(All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version).
It’s common among modern-day Christians to equate material prosperity with divine blessings, and to assume all is well with a Christian, spiritually-speaking, as long as the person is prospering materially. Is it right to always assume that prosperity means divine approval? Can a Christian who is prospering materially be out of tune with God? We shall examine the Scripture to answer these questions.
In Christ’s letter to the church in Laodicea (in the book of Revelation), we find a church that was doing extremely well materially. The Laodicean church was rich and had experienced great material blessings. It was so prosperous that it felt it didn’t need any further blessings. Isn’t that the dream of every one, including most of us Christians? To be so blessed materially that every need is met and we don’t lack or need anything? Wouldn’t that be an answer to most people’s prayers? Well, the Christians in Laodicea actually thought so and felt so cool and great about their abundance of wealth. In fact, they appeared to be glorying in it! But, what was the divine perception of their spiritual state? Was their material abundance a sign of divine approval? Let’s hear Jesus’ verdict concerning the spiritual state of that church.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Wow! What a withering and scathing rebuke! This church appeared to be living in opposite worlds —it was extremely rich materially, but also extremely poor spiritually! It had all it needed materially, but it seemed to lack everything it needed spiritually! The same church that was glorying in its material prosperity and its great vision was judged by the Lord to be poor (spiritually), blind (spiritually), naked (spiritually), wretched, miserable and not even aware of it! How can a group of Christians be so disconnected from spiritual reality? How can an assembly of supposedly spiritual people be so deluded and out of sync with the divine will? This rebuke to the prosperous church of Laodicea should be a wake-up call to all of us! It simply means pursuing material prosperity the way a lot of us do, especially in pentecostal circles, can derail us spiritually! It means prosperity is not necessarily a sign of divine blessings or divine approval! It means we can acquire great riches at the expense of our souls!
The New Testament is actually very clear about the fact that the yard stick for measuring divine favour isn’t material prosperity. In the gospels and apostolic epistles, we find innumerable warnings about the danger riches and the love of money can pose to spiritual health. The New Testament writers took great pains to show how the unbridled pursuit of prosperity can undermine our relationship with God and wreck our faith. We’re told that we cannot serve God and Mammon (money) at the same time; that the love of money is the root of all evil, which some having gone after, have pierced themselves with many sorrows. Not only are we told about the dangers of greed and covetousness, we are actually warned to flee from them! Yes, to flee from the pursuit of riches! To flee from the love of money! To flee from greed and covetousness!
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
1 Timothy 6:6-12
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The prosperity gospel many in pentecostal circles glory in is patently false then! The rat race to amass more and more wealth, so common in our age among churches and Christians, is contrary to the spirit of the New Testament! Christ condemned that spirit in the Laodicean church, and he still condemns it in our churches today! To boast in our wealth as Christians is to glory in our shame! Being rich and increased with goods is no evidence of being right with God! Lacking nothing materially is no proof that all is well with our soul! We can enjoy great prosperity and still end up damned! The yardstick for measuring our spiritual well-being is not the depth of our pockets or the fatness of our bank accounts! True riches are spiritual, not physical, and the things that elicit divine praise and approval are the spiritual fruits of righteousness, not material prosperity.
And he said to them, Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he told them a parable, saying, The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. And he said to his disciples, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
In conclusion, though God blesses and prospers people materially, material prosperity is not always evidence of divine approval. As Christians, we’re to pursue after God, not wealth. An inordinate ambition for material riches that sidetracks God or that puts wealth ahead of him is tantamount to serving mammon instead of God. The love of money still remains the root of all evil, and those who pursue after wealth instead of God will make a shipwreck of their faith and pierce their souls with many sorrows. We may be rich and increased with goods and think we have need of nothing, but in the Lord’s eyes, we may be poor, blind, naked, wretched and miserable! The prosperity gospel that many in pentecostal circles glory in is patently false and anti-New Testament! Godliness with contentment is still great gain, and we’re to put aside the foolishness of the unbridled prosperity gospel and lay hold on eternal life, if we’re to avoid making shipwreck of our faith.
Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
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