Poverty vs. Prosperity Gospel (Part 2)
Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion. (Prv. 30:8)
This is the second of a three-part message related to the last few posts regarding issues raised by the Grassley Investigation. As I have been indicating in some previous messages, in many Kingdom-related matters, the difference between truth and error is extremes. Those extremes can be at either end of the spectrum. Satan is a master at taking truth and misapplying it or taking it to extremes and thereby transforming truth into error. We see that in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness after being baptized in the Spirit when the Holy Spirit rested upon Him in the form of a dove. Immediately thereafter, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mat. 3,4). Each of the three temptations Satan tempted Jesus with were perversions of Truth. In each of them, the devil quoted Scripture, but his application of the Scriptures were an extremism. In each case, Jesus responded with other Scripture that countervailed the Scripture Satan quoted and misapplied.
The Word of God says, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD; but a just weight is His delight” (Prv. 11:1). The Bible is full of countervailing concepts and paradoxes. Critics and cynics, atheists and agnostics, often seize upon these seemingly contradictory or antithetical statements, principles, and axioms in their attempt to refute and discredit Scripture. But, that is as much folly as are the thoughts of the agnostic or atheist who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Truth is always found between opposing extremes. It’s the extremes that are an abomination to God. From the beginning of time, humans have taken truth and twisted, distorted, and perverted it to make it say whatever they need it to say as support and justification for their evil desires and deeds. There is nothing new about that.
Such is the case with the real truth regarding the matter of prosperity and success versus whatever is the diametric opposite of that, which I suppose is poverty and failure. The real truth, that is, the truth in the mind of God, lies somewhere between these opposing messages.
In regard to the matter of God’s provision for believers in particular, we must be careful not to swerve too far to either side so as to fall into a spiritual ditch of error. We must not “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” There are a great number of passages of Scripture telling us how much God indeed does want us to “prosper and be in (good) health even as our soul prospers” (3 Jn. 2). But, the last part of that Scripture is the weightier and balancing part. Prosperity, success, and divine healing and health taken out of context of the rest of Scripture that speaks of seemingly antithetical and counterbalancing matters can become an abomination to God because that is precisely what God calls “a false balance.”
What I see is that there is two sides of this coin regarding this matter of God’s provision for us. In this and the next post, my intent is to bring a balanced message regarding this matter, and show both sides of the same coin, because there is indeed two sides to every coin, as the old saying goes.
The Parable of the Sower (see, Mark 4:1-20), according to what Jesus Himself said about it, could be aptly called “The Paramount Parable.” When His disciples asked Him to explain it to them, He seemed to respond, as He did on several other occasions, with frustration at their spiritual dullness, saying, “Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all parables?” Jesus also indicated that this parable contained the key to understanding the “Mystery of the Kingdom.” That is the title of a book I wrote and published in 1984 in which I explained what the Lord showed me concerning the meaning of this Paramount Parable and the “secrets” it unveils of how to bear Kingdom Fruit as well as “hidden” principles of how the Kingdom of God operates here on Earth.
(Click here, for more about the “Mystery of the Kingdom” book.)
In a nutshell, Jesus taught through this remarkable parable that there are four types of hearers of the Word of God, and each of them chooses his/her “quality of life” on the earth as well as his/her eternal destiny and even destination by which kind of hearer they elect to be. Each category of hearer heard the Word, but only one of the four bears forth Kingdom Fruit in their lives. The other three did not bear forth Kingdom Fruit because of something they failed to do in the process of gaining and maintaining rightstanding (relationship) with God.
The third category of hearer are “those with thorns” in their lives. They heard the word, Jesus explained, but they failed to remove the “thorns of worldliness” from their lives, which grew up along with the Word and eventually choked it out, and therefore they were “unfruitful” or barren.
The second “thorn of worldliness” which Jesus said would choke the Word of God and prevent it from bearing fruit in the life of its hearers is “the deceitfulness of riches.” Of paramount importance, however, as we discuss this matter, is the fact that He did not say riches themselves were a thorn that would choke the Word of God and prevent it from bearing fruit, but rather “the DECEITFULNESS of riches.” Indeed, before we delve into the deceitful characteristic of riches and how it will choke the Word, it is somewhat vital that we lay to rest a fairly common misconception among uninformed or misinformed religious people. The essence of this rather widespread myth is that God is somehow opposed to the idea of Christians having money, at least in any significant amount, that God does not want believers to prosper, and that somehow to be truly spiritual one must be poor or at least only barely have his needs met.
We hear of the requirement of ministers in some denominations to take “a vow of poverty.” Moreover, the preaching of some ostensibly pious people makes it sound as if God wants to take everyone’s money away from them, leaving them poor and destitute. As a result, some people, ignorant of what the Word of God really says regarding the matter of money and other practical matters, have been led to believe that in order to become a Christian they would have to sell their possessions and give all their money away to the poor. Erroneous teaching based on half truths has caused multitudes of sincere Christians to believe God wanted them to live in near abject poverty, and to fear ever having any money, “because, you know, money is the root of all evil.”
Well, nothing could be further from the Truth. First of all, the Bible does not say money is the root of all evil. It says, “the LOVE OF MONEY is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). God is by no means opposed to Christians having money, but He is totally opposed to covetousness. To put it another way, God is not opposed to believers possessing possessions, but He is entirely opposed to possessions possessing believers. The love of money and the pursuit of riches will prevent a person from loving and serving God, for:
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Lk. 16:13)
The Word of God is full of passages telling us just how much God desires for His children to prosper. In 3 John 2, He says, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper, and be in health even as thy soul prospers” (KJV). What an amazing statement this is! Think on that for a moment and allow it to sink in. God is saying that above everything else He desires for us, and the Bible is replete with all the wonderful things He desires for us and our well being, above all those things God wishes that we prosper financially.
Now the surpassing wisdom of God is demonstrated in this statement, which is that it is absolutely essential that we prosper financially in order to prosper physically in our body (i.e., health wise) and spiritually in our soul (i.e., psychologically and emotionally). In other words, to be able to truly prosper in all the other aspects of our lives — spiritual, psychological, emotional, and social — it is imperative that we prosper financially. I do not mean we all must be wealthy to live happily, but what is inherent in this morsel of Divine Truth is the unequivocal fact that financial prosperity is a requisite for real happiness. Continuous financial lack is a severely oppressing force that absolutely precludes us from living full, fulfilled, and truly happy lives, not only because of the lack of “things” that without question do make life more pleasant, but also because of the lack of capacity to do the things, such as helping others who are in need, which bring us pleasure.
The inexorable oppression of never ending poverty has no rival, and to many is unbearable. Long term, enduring financial lack in the case of untold multitudes has led to extreme physiological, psychological, and emotional problems, as well as ultimately to premature death either by means of physical disorders or, in the case of those whose pain was overwhelming, even suicide. God knows all this concerning the importance of financial wellness to our overall well being, so it is His desire that we prosper financially, incredibly, “above all things.”
Psalm 35:27 tells us to “CONTINUALLY” say, “The Lord be magnified, who DELIGHTS IN THE PROSPERITY OF HIS SERVANT,” which is a far cry from what some people continually say. The truth is that God takes great delight in the prosperity of those who truly are His servants. When believers prosper through serving the Lord, God is glorified.
Another enlightening scripture says, “The Lord delighted over you to prosper you” (Deut. 28:63). Moreover, in this same chapter God repeatedly indicates that poverty is a part of the curse of disobedience, and that prosperity, not poverty, is a part of the blessings of obedience, which stands in stark contrast to the postulations of some pseudo spiritual people who preach just the opposite — that prosperity is a curse and poverty is a blessing. Poverty is in no way a “blessing,” as anyone who has suffered it can tell you, if they are honest about it and don’t come up with some super-pseudo spiritual hogwash about how it “helped their faith” or something. According to the Word of God (and His Word is far more trustworthy than that of people like that), faith does not come by poverty, it comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Anything to the contrary is poppycock. Poverty, when a person gets tired enough of it, may motivate him to do a little more hearing of the Word, which in turn will produce more faith, but poverty itself is not going to help, increase, or activate your faith one iota; never has, never will. Rather, unabated poverty will ultimately produce precisely the opposite of faith.
God says if we will obey His voice and commandments, He will elevate us “above all the nations of the earth. And all these BLESSINGS shall come upon you and overtake you…the Lord will make you abound in PROSPERITY” (Deut. 28:11). Again, we see here that prosperity is a blessing of obedience to God.
In the infamous case of Job, he started out very rich, and after a period of reproof from God with respect to his blatant fear and lack of faith and trust in God, God made Him even richer, twice as rich as a matter of fact. Careful and unbiased study of his story will prove that contrary to his now infamous exclamation, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” it was not God who took away all his possessions and children, but rather Satan, who was able to do so because fear of loss had pervaded his life and eroded the protective hedge of faith in God (read Job 2). In retrospect, Job admitted, “For the thing which I greatly FEARED is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.”
But, after being reproved by God through a face to face encounter with His Majesty Himself, a chastened Job exulted, “I know thou canst do all things…I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” The result was that “the Lord restored the fortunes of Job…twofold.”
We can see from the story of Job that God is not in the business of chastening those who are serving Him by stripping them of their possessions and relegating them to poverty, as some people ignorantly allege. Rather, as Elihu, the only one of Job’s counselors to speak truth to Job, declared, “If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity” (Job 36:11).
Psalm 37:11 says, “The humble (obedient) will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” And, verse nineteen essentially promises that even in famine conditions and economic chaos, the righteous “will have an abundance”(italics added by author).
The bottom-line is that God does not want His children to be in want of anything that is a legitimate need. One passage so much as says that: “O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him, there is no want…they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing” (Ps. 34:9,10). Another favorite passage tells us because the Lord is our Shepherd, we “shall not want” (Ps. 23:1).
What kind of a father would take pleasure in seeing his children in constant want and need, especially of the essentials of life? Certainly our Heavenly Father does not want us to be in want. Jesus revealed the attitude of our Heavenly Father: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give what is good to those who ask Him” (Mat. 7:11).
The Apostle Paul succinctly summed up the whole matter in this one passage: “And my God shall supply ALL your NEEDS according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Plp. 4:19). God promises in this verse to provide ALL of our needs, not necessarily our greeds, but all our needs, and in so doing will not limit Himself to our puny Earthly resources, but will draw from His own limitless wealth of riches in glory. Wow! What a promise!
In the next post I will show the other sides of the same coin, for we need both sides of the coin, with neither side being defaced, for it to be legitimate tender, allegorically speaking, that is, Truth!