feast: Prosperity: What Is True Wealth?
Martin G. Collins
Given 18-Oct-00; 42 minutes
This nation has the wrong idea of prosperity. Let me just give you a quick example of the mental attitude of this nation. At a London trade show in September of 1998, NCR Corporation unveiled the microweb, a combination microwave oven, TV, and computer with Internet access. The price tag was around $700.00 and a spokesperson for NCR said, "As the pizza is happily spinning around, you can check your bank balance, send an e-mail or even watch the last five minutes of your favorite show." It is a shame that this nation has arrived at the point where they think that is what true prosperity is, to have those conveniences.
The sermon I gave on the Sabbath was the negative side of wealth, just to give it a general label. But today's sermon is going to be the positive side of wealth. Prosperity is a close relative of abundance. Abundance indicates that a person possesses an exceptional degree of material or spiritual blessings, regardless of whether or not human effort is involved. So abundance comes whether you make any effort for it or not. It is always a gift from God, but not necessarily a special gift for human effort. That is abundance.
Prosperity is success that comes to those who have been active in achieving it and/or by divine grace, usually as a result of effort. So the difference between abundance and prosperity, generally speaking, is that for prosperity, there is effort that has to be made. It is just not given as a freewill offering, so to speak.
Prosperity is success that comes to those who have been active in achieving it and Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us prosperity is the state of those who, "have a good reward for their labor." We see that Solomon understood that principle as well. So abundance is a gift from God regardless of effort. Prosperity is a gift from God for effort.
Let us look at some Old Testament scriptures and examples of prosperity to get a feel for how God expressed it. The Old Testament does handle/present prosperity in a different way than the New Testament, and I think you will find it eye opening in the way it is handled.
In Genesis 24, the servant of Abraham prays that the girl who comes to the well will be the future betrothed of Isaac. You are very familiar with that example. When Rebecca arrives, he watches her intently and the scripture says, "To learn whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not." This shows the combination of divine and human effort that results in prosperity. Even with the prosperity that God gave the servant of Abraham, there was effort that had to be made.
In Genesis 39, Moses records that the LORD caused all that Joseph did to prosper in his hands.
Genesis 39:1-5 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. [You see there the effort that had to be made in order for him to prosper.] So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him [again, there is effort]. Then he made him overseer of his house and all that he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer in his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house and in the field.
That was as a result of Joseph's righteous effort. We see that God made all of Joseph's effort prosper. All of it.
Turn with me to Psalm 1 and we will see another example. The most well known statement about prosperity in the Bible is the declaration in Psalm 1, that whatsoever the godly person does shall prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. [We are seeing effort there, versus not just sitting back, kicking up their feet, and waiting for God's blessing.] And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
Here we see an Old Testament scripture that states a spiritual principle referring to spiritual growth. But you see that there is effort involved in order to prosper in a spiritual way.
In this we see prosperity in terms of a process that leads to the fulfillment of a purpose for which a thing or person was created. The man that makes an effort to avoid sinners and makes an effort to enjoy and deeply reflect on God's way of life, prospers in good character. Prospering is not only by material wealth, but it is also by spiritual blessing in the way of character. This takes a great deal of work and the reward is well worth it, as you know.
In the Old Testament prosperity is pictured in terms of fruitful work, resulting in sustenance of physical life. Because Israel was an agrarian nation, Biblical prosperity is in large part agricultural. King David's prayer in Psalm 144 is a good summary of the Old Testament idea of prosperity.
When I say the Old Testament idea of prosperity, I am not being exclusive to where it is only prosperity in the Old Testament. It carries over through all human life and well into the Kingdom. But what I am saying is that the prosperity that is mainly talked about in the Old Testament is of a material nature. Of course there are many spiritual principles that you can get out of those material examples.
Psalm 144:12-15 That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as pillars, sculptured in palace style; that our barns may be full, supplying all kinds of produce; that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; that our oxen may be well laden; that there be no breaking in or going out; that there be no outcry in our streets. Happy are the people who are in such a state; happy are the people whose God is the LORD!
This prosperity that we see here included vigorous sons, dazzling daughters, full granaries, and abundant livestock. You see the type of prosperity that God's people experienced in Old Testament times.
Turn with me to Psalm 147, which adds a nationalistic note of peace within borders and abundant crops to the list that we just read about in Psalm 144.
Psalm 147:12-14 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your children within you. He makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest wheat.
So we see there national prosperity given for obedience.
Turn with me to Deuteronomy 28. We are doing a basic survey of the Old Testament on examples of prosperity. Another type of prosperity highly valued in the Old Testament is children. We see this in Moses' vision of blessings of obedience to the covenant.
Deuteronomy 28:11 And the LORD will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.
Flip over to Psalm 25 which says, "The godly person that fears God will abide in prosperity and his children will possess the land." We are flipping quickly through these just as a survey, just to touch on a few of the prosperity ideas in the Old Testament.
Psalm 25:12-13 Who is the man that fears the LORD? [Of course, that is he who obeys and reverences God.] Him shall he teach in the way that He chooses. His himself shall dwell in prosperity, and his descendants shall inherit the earth.
We see there the types of blessings that are generally given in the Old Testament for obedience to the covenant, obedience to God's Word, and by living His way of life.
His blessing is dependent on obedience. But does the blessing of prosperity always mean that it is a well deserved blessing from God? We know that the wicked prosper, so, obviously, that cannot be true. In the Old Testament context of the covenant, prosperity is a sign of God's approval and blessing. Throughout the entire Old Testament we see example after example of how prosperity was given as a direct blessing for obedience.
Abraham and many of the patriarchs were very wealthy. Genesis 13:2 says, "Abraham was very rich in cattle." It does not just say he was rich, but very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. If you think about people today in the church, you just do not see anyone that you would call very wealthy in these material goods.
David acquired great wealth and Solomon received even greater wealth as a mark of God's acceptance of his attitude. Also Israel entered the Promised Land as a special gift from God. It was very rich since it was part of the Fertile Crescent and was also a lucrative trade route that Israelites prospered greatly from. All the other powerful nations envied that. They wanted some of that prosperity. But, Israel did have to work for it. God gave them the abundance of natural resources and Israel worked with God to receive that prosperity.
The single, most well known image of the Promised Land is a land of abundance and prosperity. It is characterized by the phrase, "A land flowing with milk and honey." Milk and honey take work to gather. It is there, but you are not prospering unless you go gather and help it to be produced.
Israel was always to acknowledge the hand of God in their good blessings. If they wanted to make use of the abundance they were given and receive prosperity for it, they had to thank God for it. They had to make sure they were always thankful for everything they were given, as we do also today.
Deuteronomy 8:7-9 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing in it; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
Iron and brass are natural resources in abundance that God gives obedient nations, but in order to use those natural resources we have to do our part in order to prosper.
Deuteronomy 8:10-12 When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them [That is exactly where this modern nation of Israel, the United States, stands today.]; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied [that is, all that you have has prospered in your hand in your labor]; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
This is a warning to Israel, and to us today, that we better make sure that we thank God for everything that He provides for us.
This warning holds true for the Israelite nations today worldwide, but they are not doing it and we are seeing the result of that. Those in abundance, who are prospering from these wonderful blessings, these things will be taken away from them because of a lack of thankfulness and appreciation to God, and of course obedience for those blessings.
To fail to acknowledge God's blessings leads to disaster. We need to be thanking God for the blessings He provides on a daily basis, several times a day, many times a day, especially when we are eating meals. Righteousness and obedience lead, inevitably, to blessing and success. Unrighteousness and disobedience lead to cursing and impoverishment. It does not always come right away, but eventually that will be the end result.
Hezekiah is a model for all those who seek to live prosperous lives.
II Chronicles 31:20-21 And thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right true before the LORD his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law and in the commandments, to seek his God [it takes effort], he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.
Jumping down to chapter 32 of II Chronicles, we will pick of verses 27 through 32, and continue with the example of Hezekiah.
II Chronicles 32:27-32 Hezekiah had very great riches and honor. And he made himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of desirable items; storehouses also for the harvest of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of livestock, and folds for flocks. Moreover he provided cities for himself, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance; for God had given him very much property.
You see all the effort Hezekiah had to put into all the abundance and blessings God was giving him to turn that into prosperity. Of course, God helped him do that, helped him to prosper.
II Chronicles 32:30-31 This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David. Hezekiah prospered in all his works. However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.
This is an excellent principle for us today. Even though we may work very hard to prosper, God may not bless us. This is one reason why He may not. "God withdrew from him," does not mean that He literally left, went into outer space and Hezekiah did not have any access to Him. It means He stopped helping him to prosper and let Hezekiah go on to use the material wealth God had provided, to see if he would do it in a righteous attitude or if he would become greedy and want more and more and more.
II Chronicles 32:32 Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, indeed they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.
God left him in the way of giving him prosperity, or giving him abundance for him to prosper with. He was "on his own," for a while, so to speak. It does not mean that God still was not helping him with His Holy Spirit. It means He wanted to see what Hezekiah would do.
We are tested in the same exact way today. We may be obedient, but that does not mean all will go smoothly for us.
For the most part, in the Old Testament, prosperity became a mark of responsible obedience to God. Continued prosperity is seen as a reward for diligence. This diligence brings a level of security in what God was providing in the fruit of a righteous person's labor—provided they were obedient and they thanked God for the blessings they received.
Let us look for a moment at the prosperous wicked. Prosperity is not always accompanied by righteous behavior. Jeremiah expressed confusion as to why the wicked so frequently prosper.
Jeremiah 12:1-2 Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; they grow, yes, they bear fruit. You are near in their mouth, but far from their mind.
God does not always put a restraint on the wicked. He allows them to prosper with the material wealth here on earth. You may want to go back to the article "Why Do The Wicked Prosper" in the Forerunner and get some details on that. It is not the purpose of the sermon today, but the article by Mike Ford was very interesting and very encouraging to read.
In physical life, the equation of righteousness with wealth, and poverty with sin, is not absolute. Even with hard work, the physical outcome is uncertain. We know that to be only too true today.
Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 He who observes the wind will not sow; and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
Someone who gives no effort at all to prosper will not reap, they will not sow, they will not gain from the abundance God has provided.
Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 As you do not know what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which shall prosper, either this or that, or whether both shall be alike will be good.
We do not know if we are going to prosper just by giving effort and using the abundance God has given us. God is working with us to build our character and prosperity may not be the right thing for us at that time.
Often it is the wicked who prosper, as we see today, especially. Sometimes the term, "the rich," is even synonymous with the term, "the wicked." Psalm 73 recounts how the speaker came near disaster caused by the prosperity of the wicked.
Psalm 73:1-3 Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure of heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious at the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Here we have a warning not to look at the prosperity of the wicked and wish we had it. God is doing other and greater things with us.
Psalm 73:4-9 For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men [that is, neither are they those of a clean heart]. Therefore pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth.
The wicked are very active in their defiance of God, and yet they prosper. They are prospering from the abundance God has put on this earth.
The most startling example of this reversal, of the wicked prospering rather than the righteous is found in Job, who by all human logic should have prospered. At the outset he seemed to be the epitome of the wise, righteous and, consequently, rich and wealthy patriarch. But disaster struck and deprived him of all his prosperity—every last thing. He even could not wear his clothes because the boils were so painful and he had to sit in an ash heap, because ashes are softer than the bare ground.
Job reached a milestone in his life while carefully analyzing his trials. When he disassociated prosperity from suffering from human effort, he pointed out that the wicked often prosper in life, even receiving prominent funerals. Job's three "comforters" (who were not very comforting, were they?) applied various traditional approaches in their attempt to understand his plight. But none were sufficient answers.
We quite often do that today when we see someone suffering. We try to apply human reasoning to try to figure out why a person is suffering. Is that not what we are trying to do today every time we see someone suffering? We feel overwhelmed and sickness is plaguing us constantly, and we are just trying to figure out what we can do to "prosper" or come out of these trials.
Job 42:7-10 And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering [They had to offer that burnt offering because they were sinning in their attitudes.]; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the LORD commanded them; for the LORD had accepted Job. And the LORD restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
The reason for Job's trial remains hidden within the unfathomable counsels of God. Even to this day, we do not realize all the lessons that Job learned. Commonly we say he learned the lesson of not being self-righteous. But he learned so much more than that. As long as Job felt sorry for himself, his trials continued, which is interesting to notice in the story of Job. But when God brought him to the point where he had learned not to dwell on himself, Job prayed for his friends and God restored his losses.
Prosperity has to do, also, with what our fellow human beings are doing. In a spiritual sense, are we praying for each other so each other can prosper in character, in health, and that type of thing? We all have a responsibility in prosperity for our fellow human beings.
New Testament prosperity seems to change somewhat from Old Testament prosperity and its implication of righteousness. It is mainly an Old Testament premise that earthly prosperity is an extension of a person's spiritual life. (I am talking about physical prosperity here.) Jesus Christ coming to earth as a flesh and blood human being was, in itself, a massive reversal of the Old Testament idea of prosperity—just the fact that He came as a human being.
In II Corinthians 8, Paul speaks of Christ becoming poor compared to His previous glory and wealth so that we can become spiritually rich as a result of His sacrifice and by following His example. We will prosper, and are prospering, as a result of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made.
II Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
We see there the reversal of the Old Testament example—prosperity for active, physical effort and strength (He had spiritual strength of course) compared to rich in spiritual character, salvation, and eternal life.
Beginning with the New Testament writings, prosperity ceased to be a metaphor of spiritual blessings and righteousness. In fact, you can even insulate individuals from the more important demands of seeking first the Kingdom of God.
Mark 10:17-31 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and mother.'" And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. [He had prospered in the abundance God had given him. He had worked hard for it.] Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" And His disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and have followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions— and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first shall be last, and the last first."
We see that receiving abundance and prospering from it is not always good for us. It can get in the way of our searching and seeking to apply ourselves to be worthy not only to escape, but to go into the Kingdom of God. Our attitude toward prosperity now is an indicator of our commitment to God.
I want to look at a couple of examples. In Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus, who became inordinately rich as a result of usury, demonstrated his repentance by making restitution—by being a giving man, replacing what he had taken, getting rid of some of his prosperity. By giving restitution, you do not only replace what you have taken, but you also give beyond that—in many cases sevenfold.
In another example, James denounced the wealthy who oppressed the workers. This is not to say that poverty had become a more positive metaphor under the New Covenant, but John prayed for the physical well being of Gaius in III John 2.
We see a change in the emphasis of the role of material prosperity. Prosperity is not always a blessing for righteousness. The wicked prosper. We cannot feel like we are inadequate or not righteous because we are of a poor state. If your life has been anything like mine, you have had your ups and downs. You have had times when you are more well off than others and times when you feel like you have hit the very bottom. We learn so many lessons at the bottom that we would not have learned with the wealth and prosperity.
Prosperity must be used with righteousness if it is to continue for eternity. Prosperity of itself is a blessing from God. How we use it is of the utmost importance. Abraham is a typical example of a wealthy, God fearing man who used his wealth righteously. He was a very generous man. Do you remember the example of Lot, when they were looking down on the land, and Abraham told Lot to choose the best land for himself, whatever you want. So Abraham, although greatly wealthy, had the right attitude and was willing to lose the best of what he had to give to someone else.
The right use of wealth requires general liberality towards those in need.
I Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
We must be generous with the use of the prosperity that we receive, that we work for using the abundance that God gives us. No matter how little the prosperity is we still have to have a generous heart.
The use of prosperity and wealth directly affects our eternal life. When wealth is hoarded it has already become a god. People in the U.S. spent $1 billion last year just storing their excess—the things that they are hoarding in the mini-storage chambers that we see everywhere. $1 billion to take care of or hoarding sin.
If we overcome our attitudes of get now—remember Mr. Armstrong said there is a way of get that is the way of the world and of Satan, and a way of give—we will find ourselves as spirit beings in the Kingdom of God, while others will find themselves physical human beings in the Millennium, if they survive the tribulation and Day of the Lord, that is.
Which would you rather be? Would you rather be in the Kingdom as a spirit being, helping those physically in the Millennium achieving eternal life, or would you rather be a physical human being in the Millennium? (Our focus should not be the Millennium. The word millennium is not even mentioned in the Bible. It is referred to as a time period of one thousand years.) Our goal is not to get to the Millennium or get into the Millennium. Our goal is to get into the Kingdom of God so that we can help others to learn to use their prosperity in the Millennium in a righteous way.
We have to be content with what we have and not look to the rich and their prosperity and wish that we had it. As you know in I Timothy 6 it says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." Contentment comes from faithfulness—the faith that God will prosper us more and more than we could imagine with eternal life and the blessings that come from that. Faithfulness and the use of wealth will be necessary in handling the prosperity of the Kingdom of God.
Luke 16:10-11 "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?"
As spirit beings in the Kingdom of God, we will not be interested in the material life. The blessings will be of a spiritual nature and they will be so much greater than any material blessings we could imagine. The material blessings will not be meaningless to us. We will want so deeply to give material blessings to human beings on earth, who are living in the Millennium, helping them to use them to their benefit, enjoying the prosperity they receive in their children, in their homes, and in their crops.
We have a wonderful opportunity now to understand and develop in ourselves, with God's help through the Holy Spirit, the right use of prosperity. In this wonderfully prosperous nation we are in, this is one of the things that we have on a daily basis, the opportunity to use that wealth for others and to be able to show others how to prosper in a right way.
As a result of that, and of course being righteous in other ways and being obedient, we will make it into the Kingdom, with God's help. What a wonderful and enjoyable time that will be! I cannot wait to be with you all there. Let us all work together and get there!