Theologian Speaks: Article 4 of IVN’s Exclusive 6 Week Series
Upland CA– Maybe it’s my imagination, but as I tune in to religious television in recent months, there seems to be an increase in “specialist” preaching now-a-days. More and more television preachers seem to be teaching people how to use the principles in God’s word to accomplish all sorts of stuff in life; to heal themselves of sickness; to improve themselves personally in daily life; to have a successful marriage; to pick out that “perfect” soul-mate; to become rich in today’s economy; and, on and on and on. I’m not knocking what they do. I’m sure they are sincere. God bless them! I pray they are all helping people who need help. I’m just saying; that seems to be the trend within the preaching community today. But I do want to address one claim I frequently hear from a few of the prosperity specialists, that God wants all of his people to be rich in a material sense.
To prove the point, they often quote Jesus from John 10: 10, where he says that he came so that man “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” This does seem to support the claim, except for one thing. The word “life” in the verse is translated from the Greek word “zoe” which, according the Lexical Aids to the New Testament, literally means, and I quote, “the principle of life in the spirit and soul. Distinguished from ‘bios’, physical life, livelihood.” So the life Jesus refers to in this verse is spiritual and not physical life. It seems pretty clear to me from this verse that Jesus came so that all of us might have “spiritual” life in abundance. Seeing this verse in this way eliminates it as evidence that God wants all of us to be rich materially. On the other side of the coin, it also cannot be used to prove that material prosperity is not God’s will for his children. So, where does he stand on this issue? Follow along as we consult the scriptures.
Consider the case of Saul of Tarsus. He was a highly educated, well positioned and respected Pharisee within the Jewish community and a successful business man who, under the authority of the high priest of Jerusalem, moonlighted as a pursuer and persecutor of the hated Christians of his day. In his capacity as Saul of Tarsus, it seems his endeavors made him a wealthy man, based on his words as Paul the apostle recorded in Philippians 3: 7. In that verse, he relegated his “gain”, meaning lucre or money, to a second-class position and elevated Christ as his number one priority in life. Jesus made no move to strip him of his wealth. Why? Because he had his priorities in order. Christ was first, and all other things were a distant second (Philippians 3: 8).
On the other hand, look at the situation described in Matthew 19: 16-22, where a young man asked Jesus, “Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” From this one question, Jesus knew two things about this man: he did not recognize who Jesus was; and, he believed eternal life was possible through “doing” something. Jesus gave him the answer he wanted to hear, “keep the commandments.” Now the man had a second question, “which?” In other words, which commandments are you referring to, Jesus? Jesus’s answer was the five commandments which focus on relationships among men. At this point, the guy was feeling pretty confident, as he replied that he always kept those commandments. But just to be sure all the bases were covered, he had one more question, “what lack I yet?” By this question Jesus suspected that the man still had some doubts, so Jesus lowered the boom by suggesting that he sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and follow him. Jesus’s suggestions were a source of distress for him, because he was rich and he was unwilling to part with any of his possessions. So, the text says he made no reply and walked away sorrowful. Unlike Paul, this man had his priorities upside down. He allowed his wealth to be a barrier between him and a relationship with God, which is the focus of the remaining five commandments he failed to address in his dialogue with Jesus. In cases such as this one, God would prefer that the individual in question not be burdened with wealth. It can potentially be a disadvantage and a distraction in one’s effort to inherit eternal life. So the question remains: what is God’s attitude on the question of material wealth among his people?
Based on these two biblical examples, I think it’s safe to conclude that the circumstances of any given situation impact how God may react to material riches among his people. As long as he is at the top of your priority list, he has no problem with the size of your bank account. You can make it as big as you morally and legally can make it. But, don’t let it take over and be your total life focus. Then you’ve move into the realm of idolatry, and that God will not tolerate. The Israelites of the Old Testament found that out. Learn from their story. Keep God priority one!
Love, Peace and Blessings, until we talk again.