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So far in this series, we have thoroughly examined the OT concerning finances and wealth. In this installment, we will begin exploring what the NT has to say on the subject. Most likely shocking to skeptics on this topic, we’ll start by quoting and addressing passages used by many to refute the prosperity message.
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…No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. — Matthew 6:19-21,24
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. — Matthew 13:22
Indeed, the single greatest danger of financial prosperity is the temptation to shift our focus away from Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith onto money. Jesus’ parable warning of “the deceitfulness of riches” comes from the mouth of God Himself and should be heeded by all believers.
This is one of the frequent objections posed by those who oppose the so-called “prosperity gospel.” They preach whoever believes the doctrine that God wants to bless us financially is “laying up for themselves treasures on earth” and they are being seduced by “the deceitfulness of riches”. Their basic premise is that Christians are supposed to be poor or barely getting by, implying that having more than enough money to survive is somehow mutually exclusive to serving Jesus with our whole hearts, mind, and strength.
That is absolutely not the case!
Who is Running Our Bank Account?
The preeminent issue with wealth is who/what is in control. In other words, is our money controlling us or are we controlling our money under the lordship of the Living Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
If money is controlling us, we are guilty of idolatry, plain and simple.
God hates idolatry. He has spent a huge amount of time, words, and effort throughout both testaments addressing that behavior on no uncertain terms: expressing in detail how He feels about it and rebuking/punishing those who indulge in it. There is no combination of persons, circumstances, social/cultural trends, and/or laws which would ever make idolatry acceptable to Him, period, full stop, end of story!
The Issue of Character
Let’s delve into that control issue in some depth by way of a revelation God gave me using an episode of Star Trek. I’ve recounted it elsewhere here at Miscellaneous Ramblings, but I will repeat it here in its entirety because it is totally applicable to the discussion at hand.
My Star Trek Revelation
As a fanatical sci-fi buff since childhood, I’m a big-time Trekkie despite the fact that the entire franchise is the ultimate expression of secular humanism, the antithesis of Christianity. While I missed out on the original series when it was first aired during my childhood because my family only had one TV and my parents didn’t care for sci-fi, I caught it in syndication as an adult and have watched every Star Trek TV show and movie since.
The second pilot in the original series, the debut of William Shatner as Captain Kirk, is entitled, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Here’s the broad strokes of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia because they summarized it ever so much better than I could have:
The starship USS Enterprise is on an exploratory mission to leave the galaxy. En route, a damaged ship’s recorder of the SS Valiant, an Earth spaceship lost 200 years earlier, is found. Its record is incomplete, but it reveals that the Valiant had been swept from its path by a “magnetic space storm,” and that the crew had frantically searched for information about extra-sensory perception (ESP) in the ship’s library computer. The recording ends with the captain of the Valiant apparently giving a self-destruct order.
Captain Kirk decides that they need to know what happened to the Valiant, and the Enterprise crosses the edge of the galaxy where it encounters a strange barrier which damages the ship’s systems and warp drive, forcing a retreat. At the same time, nine crew members are killed and both helmsman Gary Mitchell and ship’s psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are knocked unconscious by the barrier’s effect. When he awakens, Mitchell’s eyes glow silver, and he begins to display remarkable psychic powers.
Mitchell becomes increasingly arrogant and hostile toward the rest of the crew, declaring that he has become godlike, enforcing his desires with fearsome displays of telepathic and telekinetic power. Science Officer Spock comes to believe that Valiant crew members may have experienced the same phenomenon, and destroyed the ship to keep the power from spreading. He advises Kirk that Mitchell may have to be killed before his powers develop further, but Kirk angrily disagrees.
Alarmed that Mitchell may take over the Enterprise, Kirk decides to maroon him on an unmanned lithium-cracking facility on the remote planet of Delta Vega. Once there, the landing party tries to confine Mitchell, but his powers have become too great. He goes on a rampage, kills navigator Lt. Lee Kelso and escapes, taking with him Dr. Dehner, who has now developed similar powers.
Kirk follows and appeals to Dr. Dehner’s humanity for help. Before he can kill Kirk, the doctor attacks and weakens Mitchell. Mitchell strikes back, fatally injuring Dehner, but before he can recover from the effort, Kirk uses a phaser rifle to create a rock slide, thus killing and burying Mitchell.
There are two pertinent-to-my-revelation scenes in this episode:
- Immediately after Mitchell escapes confinement with Dr. Dehner, he entices her to remain with him as “co-god” of that planet, demonstrating to her how they can abundantly provide for themselves by instantly creating a lush garden supernaturally on the otherwise barren planet surface.
- The climax of the episode, where Kirk attempts to confront Mitchell in order to save Dr. Dehner. During that confrontation, Mitchell declares himself to be God and forces Kirk to his knees, with his hands together in an attitude of prayer, then tries to coerce Kirk to pray to him and acknowledge his supposed deity. Kirk resists, stammering out the phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Then Dr. Dehner intervenes and the story concludes as described in the plot summary above.
At the time I received this insight, I was attending college on the GI Bill to further develop my IT skills and, since my wife worked outside our home to support us while I was in school, I did quite a few of the household chores. Immediately after viewing this episode, I was vacuuming the living room and the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me alone about what I had just seen.
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” paraphrases a quote from Lord Acton (1834-1902) and in its original context, he was speaking of political power. We’ve all heard it at one time or another when dealing with the likes of Hitler or Stalin. What the Holy Spirit arrested me with was coupling this phrase to supernatural — rather than political — power.
So I applied the verse in James that says, “if any man lacks wisdom, let him ask…” and asked God what He was trying to tell me. He pointed me to the following NT passage:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. — 2 Peter 1:2-4
By that point in my ministry, I had taught this passage repeatedly, making the point that by believing the promises of God, we somehow became more like Him (“partakers of the divine nature”). So I replied to the Lord and said, “Yes, I see this. You know I’ve been teaching from this passage for years.”
He responded with, “What part of the promise imparts My nature to you?”
God never asks a question to seek information because He already knows everything to be known, so I knew that the question and its answer were the core of what God was trying to tell me. I thought about it for a bit, but couldn’t come up with an answer, so I said, “I don’t know, Lord.”
His reply revolutionized my theology. He said, “It’s the condition. The more you fulfill the conditions of my promises, the more you are acting like me. The more you act like me, the more you actually become like me because it becomes habit.”
And it all suddenly fell into place as He reminded me of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson I had heard quoted during a sermon on godly character:
Sow a thought, reap a choice.
Sow a choice, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Then the Lord pointed me to one of Jesus’ parables:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents and likewise he who had received two gained two more also, but he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’
His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’
His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’; — Matthew 25:14-30
Before we move on, I would like to explain the word “talents” here is not referring to innate personal skills and abilities, such as being a talented singer or ball player. Everywhere you see the word “talent” in the NT, it is referring to a rather large unit of currency defined by a certain weight of silver or gold. A silver talent was about 100 pounds (45kg), while a gold talent was about 200 pounds (91kg). So the context of this passage is irrefutably dealing with money.
While there are other things to be gleaned from this passage which we will explore below, the point I want to make here is found in the phrase “you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” What the Lord showed me is that the more we are like Him, the more He can give us. Why? Because whatever “it” is will not corrupt us as what happened to Mitchell. Then He gave me a more specific application:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. — Luke 6:38
So what is one of the essential aspects of God’s character? Loving generosity! So whenever we give, we are imitating God. And what happens when generosity becomes a part of our lifestyle? It becomes part of our character. And to the extent that we are generous and unselfish with our wealth, God can entrust us with greater amounts of that substance, knowing that we will control it, rather than it controlling us!
“But isn’t that giving to get?” some would object, “That’s not a godly motive!” True, indeed! Those who have embraced the “give to get” perversion of the prosperity message get precisely bupkis because that passage in James kicks in:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. — James 4:3
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. — Galatians 6:7-8
Those who have heard just enough of the prosperity message to be dangerous tend to forget a crucial tidbit: God knows the hearts and minds of every single human being on this planet and will not reward selfish motives! But to those who are seeking the Living Christ’s true rule over their finances and are obeying His principles from the Word, the sky is literally the limit!
The Talents Parable Revisited
Before we move on, I would like to point out some tidbits from that last parable I quoted.
- That money was the master’s money. In other words, every bit of money we have is from God and belongs to God. One of the quickest ways to shut down God’s flow of finances in your life is to start taking credit for His blessings and/or thinking that the money with which we are entrusted is somehow exempt from the lordship of Jesus. That is the crucial difference between ownership and stewardship. We are stewards, not owners!
- The good and faithful servants were those who invested the master’s money. The master expected an ROI (Return On Investment) from his servants. Within the Kingdom of God, that ROI is not money (after all, God doesn’t need any), but eternal souls. By the way, if investing and gaining wealth was inherently evil for Christians, this would have been brought forth in the parable and/or elsewhere because God will never establish us in wrongdoing.
- The amount of the master’s money entrusted to each servant was according to his individual ability. God doesn’t promise a steak on every plate and a Cadillac in every garage. Some folks simply have a knack for finances and they will naturally receive a greater return than those who are less skilled. Others have developed great faith in the area of finances, so as they obey God and implement His wisdom, they will have more than those who are just starting out on that same journey of faith.
- The wicked servant suffered from what would be termed in our times “class envy,” the root of socialism. Whether his bitterness and envy arose because he just naturally passive-aggressive or he was disgruntled because he was only entrusted with a single talent, Jesus doesn’t say. What the Lord did say was that wicked servant’s resentment caused him to just sit on his master’s funds, rather than investing them, and he literally caught hell for it. In light of my statement above concerning the Lord’s kind of ROI, a case could also be made that the wicked servant didn’t care the lost were going to hell who he could have otherwise helped win by giving to the Gospel.
A final thought before we move on: remember those “great and precious promises” mentioned in that passage from 2 Peter I just quoted? They were referring to the Old Testament because the NT canon had not been assembled at that time, though admittedly Paul’s writings were being regarded as Scripture by then. So the objections I have heard to my previous articles dealing with the OT regarding this topic are moot. Not to mention that Paul himself stated, “…all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen… Selah!
Socialist Thought Within The Church
Speaking of class envy and socialist sentiments, there is an epidemic of it running around the Church of late and, frankly, it is a shame and reproach upon the Body of Christ! This kind of attitude comes from the demonic lie that wealth is a zero-sum commodity.
What do we mean by “zero-sum?” It is the fundamentally flawed assumption there is a fixed amount of wealth in the earth. In other words, wealth is a finite resource, therefore whenever one person has an abundance, one or more others are being deprived of their basic financial needs and living in poverty. Now in the case of third-world despots and oligarchs looting their country’s treasuries and foreign aid for their personal gain, that is 100% accurate. But within Western Civilization where personal freedom is enshrined, that is a lie straight from the pits of Hell!
If you are an unbeliever separated from the Person and promises of God by your sins and rebellion against His authority, then I cannot blame you for possibly thinking socialism is reasonable because you cannot see past this physical world and the system which runs it. But there is no excuse for that kind of philosophical balderdash from a Christian believer! Our God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” and the place where He lives is paved with gold, just to pick a couple of low-hanging fruit on this topic! In other words, there is no limit to His Person or resources. And His “great and precious promises” are available to all believers who will step out in faith and believe them!
Bottom line? The members of Christ’s Body have unlimited wealth at their disposal — if they will tap into it by faith! — and no one else will be the worse for it!
So whether a minister, such as Kenneth Copeland for just one example, flies his own jet to get around the world to minister more efficiently means no one else is being deprived of anything, period. Point of fact: if every gazillionaire — Christian and non-Christian alike — on the planet suddenly divested themselves of their entire body of wealth and gave it all away to the poor simultaneously, it would cause a barely detectable blip in the daily welfare of the impoverished people in this world as a whole.
Does that mean we are to just blow off the plight of the poor because the need is so vast? Not a chance! As I covered in my previous article in this series covering the Book of Proverbs, one of the fastest ways to impoverish ourselves is to ignore the needs of those already impoverished! But a socialist mentality or government is neither biblical nor effective in addressing their needs. Point of fact, such socialistic criticisms fall under the following admonitions to do exactly the opposite:
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. — Romans 13:13
…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? — 1 Corinthians 3:3
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; — 1 Corinthians 13:4
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19-21
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. — Titus 3:3
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. — James 3:13-17
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking… — 1 Peter 2:1
I think that pretty well covers how God feels about socialism in the Church, don’t you?
Further Admonitions to the Wealthy
None of this lets those with an abundance of money off any hooks. There are numerous other warnings about trusting in riches and behaving obnoxiously and/or oppressively simply because one has a stack of cash.
The Rich Young Ruler
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.’ Then Peter began to say to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed You.’
So Jesus answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life.— Mark 10:23-30
So we have a clear-cut warning from God-in-Sandals Himself that riches can cause spiritual difficulties if we are not careful, so that is a given. But those who use the verses 17-23 to refute the prosperity message conveniently cherry-pick them from the rest of the passage (always bad exegesis!). Let’s now explore what the whole passage is saying:
- Jesus was directly addressing a specific person who had a specific problem, rather than making a general commandment for all future believers. We know this from what He said to His disciples after the young man had left the scene.
- Jesus statement concerning the difficulty of rich people entering God’s kingdom was a commentary on that rich young man, who obviously idolized his money to the point where he couldn’t walk away from it and follow Jesus, and those like him. Notice the list of commandments Jesus gave him did not include having no other gods before Him?
- The disciples were astonished at Jesus’ words, thinking that Jesus was stating that those with money couldn’t go to heaven. Why would they react this way? Because most of them were successful businessmen prior to Jesus calling them into the ministry!
- Jesus responds that, though man could not repent of his own idolatry in his own strength, God could empower them to make such repentance stick.
- Jesus goes on to promise those who have sacrificed a home, family, or lands for Jesus’ and His Gospel’s sake would receive in this time a hundred-fold return. Let’s look at that specific phrase “in this time” in a few more translations:
…in the present age (NASB)
…in this present age (NIV)
…in this present life (WEY)
In this world… (CEV)
Here in this world… (GNT)
Here in this world… (NCV)
So in verse 30, Jesus is absolutely not speaking of heavenly rewards in this specific phrase, though He does refer to such rewards in the following clause of His discourse (“…and in the age to come, eternal life.”). He is directly promising rewards we can receive while we are living on Planet Earth!
Lest anyone try to take this ball and run with it apart from the very specific conditions attached to this promise, let me recap them here: He is referring to those who have:
- Abandoned the security of their comfy existence as well as their earthly security nets and support systems, trusting God to be their Provider, and;
- Boldly stepped out in faith to further the Gospel in some way, shape, or form, whether that be as a minister or a person who works for a ministry in a support role.
And please note that this return will be delivered with persecutions. Tragically, most of the persecutions experienced by those actively claiming this promise or publicly preaching it seem to come from within the Body of Christ!
The Foolish Rich Man
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field 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 should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Luke 12:15-34
There is a significant difference between this foolish rich man and those who have embraced the concept God wants to prosper us: this foolish rich man was deceived by his riches into being a reservoir of money, rather than being a channel of financial blessing to others!
Had that rich man wisely said to himself, “Self, I’ve got plenty, so I will sell this grain overage and give the proceeds to the temple or the poor” -OR- “I will donate my excess to feed the poor,” I’m convinced the story would have had an entirely different ending. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of observing prosperity ministers is that most of them I know and respect are awe-inspiring-generous with their money when it comes to furthering the Gospel or helping the poor.
I mentioned Kenneth Copeland earlier. While I am no apologist for the man, I know for a fact that he gives literally millions of dollars away to further the Gospel of Christ. I have personal knowledge of a specific ministry educational institution to which he has donated over half a million dollars alone! And I have heard him say on multiple occasions that nothing he possessed was tied down, that when God tells him to give something away, he obeys instantly without hesitation.
So it doesn’t sound at ALL like he is worrying about his food or clothing. He is rich towards God because he gives and gives and gives and gives and give and then gives some more.
One of the crucial facts about the God we serve is He will not allow any human to exceed Him in anything and thus steal His glory. When it comes to giving, no one out-gives God — I dare you to try to prove me wrong!
The Impoverished Widow’s Offering
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” — Luke 21:1-4
This brings to mind yet another quote from the Master:
…everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. — Luke 12:48
God appears to work on a sliding scale when it comes to certain issues, though He never grades on a curve when it comes to sin. While we are left ignorant of the widow’s future in this account, one thing of which I am certain based upon my knowledge of God’s Word: she didn’t remain destitute!
The Love of Money
For the love of money is a 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
This verse is commonly misquoted as “money is the root of all evil,” yet as we can clearly see that is patently false. The love of money is not “the root of all evil,” but “a root of all kinds of evil.” The love of power, the love of prestige, the love of inflicting pain, and others are also roots of evil.
Money itself has no moral value attached to it, good or evil, just like a gun or a knife is neither good nor evil, just like a table is neither good nor evil, or a pen is neither good nor evil, and so on. They are merely objects — tools, if you will — and have no free will of their own, therefore it is impossible for them to possess one iota of moral value. It is only when they are wielded by a moral agent — a human being — that they assume the morality of the wielder.
Thus a gun in the hands of a righteous person will not be used for evil deeds, whereas that selfsame gun in the hands of an evildoer can and will be used to carry out his evil intentions. A knife can be used to prepare food or survive in a wilderness, yet can also be used to murder or main another human being out of greed or selfish spite. A table can be a place where we enjoy a meal with others, another variant is a place where life-saving operations can take place, but both can also be places where torturers inflict great pain and suffering to victims bound to them. A pen can be used to write gracious letters to loved ones, sonnets, novels, and plays, yet also be used to write hate mail, and officially institute governmental oppression of millions, such as the Holocaust.
Same with money!
Again, we have an admonition about straying from the faith to a dumb idol as well as a description of the fruit of such idolatry.
You think maybe God’s trying to get a point across here? I certainly do!
Paul’s Commandments to the Rich
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. — 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Again, we see God admonishing us to avoid the “born-on-third-base-thinking-we-hit-a-triple” syndrome and to keep Him on the throne of our hearts. What is interesting here is most people opposed to the prosperity message love to ignore the final clause of that sentence: “who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” How many is “all?” All means everything with no exceptions! Now let’s take a quick look at that word “richly:”
- richly plousios
- 1) wealthy, abounding in material resources
2) metaph. abounding, abundantly supplied
2a) abounding (rich) in Christian virtues and eternal possessions
So we can see that the original Greek word is an all-inclusive term for abundance of every kind, earthly and heavenly!
False Prophets in the End Times
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! — 2 Timothy 3:1-5
I truly wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this passage used to target the prosperity message — I would truly be a millionaire! Those who abuse this passage to that end are committing exegetical violence by cherry-picking the phrase “lovers of money” from this extensive list of attributes, then lumping every believer who accepts the prosperity message into it. Then they admonish the scripturally ignorant — who are too spiritually immature to research the Bible for themselves — to “…from such people turn away!”. Such judgmentalism is reprehensible and there are promises in God’s Word concerning judging others of which they will experience the consequences.
This is a propaganda technique called “attacking the straw man” and is heavily used by political liberals, as well as Christians too steeped in denominational tradition to accurately exegete their Bibles. They create a somewhat-plausible imaginary concept or situation, claim their opponents believe and teach that, and then publicly condemn it so everyone can see their moral superiority.
Truth be told, this passage’s description is far more applicable to the Hollywood celebrities of the politically far left than ministers of the Gospel!
Granted, there are certain televangelists who have lost their way from the purity of the Gospel because they were seduced by riches, among other things such as sexual sin, the lust for reputation and power, and a host of other temptations Satan uses to corrupt the Church’s leadership. Ministers are flawed human beings as all the rest of us are and are subject to the same temptations as the rest of us are — and then some! The anointing they have is to preach and teach but they have no more power to live the Christian life than any layperson in the pew. Accordingly, there is a certain statistical percentage of that population who will fail miserably, be caught out in it, and suffer humiliation because of it — the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals of the late 1980s come to mind as I write this because they’ve been the most notorious.
But to tar every believer accepting the premise that God wants to prosper us with that same brush is just plain wrong! God has already promised to judge His teachers more strictly, so our sole role as evaluators of true and false doctrine is to emulate the Berean believers in Acts, who…
…received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.— Acts 17:11
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. — Romans 12:9
…those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. — Hebrews 5:14
…rather than swallowing anything spouted by our favorite preacher. I’ve provided guidelines for proper interpretation of Scripture, so there is no excuse for any of my readers to say, “I didn’t know how!”
The Admonition of James
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.— James 5:1-6
Back in biblical times, there was no significant middle-class, only the extremely rich and the extremely poor, with very few in between. Many of the extremely rich got that way through the oppression of the poor, also something with which God has repeatedly expressed serious displeasure. Accordingly, the warnings against the rich and riches themselves are targeted to correct this problem.
James gives a very specific list of behaviors exhibited by such rich people: they store up riches for themselves (remember those bigger barns in that parable we just quoted?), they defraud their employees, they take them to court to dispossess them, and they have murdered the defenseless innocent. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway! 🙂 ), none of these are behaviors Christians should be found doing. Those indulging their sinful flesh in this manner will indeed reap a harvest of grief, both in this life and the next!
So there we have it, sports fans. In my next article, we’ll delve into what the NT has to say on the positive side of this issue.
Thanks for reading!