The Prosperity Gospel teachers are right when they say that the Lord intended for us to live abundant lives. The problem is that these teachers have misrepresented the Lord’s motives in making these promises to a point where although their followers rank 2nd lowest of all American Christians in average income, they themselves are personally awash in material wealth. (Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life2) The Lord intended for us to be financially secure so we’d be generous to a fault, not so we could amass personal fortunes at the expense of others.
But that’s a story for another day. Our topic here is the way it was meant to be. In spite of current evidence to the contrary the Lord always intended for our lives to be much better than those of the pagan/secular world. I’ll show you what I mean. Here are some of the things God had Moses tell the Israelites when He was preparing them for their life in the Promised Land,
If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young. The LORD will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. (Deut. 7:12-15)
Their crops would never fail and would always be abundant. Their flocks and herds would grow in number season after season. Every marriage would produce happy healthy offspring. There would be no disease. In modern terms, this means job security and steadily increasing household wealth, in addition to being blessed with great kids and good health. In short, they would live long and happy lives, secure in the Lord’s blessings.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. (Deut 8:10-11)
He also admonished them never to forget the source of their prosperity,
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:17-18)
and not make the mistake of thinking they had created their own success. There were to be no self made men in Israel. He would bless them beyond measure, but He wanted all the credit for doing so.
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Deut 15: 1-2)
If a person did come upon hard times and had to borrow money, any balance remaining after seven years had to be forgiven. (By the way, according to Deut. 23:19, it was also forbidden for a lender to charge interest on these loans.) There was no long term debt. And once every generation not only were all debts forgiven, but any who had sold themselves into servitude to pay their debts were set free, and any real property they had sold was returned to them. There was no incentive for empire building, or enriching one’s self at the expense of the less fortunate. (Leviticus 25:8-55)
However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (Deut. 15:4-5)
Having to go into debt because of personal hard times should have been an almost unheard of situation. He promised them uninterrupted prosperity in exchange for obedience.
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. (Deut 15:7-8,10)
He wanted them to demonstrate their generosity toward each other out of gratitude for the generosity He had demonstrated toward them.
During the reigns of David and Solomon, these promises came true in a way never before seen on Earth. Israel was blessed with a standard of living that was the envy of every nation. Especially during the reign of Solomon, Israel was the healthiest, wealthiest, and happiest nation on Earth.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Now I know what you’re thinking. All that was in Old Testament times. But before you say that these promises were only for Israel, think about this. I’ll show you that all these promises are repeated in the New Testament, only now they’ re directed toward the Church. American Christians need to remember this. America didn’t become the wealthiest nation on Earth because the Lord promised to bless our nation like He did Israel. There is absolutely no Scripture to support such a view. America became wealthy because the freedom to pursue the Christian religion without government interference (separation of Church and State) attracted so many faith filled Christians to its shores that for all practical purposes America became the headquarters for the Church on Earth. As He had promised, God blessed these believers. It’s what came to be known as the Protestant work ethic that produced America’s wealth, and made even average Americans wealthy beyond the expectations of average non-Americans.
Even a cursory study of American history will show that with few exceptions our government has always been corrupt, big business has always taken advantage of the little guy, and there’s always been an elite group lurking in the shadows, enriching themselves from the sweat of the common people. Most of our founding fathers were deists. That means they believed in God, but rejected the notion that He would ever involve Himself in human affairs. In spite of their lip service, they never expected God to bless America because deists don’t believe God blesses any nation. They think He just observes His creation from afar. It was the Church who started thinking of itself as the new Israel, not the government, (and certainly not God). What the politicians did was to play up to that false doctrine, blurring the distinction between religion and patriotism as a way to get re-elected.
America’s decline began when separation of Church and State was re-interpreted to mean that the government could not do anything that was perceived as favoring one religion over another. Having divorced itself from the Church, America no longer had any right to the blessings that had come to it because of the Church. In seizing the philosophical control of the government, non-believers succeeded only in killing the goose that been laying America’s golden eggs, and in the span of a generation or so America went from being the world’s largest lender to becoming its largest borrower. It was a stunning reversal of fortune.
But that doesn’t mean God’s promises to the Church were rendered null and void. God’s word can’t be broken by the actions of a corrupt government. Consider these.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:31-34)
This is the New Testament equivalent of the promises of Deut. 7:12-15. The difference is that it was not made to a nation, like it was in the Old Testament, but to the Church. And the condition is not obedience, it’s faith. When we seek the righteousness imputed to us by faith and focus on the coming Kingdom in which our true citizenship is vested, the Lord has promised to meet all our Earthly needs.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
So many Christians live lives indistinguishable from their worldly neighbors because over 90% of Christians have a secular world view. Half their wealth disappeared in the past year because they’re storing up treasure on Earth where the moths and rust of inflation and interest destroy, and the thieves of government and banking break in and steal.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”(Luke 6:37-38)
Once again, the focus here is on individuals. Instead of the polarizing (and largely futile) effort to force non-believers to live by our standards and condemn them to Hell when they don’t, each and every one of us can follow these admonitions regardless of what our country or our neighbor does. If we don’t judge others for their sins, we won’t be judged for ours. If we don’t condemn them we won’t be condemned. If we forgive others, we’ll be forgiven. And even while the entire world goes to hell in a hand basket, our generosity toward others will be matched by God’s generosity toward us.
Please remember, these admonitions were given in a relational sense not in a judicial one. We’re saved by grace because of our faith, but remaining in fellowship with God requires that we be merciful to others in the same way that He’s been merciful to us. (Matt. 18:23-35)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)
The City of Philippi was a Roman colony, populated largely by former members of the military who had been given land there as a reward for service. They were proud of their Roman citizenship, loved being Romans, and tolerated no threats that could disrupt the status quo. They viewed the Church as such a threat, so believers were persecuted. Many lost their jobs and most were ostracized by the community at large and deprived of their right to worship in peace. In the midst of this Paul, himself imprisoned for his faith, exhorted them to maintain an attitude of joy in the face of persecution, in effect saying that none of this could prevent God from meeting their needs. (Phil. 4:19)
So many ask me questions these days about how bad things will get before the Rapture. Some send me reports of concentration camps being built to house Christians and other potential “terrorists”, and of a special branch of the US army being trained for use against the civilian population in cases of public protest against government policy. Others wonder if they should start hoarding food as a hedge against coming shortages. And still others warn of a Great Depression style bank holiday that could deny us access to our money for weeks or months and cripple our economy.
My response is that the parallel between the Church in Philippi then and the Church in the world now is obvious. Like them, our destiny is not dependent on the favor of any human government, but upon the immutable promises of God. We should rejoice in our salvation, pray about everything, be fearful of nothing, and give thanks for anything. This alone will give us peace. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. (Romans 8:15) We are the children of the Most High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?(Romans 8:32) These fears are born of our humanity, not of our spirituality.
If you want a strategy for the days ahead try this.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously … for God loves a cheerful giver. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:6,7-10,11)
As you can see from Deut. 8:17-18, it’s God who has supplied the seed. Within your circle of acquaintances there’s someone in need. Sow generously to help meet that need and you’ll reap accordingly. First there’ll be the joy that comes from giving, followed by an increase in your store of seed. You may actually find that you’ve wound up with more at the end than you had at the start. Next you’ll discover that you’ve begun a chain reaction. As long as you keep sowing the seed the Lord will keep increasing your supply so you can sow still more. This is what it means to be made rich in every way so you can be generous on every occasion. And as a special bonus, each time you sow you’re also storing up treasure in Heaven that nothing can ever devalue.