Physical and spiritual blessings
The Bible begins and ends with blessings from God; Adam and Eve were blessed by God, as are those who live in view of Christ’s return (Gen. 1:28; Rev. 22:7). In this context, “blessing” means a favour, gift or benefit that brings great joy. I’ve heard it said that God blesses Christians with prosperity. Let’s see what the Bible says on this topic.
We begin by looking at God’s blessings in the Old Testament times, about 3,500 years ago. Before Abram travelled to Canaan, God told him: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3NIV; Acts 7:2).
When Abraham was 99 years of age, God changed his name and told him: “I will bless her (Sarah) and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:1,5,16).
After Abraham showed he was willing to sacrifice his son, God spoke to him again: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen. 22:17-18).
God’s blessings involved Abraham being well known; wealthy; having a son under miraculous circumstances; having many descendants who would have victory over their enemies; and through his offspring all nations on earth will be blessed. These were mainly physical benefits and we know that Abraham was a prosperous man. After finding a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s servant said: “The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys” (Gen. 24:35). Abraham’s descendants also had victory over their enemies when they occupied the land of Canaan, which was a fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21; Josh. 21:43-45).
The Jew’s Blessings
In his final message to the children of Israel, Moses said that they would be blessed if they obeyed God’s laws and cursed if they disobeyed them (Dt. 27-28). “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you” (Dt. 28:1-8).
The Jew’s blessings that would follow obeying the Old Testament laws involved them having large families; abundant crops, herds and flocks; and victory in battle. Like Abraham, they would be physically prosperous and wealthy (2 Sam. 7:28-29).
The Blessing Of Salvation
Now we will look at God’s blessings for Christians in the early church, which also apply to believers today. This is where we see the fulfilment of one of the promises made to Abraham.
After God used Peter to heal a crippled man, Peter told the Jews living almost 2,000 years ago that the coming of Jesus as the Messiah was predicted in the Old Testament. He said: “(God) said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed’.When God raised up His servant, He sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:25-26).
Here the blessing to all peoples on the earth is shown to have occurred through God’s servant, Jesus Christ, who was a descendant of Abraham (Mt. 1:1-2; Lk. 3:34). Jesus was sent to the Jewish nation and if they had received Him as their Messiah then they would have been blessed by God turning them away from their wicked ways. This blessing of a changed life and a changed future was available if they accepted that Jesus was who he said He was, the Son of God and their promised Messiah.
When Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, he explained that this blessing extended to non-Jewish people as well: “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:6-9). Also, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:14).
Paul quotes from Gen. 15:6 that Abraham was saved because he believed God, not because he was circumcised (v.6). All believers are Abraham’s spiritual children because they believed God (“have faith”), not because they get circumcised (v.7). The fact that Gentiles would be saved from God’s judgement of their sinful ways was alluded to in the Old Testament (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). In fact, Abraham was promised “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18; Acts 3:25). The blessing in this case was salvation that is now available to all nations because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As Abraham was saved by faith in God, today anyone can be saved by faith in Jesus, who is God’s provision for us all.
We see that one of God’s blessings for believers today is the gift of salvation. Christians share this blessing with Abraham as he also had faith in God.
Other blessings that believers receive from God are given in Ephesians 1, where Paul begins with a majestic summary statement: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The core statement is that God has blessed us. So not only were Adam and Eve and the Old Testament Jews blessed, but each believer is blessed today. We are blessed with God’s favors, gifts and benefits; which have two main characteristics. Firstly they are “spiritual” and “in the heavenly realms” because they involve the invisible spiritual world (2 Cor. 4:18). Did you know that the most important things in our lives are invisible? Secondly they are “in Christ” because everything comes to us through the Lord’s finished work at Calvary. He is not only the source of our salvation, but the source of every spiritual blessing.
Then Paul gives some examples of the spiritual blessings that God has already given believers.
Chosen us: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (v.4). How? By God and in Christ. When? Before the creation of the world. Why? To be holy and blameless in His sight. What a privilege! Note, the Bible doesn’t say that God chooses some to be damned. Instead, the gospel goes to all and each person is responsible for their response. Once a person becomes a true believer then they can know that they have been especially chosen by God to live for Him.
Adopted us into His family: “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves” (v.5-6). In those days the son obtained the family inheritance. This means that all true believers will share in the inheritance that God has prepared for us. This is a privilege and a responsibility, which deserves a response of praise. How? By God and through Jesus Christ.
Forgave our sins and removed our guilt: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us” (v.7). Just like a slave who has been set free, a believer has been liberated from the penalty of sin.
Revealed His grand plan to us: God “made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (v.8-10). Christ will reign and rule over all during the Millennium. We look forward to the kingdom of God; when Jesus’ prayer will be fulfilled, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).
Chosen us to bring praise and glory to God: “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ (Jews), might be for the praise of His glory” (v.11-12). Believers have been chosen so that the Lord will receive praise because of their changed lives and new destiny.
Given us the word of truth: “And you (Gentiles) also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (v.13a). Belief in the good news in the Bible of forgiveness of sins through Jesus is the means of salvation.
Given us the Holy Spirit: When you believed, “you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory” (v.13b-14). As a seal is a mark of ownership, the Holy Spirit is a sign that we belong to God and that we will be kept safe until the rapture when our bodies are redeemed (Eph. 4:30).
Lessons For Us
God’s blessings to Abraham and the Jews in Old Testament times mainly involved physical prosperity. Abraham was also promised that through his offspring all nations on earth will be blessed. The blessing in this case was salvation that has been available to all nations since Christ’s death and resurrection. Christians share this blessing with Abraham as he also had faith in God.
Those who have accepted God’s gift of salvation are not promised material wealth and prosperity, but they receive many spiritual blessings. These favors, gifts and benefits can be a great source of joy and security that overflows with praise and glory to God. They are eternal and not just restricted to our lifetime on earth.
Unfortunately some churches and preachers teach that Christians with enough faith and who donate generously will be blessed with material wealth and prosperity, which is not consistent with what the New Testament teaches on this topic. Do you think that God wants us to be prosperous? No, He wants us to be saved from the penalty of our sins and motivated by our spiritual blessings. Do you think that if we give money to God, God will bless us with more money? Beware of those that seek donations by promising that God will reward you materially. The reward for faithful tithing in the Old Testament was material wealth, whereas the reward for faithful service today is spiritual blessings (Dt. 8:17-20; Mal. 3:10-12). After all, Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money (Mt. 6:24).
Also, beware of those that use the Old Testament or Old Testament characters like Abraham to promote this belief. Instead look at the books of the Bible written to the church and characters like Paul, the godly apostle that God used to establish the church around the Mediterranean Sea, who was not wealthy or prosperous. Paul said that all believers who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted and can expect to suffer (Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pt. 4:12-19). Let’s have discernment and not be deceived by false teachers “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:5-10). Instead let’s read Bible verses in their context.
Those who preach a prosperity gospel have the timing wrong. God’s blessings for us will all be fulfilled materially when Jesus Christ returns. That’s when we will prosper. That’s why it’s called a “blessed hope” (Ti. 2:13).
Written, September 2009
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
In the first part of this series we looked at the positives of money and wealth; now we’ll consider the negatives – the bad news and warnings in the Bible about our attitudes toward money and wealth.
I live in an affluent country abounding in material goods. Our consumer society views greed as good, particularly for the economy. A recent newspaper editorial said, “Longer working hours and higher levels of debt mean that Australians are working more to own more and consume more.” We are very busy improving our standard of living. Money is a measure of success.
In Haggai’s prophecy (520 BC) the temple was in ruin and needed rebuilt. He questioned the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? … Each of you is busy with his own house” (Hag. 1:4,9). They were using the same cedar paneling in their houses as that which was to be used in the temple (1 Ki. 7:3,7). They were looking after themselves, but neglecting God’s things. The song, “Revive us, O Lord” says it this way: “Idols have captured our land/We worship the works of our hands/Lord for too long we have built/Houses on sand.”
Greed Is Sinful
Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:9-11). From the context we see that those who wanted to be rich were not content with what they had, and were determined to increase their standard of living; they were opposite to those who were content with their physical circumstances (6:8). This desire to have more is also called “greed” or “covetousness.” The Greek words to describe this are “pleonexia” (“a desire to have more” in a bad sense), and “philarguros” (money-loving).
This passage says that greed is destructive because it leads to dishonest behavior and becomes a dangerous habit. Is money evil? No! It’s the love of money (or greed) that results in evil. Greed brings anxiety and a wasted life. It is a sin associated with many kinds of evil. It causes people to neglect their spiritual life and wander from the faith. Greed does not buy happiness. We should flee from the love of money and develop Christian character instead (6:11).
Jesus said this to His disciples: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Lk. 12:29-31). What a warning! We live in a world that runs after money. The tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife … manservant or maidservant … ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). It’s sinful to desire what God doesn’t intend for you to have. Greed is as serious as murder, adultery, stealing, lying and idolatry which are also in the Ten Commandments. Paul himself was convicted of this sin (Rom. 7:7).
The Bible lists greed with other serious sins (Mk. 7:21-23, Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 3:2-5), and says that it defiles us and makes us unacceptable to God. Yet our society sees greed as acceptable, respectable, even desirable. We have a problem.
Greed Is Idolatrous
When a man asked Jesus to help him obtain his inheritance Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Is success measured by how much we own? When we judge people by their income, clothes, cars and housing, we’re acting like pagans. Are possessions the principle things in life? Will life be better when we make more and get more? Such thoughts don’t come from God; they come from advertisements.
Jesus told the story of a rich man who was devoted to gaining wealth, but who died before he could build bigger barns for his good crop (Lk. 12:16-21). Instead of using his abundant crop to help the needy, he greedily stored it up for himself so he could retire early. Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13). Money and things can be false gods. Paul said that greed is idolatry, because the greedy want things more than they want God (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). They are more devoted to money than to God.
The Fruit Of Greed
Greed is associated with the following behaviors.
Hoarding: Jesus condemned the hoarding of money. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). James condemned the rich for hoarding their wealth instead of putting it to work for the benefit of others (Jas. 5:3). Hoarding is the opposite of giving.
Self-Sufficiency: The church in Laodicea felt self-sufficient. They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rev. 3:17). However, although they were materially rich, they were spiritually poor. Likewise, the rich were warned not to put their hope in wealth (1 Tim. 6:17). James told them, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:5) or judgment. The greedy are like cattle that continue to fatten themselves, unaware that they are destined for slaughter. They are spending on themselves when there are many in need.
Indifference: Greed can also lead to indifference to others’ needs. The rich man who “was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” didn’t care about Lazarus, the diseased beggar, who lay at his gate (Lk. 16:19-21). Because of his selfishness and lack of faith, he suffered eternal punishment. Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (1 Tim. 6:17). The wealthy are likely to look down on those who do not have as much money.
Worry: Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the future, about food and clothes, but to “seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). A desire for wealth and an obsession for maintaining one’s wealth leads to a life of worry instead of peace. We worry about money when we have it, and when we don’t have it.
Waste: Selfish people can really waste money. In the parable of the prodigal, the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance and then traveled to a distant country and “there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Lk. 15:13).
Dishonesty: James condemned acquiring wealth by dishonesty. His example was failure to pay proper wages. He said that God was aware of this: “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James rebuked harsh treatment of others, particularly employees (Jas. 5:4-6). In this case the rich exploited their employees by underpaying and overworking them.
Ananias and Sapphira were punished for dishonesty when they lied about the amount of money received from the sale of property (Acts 5:1-11). Another example of wealth from a sinful enterprise was Demetrius who made silver shrines of Artemis (Acts 19:24-25). He made money promoting idolatry.
Barrier To Heaven
Jesus said that the invitation of eternal life was like an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-24). But the invitation was rejected by those who were devoted to the things they had bought, to their business and occupation. They didn’t get to taste the banquet. A greedy attitude for material wealth is a barrier to heaven.
The rich young man who asked what to do to get eternal life shows that coveting wealth is an obstacle to trusting Christ (Mt. 19:21-22; Mk. 10:17-22). Living for money and possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ. Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt. 19:23-24).
Hindrance To Spiritual Life
Greed can be the downfall of the godly. Greed ruined Lot when he moved to the plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:10-11). In the parable of the sower, a farmer scattered seeds. Some seeds fell among thorns which choked the plants so they did not mature and bear grain (Mt. 13:7). Jesus explained that this is like those who hear the Word, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word making it unfruitful” (Mt. 13:22; Mk. 4:18-19; Lk. 8:14). Because of their greed they become preoccupied with making money and lose interest in spiritual things. There is no fruit for God in their lives. Material prosperity can often lead to backsliding, as it can choke one’s spiritual life like weeds spoil a crop. This is because wealth gives a false sense of self-sufficiency, security and well-being.
The Futility Of Greed
Even if greed brings wealth, it’s so unreliable that one shouldn’t trust it (1 Tim. 6:17). Economic depressions, unemployment and disasters can destroy wealth. Jesus warned the rich: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Lk. 6:24). Those who fail to use their wealth to benefit others have already received their reward, the gratification of self. Like flowers, wealth only lasts awhile (Jas. 1:10-11).
In the story of the selfish farmer, “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:20-21). When he died he lost everything. Jesus warned His disciples about the temptation of getting rich: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). Greed can lead a man to miss out on eternal life. Although a winner in life, he’s a loser in death. The fruit of greed is all around us. How can we live in a money-loving world and not serve the god of money?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich – God’s way. He wants us to be spiritually rich: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Here the Greek verb “to be rich” is a metaphor for salvation. The materially rich need to become spiritually rich: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich” (Rev. 3:17-18). True wealth consists of being “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21; 2 Cor. 6:10). Our heavenly inheritance will endure for eternity (1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 10:34).
A New Way Of Thinking
How can we know God’s will about riches? Instead of copying the world’s greedy behavior we need to let God transform us by changing the way we think (Rom. 12:2). We need to be aware of the spirit of greed in society and dare to be different. We need to reject the world’s endless desire for a higher standard of living. Are our hearts set on seeking God or money? Do we provide so lavishly for ourselves that there’s little left for God’s work?
The Bible tells us to watch out for greed, flee from it and kill every greedy desire (Lk. 12:15; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:10-11). Greed is a hindrance to the spiritual life (Heb. 12:1). We need to learn that life is more than money and what it can buy. Eternal life is more valuable than money and possessions. We can only flee greed by pursuing values such as “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Does the fruit of the Spirit counter the advertisements and lifestyle messages you see daily (Gal. 5:2-23)?
Greed can hinder our service for God. Are we willing to downsize, not live for money and possessions and be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5)? God knows our needs. We should practice being content with what we have and being generous in giving to others. We shouldn’t waste our money on get-rich schemes, gambling or chain letters. Instead, we should use our money to help others benefit spiritually (Lk. 16:9).
Enjoying God’s Wealth
The Bible teaches that greed is a serious sin, a form of idolatry. It has no place in the Church. Its fruit includes: hoarding, self-sufficiency, indifference, worry, waste, and other sinful behaviors. It is a barrier to heaven and a hindrance to spiritual life. Worshiping money is futile because material wealth is fleeting, uncertain, and of no benefit beyond this life. Instead, Christians should enjoy their true and lasting wealth that comes with salvation and eternal life. Our behavior should be transformed as we adopt God’s way of thinking and as we pursue godliness in all things including our attitude toward money.
Published, March 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 3
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
Recently I read an article entitled, “Wisdom Of A Wealthy Achiever.” The subtitle was, “Smash The Myths Of Wealth.” It said that Proverbs promotes wealth as a benefit of wisdom, and that God was referring to wealth when He told Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2 NIV). From these references, the writer concluded that wealth is to be desired. Some religious figures say that God will bless those who pursue material wealth. But where do they get these attitudes about money and wealth? Let’s see what the Bible says.
Indeed, Abraham was blessed with wealth (Gen. 24:35), and Psalms and Proverbs say this of the man who reverences God: “Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3); “Blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Ps. 128:2); “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22).
In the Old Testament, riches were often a mark of God’s favor – for example, Job and Solomon were rich. But not all rich men were good – for example, Nabal and the King of Tyre. David wrote, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). In the Old Testament God promised earthly material blessings – Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and many descendants; and obedient Jews were rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops and protection from their enemies (Dt. 6:2; 28:1-8).
In the New Testament, the Church is promised heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3), such as: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, an inheritance (Eph. 1:4-14), grace (1 Cor. 16:23), peace (Phil. 4:7), and eternal life with God (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4). These blessings are imperishable. In the New Testament wealthy men are often seen as godless – for example, the rich farmer who planned to build more barns and enjoy life, and the rich man with Lazarus (Lk. 12:16-21; 16:19-31). Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). But not all rich men were ungodly – for example, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus.
Let’s look at passages written to the Church on this topic. In this series we will look at the positives of money and wealth and then we will look at the negatives. We will begin by looking at three key passages.
Commands For The Rich
God’s instruction to those who are already rich is: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). God is the source of enjoyment, not riches (6:17). He gives us money to use for good works and to help the needy (6:18). This wise use of money has eternal benefits (6:19).
Christianity doesn’t guarantee wealth (2 Cor. 8:1-15). The Macedonian churches experienced poverty, but still shared with believers in need (8:2). We don’t need to be rich to be generous. The order of giving is first, give yourself to God (8:5), then He will take care of your needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). He will provide the necessities of life.
Jesus was the most generous person ever: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). He gave up heavenly riches to bring us spiritual wealth. Likewise, we should be willing to give up our money to help those in need.
Three principles are given: give willingly (8:12; 9:5); the size of the gift is irrelevant (8:12); the gift is to gain equality among Christians (8:13-15). Like the manna in the desert, those who had too much shared with those who didn’t have enough (Ex. 16:18). Manna couldn’t be hoarded; neither should money.
The Benefits Of Generosity
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Generosity brings spiritual blessings (9:6). We are to give cheerfully (9:7). God will supply us with the resources to share with others (9:8,10). Generosity also results in thanks and praise to God (9:11-14). Of course, God is the greatest giver and Jesus was the greatest gift (9:15). “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Work For Your Food
Now let’s look at some New Testament principles related to money and wealth. Paul worked hard to support himself while preaching and teaching; even though he had the right to the support of other believers (1 Cor. 4:12, 9:6, 11-14). He warned believers in Thessalonica not to be idle. And he set an example by working night and day so he would not be a financial burden but a model for them to follow (2 Th. 3:8-9). He wrote, “While we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people … get to work. Earn your own living” (2 Th. 3:10-12 nlt).
Paul also said, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12). As the world judges Christ by how we behave, we should support ourselves and not rely on others for the necessities of life.
Provide For Your Family
When Paul was discussing the care of widows he wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God … If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:4,8). We should provide for our family and relatives when they are in need so they do not have to rely on the church for necessities. It is only the church’s responsibility when the needy have no family.
Pay What You Owe
Paul said that the governing authorities are established by God. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:6-7). When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). So, we should pay our taxes, fees, fines and loans. This means being honest and reliable in financial matters. Remember, when Zacchaeus came to faith he repaid those he had cheated as a tax collector (Lk. 19:8-10).
Support Christian Work
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus said we should use our money and possessions so others will have eternal blessing: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). There are many instances in the New Testament of churches giving aid to needy churches (Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-5). For example, the believers in Jerusalem were poor because of famine or persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:28). Also the church at Philippi supported Paul’s missionary work as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-18). Preachers, teachers and ministries need their needs met (1 Cor. 9:11-14). We should support Christian works and workers financially.
How Much Should We Give?
How much should we give? Ten percent? That was the taxation for Israelites in Old Testament times. The New Testament doesn’t say how much; just to be regular and generous in giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2).
We are to give: according to need, so no one will be needy (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13); according to ability, “as much as they were able” (2 Cor. 8:3); and as planned, and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus is interested in our giving. He watched the crowd putting money in the temple treasury, and a widow gave “all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:41-44).That was sacrificial giving.
Attitudes Towards Money And Wealth
Thankfulness: Paul said God created certain things not to be denounced, but to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). God gave money and possessions to be used thankfully. We should not denounce them as evil, but thank Him for them. We should worship Him, not our money and possessions.
Wisdom: If Christ is our Lord, we are His stewards. He provides our money and possessions, and we should use them wisely. In the parable of the talents, Jesus approved of a wise investment as a way to earn income (Mt. 25:27; Lk. 19:23). There is a link between the physical and spiritual, between money and heaven (Lk. 16:9). We are responsible to exercise wisdom in our use of money.
Contentment: Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). That’s how the disciples were sent out – not wealthy. Otherwise, people would follow with the hope of becoming rich. Peter told a beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Jesus and Paul were poor (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; 11:27). The kingdom belongs to those satisfied with having their needs met so that more money can go to God’s work.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). When Paul warned about false teachers who were teaching because it paid well, he wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12). Because God will never abandon us, we should be content with the money and possessions we have, and the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Generosity: Jesus told His disciples to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33-34). In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encouraged generosity. Christians should share with God’s people in need, and practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28). This means providing their daily necessities (Ti. 3:14). Also, the rich are to be generous (1 Tim. 6:18-19). This is investing in heaven. The Bible teaches that God will meet the needs of the generous (Phil. 4:19). We need to be generous with what we have. Our standard of giving is more important than our standard of living.
Spirituality: The early believers chose to be true to Jesus rather than keep their possessions: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34). Like Moses who forsook the treasures of Egypt, they valued spiritual possessions above material ones (Heb. 11:25-26). Also, they didn’t favor the rich: “As believers … don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas. 2:1-4). There is no place in Christianity for this.
Constructive Aspects Of Money And Wealth
God does not want us to be rich or poor. He wants us to: work for our food; provide for our family; pay what we owe; support Christian work; and develop the attitudes of thankfulness, wisdom, contentment, generosity and spirituality with respect to money and possessions. Christ became poor and the apostles gave up money and possessions for the sake of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24).
So let’s be devoted to Jesus, and follow and serve Him in how we use our money and possessions.
Published, February 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 2