Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Does God Want You To Be Rich?


The current issue of Time magazine poses a provocative question as its cover story - "Does God Want You to Be Rich?"(Hat Tip: ThinkChristian). The article by David Van Biema and Jeff Chu is thoughtful, well written and balanced. It tackles the question by surveying the broad spectrum of answers coming from the Christian community. It has already provoked responses from various Christian leaders such as Al Mohler who has provided an insightful commentary.

I think this is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's interesting that a mainstream publication like Time is devoting a cover to this issue. Evidently, they must see this as a key point of differentiation or segmentation within the church at large. Noting the varying views represented by different Christian leaders, one would have to conclude that Time is at least partially correct. Views range from those espoused by "prosperity gospel" proponents such as Joel Osteen to more cautionary, qualified answers from those in the traditional evangelical camp.

Second, I believe that our interaction with money on a daily basis makes this a vital question. Whether we're earning it, spending it, saving it, craving it or losing it altogether- we're interacting with money each and every day. Yet we spend so little time discussing this daily interaction from a biblical point of view. Some of the answers represented in the article indicate that more biblically centered discussion on this topic is sorely needed. So perhaps this question is a timely one (no pun intended, really!)

Finally, how an individual chooses to answer the Time magazine question really revolves around his/her understanding of the gospel and in particular, the intent of the gospel. While most Christians would agree that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for the sins of every believer, the ultimate purpose of this work is not always in view. This is how the apostle Peter understood this purpose in 1 Peter 3:18 -

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" [emphasis mine]

The ultimate benefit we derive from the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a reconciled relationship with the living God. It's not enough just to acknowledge or even assent to the gospel. If we don't treasure or value that reconciled relationship, we will end up "loving" the gospel for all the wrong reasons. We may in fact acknowledge that Christ died for our sins but if we value other benefits like financial prosperity, health, etc... as equivalent or superior to the treasure of knowing God, we're worshiping the gift rather than the Giver.

The answer to whether God wants you to be rich, may well rest on whether you think the prize of our salvation is God Himself or simply a million dollar stock portfolio.

8 comments:

Diane said...

I am wondering if most people understand the foundation for the Word of Faith teaching on prosperity. Actually you just began to touch upon it in your post. They believe that Jesus took our poverty upon Himself just as He took our sins. They also believe (a la Matt. 8:17) that He took our healing. All of this is a substitionary atonement for sin, healing and prosperity as well as other things, mostly outlined in some chapters of Deuteronomy.

Just thought you might wish to know if you didn't. I rarely hear opposers discuss it in this light.
By the way, I am not into the extreme prosperity gospel, but at times, especially Copeland and Savelle have some very good things to say about believing for excess so we can give to the poor and help ministries financially. It's too bad thought, that they don't stop there. But the first part is a good message and I don't hear most others preach it.

andre said...

Diane

Thanks for your post. It may be that I do not fully understand the "word of faith" teaching on prosperity linking it to Christ substitutionary death.

However, it seems to me that the explicit emphasis in the New Testament is that Christ died to atone for sin and the primary benefit of that is a reconciled relationship with God. That's the essence of eternal life. Jesus' prayer in John 17:3 included this statement - "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

That's not to discount the fact that in view of the cross, we experience great benefits in Christ. They may or may not include financial rewards but they definitely include God's promise to work all things even financial trials for our good. My post yesterday speaks to that point.

I do acknowledge that it's a good thing to prosper, especially so that we can bless others. But the problem with prosperity gospel is that when we make prosperity the main point, we obscure and devalue the truth of John 17:3 - that the real treasure is knowing God.

Thanks for stimulating this discussion with your comment

Mark Goodyear said...

It took me a bit to get a hold of the article, and I didn't want to comment until I read it.

The thing that bothers me most about prosperity gospel is its limited view of God's blessing.

So much of what I've heard implies that blessings are usually tangible physical comforts. I hear a lot of people pray for God to bless their business and they mean "Bless my business financially."

Like the prayer of Jabez--"O that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!"

Certainly we should take all of our needs to God--including our financial needs. I'm a Dave Ramsey junkie, but his approach to financial prosperity is more about self-discipline and self-denial and business sense.

I'm no Greek scholar. The idea of financial prosperity may be implicit in "blessings." But in my mind, a blessing is something that brings me closer to God and allows his Spirit greater control in my life.

Since I find strength in my weakness, I suspect that kind of blessing can be painful and not comfortable. I suspect it rarely involves finances at all.

andre said...

Mark

Thanks for your insightful comment. I tend to agree with you. The view of "prosperity" being primarily financial is very limiting. God's blessings can take many forms and a focus on financial blessings alone can obscure our view of God's manifold blessings to us.

Gaining a deeper knowledge of Christ is the chief of all blessings. Sometimes that comes through trials and painful experiences. It seems counter-intuitive to think that pain can be a means of God's blessing to us but God's ways are often paradoxical.

BTW, I'm looking forward to your next posting on the publishing industry. Thanks for doing it.

Chris said...

First off - great post.

This is likely one of the most controversial issues to date in the "Western World" (aka. 1st world countries).

In reality - spiritually speaking - wealth is neither good nor bad. "Things" by their very nature are inadamant, and in and of themselves, entirely inconsequential to our walk with God.

However, the pursuit of wealth can become harmful if that passion OUTWEIGHS the importance of our walk with God.

And, just to be clear, all of us pursue wealth in one capacity or another - and it's not just "money". Even an existence of simply "getting by" and being content involves the pursuit of wealth.

This is how we eat, live, and function in society.

Especially considering that all wealth is essentially being "borrowed" anyway, and will simply be transferred from generation to generation (or depleted) as time goes on.

God, of course, being the actual owner...

So to summarize that thought, wealth and its effects are "neutral" by default.

This is the question I've often struggled with, however...

"Is Wealth an Indication of Being Blessed?"

Furthermore - is wealth a sign of God's blessing for a "good" life?

Do the promises laid out in the old testament (specifically Deuteronomy) apply to us as Christians - or were they solely directed at the Jews before the arrival and resurrection of Christ?

Reading through books like Psalms, Proverbs and the first five books in the Bible (Genesis - Deuteronomy), it's obvious that blessings equate to material wealth, while hardship equates to disobedience.

"You will lend to many but borrow from none..."

So - what's the scoop for a believer in today's world?

Were the material promises of the Old testament simply a symbol of the spiritual promises of the New?

Or does God still pour out material blessings on the righteous as a reward for integrity and generosity?

I know what my "gut instinct" is towards this question - but I've heard so many opnions from both the "rich" and "poor" advocates within the Christian realm that the actual truth of the matter seems to be elusive.

And maybe that's the mystery of it all. Maybe that's God's intention - to simply trust Him with that area of our lives to the extent of not knowing anything for certain beyond the meeting of our spiritual needs.

And perhaps it is as you suggest - the receipt of wealth could be directly related to the level of your "attachment" to it spiritually...

andre said...

Good thoughts, Chris. I especially like your comment -

"the pursuit of wealth can become harmful if that passion OUTWEIGHS the importance of our walk with God."

It's the essence of what I get concerned about in my life. Wealth in and of itself isn't bad -in fact, it's a blessing of grace from God. However, my own tendency to delight more on the gift than the Giver is a serious problem.

Your question - "does God still pour out material blessings on the righteous as a reward for integrity and generosity?"

My thoughts for what they're worth - material blessings are from God but like all blessings, they point us to a generous and kind God who blesses us, despite our sin and in fact has provided the greatest blessing to us in the form of redemption through his Son.

Material blessings are secondary to the blessing of knowing God. The way we think about material wealth, handle material wealth and use material wealth should reflect this truth

I love your thought provoking comments! Please stop by again,

Grace to you

Andre

Ashana said...

you do not have to be rich to go to heeven. you may be poor on the outside but you or rich on the inside.being rich is not the way to heaven. Questions.Do you want jesus or money? some say i want the money, money comes and goes, jesus comes and stays thats of course if you want him to stay.

andre said...

"money comes and goes" - you are absolutely right! Jesus is the only sure foundation.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Ashana.

Grace to you