Forgotten Christian Secrets of Prosperity

Prosperity Doctrine

By Grantley Morris

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Net-Burst.Net














Christian Prosperity














Financial Provision














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Money

    I admit that for most of my life I have been inspired by the faith-filled message of preachers devoted to Christian prosperity teaching or, as it is sometimes called, prosperity doctrine. Despite any personal bias, however, my goal – and yours – must be to ruthlessly push aside personal preferences and presumptions. No matter how uncomfortable it makes me, I must continually seek to expand my mind and heart to embrace the staggering vastness of God’s full biblical revelation. Will you join me on this journey? Will you stay if it takes some unexpected turns?

    The Bible says so much about finances that although it is my habit to adorn webpages with quotes from the eternal Word of God, this time I’ll lavish upon you an even higher proportion of the Bible’s priceless treasure. To minimize your reading time I have pruned each quote to make it as short as possible. So although throughout this webpage, bold italics indicate words I particularly want you to note, the other words have been retained only because they, too, are significant to the point I wish you to see.

    To cut through spiritual deception and blindness to discover eternal truth, it is essential that we get passionately serious with God. So I urge you to make this courageous prayer your own:

      Precious Father,
      I need you infinitely more than anything else in the entire universe. You are my joy, my love, my hope. Only you are good and perfect. No one has love and wisdom like you.

      You have said, “ . . .  broad is the road that leads to destruction . . . But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). You alone offer eternal life. Only you know what awaits me beyond the grave and how I must act to achieve the most good and to maximize my eternal bliss.

      May I never again be content with a needlessly shallow understanding of spiritual reality. Help me hunger and thirst after righteousness and be rid of all the sin that so easily seduces and deceives; grieving you and robbing me of your best. May I die to self and come alive to you. Give me the courage and determination to pay whatever price it takes to know you and delight you as fully as any human can. Help me break through fears, biases and preconceptions to truly hear from you.

    We’ll start with a Scripture that unveils what for some Christians has become a forgotten factor in Christian prosperity and financial provision. It seems mundane and yet the Bible emphasizes it because the all-knowing Lord sees it as significant:

      Psalm 128:2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

    Did you catch it or did it sneak past you? “You will eat the fruit of your labor . . .” Even with divine blessing, you still have to work. Sadly, many of us are so out of touch with biblical thinking that even the thought of having to physically work for God’s blessing seems unspiritual! To confirm that this verse is not some biblical aberration, examine the following:

      Proverbs 24:33-34 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.

      Proverbs 13:4 The sluggard [the lazy person] craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent [the person who works hard and consistently] are fully satisfied.

      Proverbs 12:24 Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.

      Proverbs 20:4 A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

      Proverbs 23:21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

    Consider this Scripture on divine provision:

      Psalm 104:25-28 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

    God provides but it still takes effort. The principle applies even to the miraculous provision of manna:

      Exodus 16:14-18,22,26 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ ” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much much did not have too much, and he who gathered much little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. . . . On the sixth day, they gathered much twice as much . .  Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.

    Each Sabbath, no gathering of the manna was permitted because gathering was work.

    And don’t for a moment imagine that New Testament faith negates this spiritual principle of divine provision requiring work on behalf of the recipients. Read this carefully:

      2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

      1 Corinthians 3:8  . . . each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

      Colossians 3:22-23 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men

    As we will soon see, these Scriptures are but a tiny fraction of the New Testament emphasis on physical work. Faith is not a way of avoiding hard work. What makes God’s blessing different is not how hard we must work but that without God’s blessing our hard work ultimately ends up wasted:

      Deuteronomy 28:15,38-40 However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands . . . all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: . . . You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off.

      Psalm 109:2,11  . . . wicked and deceitful  . . . may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

      Jeremiah 3:24,25 From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our fathers’ labor . . . We have sinned against the LORD our God . . .

      Jeremiah 51:58 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled and her high gates set on fire; the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing, the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.”

      Habakkuk 2:13 Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

      Haggai 1:6-7,9,11 “ . . . You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. . . . What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. . . . I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains . . . and on the labor of your hands.”

    A soft, lazy life is associated not with God’s blessing but with his displeasure:

      Matthew 25:26 . . . You wicked, lazy servant! . . .

      Titus 1:12 . . . Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.

    Hard work is an important aspect of godliness:

      Ephesians 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

      Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.

      1 Corinthians 4:12 We work hard with our own hands.

      1 Thessalonians 2:9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

      1 Thessalonians 4:11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you

      Titus 3:14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

    The Bible’s ideal housewife works so hard that you might need to rest up after merely reading of all she crams into her long day:

      Proverbs 31:10-27 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. . . .
      She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
      She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
      She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family . . .
      She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
      She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
      She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night .
      In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
      She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. . . .
      She makes coverings for her bed . . .
      She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
      She is clothed with strength and dignity . . .
      She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

    Here’s a Scripture addressed to people in houses that not only had no washing machines, but no piped water; an era in which families were large and there was not only no cheap ready-made clothing but not even access to sewing or weaving machines:

      1 Timothy 5:13-14 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

    In contrast to hardworking wives, Paul writes:

      1 Timothy 5:6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.


    Get rich quick dreams and schemes lead not to wealth but to poverty; not to contentment but to an endless craving. They are a curse that promises blessings but ends in regret:

      Proverbs 20:21 An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.

      Proverbs 28:8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

      Proverbs 28:19-20,22 He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him.

      Proverbs 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.

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    The Second Secret

    Let’s unpack a second key to financial peace. The Bible emphasizes it and yet, even more than the first, it somehow slips past most of today’s Western Christians. We’ll start with the obvious, however, before moving to the road less travelled:

      Proverbs 21:17 He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

      Proverbs 23:4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.

      Deuteronomy 5:21 You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

      Luke 3:14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”

      1 Timothy 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

    No matter how much he earns, anyone is headed for poverty who fails to show restraint but squanders his money on self-indulgence. There are much deeper truths than this, however, associated with being content with less.

    The great apostle of faith writes:

      Philippians 4:11-12  . . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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

    It is ironic that the highly popular Scripture, “I can do all things through Christ” (King James Version) refers primarily to what is decidedly unpopular – being content with an empty stomach:

      Philippians 4:12-13  . . . 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

    It is also ironic – or perhaps disturbing – that Paul mentions his being in want and even hungry just before another oft-cited Scripture:

      Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

    Actually, Paul refers to going hungry several times in his writings:

      1 Corinthians 4:11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.

      2 Corinthians 6:4-5 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger

      2 Corinthians 11:27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

    He also says of himself and his companions:

      2 Corinthians 6:9-10  . . . beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

    It is easy to forget that so many early Christians were slaves that:

      * Philemon was written solely because of a Christian slave

      * In Titus 2:9 a leader is guided as to how to instruct Christian slaves

      * 1 Corinthians 7:21-22, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:10-11, Colossians 3:22, and 1 Peter 2:18-25 were specifically addressed to Christian slaves.

    Not only were slaves poor, they often became slaves as a result of extreme poverty. In fact, to be poor was normal in the early church:

      2 Corinthians 8:2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

    Why were the Macedonian churches so generous despite “their extreme poverty”? Because they were giving to Christians who were even poorer:

      Romans 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

    Note that it was not some backwater church that had impoverished members. This was the mighty Jerusalem church of the book of Acts; the church born out of the original Pentecostal outpouring, complete with tongues of fire and astounding miracles.

    Paul did not regard these Christians in Jerusalem as spiritually inferior because they were deeply impoverished. On the contrary, you’ll see above that even behind their backs he called them saints – God’s holy ones – and rather than supposing that he could rectify the problem by preaching to them about having faith for finances, he went to extremes to collect money for them:

      Galatians 2:10 All they [the apostles in Jerusalem] asked was that we should continue to remember the poor [among the Jerusalem Christians], the very thing I was eager to do.

      1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now about the collection for God’s people [in Jerusalem]: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 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.

    The inspired apostle considered this so important that in 2 Corinthians he devoted two entire chapters (eight and nine) to urging his readers to give sacrificially to the poor in Jerusalem.

    Titus and another respected leader were equally enthusiastic about this project:

      2 Corinthians 8:17-21 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

    You no doubt know that the whole saga of Paul being arrested, imprisoned for years and finally sent to Rome, began as a result of him insisting on going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-14). Did you realize, however, that a key reason why he was in Jerusalem was to deliver the money he had raised for the impoverished Christians there?

      Romans 15:25-26 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

      Acts 24:17 After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.

    And it was not just the Macedonian and the Jerusalem Christians who were poor. Of the church in Smyrna, the risen Lord said:

      Revelation 2:9 I know your afflictions and your poverty . . .

    Most of the people James wrote to were clearly poor:

      James 2:2-5 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 . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  . . . Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith . . . ?

    Yes, “rich in faith” but still poor – and the context eliminates any chance of “poor” referring to something other than material poverty. By the way, how many of us are so poor that we regard wearing a gold ring (a wedding ring, for example) as a sign of wealth?

    Here’s a hint at the extent of their poverty:

      James 2:15-16 Suppose a [Christian] brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

    We noted Paul seeing the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem as needing practical help, not faith teaching, to counter their poverty. Now we see from the above quote that James likewise saw the poor among the Christians as not needing preaching or spiritual words to escape their poverty but material help.

    Our Lord can send us soaring on spiritual highs and thrilling faith adventures but he is also disturbingly practical:

      James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction . . .

    If our religion moves us merely to climb on our soapboxes, we are nothing but clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we stop at spouting doctrine or merely trying to look “holy,” rather than rolling up our sleeves and/or emptying our pockets, we are probably fake.

    Paul bursts false spirituality with the ease of a pin through a balloon. The following could hardly be worded any stronger:

      1 Timothy 5:8 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.

    Of course, Jesus was the master at shattering the hypocrisy that religion inevitably attracts. For example:

      Matthew 15:3-6 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

    Our Lord expects far more from us than just prayer and preaching. Look at what Scripture puts side by side:

      Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

    God sees the highest spiritual worship and the most practical physical help as belonging together. It is as vital that they be interconnected as it is for a car’s engine and wheels to interconnect. Anyone trying to divide them is like the Priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-32).


    We love to rip the following out of context:

      2 Corinthians 9:8-11 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He [the righteous person] has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion . . .

    Before getting too carried away with expounding these verses, we need to realize that this is in the middle of Paul’s efforts to raise money for the material needs of Christians who, despite their faith, were so poor that they needed a handout.

      2 Corinthians 9:12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God [that is, the receivers will be exceedingly grateful because they need this financial help].

    It is to our shame if we see dollar signs when reading “You will be made rich in every way.” Let’s glance at that passage again, noting how much the spiritual riches predominate:

      2 Corinthians 9:8-11 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He [the righteous person] has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion . . .

    We noted how James wrote of being rich, not materially, but “rich in faith.” Jesus, too, spoke of spiritual riches:

      Luke 12:21 This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.

    To the church in Smyrna, Jesus said that although they were materially poor, they were rich (Revelation 2:9). And Paul spoke about being “rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). Although it is less obvious in some English versions, Paul speaks similarly in this long passage about giving:

      2 Corinthians 8:7 But just as you excel [many versions say “abound”] in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel [or abound] in this grace of giving.

    The word here translated “excel” refers to having an abundance. The Bible sometimes applies this Greek word materially and other times spiritually. For example, Paul used this same Greek word when he wrote “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty [many versions say ‘abound’]” (Philippians 4:12). So here Paul is talking about abounding or being rich in faith, love, generosity and so on.

    As confirmed over and over in his writings, Paul’s heart is clearly for spiritual riches, not material riches. Just a couple of chapters earlier in 2 Corinthians he spoke of he and his companions being “poor [materially], yet making many rich [spiritually]; having nothing [materially], and yet possessing everything [spiritually]” (2 Corinthians 6:10). It is vital that we crave a spiritual, not a material, abundance. It is this that must captivate our imagination and fill our waking moments.

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    Supernatural Joy

    Let me share one of my favorite verses. It highlights just how supernatural Paul’s walk with God was. In the same letter in which Paul lists all the torture he had suffered, he writes:

      2 Corinthians 7:4  . . . in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

    What makes that verse so exciting is that if Paul could so dramatically tap into the heart of God, so can we – if, like him, we pay the price.

    Face it: for someone living a soft life to be joyful is hardly a powerful witness to the reality of God, relative to Paul’s testimony of being content while hungry. He knew the truth of this Scripture:

      Psalms 4:7 You [God] have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.

      Psalms 63:4-6,8 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with [not “with” but “as with”] the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. . . . I think of you through the watches of the night. . . . My soul clings to you . . .

    Let’s drill deeper into Paul’s declaration of contentment:

      Philippians 4:12 . . . I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . .

    This contentment, says Paul, is something he had to learn. It did not magically fall into his lap. Like learning to walk, we can expect reaching this degree of contentment to take deliberate, prolonged effort.

    Paul’s contentment hinged on his spiritual union with Christ:

      Philippians 4:12-13  . . . I have learned the secret of being content . . . whether . . . hungry . . . or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

    For this level of contentment we must discover how to draw deeply from our relationship with God:

      Hebrews 13:5 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.”

    If such contentment were something that automatically comes upon Christians, not only would Paul have not had to learn it, there would have been no need for this instruction. This contentment is something that one has to work at. One has to deliberately stir oneself up to delight in God.

      Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

      Job 1:21 [After losing all his children and all his possessions, Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

      Deuteronomy 12:18 . . . you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to.

      Psalm 34:1 . . . I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

      Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

    The fulfillment that comes from rejoicing in God empowers us to put into practice such Scriptures as:

      Romans 5:2-3  . . . And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings . . .

      James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds

      1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

    An important aspect of finding contentment is to foster a spirit of thankfulness. There is much truth in the old hymn “Count your blessings . . . and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

      Ephesians 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Colossians 1:10-12 . . . growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father . . .

      Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

      1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

    A thankful person is a happy person. An envious person torments himself with needless misery.

    Our fallen nature is such that we find it easier to be grumpy about what we don’t have than to be grateful for what we have. To rise above this degradation is a continual challenge. The more we praise God, however, the more he will praise us.

    Will we choose to delight in what God has given us or grizzle about what he has not given us? This is a far more serious matter than many of us realize:

      Numbers 11:4-6,10,18-20,33-34  . . . the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”  . . . Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry . . . ‘Tell the people:  . . . “Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. . . . for a whole month – until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it . . .” ’  . . . All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. . . . But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

    God’s provision was both miraculous and ample. It delighted them for a while but, instead of continuing to be grateful for God’s provision, they began to grumble. Those back in Egypt might not have had the miracle, but they had a greater variety. The Israelites’ griping initially seemed to pay off: they were granted their wish. Don’t be envious of those who seem more blessed of God, however, until you see the long-term result. Sometimes you have to wait decades or even until after death before it becomes obvious, but in this case they did not have to wait long to discover that being granted their wish was a curse. Soon their belly aching literally became a belly ache – and it turned deadly.

    The New Testament emphasizes the importance of this incident for us living under the covenant of grace:

      1 Corinthians 10:1,4-6, 10-12 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea . . . and drank the same spiritual drink . . . Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. . . . And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

    So we are to be grateful for God’s provision, even when it is less than what we crave.

    On the other hand, it is important not to think God is stingy and/or settle for less than God’s best. For the biblical balance we need look no further than this:

      Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

    Here is one of the great killers of the joy that thankfulness brings: it is hard to be thankful for things we think we deserve.

    What I am about to expound is not intended to depress but to open our eyes to spiritual reality and release us into the joy that springs from gratefulness. If you were healed of an illness, your degree of gratefulness would depend on your understanding of the seriousness of the illness. Likewise, our appreciation of what Christ did for us by his death hinges on how much we understand the horror that his sacrifice has saved us from.

    Never in my life have I got what I deserved. If people knew every detail of my life, I think most would say I have lived a very moral life. But that means less than a character reference from the world’s greatest con-artist. Like you, I have confirmed over and over again that I deserve nothing less than an eternity in hell. Any moment I’m not in the same torment as the rich man who begged that the beggar “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire,” (Luke 16:24) is yet another moment in which I am not getting what I deserve.

    For any of us to think ourselves better than someone else is to teeter on spiritual suicide:

      Luke 18:11-14 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
      But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
                I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. . . .

    Here’s another sobering Scripture that not many frame and hang on their wall:

      Luke 17:9-10 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

    No matter how much we do for God we could never work our way out of hell, let alone deserve a reward.

    For where I live – in an average city in the western world – my income and possessions are way below average. The millions who have so much more might be no better than me but I am no better than the billions of people who have much less than me.

    I’m told that in the world as a whole:

      * Rural areas account for three in every four people suffering from malnutrition, and yet even among urban dwellers one out of three (approximately a billion people) live in slum conditions.

      * Every night over a billion people go to bed hungry.

      * Three billion people have no drinkable water within a kilometer (over half a mile) of their homes, and 865 million people have no access at all to safe drinking water.

      * 2.5 billion people are forced to burn wood, charcoal or animal dung for cooking. The resulting indoor pollution kills 4,000 people a day.

      * Nearly a billion people are unable to read a book or sign their names.

      * In India, a typical “middle class” person earns $2,500 a year and lives in a tiny brick house with no running water. Yes, that’s considered middle class, not poor.

      For more, see World Poverty Statistics

    A pirate is said to have felt so bad about having killed a man that he could not sleep properly for days. Nevertheless, he kept killing and reached the point where he could murder someone, use the corpse as a pillow and sleep soundly all night. We have been surrounded by wrongdoing and personally engaged in it so much that we have become as hardened to our own forms of evil as that pirate and we have a grossly inflated view of ourselves.

    In stark contrast to us, the Judge of all humanity – the Lord of heaven who keeps our heart beating and seals our eternal fate – sees nothing through sin-clouded eyes. The perfection of his holiness renders him terrifyingly righteous in his judgments.

    Heaven would lose its perfection if the slightest trace of selfishness or any other “minor” sin were introduced to it. Heaven would end up corrupted like earth. God’s righteous assessment is so flawlessly accurate that the minimum standard he sets for anyone to be worthy of heaven is absolute perfection, not just occasionally, but for the person’s entire life from birth onwards.

    We so much recoil from the truth of our depravity that we rarely contemplate the implications of the reality that we were born the product of a long line of evildoers, all of whom, except for the mercy of God, should have been annihilated long before having the chance to reproduce. But God’s mercy allowed them to breed, with the devastating result that they passed on to their offspring a genetic predisposition to wrongdoing. We entered this world not with the pristine holiness without which no one can see God – much less have spiritual union with him. Instead we entered life with sin’s corruption in our very genes, which we confirmed by deliberately sinning the moment we were old enough to know what we were doing. The wages of just one sin is death and yet we have sinned far too many times for us to even count. Given our defiled nature, we should have been wiped out like vermin the instant we were conceived but, instead of giving us what we deserve, God in Christ endured the torment of the cross so that he could shower us with his love.

    We must resist the tendency to let the intoxicating foolishness of pride delude us as to who we are, without the utterly undeserved mercy of God. Let us not, like spoilt brats, take Christ’s enormous sacrifice for granted.

    It is mind-bogglingly true that, through Christ, God has highly exalted us – and in other webpages I emphasize this – but it is entirely God’s grace and has never been remotely our right or what we deserve. Those who dare take Christ’s hand and plunge deeply into this truth will reach levels of joy and contentment that others know nothing of. Each of us has more for which to be thankful than our finite minds can conceive.

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    Finding Joy

    Let’s look further at the early Christians’ source of joy and its relationship to possessions:

      Hebrews 10:34 You . . . joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .

    How could they do that? The answer is in the rest of the verse:

      Hebrews 10:34 . . . because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

    They achieved this by putting into practice this important spiritual principle:

      2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

      Colossians 3:1-2 . . . set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

    Rather than distract us from our earthly mission, fixing our sights on heaven empowers us to make the necessary sacrifices to successfully complete our earthly mission. It makes us like top athletes who sacrifice so much because they are focused on the honor of winning:

      1 Corinthians 9:25-27 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

    Put another way:

      2 Timothy 2:3-4 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs . . .

    Frontline soldiers sleep rough, eat rations and face constant hardship without expecting to be thanked for it. They do not wear fashionable clothes or engage in their own pursuits. The only ones living a soft life are shame-faced deserters.

    Likewise, elite athletes regularly embrace pain and voluntarily deny themselves ease and pleasures that most other people indulge in. They do not complain because their hope is fixed on the glory of winning. Tragically, so many athletes sacrifice enormously without ever achieving the worldly fame and titles they had striven for. And even the winners gain so little, relative to spiritual achievers. In contrast to athletes, you can “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58) and your reward is endless and totally eclipses any sacrifice you could ever make:

      Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

      2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

    Those who live as if earthly comfort is their reward are to be pitied. Like couch potatoes squandering their lives, those living the soft life miss the excitement and achievement and fulfillment of extending themselves to the max. They are two-time losers: despite their ease they get so little out of life on earth and in addition they miss their heavenly reward.

      Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    We are not in heaven yet. That simple fact changes everything. We are on a relatively short but critical special assignment to planet Earth, just as the eternal Son of God once was. As Jesus sacrificed everything to rescue us, so we, despite our Christ-bought status, must have the same attitude while we are on this needy planet:

      Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

    Christians looking for a soft life in this age are like firefighters partying while houses go up in flames. Like want-to-be athletes who think they can avoid the rigor and austerity of training, they will make a laughing stock of themselves on the Big Day.


    Now that we have had a glimpse at how profoundly setting our “minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) empowers our earthly pilgrimage, let’s return to that passage. We dare not pluck it from its context because the next verse is critical. It reveals the driving force in keeping one’s mind fixed on heavenly things:

      Colossians 3:3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

    Through spiritual union with their crucified Lord and a deliberate daily dying to self they had crucified their flesh with its spiritually cancerous lusts for sensual pleasure and material possessions.

      Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

      Romans 6:5-6 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin

      Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live

      Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

      2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

      Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

      Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

      Philippians 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

    For most of my life, pursuing happiness has been of little or no interest to me. Like a soldier at war, I find the notion ridiculous. To be honest, not even heavenly reward matters to me. The thought of disappointing God horrifies me, however. That would break my heart. I’d do anything to avoid that. I’ve tried to analyze what makes me tick so that I could explain myself to you, but I guess my attitude is simply a consequence of dying to self. God, not me, is the love of my life. I live for him, not me. In my case, what brought this to a head was accepting God’s challenge to live a lonely, celibate life for his greater glory. I found the torment of being single so unbearable that for much of my life, had I been seeking my own comfort, I would have eagerly chosen suicide. For me, remaining unmarried seemed the greatest sacrifice I could ever make. For Abraham, the divinely ordained sacrifice was leaving home to wander as an alien in a foreign country and, later, resolutely preparing to sacrifice his “only” son (Genesis 22:2). For Old Testament prophets, it was embracing unpopularity to life-threatening extremes. For you, God will probably put his finger on something else. Despite our individual differences as to what most challenges God as our greatest love, however, all of us must die to self in order to live for God:

      Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

      John 12:25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

      Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me . . .

    Death to self sounds brutal and yet to many of us this seems even worse:

      Mark 10: 17,21  . . . “Good teacher,” he asked, “ what must I do to inherit eternal life?” . . . Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      Luke 12:33-34 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.

      Luke 14:33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

      Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

      Luke 18:28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

      Luke 19:8-9 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house . . .”

      Matthew 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .

    This terrifies us because we live under the delusion that money can be relied on. God’s Word seeks to torpedo this dangerous fallacy:

      Job 27:19 He lies down wealthy, but will do so no more; when he opens his eyes, all is gone.

      Psalms 39:6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

      Proverbs 23:5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

      Proverbs 27: 24  . . . riches do not endure forever . . .

      1 Timothy 6:17 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 . . .

      James 1:10-11 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

      James 4:13-14 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

    We are even enticed to suppose that riches offer more security than Almighty God who sacrificed everything so that we might live eternally.

      Psalms 62:10 . . . though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

      Luke 12:29-31 And 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.

    Even the more spiritual of us are repeatedly tempted to hedge our bets by trying to put our faith and our delight in both God and money. This is no more an option, however, than reaching the moon while staying on earth:

      Luke 16:13-15 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

      Mark 10:23-25 . . . “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter 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 the kingdom of God.”

    To want both God and money as your security and source of joy is like being in the foolish and highly dangerous situation of wanting to be saved but being too scared to leave your sinking boat in order to board the rescue ship.

    Does the following shock you?

      Job 31:24,25,28 If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth . . . then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.

    That’s worth reading a second time.

    Here are other Scriptures affirming this truth:

      Psalms 49:5-6  . . . wicked deceivers surround me – those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches

      Psalms 52:5-7 Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin . . . The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at him, saying, “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!”

      Jeremiah 48:7 Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive . . .

    God provides the initially startling revelation that greed is idolatry:

      Ephesians 5:5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

      Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: . . . evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

    To keep wanting more and more material things is to dethrone God in our hearts. It is to strip him from being our Savior and Protector and Joy, and instead worshiping whatever objects we covet, foolishly hoping that they will end up giving us more security and lasting fulfillment than the Almighty Lord whose love never fails.

    Here’s a similar Scripture about dethroning God:

      Philippians 3:18-19 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

    That is the fate of those who set their minds not on things above, but on earthly things. It is such a grave matter that Paul here refers to them as “enemies of the cross of Christ” whose “destiny is destruction.” Likewise, Ephesians 5:5 (quoted above) emphasizes that no greedy person “has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ”. God’s Word keeps repeating this terrifying truth:

      1 Corinthians 5:11  . . . you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, . . . With such a man do not even eat.

      1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither . . . idolaters nor . . . nor thieves nor the greedy will inherit the kingdom of God.

      Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: . . . selfish ambition . . . envy . . . and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Without exception, all of us end up being ruled by whatever we most love. What matters is not what we say we most love but what we really love most. Unless our greatest love is the eternal Lord of glory, who alone is all-powerful and perfect in goodness and wisdom and self-sacrificing love, what we serve is inferior, with the result that our efforts are not just wasted on the inferior but our whole lives end up inferior. And since only God is eternal, any efforts not devoted to him end up squandered on things that are decaying.

      Isaiah 55:2 Why spend money  . . . and your labor on what does not satisfy? . . .

      1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

    Faith is about putting all our eggs in one basket:

      Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

      Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

    In the magnificent parable just cited, the delighted discoverer did not reluctantly part with his goods but “in his joy” sold everything. He could barely contain his excitement because he recognized the vastly superior value of what he would gain. All this planet’s riches combined are as dirt compared with having as your best friend the Almighty Lord, the endless source of perfect love, wisdom and everything good, beautiful and lasting. He totally eclipses everything anyone could ever wish for. To sacrifice everything for him is no sacrifice but simply the best investment anyone could ever make.

    This is why the Hebrew Christians responded joyfully to the confiscation of their property and why we read:

      Acts 5:40-41 They called the apostles in and had them flogged. . . . The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

    We have all heard of insurance fraud in which people happily see their life’s work burn to the ground because the insurance money is worth more to them than their loss. Each of us is loved so extravagantly that everything we desire is divinely over-insured. We can lose nothing for the sake of Christ without being so lavishly over-compensated that every temporary loss – no matter how initially painful – is reason for wild celebration.

      Matthew 5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .

      Romans 8:17-18 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

      2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

    Anyone not learning to be content with whatever he has (or does not have) is in grave danger not only of enslaving himself to debt but of becoming an addict, with an endless craving eating away at his soul; pathetically driven by the mirage that if only he had a little more he could at last be happy.

      Proverbs 22:7  . . . the borrower is servant to the lender.

      Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. . . .

      Isaiah 56:11 They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. . . .

    In the parable of the sower, among the things that can destroy a person spiritually, Jesus mentions:

      Mark 4:19  . . . the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things . . .

    Consumerism is a tragically appropriate name: it consumes whoever it gets its claws into. Lusting after objects – or whatever one imagines money might buy – gnaws away at one’s soul, leaving each victim a hollowed out shell of a person.

      1 Timothy 6:9 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.

    Once the lie enters our heart that having a few more things will bring us happiness, we quickly degenerate. The devastating result is more pathetic than a hungry donkey reducing itself to a laughing stock by ignoring plainer food to keep chasing a carrot dangled in front of its nose until it collapses in exhaustion and hunger. The tragedy is that people waste not just a few days or even their entire lives chasing an illusion but end up ruined for all eternity.

    When visitors from affluent countries meet people in the third world living in hovels made of scraps of plastic, cardboard and tin, they often express amazement that these people seem just as happy as those who have so much more. We seldom pause to consider that Jesus himself was homeless and expected the same of his followers:

      Luke 9:58 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

    Most of us – even those who claim that the spiritual is much more important – are so pitifully addicted to materialism that we are like junkies continually fantasizing about the next fix, unable to conceive of how anyone could be happy without this enslaving habit.

    Jesus zeros in on the folly of someone who supposes he has finally arrived at the happiness he imagines prosperity provides:

      Luke 12:16-22  . . . The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, . . . ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But 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.
              Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”

    Let me put it this way:

      When hopes of wealth fill your dreams
      And you think that to be rich is to be blessed;
      When you bow in prayer for get-rich schemes
      And bet your life on the guess
      That money will buy an end to regret
      And insures against all fears,
      And you think that to live is to get and get –
      The glitter will fade, tarnished by tears,
      And the craving to get turns to regret;
      The hoped-for blessing becomes a curse.
      In the end, still as a stone and equally cold,
      You’ll lie in a hearse
      With no room for your gold
      And headed for things that can only get worse.

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    You Have Not, Because You Ask Not

    Here’s a Scripture that is so tempting to sever from its context:

      James 4:2  . . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.

    Don’t you love that? Here’s our chance to get more and more – or is it? It certainly is possible to miss out simply because lack of faith in God’s willingness to provide keeps us from asking God. That’s a danger we need to avoid. That’s not the thrust of this Scripture, however. There’s a more sinister trap far more likely to ensnare Christians living in affluent countries. Let’s read more:

      James 4:2-3 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

    By, “You kill,” James had in mind the perspective that moved John to say:

      1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

    Near the beginning of his epistle, James said we cannot expect answered prayer if we waver in faith (James 1:5-8) but he was referring to asking for something highly spiritual – godly wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13,17). Trying to entice God to answer prayers to foster our selfishness, however, is such a lost cause that, rather than suggest more faith, James denounces the practice.

    He continues his tirade against praying for wrong things or with wrong motives:

      James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

    The next verse, as translated in the King James Version and the New International Version, initially seems strange:

      James 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

    This translation is reminiscent of what Paul says:

      Romans 1:28-29 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

    Interpreted in this light, James is saying that we are all subject to an intense urge to envy. How true that is! Our natural tendency is to slide into the pit of regretting what we don’t have, rather than rejoicing in what we have. Give Joe Average a hundred million dollars and he’d be over the moon with excitement about how rich and blessed he is. Then give ten billion dollars to hundreds of people around him and it will not be long before, regardless of his millions, he is feeling deprived.

    (There is an alternative interpretation of James 4:5 but it leads to the same understanding of what “resist the devil” refers to.)

    Despite our natural predisposition to be driven by envy, however, James immediately continues to explain that through Christ we can live in victory over this insidious temptation:

      James 4:6-7 But he gives us more grace.  . . . Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

    Had you realized that the famous Scripture, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” though applicable to other situations, was actually referring to resisting the temptation to envy (verse 5) and to overcoming the temptation to pray “with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (verse 3)?

    Few of us pause long enough to realize that this famous quote is referring to resisting the devil’s enticement to use prayer to try to manipulate God into giving us things that end up not being in our best interest spiritually. The attraction of devilish practices such as witchcraft is that they seem to offer supernatural help in feeding selfish desires. The devil does not display our Heavenly Father’s reluctance to grant us things that end up hurting and enslaving us.

    There is nothing wrong with having favorite Scriptures. Sometimes we can even take verses out of context and the result still be true. To avoid distorting God’s revelation, however, it is likely that the verses we have not underlined are the ones we most need.

    Christians are typically well aware that lack of faith often hinders Jesus’ longing to miraculously meet our physical needs:

      Matthew 13:58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

    The equally serious, but seldom recognized, hindrance to God pampering us with material possessions, however, is the human tendency to push aside the true God and instead worship money, pleasure and/or ease, and ruin our lives by making them our god.

    We see the divine dilemma exposed when Jesus fed the multitude. This was no treat to titillate the taste buds. The situation was so serious that some were in danger of fainting on the long walk home (Mark 8:3).

    Moved by compassion, he who denied himself bread in the wilderness miraculously provided for these people but – as God’s longing to meet our physical needs often does – it backfired.

      John 6:14-15,26-27,34-35,49-51,66 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
                  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. . . . “
                  “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. . . .”
                  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

    In contrast to some preachers, Jesus withdrew, rather than let people seek God for the wrong reasons and he ended up making it so hard for them that those with materialistic motives left him.

    We, too, are in danger of degrading God by worshipping him as a Cash Cow instead of honoring him as the Holy One whose passion is righteousness and selflessness.

    Too many of us break God’s heart by putting him in a no-win situation: if God lovingly refuses to indulge our greed, we resent him; if he gives us what we clamor for, we destroy ourselves by becoming infatuated with the temporal rather than the eternal.

    God is generous. He longs to shower his gifts upon us, but our sinfulness and spiritual immaturity often stymies him. And even if we could be trusted with wealth, those we seek to bring to the Lord could see what we have and be fooled into thinking they are heading for a pleasant eternity when they are not saved at all but have merely “come to God” for material gain.

    Jesus kept warning would-be followers to count the cost (Examples), but today’s tragedy is that some Christian leaders have abandoned Jesus’ method because lowering the price of following Jesus swells the number of fans who will throw money in their direction. The terrifying thing, however, is that the price is not theirs to lower. They are like salesmen who astound everyone by their number of sales, when it is yet to be revealed that they have infuriated their boss by criminally selling his goods at way below cost price. They have sold their souls to temporary fame and fortune and – far worse – seduced others into following them to spiritual ruin.

    Without exaggeration, the most sadistic of all crimes is to let people feel assured of salvation when they are not in spiritual union with the Holy One. It means they are headed for endless torment without the slightest inkling that they still need to be saved. Blissfully ignorant of the eternal disaster awaiting them, they have been conned into building their house on sand.

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    The Terrifying Side of God’s Love

    Anyone very familiar with my vast website will know I go to enormous lengths to emphasize God’s gentleness, love for each of us and his eagerness to forgive us “seventy times seven” (Examples).

    Nevertheless, there are alarming, inescapable consequences of God’s holy love. If everything about humanity’s Judge is driven by sacrificial love, then he will judge us by that standard – i.e. by how much we have acted in sacrificial love:

      1 John 3:14,16-17 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. . . . This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

      1 John 4:16,20-5:1 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. . . . If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

    If love is so fundamental to God that Scripture declares “God is love,” then he passionately loves and yearns to defend not just you, but everyone you have ever hurt by your sin, selfishness or neglect. The Infinite Lord’s mind-boggling love provokes him to mind-boggling wrath against anyone who hurts us or lets us suffer through their greed, selfishness, neglect or whatever.

      2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

    A perfect judge must be utterly impartial, however, and there is no limit to our Judge’s love – i.e. he loves those we despise with the same “insane” abandonment that he loves us. So unless we genuinely repent of hurting others, he is compelled to focus on us that same wrath and yearning to execute justice that he longs to pour out on those who have mistreated us. Since humanity’s Judge loves everyone, we expose ourselves to his judgment if ever we hurt someone through greed or we leave someone to suffer through our lack of generosity with the resources God has entrusted to us. This is why Jesus said such things as:

      Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

      Matthew 25:32,41-46 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  . . . Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
            They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
            He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment . . .

      Mark 10:17,22 . . . “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
            When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
            “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
            He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
            “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
            But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
            In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
            The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
            Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

    God’s entire purpose for our lives is that we become like his Son, whose love for God and for humanity compelled him to sacrifice all. For example:

      Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

      2 Corinthians 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory . . .

      Ephesians 4:22,24  . . . put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

      Philippians 2:5-84 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

    Read this prayerfully:

      1 John 4:16-17  . . . God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.

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    More

    We are over half way through our exploration of the Bible’s teaching on finances. The final section begins by exposing tithing legalism and fallacies; explaining how the tithe is often overemphasized and misrepresented in today’s churches. We will then move on to discussing God’s provision. Please continue by reading The Tithing Trap.

    © 2011, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.


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