Guest blogger: Richard L. Blake
For the introduction to this seven part series, see 3/11/2016 post “How to Manage Money”.
The Black Death
I ask you to come with me 669 years back in time to Lubeck, Germany. In 1347, as the Black Plague swept across Europe killing over 30 percent of the population, the people of Lubeck were terrified. The wealthy citizens sought to enter the huge fortified monastery for shelter. But the monks, afraid of contamination by the disease from the outside world, locked their gates and strictly refused admission.
The nobles and the wealthy pleaded in vain. They then took their money, jewelry and valuables and threw them over the wall, pleading for admission that they might find safety. Within a short time, the money and valuables piled up a meter high. Yet the contaminated treasure was left untouched and the gates remained closed.
Now, why did all these monies and valuables lie at the base of the monastery walls? Because the rich thought that money thrown away would save their lives, and the monks thought that contaminated money accepted would kill them.
There were two entirely different views of wealth. What is your view? This is a very important issue for us to consider.
Develop a Biblical Mindset About Money
When it comes to money and material possessions we find three different views in the church.
The premise of Poverty Theology is that money is inherently evil and thus to be poor is to be spiritual. The orientation then is towards shunning wealth. This makes no sense because some of God’s most godly saints are wealthy. Job was the richest man in the ancient east (Job 1:3; 42:12). Abraham was exceedingly wealthy (Genesis 13:2). It’s not a sin to be rich, nor to enjoy the things wealth may bring. In 1 Timothy we are told that God is the one who “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (6:17). Solomon, famed for both his riches and his wisdom, wrote, “As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Some may ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say that money is the root of all evil?” No, it does not. Rather, it says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money itself is not evil but evil resides in people who love it. People may be moral or immoral, but money is morally neutral and can be used for good things or for bad. Therefore, we must reject the idea that money or material things are inherently unspiritual.
The premise of Prosperity Theology is that money is a signature gift of God and thus to be rich is indicates God’s special favor. The orientation then is toward splurging wealth. Prosperity theology looks exactly like materialism but it professes to be based on God’s word and is therefore not only permissible but also desirable. Following God through giving and other forms of obedience become a formula for abundant provision and the celebration of prosperous living. There are some Christian leaders that exhort their listeners to give liberally while they live in palatial mansions, own private jets, and pay for luxurious hotel suites while they travel to spread their message of prosperity.
Of course, there are scriptures that seem to link material prosperity with God’s blessing. For instance, God gave material wealth to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Solomon, and Job because he approved of them. Some passages offer material rewards for faithful financial giving:
“You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (Deuteronomy 15:10).
“Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine; The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 3:9-10; 11:25)
“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows’” (Malachi 3:10).
God does do those things these scriptures promise, but that’s not the whole picture. The scriptures also warn against the dangers of wealth—especially that in their prosperity people often forget the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:7-18). But even when people love and obey God they still may suffer. In fact, they’re promised suffering (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Jeremiah, a righteous man who lived in adversity, complained to God, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? (Jeremiah 12:1). His question echoed the psalmist who wrote, “This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth” (Psalm 73:12).
If, as prosperity theology maintains, material wealth is a reliable indicator of God’s reward and approval, then crime bosses, drug lords, and embezzlers must be his most favored people, while Jesus and the apostle Paul must be on his blacklist. So, prosperity theology does not square with the teaching of scripture.
The premise of Provision Theology is that money belongs to God but He has entrusted wealth to us to be used wisely. The orientation then is towards stewarding wealth. This is the biblically correct view of wealth. Our good God has promised to provide for all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). His provision is therefore good and not to be shunned or apologized for. Neither is it to be coveted or boasted about. The right approach is to see money and all materials resources as God’s property placed under our management. We are stewards of his provisions.