WFW: Is Prosperity God's Plan?
"Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." ~ 3 John 1:2
There are three aspects to this Scripture:
1) Prosperity - financial, including the outward appearance of it (i.e. nice clothes, good job, big house, etc.; in short, blessings),
2) Health -- physical, and
3) Soul - spiritual
Now let's elaborate on that.
For point 1, most people will shut their ear immediately, because they don't believe in the "prosperity" movement. Why? People have this misconception that prosperity is an evil thing; they think that to be rich is to be proud, and to be proud is to go against God's command to be humble. The problem is that they don't stop to think that being humble does NOT mean that we have to be poor! Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven," not "Blessed are the POOR." They are poor in Spirit, because as James says (2:5), they are "rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him". Now those are the kinds of riches that we are supposed to possess! You can have everything in the world and not have a heart that is "rich toward God." But that does not mean that God wants us to be poor; it simply means that God wants us to be rich in the Spiritual realm. Proverbs 13:7 states, "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches." There is a difference between being rich and greedy, and being rich because God has blessed you! Think about it: Ephesians 1:3 says that God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ..." Too often, preachers are criticized for owning fancy cars and wearing nice clothes; but there is no reason to assume that because they are rich, there is something wrong with them. God has blessed them! And, in fact, the Bible repeatedly states that we are to honor our elders; likewise, God honors His people through blessing. Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with being poor in the natural realm. Rather, it means that we are humble as we serve God -- "before honor is humility," as Proverbs 15:33 states; hence, God's blessing comes when we are humble, when our hearts are "rich toward God". Proverbs 10:22 says, "The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it." If God can bless us spiritually, He can bless us with prosperity in other areas, too. Why should we settle for anything less?
The second point which John states is that we be in health. Here, we see that God wants us well. He wants us healed. He wants us whole. This is why I say that God does not want people to be sick! This isn't just John writing this; it is God's desire that we be in health! In fact, God Himself said (Exodus 15:26), "I am the Lord that healeth thee," and He states repeatedly that He does not change. He also says, "Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones" (Proverbs 3:7-8). We talked about being proud above; you will notice here that to be humble is to fear the Lord and depart from evil, and this will be health to us. So once again, we see that being humble is being "rich toward God."
You will notice with both points 1 and 2 that there is a common denominator: it is what John calls our "soul[s] prosper[ing]" -- that is, our spiritual prosperity. So how do we get to that point? When we are in humilty toward God, our spirit is growing. This is why James says, "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.' Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:6-8). When we are submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil, we are continually drawing near to God as He draws near to us. John tells us the way to get to that place spiritually: Immediately after he speaks of the three ways in which to prosper, John states, "For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth." God's Word is truth; the way in which we obtain this richness toward God in the spirit is through His Word! And when we stay in his Word we prosper in every way -- financially, physically (which includes emotionally), spiritually.
Proverbs 4:20-27 states, "My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil." This passage is interesting, because the Hebrew meaning of the word "prosper" as it is used here means: "to help on the road, i.e. (passively) succeed in reaching; figuratively, to succeed in business affairs:--(have a) prosper(-ous journey); a progress (the route, act or distance); journey." In other words, prosperity is a journey, it is a road; Proverbs states "Ponder the path of your feet," implying that we are going somewhere -- we are making progress in that area. And we have already seen that in order to prosper, we need to be growing spiritually; this is why Proverbs says, "Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil." In fact, this is exactly what Joshua 1:7-8 says: "'Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.'" The first time that "prosper" is mentioned here, it means "circumspect... consider..." In other words, you "walk circumspectly," as Ephesians 5:15 states, and "Ponder the path of your feet." Other meanings include "have good success, wisdom, and guide wittingly." So, just as Proverbs said, you watch where you are going; and since the Word of God is your wisdom, your Guide, you do not turn to the right or the left; you let His Word lead you -- "You Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." The second meaning of the word is "to push forward." We are to push forward, paying no attention to the temptations on the right and left -- we keep our eyes ahead of us: "Looking onto Jesus, the Author and perfector of faith..."
Jeremiah 17:5-11 brings out this point quite well:"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, So is he who gets riches, but not by right; It will leave him in the midst of his days, And at his end he will be a fool.'"
This is the difference between the two trees: One was not getting enough of the Word, and he began to dry up; the other was constantly watering himself with the Word and he yielded fruit. In other words, one was rich toward God, and the other was not. This is why God says, "As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, so is he who gets riches, but not by right..." A man who is going after natural riches will soon find himself without them, but a man who goes after true riches (i.e. spiritual riches) will not be disappointed. In fact, James 1 states, "But [let] the rich [glory] in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits." And Isaiah 40:8 says, "The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."
The phrase which we have been examining -- "rich toward God" -- comes from Luke 12:21. It sums up the whole issue quite perfectly. You can have all the treasures in the world and lose your own soul (as the man in the parable did), because you didn't spend time with God -- because you placed your riches on a higher level than God; in today's world, the riches could be anything, anything that you allow to stand in the way of you and God -- you place that thing higher than God. But Jesus also says in this passage that even if you have nothing, God will take care of you; and He states that the most important thing is to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" Now THAT is how we truly become rich toward God!
"And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
I will leave you with this thought:
2 Corinthians 8:9 states, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." What this is saying is that Jesus possessed everything in Heaven, yet He came to this earth and became poor so that we could become rich! He doesn't say that this is limited to being rich spiritually either. Therefore, based on other passages of Scripture, we can safely say that through Christ, we are made rich spiritually, physically, and financially -- Spiritually, because blessed are the poor in spirit; physically, because by His wounds we are healed; and financially, because "The LORD will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow" (Deuteronomy 28:12).