Prosperity Not GuaranteedBy Nathan Mates
The US is a highly materialistic society. Advertisers daily urge us to consume and consume again. "Keeping up with the Joneses" is practiced, as families compete to see who's got the latest fancy possessions. And, as the economy is booming, millionaires (even billionaires) are made overnight through a hot stock offering. Even if we're not conspicuously consuming as much as the neighbors, people do measure themselves in terms of their prosperity-- how much they make, how successful their job is.
As Christians, when we do well, we may say "God has blessed me." That's certainly true, but for many, their attitude says "... and he better keep blessing me." Many take prosperity for granted, and expect that as they grow in our faith, they'll also grow in worldly prosperity as well. There's a big problem here: the Bible promises no such thing. Material wealth is a completely separate category from spiritual wealth, and there can be no correlation between the two.
It is possible to be a Godly man, and be wealthy in the eyes of the world. Noah managed to have enough supplies handy to build a boat and round up lots of animals. Abram (later Abraham) also had many possessions: "When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan." [Genesis 14:14] With women, children and non-warriors, Abram probably had about a thousand people total to call on to be able to raise such an army on short notice. Later on in Genesis, Joseph worked his way to high position and authority in Egypt, and was put in charge of Egypt to care for the coming famine. [Genesis 41:41]
Later on in the Old Testament, we see King David and Solomon as (mostly) righteous men of God who were kings over a large area, with huge palaces and a temple built. [2 Kings 6-7]. Job, as well, was one who was a godly man, and was quite prosperous: "In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East." [Job 1:1-3]
However, we can also see that sometimes the wicked prosper as well in this world. Jesus himself told a parable about this: ""There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side." [Luke 16:19-23] Was this rich man prosperous? Quite certainly. Was he godly? Nope.
In the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are calls for God to judge the wicked. In the Psalms, it clearly acknowledges that there are some wicked people who prosper: "For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills." [Psalm 73:3-5; similar through verse 14] This psalm continues to note that God'll destroy them: "Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!" [Psalm 73:18-19] Sometimes, this happens in their lifetimes, but sometimes people die, wealthy and yet not knowing God.
Now we come to the case of the poor righteous. Once again, the Bible acknowledges that this happens: "Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous." [Psalm 37:16-17] We see this played out in the lives of many figures: Moses tended sheep for many years [Exodus 2:23], not the most glamorous job of the times. Jesus grew up as the son of Joseph, a carpenter, and took on his father's occupation. [Matthew 13:55] Once again, not a highly paying job. Jesus himself told his disciples, "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." [Matthew 26:11]
Many in the early Church were poor-- in Acts 6:1-7, the Church commissioned people specifically for evangelism, and others for taking care of the poor. Especially in Jerusalem, Christians were oppressed, and Jerusalem wasn't that rich of a city to begin with. Collections had to be taken up and delivered [Acts 24:17, among others] to the church there; other churches gave even out of their poverty. In 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, the Macedonian churches were commended for their giving to those in need.
Even in modern times, there are poor Christians. Visit any Third World country, and you can find people worshiping the same God as you, and yet owning little more than the clothes on their backs. Are they somehow less spiritual than you? Nope. Did they do something wrong to deserve such conditions? Most likely not. Are they going to be standing next to you in heaven? Yep. So, what's different? We in the western world have been blessed with much, and yet that's a double-edged sword: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." [Luke 12:48b]
We will be asked exactly how we dealt with everything God's blessed us with-- did we blow it on useless things, or did we use it for God's kingdom? Can you honestly look over your checkbook register and say that you're giving to God first? Can you say that your spending habits glorify God? You'll be asked this question sooner or later, and for now, there's the chance to change your habits before you stand face to face with God.
The existence of poverty is not an excuse to do nothing, as Paul laid down by example: "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." [2 Thes 3:10-12] As much as possible, we are to be gainfully employed earning our daily bread. It may not be fancy bread, it may not be much bread, but we are to, as much as possible, earn it.
Finally, as Christians, our prosperity is not guaranteed simply because we are no longer bound of this world. In our obedience to Christ, the Bible quite clearly spells out that it's not going to be pleasant: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." [2 Timothy 3:12-13] Are worldly riches going to easily survive persecution? Doubtful. Everything of this world will perish anyways, and the less we are attached to them, the more we can live in hope and expectant joy of the riches of Heaven.