Read previous coffee chats under the “discussion” category or click here.
Thank you to all my readers who have given me so much inspiration and insight with your comments. I love hearing from you! We had an awesome discussion at our last coffee chat on taking a break from technology. If you missed the dialogue, it’s never to late to check it out and leave a comment. You can read it here.
I have been mulling over the concept of the “propserity” or “health and wealth” gospel for several months. Lord willing, I will write a series on the subject in the near future, but the posts are still marinating. In the mean time, I’d like to have a little chat with you on this topic. So grab your pumpkin spice latte, black coffee, green tea or whatever you fancy and join me in a little discussion.
Side one: Goodness = Health & Wealth?
Have you ever read books or attended seminars by prominently polished people passionately promoting the idea that righteousness will lead to riches? The idea is that Christians can be wealthy and prosperous if they just work hard, persevere and live “right” (this is loosely defined). It is implied that if we are faithful to God and diligent with our resources, He will not only provide our needs, but endow us with great prosperity. After all, look at Job, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon and Daniel. They were diligent folks. They succeeded at everything they did! They prospered!
The individuals who promote this idea say, “Look at me! I’m successful, I’m wealthy, I’ve worked hard and made it! You can too! Oh, and, uh, God blessed me because I’m so awesomely diligent and righteous.” Certainly, diligence deserves reward. Proverbs promotes this idea:
A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
~ Proverbs 10:4, ESV
Psalm 1 speaks of the righteous man who “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)
The beauty of living in the U.S. is knowing that perseverance often pays off. The elusive American Dream is to transform humble beginnings into great prosperity, with a little creativity and a good deal of sweat.
The burning question that I have is this: if we are hard-working, righteous, God-fearing people, are we entitled to earthly health and wealth? Does one follow hard upon the other? This is one of the big issues in the book of Job; his friends had a devil of a time with this concept. Job argued that evil people often prosper, so integrity alone does not secure riches. (Job 21)
Side 2: Goodness = poverty?
When Jesus came to earth, he lived a flawless life. He said the right words at the right time, showed abundant compassion, taught thousands of people, met with both the exalted and the lowly, and yet he had “no place to lay his head.” He was not wealthy—it would have detracted from His purpose. He did not descend to earth in order to establish a utopian kingdom of sensual pleasure and comfort; He came to demonstrate how to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. The kingdom of Jesus was to be a transcendent one: a collective of people who sought to reflect the Lord they loved in the lives they lived.
The apostles who carried the gospel into the world after His ascension lived impoverished lives. They didn’t sleep in soft beds or hobnob with Caesar and the Senators at prayer breakfasts. In the Bible, we read about them sleeping on stone prison floors shackled to Roman Soldiers. If they met rulers, they were not seated in a place of honor at the table. It was quite the opposite. Their missionary travel was done by foot power or wind power—they did not get carried on litters by servants or transported by chariot.
[I want to pause for a moment and note that the above juxtaposition is not a criticism of all prominent Christian writers or leaders. They have been put in their various places for a purpose and many of them have had a profound impact on thousands of lives. We should be thankful that good people are in positions of influence. My prayer is that they will use their position for the Lord’s purpose and not their own glory.]
Some of the early Christians were wealthy, some were not. Some were spared crucifixion/torture/consumption by lions; others were not. Were those spared more righteous than those killed? Were the wealthy more righteous than the poor?
Does one have to live in harsh circumstances to be right before God?
Here is my take on the whole matter:
Our justification from God (i.e. righteousness) does not entitle us to a cushy life. Those of us who are wealthy and successful need to be good stewards of what God has given us to further his purpose. Those of us who are barely scraping by—in spite of hard work, diligence etcetera—need to continue to share with others and give thanks for what we do have.
The apostle Paul said it best:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:11-13, ESV
Paul had “learned the secret”: Whether rich or poor, full or hungry, He could be content through Christ who strengthened Him.
We are here to glorify the Lord in our lives, no matter what our circumstance.
If we are granted abundant earthly blessings in this life, we need to learn contentment and gratitude. We are to recognize that they are temporary gifts that we can enjoy and need to share with others. Our position is a tool that God wants to use for His good purpose. Are we allowing our blessings to be tools or are we slaves to our stuff?
If we are not granted riches, we need to learn contentment and gratitude. We need to recognize what the Lord has given us—even if it is the bare minimum—and be an example of joy and peace. Our position is a tool that God wants to use for His good purpose. Are we a vehicle for demonstrating a godly life or are we lusting after what we don’t have?
This subject is a point of confusion for many Christians. There are many who view “riches” as a result of righteousness, while others see them as a curse and think we need to engage in self-inflicted poverty or communal living.
What do you think?
Leave a comment below!