Is money such a great evil? Is it something the Christian shouldn't really want? Does God dislike luxury? Just what should a Christian's attitude be toward material prosperity?
Money isn't everything," you hear people say. And it's true. Money — material prosperity — isn't everything. There are some things in life which don't require money. Sunshine is free. Fresh air is free — unless you happen to live in downtown Tokyo or Los Angeles, that is. But when people say money isn't everything, they usually aren't referring to those things which are freely available to all. They usually mean that they don't consider material things to be all that important. Usually, of course, it's those who don't have all that much of what people call "the good life" who make this statement. Those who have money don't seem to view it the same way! The wealthy often look upon their fine things as something they just couldn't live without. But how does God look upon "the good life"? If anyone ever had "the good life," it was King Solomon of ancient Israel. He amassed more wealth than probably any other person in all of human history! Solomon had every material comfort imaginable. "I made me great works," said Solomon. "I builded me houses; I planted vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits; I made me pools of water..." (Eccl. 2:4-10). This king designed parks and put great lakes in them, planting all kinds of exotic trees. He even established a large zoo which may well have rivaled the great animal collections of today. Solomon also had hundreds of servants. He had his own resident orchestras, choirs, entertainers and dancing girls. He drank out of pure gold goblets. He had everything money could buy and more! In his day, silver was counted of little worth in Jerusalem! (I Kings 10:21.) And Solomon, who really did experience the good life, said that "money answereth all things" (Eccl. 10:19). Or, as The Living Bible has it: "Money gives everything." Solomon didn't see happiness and abundant living as merely a "state of mind." He believed material prosperity to be something good and a power we ought to really enjoy. (Of course, he understood too that material wealth of itself does not automatically bring happiness and peace of mind — Eccl. 2:10, 11; 5:11.) But was Solomon right? How does God look upon material prosperity?
What About the Poor?
The world is filled with poverty. Most of the earth's population lives in tragic squalor. Starvation is a daily way of life for countless pitiful human beings. Yet many in Western society bask in comparative affluence. They live in fine homes, frequently enjoy excellent steaks, and drink fine wines. They often travel in expensive, beautifully appointed cars. They live in finery rivaling that of royalty. Is that right? Would God approve? Shouldn't that money — the wealth enjoyed by so many in our Western society — be shared with the poor? The common "Christian" conception presents God as One who would never approve of beauty and fine quality. People often speak of "God's poor." The idea of any man of God being wealthy or enjoying the material comforts of life is utterly repugnant to many professing Christians. But does this common concept square with such statements as Matthew 26:6-13? Let' s examine Christ's teaching. A woman came to Christ with "an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this WASTE? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and GIVEN TO THE POOR." After all, weren't people starving? Weren't the poor begging at the gates of the city? But what did Christ answer? "... Ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always." Granted, this was an exceptional case. But if Christ was against all wealth and precious possessions on principle He would never have acceded to this. Of course, it is our Christian duty to care for the poor — and there are many of them. But does this make it wrong for us to enjoy fine quality? Does God hate the rich, the successful and the prosperous?
God's Servants Prospered!
If He does, what about the great men of God who prospered? Abraham will be in God's Kingdom — he is the "father of the faithful" (Rom. 4). There were poor in Abraham's day, yet Abraham was a very WEALTHY man! "And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold" (Gen. 13:2). Further, God promised Abraham that if he were obedient, He would make him even more prosperous. When Abraham sought a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham's servant told Rebekah's parents: "... The Lord hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses" (Gen. 24:35). When they agreed to the marriage of their daughter, "the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things" (verse 53). Was Jacob prosperous? The Bible tells us that "the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses" (Gen. 30:43). How about Joseph? God made him second only to Pharaoh over all Egypt, arrayed in regal splendor! "God hath made me lord of all Egypt," said Joseph to his brothers, "and ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt..." (Gen. 45:9, 13). Job, whom God termed the most righteous man of his time, "was the greatest of all the men of the east" (Job 1:3). After God had brought him through great trials, humbling him, "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10-12). Yes, God's servants prospered! And in every case, notice it was God who gave them their wealth. If He didn't approve of wealth, why did he give it to them?
New Testament Teaching
Certainly there were times when God's servants didn't have every comfort in life. Sometimes they were even destitute, in order to get the Work of God done. But in most cases the Bible shows clearly that God wants us to prosper. There were times when Christ had no place to lay His head. But, apparently, He also owned a house, and there are several references to this house in the Gospels. After His crucifixion, soldiers cast lots for His clothing, which is a very clear inference that it was of fine quality (John 19:23-24). The New Testament clearly teaches that we shouldn't set our hearts on material possessions (Luke 12:15). We are not to TRUST in riches, but in our Creator. Yet notice what John told God's people: "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest PROSPER ..." (III John 2). Was this just spiritual prosperity? The next part of the verse explains: "... that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." Good health is physical, and John wanted them to prosper physically just as they already were spiritually. Christ Himself promised prosperity to those who are really willing to obey Him. And in most cases that prosperity is to be expected now in this life: "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in THIS time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30). Notice, however, that there are times when people do have to go without the material blessings in life. Christ said some will have to give up lands and houses. But God's desire is to give us far more than we ever give up, right now in this age! This doesn't mean that we will never be tested by financial problems. God gave financial laws which could produce national prosperity. But because the world has not followed those laws, God's people do sometimes suffer financial hardships along with the nation in which they live. This is not God's will, but the result of a national sin. He still intends that we prosper, and He can intervene to make this possible for His people.
Two Opposing Philosophies
Why does God intend that we prosper and enjoy the good life, while millions are in abject poverty? Many professing Christians, not understanding God's purpose, have felt that they should give up the material comforts of life and give a great deal toward "causes." Of course, it's not wrong to give to worthwhile causes. But many seem to feel that they should do what God Himself has not seen fit to do — to intervene in the world's miseries and alleviate all of this world's suffering. Why does God allow poverty? Why do so many young mothers, blinded by poverty-caused disease, sit in gutters in Calcutta or Cairo with small babies in their arms — babies whose only future is the same terrible fate? Consider, for a moment, the two basic — and opposite — ways of life. The one is the way of give, the other the way of get. The world has chosen the latter — and for almost 6,000 years now it has been reaping the harvest it has sown, a harvest of poverty, hunger, and squalor. But why doesn't God Himself do anything about the sickening plight of teeming millions? An atheist had just this criticism. He was more righteous than God! He wouldn't allow such squalor if he were God. He wouldn't bask in heavenly affluence while people starve. He would do something about it! He said that while such conditions exist, there is no God worthy of homage. But humanity chose the way of get. It chose to break the laws which would cause prosperity and well being, following instead the way of getting and taking, which is contrary to God's law and the cause of every evil in the world today. The world is following Satan's way — not God's (II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). It is his world, practicing his philosophy of life — and reaping the effect which that way of life causes. Satan is the "god" (II Cor. 4:4) which this world worships — a god of cheapness, shoddiness and inferior quality. He would have us "honor" him with cheapness, drabness and poverty. He would like to see everyone worship him by a life of deprivation and poverty! When our first parents committed the original sin, Satan exposed their minds to the concept of getting away with sin. He told them that they could violate God's express commands without suffering the penalty. So humanity follows the way of GET — the way which results in wealth for the few and utter degrading poverty for millions — then seeks by humanly devised organizations and "causes" to alleviate the plight of the poor. But all of man's efforts to eliminate poverty have proved futile because they fail to deal with the real causes
Understanding God's Purpose
Why don't we have universal prosperity now? It isn't God's purpose to change the world now. Speaking prophetically of Christ, Isaiah said that "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench..." (Isa. 42:2-3). That is, in this age. Christ isn't about the business of solving the world's problems — and He hasn't commissioned His Work to do that either! He will set His hand to end poverty and squalor when He returns. God is allowing us to go our own way — to follow the wrong philosophy of life — se we will ultimately learn that this way brings only suffering. God in not preventing mankind from paying the penalty of broken law. He intends that we learn that sin doesn't pay. God says what man sows, he must reap (Gal. 6:7). And He doesn't intend that His people be a part of the world's desperate effort to remove the penalty of sin without repentance and a return to God's way. So why, then, were we called in this age? To preach the gospel and to reveal God's way of life to the world! Thousands of years ago, God called an entire nation out of slavery and revealed His way to them. And for what purpose? "Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments," God told them. "Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them?.. And what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" (Deut. 4:5-8.) Israel was to reveal God's way, based on God's law, to the world. And it was to be a two-pronged attack. The nations would hear of that way, and they would also see it in action so they would know that it was wise and right. Israel was to be a living example of that way! The idea of a whole way of life based on the biblical principle that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35) is totally foreign to today's world. But it works! Unfortunately, Israel didn't have the ability to go that giving direction of life. God said of them: "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" (Deut. 5:29.) That physical nation failed miserably to show the world God's way. They just didn't believe what God told them. They simply didn't believe God's way would really work.
God's Present Work
So God called a new group of people — His Church and Work - to live a different life and to reveal His way to the nations. And that is why we have been called now! And once again God has a two approach. pronged approach. The world must hear God's way, and it must also see it in action — it must see the proof that this way really works! God is doing His Work of showing the world His way in a dual manner. He is doing it on an organized level, and on the individual level. God's Work is preaching the gospel — God's way — to the nations (Mark 16:15). And it is also showing the world God's way by its example. As the Apostle Peter put it: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the virtues [margin] of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God..." (I Pet. 2:9-10). God's Work proclaims the gospel worldwide so that the nations can hear of God's way. And Ambassador College reveals God's way in, living application. Its campuses are living witness of the fruits of God's way of give. They reflect God to the world. Ambassador College is an institution of character and quality. It is producing a harvest of peace and happiness. Its campuses are meant to be places of physical beauty and quality, showing the world how God intends humans to live, in sharp contrast to the filth, the depravity, the squalor and poverty which Satan's philosophy of life has produced the world over. All of the financial and material resources of this worldwide Work would be less than a drop in a bucket if they were all given to attempt to solve the world's troubles today. They would go absolutely nowhere! But used to reflect the great God — to show the world a different pattern of life and the results of that different way — the campuses of Ambassador are a witness to the world. They are showing the real solution to poverty, the solution Christ will enforce to bring prosperity and abundance worldwide.
Your Part NOW
God has called us individually to show His way to mankind, as well as collectively through His Work. Christ explained our individual part in this witness. He said our lives are to reflect God's way as a shining light in a dark, dismal world (Matt. 5:14-16). We are to show the world by example that God's way of "give" really works. When we obey God, we prosper. God's law is the cause of every good thing. This is the kind of life we shall live for all eternity in God's family. We are in training for that future now. God intends that we learn to appreciate quality and fine things.
The Right Balance
The way we are to follow is the way of giving, serving, sharing and helping. It is the way of love, and of outgoing concern. To practice that way, we should have concern for the poor. Many scriptures tell us to be of a giving attitude. When we have that attitude, God desires to shower down upon us every good thing; He is far more willing — do we really believe this? — to give than we are to receive! (Matt. 7:7-12.) What is the greatest gift we can give to the world? Simply the knowledge of the way that will produce prosperity, health and happiness. God does not intend that we try to remove the penalty of sin from humanity. As we prosper, and as we have opportunity, we are to do good to all men (Gal. 6:10). We are to put our treasure into God's Work, so that more of the world can hear of the one way of life which will finally erase poverty and suffering from the face of the earth (Matt. 6:19-21). A right attitude and willingness to sacrifice for God's Work are the keys to the proper use of money. God loves a cheerful giver — one who is willingly practicing the way of give. But you can't out give God! And when we have this right approach, then we shall be prospering. Paul tells us plainly that the Christian life is one of prospering: "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." He says that we shall be "enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God" (II Cor. 9:6, 11). Does God hate the successful and the prosperous? "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly .... But his delight is in the law of the Eternal.... whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:1-3). "For the Eternal God is a sun and shield: the Eternal will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee" (Ps. 84:11, 12). "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon" (Ps. 92:12). But God warns, through David, when we are prospered, against setting our hearts on the prosperity. If all men would put their lives under the government of God and live by God's laws, all men would soon be prosperous! Conversely, then, poverty is the result, directly or indirectly, of transgressing God's laws. Jesus, however, put the matter in its true relationship when He commanded us to seek first the Kingdom of God — that is, to submit our lives to the government of God — to obey His commandments! — to live the kind of life He directs in His Word — and He promised that when we have first done this, the material prosperity shall be added.
The Abundant Life
Finally, let Christ Himself show the right balance: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38). God's way is the abundant life. The world has sown sparingly — it has followed the get philosophy. It has been built on competition, and on getting for self. It is now reaping sparingly. But God has called us to reveal the give philosophy to the world. As we walk that way, not coveting money, yet using and enjoying material possessions to the full, God blesses us and causes us to prosper. Yes, it's the attitude of Satan that is really behind the idea that "money isn't everything"! Money, rightly directed, really does "answer all things." It can be a tremendous power for good. God wants us to enjoy the good life far more than most have ever realized.