of faith or disobedience. Jesus blessed the poor and taught us to honor them – not revile them. He cursed the rich and warned them of the dangers they face because of their wealth. Many of the most faithful Christians have been poor and destitute – Jesus’ disciples did not become rich and powerful by the world’s standards. These are all reasons why we must have a Biblical understanding of prosperity – so we can guard against false teaching and refute it.
Be sure to check in next week when we'll look at what the Bible says about giving and wrap up this series!