“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
– Jeremiah 29:11
One of the most perplexing issues facing Christians in the marketplace today is whether God wants us to be rich or poor. It is easy enough to find plenty of people using verses from Scripture, often out of context, to support either extreme.
Last week I heard two sermons touching on this issue:
- One preacher expounded the virtues of the “health and wealth gospel.” He said the reason we don’t have riches and wealth is because we haven’t asked God for them.
- The other preacher told the story of how he sold his big house, gave away everything, and moved his family into a small, two-bedroom apartment, implying that a life of poverty was more virtuous.
Ken Eldred, in his book, God is at Work, suggests that God’s view of prosperity is much more complex, and many have drifted while trying to understand it. He makes the excellent point that prosperity is neither moral nor immoral. It is amoral, or value-neutral.
There are two misguided attitudes often encountered concerning the relationship between wealth and righteous living. Some view wealth as the evil enemy of a righteous life. Others view wealth as the essential evidence of a righteous life.
Many Christians and their pastors, horrified by the perceived excesses of the “health and wealth gospel,” retreat to a romantic view of poverty which often operates under the sacred-secular divide. Again Eldred’s comments are right on point:
Wealth is seen as the evidence of a misplaced focus on secular pursuits. No roads to prosperity are acceptable, since all means of acquiring wealth involve undue emphasis on secular activities. Many who follow this line of thinking retreat from the perceived trappings of the ‘secular’ marketplace to pursue ‘sacred’ activities and pursuits.
Eldred suggests a way out of the dilemma, with which we would agree. Health and wealth are not proof of obedience to God or of sufficient faith in him. Neither are sickness and poverty proof of disobedience or lack of faith. Both extreme viewpoints miss the mark.
Eldred suggests Christians can adopt a new paradigm that views business and all work as having inherent spiritual value in and of itself. The idea of all work seen as mission radically changes the way we view normal business activity, and teaches that business can have spiritual and economic goals. Eldred writes,
Business can become a spiritual activity when it advances God’s objectives by serving others and creating products and resources.
Wealth and capital creation can be tools with which committed Christians serve God as well as their neighbor.
Eldred suggests six key truths to be discerned by careful, prayerful scrutiny of Scripture:
- Wealth is to be in all areas – physical, mental, material, and spiritual.
- Wealth is from God – he is the source of all prosperity and blessing (Matthew 7:11; Deuteronomy 8:8).
- Wealth is to be managed – we are the stewards of the material possessions entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 10:26; Matthew 25:14-30).
- Wealth is to be used for God’s purposes (1 Timothy 6:17-18; 2 Corinthians 9:11).
- Wealth is to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 6:17).
- Wealth is not our source of trust – God is (Luke 12:34).
Eldred concludes his book with this important idea: “The concepts of transformation, work, business, profit, and wealth are key biblical foundations of kingdom business. If one is going to effectively do business as a mission to spread the gospel, one must first understand that God cares about people’s spiritual, social, and economic transformation, that work in the business world is both necessary and a sign of useful service, and that poverty is a social disease to be addressed.”
Does it matter whether we are rich or poor? Leave your comments here.