Monday, January 31, 2011

The Poverty of Prosperity

This week I am going to spend a good deal of time talking about prosperity.  I have in the past posted on this subject, but this week I want to be more comprehensive in what the Bible says regarding prosperity and the problems with believing that God promises wealth to those who believe in Jesus.  I think I have well covered how the Bible makes no such promise for Christians to be wealthy, and this week I want to address the problems that can come out of a prosperity-driven Gospel.  Today I want to talk about the problem of growing to trust in your riches instead of the Lord. I will use a popular parable to make the case.
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully." Luke 12:16 NKJV
The parable begins with Jesus establishing that God gave this already rich man even more riches.  He already had money and now his fields have yielded a great crop.
"And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' " Luke 12:17 NKJV
He asked the right question, unfortunately he asked the wrong person.  He asked himself "Self, whatever shall I do with this great abundance that I have?"  What he should has done is asked God.  He should have said "God, you have blessed me with great abundance, whatever shall you have me do with it?"  Unfortunately, too many blessed of God spend more time asking as this man asked instead of asking God.  This is even true for those in Christ who are blessed with riches.  The reason why is a problem of that doctrine.  If you sit under a teacher who teaches that you are supposed to be prosperous and God gives you prosperity, you will feel that you somehow deserve the riches you have.  Those people make themselves feel better by giving "generously", but they fail to realize that it is not a matter of how much they give but in how much they hold back.  I remind you all of the widow's two mites who was said by Jesus to have given more than all of those rich people who gave out of their abundance.  In the end, the amount we hold back shows just how much faith in God we really have.  We will see that played out in this parable. 
"So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods." Luke 12:18 NKJV
When you ask your self what you should do with your riches, odds are your self will tell you to satisfy yourself.  This man decided to hoard the riches God has blessed him with. 
'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."'  Luke 12:19 NKJV
When you have stored riches, you will begin to rely on those riches over God.  This man had no care or concern for what God might or might not do as his trust was in his riches.  This is the case of any rich man who holds hoards his riches.  As I said before, our measure of faith is in how much we keep back for ourselves.  If we truly have faith in God, why do we need a large bank account?  If we truly trust God then why do we keep back more than we can conceivably need instead of giving all or most of it away for those less fortunate?  They can deny it all they want, but the rich man trusts in his riches.  The evidence is in the fact that he is rich because if you are rich it means you have stored wealth.  If you have stored wealth, it means you have held back in giving all of your excess to those less fortunate.
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'  Luke 12:20 NKJV
Riches can not buy your salvation.  I know the Christian prosperity believer does not believe he purchased his salvation, but that his prosperity is the result of his salvation.  For that person, I would say that your riches can not buy you fruit.  When us Christians stand before Christ to give an account for what we have done with our life, we will not be judged by how much wealth we have accumulated but what we have done with the wealth (or lack thereof) God has given us.  If God provides you wealth and prosperity, that is provided for use in His service to produce fruit unto Him.  It is not an investment in your enjoying the pleasure of life. When we stand before Christ, all He wants to see is the eternal fruit we have produced with what He has given us and not the earthly mammon we have obtained. 
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."   Luke 12:21 NKJV
Laying up treasures for yourself does not make you rich towards God.  Being rich towards God is the eternal fruit we produce in the lives of others, not in the wealth we have hoarded for ourselves.  Jesus makes this even more clear in Revelation.
"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. " Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV
The person Jesus is describing in Revelation sounds much like the man in the parable here.  The person Jesus is talking to is also Christian.  Christians, who hoard their wealth, are just like the man in the parable Jesus talked about.  May we not be that man.  When we are rich, we feel in need of nothing, when we feel as though we are in need of nothing, we learn to trust in what we have and not in the One who provided it.  Wealth is not good for a Christian as wealth becomes what a Christian trusts in.  Jesus, after sharing this parable, really brings this point home.
Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? " Luke 12:22-28 NKJV
Note the "therefore."  What Jesus is about to say is the lesson behind the parable he just shared.  This is not a new thought, but a continuation of what he shared about the foolish rich man.  The lesson we take from this parable is that we should not even worry about our life or our material needs.  That is God's job.  He uses the examples of ravens who neither grow food nor build big storehouses to store their food yet they do not go hungry.  He uses the example of lilies who do absolutely nothing to clothe themselves but just grow according to God's plan and have become a picture of beauty, even to this day.  We are more valuable than plants or birds and so just as God takes care of their needs, He will take care of ours.  This is not the say that He will make us wealthy (note the example of ravens who do not store food), but He will take care of our needs.  We need not strive for wealth to take care of us, only God who will provide for us.
"And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things." Luke 12:29-30 NKJV
We are not to seek after material wealth.  God knows what we need and God will provide those things. Seeking after wealth or even hoping for wealth is not seeking God.  If God is our provider, it only makes sense that we should seek after Him. 
"But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you." Luke 12:31 NKJV
And there we have it.  Seeking after wealth is not seeking after God.  Desiring wealth is not desiring God.  We need to only seek after God and not even worry about the rest as God will provide it. 
"Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32 NKJV
And here is why wealth does not matter in this life.  We are heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Many want that kingdom now, but that is like the Prodigal son asking for his inheritance before its time.  Giving us our inheritance now only allows us to go off on our own and forget our reliance on God.  Giving us our inheritance now only allows us to squander that inheritance on our own pleasures.  The kingdom is our inheritance and that kingdom is eternal.  Some would argue that being heirs we are to be rich now, but it is clear from this parable and many other parables that this world now is not the kingdom to come.
"Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:33-34 NKJV
And here is the proof that what we have now is not the inheritance to come.  We are called to give up we have and give it to the poor in exchange for eternal riches.  We are not to hoard our worldly goods, but give up those worldly goods for the sake of those less fortunate and in return we get treasure in heaven.  More than that, if our treasure is in heaven that is where our heart will be.  Conversely, if we hoard our treasure here on earth in this life, that is where our heart will be. 

The first problem with prosperity, as I hope we have seen today, is that we grow to trust in that prosperity.  Jesus gave us many warnings of this fact throughout what is recorded of His teachings.  We are warned that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle.  We are warned that we can not serve God and money.  We are told to sell what we have and give it to the poor (not just the rich man who approached Jesus, but even here).  We are told to give up what we have to bless those who do not have and in return we will receive treasures in heaven.  That is the work produced by our faith that God will provide for us.  That is the proof that you faith is in God alone for your provision.  If you fear letting go of anything you have, then what faith can you say you have of God to make sure you have enough to get by?  If you have more than one car for yourself and you know someone who needs a car, do you have faith enough in God to allow that one car to provide for you or will you hold onto the second?  If you have millions of dollars, how much do you need to hold back to have faith that God can use that to take care of your needs?  If you have more than one home, how much faith do you have in God to keep you secure in that one home to let go of the second?  I would love to see those so-called prosperity teachers truly live for Christ and give up those billion dollar churches and build a million churches in places where there is need.  I would love for those who have several private jets give them up and give that money back to the struggling flock they have been fleecing.  I would love for any of us who have so much extra to give that extra to those who have none and have faith in God to provide for us through what we have.  Again, the more extra you think you need shows what little faith you have in God to continue to provide for you. 

God wants us to rely upon Him.  Giving us the means to rely on ourselves is not in His character and will only serve to hurt our relationship and reliance upon Him.  Some like to say we are King's kids and in a way we are.  But we must remember that God is a perfect Father and knows it is in His child's best interest to not spoil him.  The best place to be is to always be relying on the one thing that will never let us down.  We must rely on God and our only desire should be to rely on Him alone. 
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. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NKJV

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