The Consequence of Prosperity

Money and financial rewards and material possessions are simply not worthy of our love; they are beneath such high esteem and devotion.

So there was this man named Job. According to the story, he was blameless and upright, feared God and did whatever he could to resist evil. He was a seriously good guy in the eyes of God. And he was rich. Really rich. He had it all—the big family and even bigger business. With 7,000 sheep to his name, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys and a whole load of servants, it’s hardly surprising that he was also known as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).

For those of us surrounded by the treats of wealth, it is tempting to consider that Job’s greatness of character and greatness of bank balance were in some way linked. His wealth can easily sound like the reason for his greatness, rather than a consequence of it. After all, isn’t that precisely the way we handle things around here? Those of us who have the potential to increase our earnings will find ourselves raking in the money and the power and the influence. We’ll work our way to greatness, given the right start and circumstances. I wonder how Job’s story would sound to us if we had nothing; I wonder if we’d be impressed if we came from a different background. Here in the affluent West we rate material wealth highly, yet in the Church we know that this isn’t quite right. Whether it’s our faith or our conscience or our understanding of global economics, we know that our possessions do not define us or underpin our self-worth, that our Visa card is not the provider of anything but perhaps a fleeting high. We know that … don’t we? The truth is that we struggle. We struggle to break free of the influence of money and possessions and all the stuff that twinkles and glitters and tells us to grab it, all the stuff that convinces us that we have to have it right now.

It’s important that we recognize God as the ultimate Owner of all things and break out of the myopic mindset that allows us to focus solely on our own needs, wants or obsessions. Sounds pretty simple to me. But not according to some. For those who subscribe to the prosperity gospel, the Bible gives clear evidence of God’s plan to make those He loves truly rich. Like all lies, there’s a hint of truth in it, and precedent has paved the way with the likes of biblical heroes such as Abraham, Joseph and David—great men of God who also found themselves on the receiving end of a swollen bank balance. But if we think their story ends there, we deceive ourselves. If we roll over and give in to the theory that God will reward our faith with financial bounty, we become just another set of narrow-minded, self-obsessed believers. We see relationship with God as the path along which we must travel toward the prize of material reward—not the reward itself.

Even though I belong to a part of the Church that flinches from telling believers that they’ll get rich just as long as they believe enough, I know we have plenty of our own issues to deal with. Whatever side of the material fence we sit on, it seems to me that the Church ought to spend far more time honing a broader outlook on such issues. We need to wake up to the fact that the consequences of our financial policies are spiritual issues, ones that are part of our faith. So when we see rising levels of personal debt and an increasing gulf between rich and poor, we as the people of God ought to be engaging in the debate and offering solutions that say more than “if you ask, then you will receive.” If we ask, then we do receive—but do we necessarily receive what we ask for? The reality is that throughout the Bible, money is never portrayed solely as a gift in isolation.

It is a responsibility, a tool to help carry out even greater work for God. But it never gets top billing as a freebie that comes without responsibility. What’s more, the lack of money is a great concern to Him. Those who have plenty of it can be tempted into believing that what the Bible calls poverty is not merely about financial restrictions or a lack of ready cash. We can delude ourselves by saying that people can be poor in all sorts of ways: having poor health, poor relationships or poor prospects. True enough, but the Bible refuses to let us get away with absolving ourselves of responsibility for the impact that our lives have on others.

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In Hebrew, the Old Testament uses a few words for the poor: anaw, ani, dal, ebyon, and ras. Between them, they define some fairly specific circumstances, like someone who is wrongfully impoverished or dispossessed; a beggar imploring charity; or a thin, weak, deprived peasant. By the time we get to the New Testament, the main word used for the poor is ptochos, meaning someone who is completely destitute and must take help from others. Ptochos is the Greek equivalent of ani or dal, which allows us to say that the main definition of the poor throughout Scripture relates to being of low economic status, usually due to some form of disaster or oppression. So if not having money is a concern to God, doesn’t logic dictate that those under His care should have it in abundance? Unfortunately, His plans are a tad more radical than this idea of rich Christians and poor heathens.

When we look at biblical figures who were financially prosperous, we see men and women of God who were used because of their heart rather than their pocket. They were faithful servants whose wealth was transitory, incidental or irrelevant to the bigger story. Money can only ever be a bit player in a greater feature, as it was with Esther. Her tremendous wealth was a signifier of influence—something that came with the job—but the real jewel was her boldness in trying to save her people. Joseph and Daniel were elevated to positions of power and influence, but this in itself did not serve as the real reward. Their power was the gate for opportunity, not simply luxury. As Paul clearly states in 1 Timothy, it is the love of money that causes such harm. Money and financial rewards and material possessions are simply not worthy of our love; they are beneath such high esteem and devotion. We cannot allow ourselves to give our hearts, our passions, our energy, and our ideals to the pursuit of money. For beings who were created for friendship with God, our small worlds of cash and consumerism are a pale replacement of the glory of God’s gravity.

This story was adapted from the book God’s Gravity (RELEVANT Books).

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