Do You Want to Be Rich? How Should Christians Define Prosperity?
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Do you need lots of money in order to be rich? How do you define prosperity? Do you consider the word "prosperity" to be related only to monetary or financial concerns? If a person is not rich with money or financial wealth, is it possible for them to be rich in other ways? Does God prefer that we live in poverty, rather than for us to seek to obtain financial gain? What kind of prosperity is most pleasing to God? Because there are ways to be rich that have nothing to do with money or finance, there is hope that when God allows us to gain monetary wealth, we can use it to enrich our lives, and the lives of others, in ways that are pleasing to God.
Is It ungodly to desire financial wealth? The Bible warns us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. It is better, it says, to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). So, does this mean it is a sin to seek financial abundance? Financial prosperity? Is the very quest for monetary wealth a sin?
What is Prosperity?
God wants mankind to understand what prosperity truly is. Webster’s dictionary says the word prosperity means “the condition of being successful or thriving; especially economic well-being.” This definition places emphasis on economic well-being, but the Bible places emphasis on other ways of being prosperous, and it tells us these other forms of prosperity are more desirable for those seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. Still, as they went from town to town spreading the gospel, Christ and His disciples depended fully on the hospitality of other people (Matthew 10: 9-10). Does that mean those who follow Christ must forgo the pursuit of financial independence, becoming financially dependent, completely, on others? Or is there another lesson to be learned here as well? What about those offering provisions for Christ and His disciples? Wasn’t it the sharing of their prosperity that supported the ministry of Christ? Isn’t there a lesson in this truth as well?
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15)
Jesus’ primary message was about the heart of mankind. He came to tell mankind that to follow Him, we are to deny self, and take up His cross. The scripture goes on to say, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16: 25-26)
If you were given a clear choice, either to be given $1,000,000, or the chance to save someone's life, which would you choose?
Was Jesus Rich?
Jesus is one-third of the Holy Trinity. He is the Son of God, and God is the Ultimate Owner of Everything. That means Jesus owns everything, and owning everything certainly means he is rich. But when He came to earth as a man, the Son of God came as a poor human being who was born in a place where animals were kept. He gave up His claim as Owner of Everything and most of the privileges of being the Son of God to become a lowly servant, so that he could teach us the truth. Jesus did not preach a gospel of greed. Instead, He warned us, again and again, about the dangers of allowing the heart to become focused mainly on the accumulation of wealth and earthly treasures.
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:10-12
“The love of money is the root of all evil.” Okay, got it, right? It’s the love of money, and not the actual cash. Money itself can be good, as long as it is used for good purposes. But the love of money is never good, and it is the love of money that can reach into the faith community and threaten its very core. With its incredible gripping power, the love of money can pull Christians into its unholy snare. Churchgoers and other Believers are human, so that means they are not immune to the fetching allure and promise of power, material luxuries, and the ease of living that money represents. Like anyone else, Believers can become intoxicated by the attractiveness of money. We can be slain by the lust of what it can buy. Still, it is not the money, nor is it the having of money that God hates. Rather, it is the eager, lustful, greedy, do-anything-at-all-to-get-it chasing of money, and the do-anything-it-takes-to-keep-it, as well as thinking of it as the be-all-end-all-of-existence, that God abhors. God wants us to prosper economically, but He also wants us to understand that it is better to enjoy prosperity in all the other areas of our lives, than to simply see financial prosperity as the answer to everything. Psalm 35:27 speaks to us about this kind of prosperity. This scripture says:
“Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.”
The scripture above refers to personal well-being and contentment, rather than financial well-being. It provides evidence that God wants us to be concerned with things in life He considers more desirable than financial prosperity. Just hearing the word "prosperity," our minds immediately conjure up images of money and/or what it can buy. But what about the things that are priceless? What about the prosperity of hope that you can inspire when you encourage someone? Do you know how much just one word of encouragement can mean to someone who is down? What about the prosperity of gratitude: The richness of being thankful and expressing with joy your gratitude to God for allowing you to be alive to see yet another day? What about the overflowing of richness that is brought into our lives by a loving family, good friends, neighbors, and acquaintances? These are the things money cannot buy. But how often do any of us think of these kinds of things as wealth?
Popular Song from 1990, "I Wanna Be Rich" By Calloway
It is clear that Jesus did not want His followers to fall prey to the love of money. He did not want them to be people who could be “purchased” with 30 pieces of silver, as was Judas. Jesus wanted us to know that God wants to bless us with a prosperity that is greater than financial properity. Since we know “the love of money is the root of all evil,” we should know blessings from God are not affiliated with the love of money, because if this were so, it would be contrary to God’s word. This scripture from 1 Timothy makes this point clearly. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
Then Does God Prefer That We Be Poor?
Is it God’s desire that we have no money? Should we aspire to live in poverty in order to live a life that is pleasing to God? Is ambition a sin? No, no, and no, I say. In fact, I believe a person with no ambition is an insult to God.
So does that mean God wants us to desire prosperity? My answer to this question is yes, but it is God’s idea about what constitutes prosperity and mankind’s idea about it that is not always the same.
The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms—inside a context where material possessions are being discussed, “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Because a lot of us want to live the lavish life of luxury, we want it to be God’s idea for us to live that way. But the idea of God desiring all of us to be rich in money and material possessions goes against the very grain of what is said in much of biblical scripture that refers to prosperity.
I’m not saying it is a sin to be rich, or even that it is a sin to desire to be rich. What I’m saying is that it’s necessary to be honest with yourself, to search your heart for your motives, to make sure that what you desire is a way to better follow, better serve and better glorify God in the Highest. And not a way to follow, serve and glorify the god (with a little “g”) of the lowest.
Some people allow their entire life focus to be on the accumulation of riches. In fact, much of popular culture feeds this focus. I was watching a re-run of an episode of the television show “Friends” the other day. One character, Joey (who is a soap actor on the show), was trying to get a job in a major soap opera, and was offered an opportunity to sleep with a producer (or some other authority figure) to get the part. He was also offered a smaller role in the show that he wouldn’t have had to sleep with anyone to get, but he chose to sleep with the woman making the ungodly demand, and he received the starring role on the show.
That TV show made me think about how, In the real world, people are sometimes offered great financial wealth in return for engaging in sin or for marching along with and upholding those who engage in sin. That’s something the elders in my neighborhood used to call “selling out to the devil.” People actually do that, you know. It's a big part of how the world works. In exchange for financial gain and/or power or fame, they will literally sell their souls to the devil—to sinful living that helps keep them focused on the love of money and fame. They will do anything it takes to get and keep a lot of money. Once they’re sold out, to remain inside the “bought-and-paid-for” luxurious lifestyle, it becomes necessary to filter out anything associated with God and His righteousness.
“Sold out” people often pretend to live “above” the need for godliness. They pretend to “question” religion and the Bible and all the pureness, cleanliness, and righteousness it speaks of as being “pious” or “religious.” Others may not sell out completely, but might be willing to overlook their convictions, or what God says should be their convictions about what is right and wrong, in return for financial gain. But God tells us that those who truly love Him and want to be with Him for eternity will “flee these things and will follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, [and] meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.”
Okay, Does God Want Us Rich, Poor, or In-Between?
I’m sure many people, if not most, would love to live in a magnificent home or a mansion, drive the latest and best cars, and have a wonderful job that could bring them wealth/financial security, and/or the notoriety and recognition of their peers. My question to you is: Is it a sin to want these things? Well, if not these things, how about a nice home that's not a mansion, a nice vehicle that's not necessarily the latest and greatest, and a steady job that pays the bills? Is it better to want more moderately priced material things? Would the wanting of moderately priced material things be more in line with what will please God? Or is that still too much? Then what about an apartment on the bus route and a crummy job that barely pays the rent? Would wanting that make God happier?
“Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” Proverbs 8:10-11
According to the verse above, it's not simply about how or what we want. It's about receiving and knowing God's word/instruction. When we know/receive God's instruction, everything in the material world becomes less important. When the heart becomes entangled inside the love and the quest for money and things, then we are not free to love our neighbors as our self, because we have to put the pursuit of money and things above all else. Jesus came to earth to teach us that our relationship with God is more important than being rich, but he wanted us to know, too, that it is also more important than being poor. The point I am making is this: Unless you can ask God to bless the things you do as you live your life, and as you pursue monetary wealth, then you’re actually cheating yourself out of the most satisfying forms of prosperity.
I believe God wants us to understand that financial prosperity is the least important kind. I also believe that until we know, without a doubt, that it is better to focus first on God and His instruction/righteousness, any financial payload we might get from the pursuit of money will ultimately be nothing more than bondage. It will only serve to bind us to an unfulfilled/unsatisfying life that can only blind us to God's instructions while obscuring the path to truly serving and worshiping God.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD