"Obedience Leads to Financial Blessings"
This week we continue with our series “The Bible Doesn’t Say That.” Last week we talked about the phrase “God helps those who help themselves,” and we saw that not only does the Bible not contain that phrase, it actually goes totally against what the Bible teaches. Today we turn to another concept that many believe the Bible teaches, but again, isn’t in there. The concept we’re looking at today is the idea that “Obedience Leads to Financial Blessings.” There are any number of televangelists out there who will try to sell you on this idea. If you just have enough faith, which you can show evidence of by sending in your donations to their ministry, then God will multiply that offering and pour out a shower of blessing on you. What they’re saying is, if you send me money, God will send you even more money. There are others out there that don’t necessarily say that in so many words, but they still promote what has come to be known as the prosperity gospel. This is a religious belief that says that financial blessing and physical health are always the will of God, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase the believer’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have enough faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.
Now this sounds pretty reasonable at first glance. As we’ve talked about many times, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, so if He wants to bless us, He absolutely can. The problem comes in the fact that those that preach the prosperity gospel teach that God is obligated to bless us if we do certain things. Since they view the Bible as a contract between God and humanity, if we keep up our side of the contract then God must also keep up His side. But that’s not what the Bible says. There are far too many examples of disciples in the Bible obeying, being faithful in the things God has called them to do, and yet not gaining the material or physical blessings that the prosperity preachers would say that God was obligated to grant to them. Just look at the life of Paul. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul is writing to believers who have been led astray by false prophets, by people who are preaching a gospel contrary to what Christ preached.
16 I repeat: Let no one consider me a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool so that I can also boast a little. 17 What I am saying in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but as it were, foolishly. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I will also boast. 19 For you, being so wise, gladly put up with fools! 20 In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone is arrogant toward you, if someone slaps you in the face. 21 I say this to our shame: We have been too weak for that! But in whatever anyone dares to boast—I am talking foolishly—I also dare: 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, many times near death. 24 Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; 27 toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. 28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever, knows I am not lying. 32 In Damascus, a ruler under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to arrest me. 33 So I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.
Five times he received 39 lashes. Three times beaten with rods. Stoned. Shipwrecked. Lost at sea. Without food. Cold and with clothing. Does that sound like someone who received material and physical blessing from God because of his obedience? Now if you follow the prosperity gospel and you look at the life of Paul and all the hardships he went through you would have to conclude that he didn’t have enough faith, he didn’t engage in enough positive speech and he didn’t give enough money to religious causes to warrant God’s blessings. Of course, that would be a foolish assumption, since Paul is just about the greatest example of Christian obedience and faithfulness that we can find.
So what does this mean for us? What are we to do when we don’t see the blessings of God in our lives? What are we to do when we go through trials in life? Well let’s turn to another passage from Paul, this one in the book of Philippians.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 12 I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.
In this passage, Paul writes that there have been times in his personal life where he had much, and times where he had little. We definitely saw in the 2 Corinthians passage some examples of times when he had little. But the key is that God taught him how to find joy in both situations. Paul learned to handle anything in life through the power of Christ. And you know, we often hear people today give that advice. You’ll hear pastors sometimes saying things like, “You need to learn to be content in whatever situation God has placed you in.” Now these pastors are obviously not preaching the prosperity gospel, but oftentimes when we hear them say it, we look closer and realize that they’re telling us to be content when they actually have it pretty good. You’ll hear guys say this who are driving a new car, and wearing a new outfit, living in a nice house, and you can look at them and tell that they obviously haven’t been missing any meals. Sometimes when we’re going through hard times it’s hard to hear from someone that obviously isn’t going through the same things, tell us that we need to be content in our circumstances. Our thoughts are, “Yeah right, come live in my circumstances and see how content you are.” But we have to remember that this advice originally comes from Paul himself and when we realize that when he was writing this letter he was sitting in prison, I think maybe we can trust it coming from him. When we see that Paul has gone through beatings, through shipwrecks, through multiple times being thrown in prison, we can trust that, just maybe, him saying we can be content in all circumstances through the power of Christ is true.
You know one of the saddest things about the prosperity gospel is that it is meant to give hope to those who come to Christ who are in poor circumstances whether materially or physically. But unfortunately it can actually do just the opposite. It can cause unnecessary doubt. Think about it. If someone heard the prosperity gospel that God will always bless you with health and wealth as long as you are obedient to Him, but then they go through times of being poor or sick, or both, that might cause them to doubt that they were being good enough, or giving enough. The idea of giving in the prosperity gospel is especially problematic because when someone starts going through hard times financially they may start to doubt and try to give more in order to obligate God to bless them more financially, which causes them to struggle more and it sets up this vicious cycle that just drives them farther and farther into debt. It’s almost like a gambler who keeps dropping more and more money at the table trying to hit that big score.
So how do we learn to be content? How can we be content when we are struggling financially, or when health problems crop up, or whatever else we may struggle with? Well I want to look at another passage this morning, again from Paul. This one is back in the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 12.
6 For if I want to boast, I wouldn’t be a fool, because I would be telling the truth. But I will spare you, so that no one can credit me with something beyond what he sees in me or hears from me, 7 especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. 8 Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
How can we learn to be content in any circumstance? By focusing on the power of Christ and the truth of the gospel. In another passage in Philippians Paul talks about the fact that he has more to boast about in this earthly life than most other people. He talks about his birthright, his family and lineage, his education, his zeal for God, but then he says that he counts all that as rubbish when compared to Christ. And here in 2 Corinthians we see that not only is Paul not boasting about his lineage and his education, and all those other good things but he has completely switched to boasting in his weaknesses, because it is in our weakness that the strength of God shows through. When we get to the point that we just can’t go on, when there is nothing else that we can do based on our human knowledge and strength, that’s when the glory of God shines through. That’s when others can see the goodness and the grace of God, because there’s no way we could do it on our own.
So real quickly let me give you a couple of practical things that will help with the concept of contentment.
First, don’t compare yourself to other people. Now this one is really hard to do because it is human nature. We look at our lives and we look at the next door neighbors or at someone else in our family and our tendency is to make comparisons. “They don’t even go to church, why do they get to drive such a nice new car while we’re still driving this old beater?” I know Dee Dee and I struggled with this for a while when I was in seminary. We struggled financially during school and built up some pretty big debt. And we looked at her sister who was not following God’s path and saw her doing well financially. And we asked “Why? How come God seems to be blessing her and not us?” We weren’t actively following the “prosperity gospel” but our attitudes seemed like it. Our attitudes were, we’re obeying and she’s not, so we should get the blessing and she shouldn’t. But we’ve already seen this morning, that’s not how it works. So don’t compare yourself to other people. Our circumstances are not necessarily linked to our level of obedience.
Second, contentment isn’t always about having “more”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking to earn more money, or with saving for the future, but when that becomes our sole focus it becomes a sin. When we seek after more and more wealth simply to have more wealth we are going at it for the wrong reasons. If we seek to earn more so that we can give more to the work of the kingdom, or so that we can better take care of our families that’s a different story, but it all comes down to the attitude of our hearts. Why do you want more? Is it simply to have more or is there a purpose for what you are seeking?
What we really need to remember when we are struggling with contentment, when we are looking at those family or friends and wondering why they are doing better financially or physically than we are, or when we are looking at our own lives and just wanting more, more money, more health, more anything, is that last verse we read in Philippians chapter 4. Verse 13 says
13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.
This isn’t saying that we can all go out and run a 4 minute mile, or that we can all go out and earn a million dollars in a day. No it’s saying that even when we are struggling, even when things don’t seem to be going our way, we can get through it, not because of how strong we are, but because of how strong Christ is in us. God knows what we’re going through. He knows when we’re struggling. He knows when we’re hurting. And He has promised that He will get us through it. It may not get better here in this life. But we who believe are promised a better life in eternity. We are promised an eternity with no more sorrow and no more pain. We are promised an eternity in the presence of God. And because of that promise, we can be content with whatever circumstances we are placed in here in this life.
Would you pray with me?