Tuesday evening I sat down at home and picked up my TIME magazine and to my amazment a ‘bling’ of a hood ornament on top a Rolls Royce was a cross. The cover displayed a title “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” Featuring some of the most popular “Word of Faith” teachers in America, this article debates the new American Gospel of wealth and prosperity against the Word of the Living God who doesn’t promise the world to us.
As my commentary on this issue would be entertaining and amusing, one of my heros Ben Witherington, more effectively put it down for me. Here is his top ten reasons that God does not want us to be rich:
Why exactly was it that the apostle Paul had to work his fingers to the bone making tents (cf. 1 Thess. 2.9 for example) while doing his missionary work? The disparity between the way Paul lived and describes his own life, when compared to the likes of Osteen Dollar or others is striking– “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again…Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…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.” (2 Cor. 11. 23-27).
Not only so, but Paul in this same 2 Corinthians letter says plainly that he asked God to take a source of suffering away from him, a stake in the flesh, and God said NO! (2 Cor. 12.7-9). Paul is of course engaged in mock boasting, and ridiculing those who make the facile assumption that if they are living large it must be God’s blessing and will for their lives!!! Did Paul just not get the memo about the prosperity and health God had in mind for him and about the Gospel of conspicuous consumption?
There are in other words, so many problems with the prosperity Gospel just from examining the teaching and lives of Jesus and Paul, that we don’t even need to get into James and other diatribes on the dangers of wealth. So perhaps its about time we had a list of ten good reasons why God doesn’t want you wealthy!!
TOP TEN REASONS WHY GOD DOESN’T WANT YOU WEALTHY
1) Wealth is a false god. As Jesus said. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Each involve all consuming loyalities and allegiance. A person should never measure themselves, or the blessing of God on their lives by the abundance of their possessions.
2) We are all fallen human beings with an infinite capacity to rationalize our behavior, including especially our spending behavior. Having wealth leads to rationalizing like that of Joel Osteen, who in the Time article says “well its all relative isn’t it?” In fact its not relative– its absolute. And its a case of our taking care of our poor relatives, neighbors, even strangers, and enemies. This is what it means to love neighbor and even enemy as ourselves. The Bible does not say love your neighbor ten percent as much as you love yourself!
3) As the psalmist says— “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of.” It follows from this that we are only stewards, not owners of any property! This being the case we have to justify keeping things, not giving them away. Or as John Wesley put it— other people’s necessities, especially the poor, should be taken care of before we even think about our luxuries.
4) Greed is a serious sin, and the desire for wealth often leads to greed. Try reading the story of Silas Marner, or the even sadder story of King Midas.
5) Having wealth gives the false impression that one can secure one’s own life. One then begins to trust in one’s wealth as a safety net, rather than in God. “Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart”.
6) “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” The desire to get rich, especially the desire to get rich quick, at whatever cost, often causes the abandonment of various essential Christian virtues such as HONESTY, loyalty, self-sacrificial love for example. The question is— can you handle wealth? Many Christians cannot handle the temptations of wealth. They compromise their trust in God, and so their very faith, justifying an accelerated rate of conspicuous consumption.
7) The desire to be wealthy is a form of narcissism. It is essentially very self-centered, self-seeking behavior. And the most primal sin of all is ‘the heart turned in upon itself.’
8) The Bible is very clear that God will hold us accountable for what we do, with what we have in this life. To whom more is given, more is required. See the parable of the talents. Conspicuous consumption in essence results in taking food out of the mouths of the starving, taking dollars away from missionary work, taking resources away from worthy charities. In other words, sins of omission are just as serious as sins of commission. Its also what you are not doing with your resources that God will hold you accountable for. See for example the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk. 16. But even more devastating is the fact that Jesus takes it as a personal affront if we do not visit those in prison, feeed the hungry, and care for the sick and needy. Jesus identifies with the poor and their plight (see Mt. 25.34-40). And just because you may do this once and a while on a mission trip does not give you permission to avoid living a simple life style most of the time.
9) Wealth does not very often make you happy. I used to live in the furniture capital of America– High Point N.C. Some of those furniture millionares were some of the most miserable, frightened, paranoid people I have ever met. Here’s a clue. The more you have– the more you have to lose, and the more things you fear losing in life when it comes to property. Living in a simple manner obviates these problems altogether.
10) Jesus extols the poor not the rich! Why would Jesus extol the widow who gave her whole ‘living’ into the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41-44) if Jesus had really believed the prosperity Gospel? Shouldn’t he have chided this poor woman for making herself even more indigent and not going for happiness and the gusto in life? Didn’t Jesus say he came that we might have an abundant life? Here’s a clue– the abundant life has nothing to do with abundant possessions. It has to do with having the gift of everlasting life, and having God’s loving presence in your midst forever.
As we look at the world in need and all the souls that are longing for truth, it’s a sad commentary that pastors would rather tickle the ears of the dead than spread the Gospel of Life. May God truly work in their lives.