Prosperity – What Did Jesus Model?

I sat in my seat somewhat inquisitive. I had never been to this church before. The worship was good, but people had told me that this church was obsessed with money. It did not take long for me to see why. Before taking up the offering the preacher stepped up to the microphone and gave a mini sermon that emphasized the importance of giving. It did seem a little strange. Looking around the auditorium it was fairly obvious that this church was not in great financial need. But this push just before people gave, gave me the impression that the results of the giving were a big issue.
Being my first week at the church I felt I could handle the mini sermon, and I just hoped it wasn’t a weekly thing. But things were about to move from the slightly odd to the out right shocking. After the offering was collected the preacher held up a jeweled necklace and said “Look what someone put in the offering basket.” He went on to talk about the persons faith and how God’s blessing is on those who give generously. My mind started to spin. I was a new Christian, I did not have much experience, but I felt something was wrong. Didn’t Jesus say we should not let our left hand know what our right hand was doing? (Matthew 6:3-4). Why was the preacher revealing what someone gave? As the preacher moved from the necklace demonstration into the main sermon I found it hard to concentrate. It seemed what my friends had said about this church was true.

What happened in this church many years ago is now happening more often. Many churches today are preaching a gospel that is focused on generating finance. Congregations are promised that if they give generously God will bless their wallets; that it is in fact God’s desire that they be materially rich. And these churches are very careful to portray a wealthy image. Pastors wear the most expensive suits, gold jewelry and sit on lavish platform chairs that often resemble thrones. If you haven’t been to one of these churches, you may have seen some on Christian TV.
What I find most disturbing now days is that the message that God wants us rich is drawing crowds. I always thought that true believers would see through the scam but they don’t. Often these churches have the biggest congregations.

Now if you are living in the west you may be surprised to hear that this material gospel is big among the poor in Africa. One Zambian pastor explained it like this, he said “A longing for riches fuels the prosperity gospel in Africa.” Often we think its the rich that are most materialistic, but materialism has nothing to do with how much we own, it all depends on what your heart is focused on. It you are poor and only think of getting more money you are materialistic in how you think. Africa has numerous big churches that are filled with poor people who believe God wants to make them rich. Its a sad sight.

So lets get the truth from scripture. What does it say? Does God want to make us rich? Here is the apostle Paul on the matter –

‘These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses’ (1 Timothy 6:2-12).

Its clear that Paul did not think that the gospel of Jesus Christ would make anyone rich. He believed that those who followed Jesus should focus on having the character of God and be content with just food and clothing. He actually says that we should flee from those who think godliness is a means to financial gain.

A few years ago a man who was thinking of attending our church asked me what kind of church is it. Then he said “I want a church that motivates me to success.” And I remember thinking “Success? Yes, we motivate people to success, but it’s probably not the kind of success you’re thinking off.” You see this man was thinking of financial success. But this is not the kind of success that Jesus and his disciples modeled.

Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58). Jesus had to send Peter to get a coin from a fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax  (Matthew 17:27). At times Jesus and his disciples got their material support from female followers that had other means of income (Luke 8:3). When Jesus needed a donkey for transport he borrowed one (Matthew 21:1-3). In short, Jesus did not have his own house, his own donkey, or money for temple tax. He was neither financially nor materially wealthy. He actually owned nothing. But here is the big question: Were his needs met? Yes, they were, and that’s the teaching of scripture. Not that we will be materially rich, but that God will provide for our needs when they arise.

After Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples set the same example that he did. Think of Peter and John looking at the lame man who asked them for money at the temple gate. Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). It seems Peter and John were completely out of cash; not a coin to rub between them. But did they have something valuable to give this lame man? Yes they did. They gave the man a miracle. The idea in scripture is not to be materially rich, but spiritually rich.

Where did the disciples learn this stuff? Well Jesus both modeled it and taught it. Think of what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19: 21). Where would his treasure be? In heaven. Jesus taught spiritual not material wealth.

The apostle Paul modeled this too. When he boasts in the Lord he testifies, “I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (Corinthians 11:27). What does this tell us? It tells us that when Paul said – “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” – he was not joking. He lived it!

Many believers point to various scriptures on prosperity saying ‘you see God wants us rich’, but if you want to know how to interpret those scriptures look at what Jesus and his followers modeled in their lifestyle.

When Jesus said “Give and it will be given to you” he did not mean “Give so that it will be given to you.” There is a big difference. We are not supposed to give in order to get. We are to give freely (Luke 6:38). Yet many churches are teaching their people to sow a financial seed in order to get what they are praying for.
When Paul says “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” he is not saying that we should sow in order to reap. He is just saying that as God’s people we can give generously knowing that God will give back to us. We will not lose out. (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Paul could testify that as he gave of himself for the cause of the gospel he sometimes went hungry and naked, but he was generally confident that he could tell believers “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Again Paul is not promising wealth, he is simply saying that people who give for the Lord’s sake will find that they themselves are looked after by God.

Now of course the Bible teaches that we should work and provide for our families. It does not suggest that we completely forget about earning money. So what is the balance here?
If we want balance we should always look to Jesus. What did he say? He said “But seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Notice that the focus of the verse is not ‘all these things will be given to you.’ The focus is ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.’ We don’t forget about providing for our families, but we make sure our focus is on the right thing, which is God and his kingdom.
Its a bit like focusing a pair of binoculars. When you focus on a particular object, the object is clear while everything else in front and behind becomes blurred. And if we are focused on God’s kingdom in this life, we will not forget about earning money, but money will become a bit blurred; it won’t be our main issue.

Many people spend their whole life chasing money and possessions, but such things have no value for life beyond the grave. After a funeral people don’t know what to do with a dead man’s things. They say ‘This is his watch, does anyone want it? Oh and his jacket? No?’ Possessions do not go with the dead man into the next life. Paul said “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Life is short, it goes quick, don’t waste your life chasing money. Rather spend your time loving people, building relationships with those you’Il spend eternity with, and leading people to Christ so they can have that eternity. These are niches that last forever.

Over the entrance to the Milan Cathedral are some sobering words. It says “All that pleases is but for a moment. All that troubles is but for a moment. Nothing is important save that which is eternal.”

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