What can you hope to achieve in life? What can you expect to get if you do the right thing? And what should you expect?
In light of what I’ve written earlier on “daily bread” in the Bible, it might help us deal with economic hard times if we considered some more of what Scripture says about the desire for wealth.
Some treat Christianity as a method for getting what you want. The Apostle Paul characterized such people as those who believe that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). Ironically, such people make themselves and others miserable because their lives are marked by “constant friction.” Paul warns that the craving for money is self-destructive. “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Proverbs sounds similar warnings:
“Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven”Proverbs 23:4–5
“A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished”Proverbs 28:20
Yet it is interesting that Proverbs 28:20 expresses the ideal that one who is faithful “will abound in blessings.” And Jesus also gives us the idea that abundance above bare necessities can be part of God’s provision. Right after turning away the rich, young ruler, Peter said: “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”
Jesus did not simply rebuke Peter or tell him the remark was entirely off-base.
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."Luke 18:29–30
It is important to remember that, according to Mark’s Gospel (verse 10:30), Jesus added “persecutions” to this list of what Christians can expect to receive. Still, it is hard to see that Jesus wants everyone to expect to be limited only to bare necessities. One must distinguish between a command to be content with what one has (even if minimal) and a condemnation of anything more than basic needs.
We see this also in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”Matthew 6:25–33
While this is a promise to provide what one needs (food, drink, and clothing), there is an implication that God might be pleased to do more. After all, he clothes the grass better than he clothed Solomon. And the truth is, as I type this on a couch in an air-conditioned room, I suspect that wealth far surpassing Solomon’s has already been granted millions of people (or even billions) on much of our planet. Solomon may have had more gold and other property, but I doubt his furniture was as comfortable and I know he had limited solutions to hot or cold weather. We are arguably richer than him because of God’s provision.
Solomon gave us his own version of that passage in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,Proverbs 3:13–18
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed."
Seek righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Seek wisdom and you will find long life, riches, and honor. But righteousness and the Kingdom of God is more important than anything else, so that if you grasp the former you can thank God with a sincere heart despite not receiving the latter. And Wisdom is only secondarily a means to blessing because Wisdom is more valuable than anything else. “She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her."
As we face inflation and other challenges in our current economy, let’s remember that, as important as it is to strive for better prosperity, it is more important that we develop a better character. What James says about severe trials can be (with a great deal of humility) applied to relatively trivial stuff like rising gas prices:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect [i.e. mature] and complete, lacking in nothing."James 1:2–4
James immediately follows this command and promise by telling his readers how to ask for wisdom.
God loves to prosper his people but he wants something else much more:
“My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad."Proverbs 23:15
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.