By Wilson Adams
In Matthew 19:23 Jesus discusses the perils of prosperity by saying, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” I’ve never really had trouble with that verse because I’ve always laid its application on the backs of the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Malcomb Forbes of society – you know, the Fortune 500 guys, the real money people. I’m not sure anymore. The more I think about it the more I am convinced that Jesus was essentially talking to me – and you (if you maintain the average middle-class American lifestyle). By the world’s standard of measurement we give a new definition to the concept of prosperity. We make more money in a week than much of the world makes in a year. We have homes, and cars, and the latest gadgets of our modem technological age. And what we can’t pay for we “charge” to a standard of living that is exceedingly expensive. Ali of this makes me take a fresh look at the Master’s warning. Maybe you should, too.
The Bible has much to say about money matters because in God’s eyes money matters. How am I to view my prosperity? Should I pray for financial success? What about the wealthy wicked? Does the providential promise of Romans 8:28 include my monetary pursuits? – all are probing questions and real questions that constantly confront the Christian.
Prayer and Prosperity
God answers prayer. I believe that, preach it and have seen it happen. The question is: What should we pray for? It should be obvious that if we are told to pray for something then surely God will be involved in that area of our interest. Scripture teaches us that we should pray for our spiritual needs, our health (2 Jn. 2), our safety (Rom. 1:9-10), the necessities of life (Matt. 6:11) and our national leaders (1 Tim. 2:2) – to name only a few. But should I pray for God’s blessings in the area of my business or financial prosperity? Well, I do and I think you should, too. (I once heard a preacher say that if you are involved in an area of activity that you cannot pray about, then you had better quit it. Now that’s a point worth pondering!)
Here is the passage: James 4:13-15. It says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. ” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow… Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”
“This” or “that” what? He is talking about buying and selling and receiving financial profit. And just what is the point of the passage? Rather than say, “I’m going to do this. . . ” or “I’m going to accomplish that . . .” – we must recognize that God is involved in our business activities and that it is not all our own doing. “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (v. 16).
What about you? When you make business plans and monetary goals do you strike out on your own or do you ask for God’s blessing and will to be accomplished? And when you have prospered and fared well financially, do you take the credit or do you take your thanksgiving to the Throne? It’s a potent passage.
I’m a firm believer that we should pray for the Lord to make us successful in all that we do. (Nehemiah understood the point when he prayed, “O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant . . . and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man” [1: 11]. Nehemiah knew he could not have success in his rebuilding plans without the approval of the Persian potentate. Thus, he prayed for God to give him success as he presented his request before the King.) So it is with us. If I am going to find success with my family and the raising of my children in a wicked world, then I must have God’s help. If I am going to experience success in reaching and teaching the lost, I need divine aid. And, if I am going to have success in the financial market place, I need the Lord’s favor. Do you know what prayer really is? Prayer (among other things) is our asking for God’s providence (“providing”) in the areas for which we have prayed, conditioned upon His approval and will. And that brings up another question:
Will God Give Me Everything I Pray For?
Will God answer my every prayer? Yes! Will God give me everything I pray for? No! Here surfaces the problem. of the TV preacher. The TV kings of the electronic evangelistic circuit answer “yes” to both questions upon the condition that you include them in your financial future. (Doesn’t this sound like the old “Send me $10 and I’ll send you my secret on ‘How To Make A Million… scam? It sure looks suspicious to me . . . . )
A reading of passages like Psalms 5:12; 37:25; Matthew 6:25-33 and a host of others leaves one inescapable conclusion: God has promised to provide the needs of the righteous. That says three things:
1. God has promised to provide the needs of the righteous. The Bible doesn’t say, “Well, maybe God will provide . . .” It says, “Seek first His kindgom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.” And look at Romans 8:28, too. That sounds like a sure thing.
2. God has promised to provide the needs of the righteous. The wicked have no such guarantee (Isa. 59:1-2).
3. God has promised to provide the needs of the righteous. Here is where the rubber of “TV theology” meets the road of reality. Yes, God will provide our needs as he defines them. Herein is the greatest problem area in dealing with the question of the Christian and his prosperity. It’s up to God to define needs – not us! Often times we think we need what we really don’t need. For example, I take my little five year old to K-Mart and he sees the Tonka trucks and the G.I. Joe action figures and he says, “Dad, I want that! ” And, like every good father will do, I give him the daddy-can’t-give-you-everything-you-want-but-only-what-you-need little talk – and then, do you know what he says? He says, “O.K. dad, then I need that!” (You’ve been there, right?) Do you know that that is exactly what we do to the Lord? We just seem to want and/or need everything. Get the point: God will give us what we need (not always what we want) with the understanding that he defines our “needs” and not we ourselves.
And here are two other points worth our consideration: (1) My needs may not be my needs because it may not be the best for me. When I buy my kids a giant slurpee at the corner convenience store and five minutes later they want (excuse me, “need”) a snow cone from the ice-cream man, I refuse. And why? Because I know that it’s not best for them. In the same way I may pray, “Lord, I need to get this job promotion” or “I need to be more prosperous than I am” – God will answer that prayer but His answer may be “No” because He knows that greater financial prosperity may not be the best thing for me. Material prosperity is not always the best for people (1 Cor. 1:26). Some can handle it, others cannot. God knows what I need and He will provide according to his wisdom. And, (2) My needs may not be my needs because it may not be the best for others. I need to realize that God doesn’t work just for me. What I want may not be in the best interest of my family, my brother or somebody else that God cares for, too. (There is a lot to consider, here.)
What About The Wealthy Wicked?
That was the question that Asaph asked in Psalm 73. He said, “My feet came close to stumbling when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (vv. 2-3). Asaph’s faith was on thin ice. He said, “Hey, God, whose side are you on?” “Why are you blessing all these rich sinners?” God never answered his question. What He did do was to show the psalmist that while the wicked may seem to have an easier time on the road of life, the fact remains that they are going in the wrong direction I They are basking in the sunshine on the deck of the Titanic. They may have health, wealth, and worldly success but they don’t have God, and thus they don’t have anything.
When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight.
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end (73:16-17).
I may not understand why God blesses the wealthy wicked but I do understand one thing: I know that I wouldn’t want every millionaire in America to go broke – would you? (Seems like that happened once before.) It may just be that God is blessing all the rich sinners so that through them He can bless me and give me what I need to maintain a comfortable life.
What Have We Really Said?
Does God want His children to prosper financially? (I certainly couldn’t give a sweeping “no” to that question – could you?) It looks to me like one of those “Yes, but . . . maybe” questions. Yes, God would like us to prosper financially but, maybe He says “No” to too much too soon because in His wisdom it’s not the best for us. He may bless some in more generous financial ways seeing that they can handle it better than others. On the other hand, He may choose to withhold financial blessings from some to see if their faith can be loyal while their pocketbook is lacking. (Now does that mean that such a person is any less righteous than the other guy? The book of Job answers that one.) Truthfully, I don’t know what God always does. A better question would be: Does God want what’s best for His children?” I do know the answer to that and it is an unequivocal: Yes! And what is best for His children may not always be financial prosperity. But that’s God’s decision and not the decision of the “plug in preachers.”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 12, pp. 370-371
June 18, 1987