16. Prosperity

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 16. Prosperity

Gen 13:1-2   So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

This is the third indication that we have read of Abram’s growing prosperity. The first was back at Haran: “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” (Gen 12:5) The second was in Egypt: “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (Gen 12:16) And we come to today’s verses which act as a summary of what has happened.

Previously we assumed that Abram had had cattle and sheep beforehand because they tend to be the currency of the wealthy in those days, but actually there was no actual mention of them until Egypt. So perhaps a more accurate picture (and we can’t be sure) of Abram’s change would be: leaving Ur as a traveling nomad, settles in Haran for a while and accumulates ‘possessions’ – moves on to Canaan – moves on to Egypt where he acquires sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and more servants.

Now I don’t know if you have noticed something interesting in all of this. Twice Abram had apparently strayed from his calling, once when he settled in Haran, and second, when he went down to Egypt.  Moreover it was in those places that he gained riches! Is this to advocate straying from the Lord’s plan? Heaven forbid! No, but it does say that the Lord will use every opportunity to bless His new follower. Do you believe the Lord will only bless you when things are going well?  Be clear on what happened in both these times. First he settled in Haran because his father settled there and, I suggest, he honoured his father by staying there a while at least. He wasn’t there out of his own making. In the second instance, it was a famine in the Land that drove him south to Egypt. If there had been no famine he would not have gone. He did not go freely to either of these places. People and circumstances pressed him to go where he went.

But they weren’t the places of God’s calling for him. No, but that won’t stop the Lord blessing him. The Lord blesses him, not because of where he is but because of who he is. All the Lord requires is our obedience and when we are we find we are in the way of His blessing. When we wilfully disobey Him then things go wrong, but that isn’t His desire for us; He desires us to be in the place of blessing. We are afraid of this principle sometimes because we feel pastorally concerned for those who are not well off. Well, let’s change our approach. Let’s be positive and ask how we can bring them into blessing. Please note I didn’t say just make them well off. Blessing is good that comes from God. For good to come from God we have to lead people into a place of relationship with Him.

Is God going to bless those who have no relationship with Him? No quick answers here because even the unrighteous are often well off. There is possibly something her about God’s permissive will rather than His active will, i.e. He allows rather than brings affluence. But, again, go back to Deut 28 and there is no question but God promises blessing on His people who will obey Him, and that blessing can be seen in material terms.

At the very least when we come to the Lord, we want to check with Him that we are doing what He wants us to be doing in terms of career. Thereafter as we seek Him and seek His wisdom (Jas 1:5) we should expect our lives to improve. Now that may not mean money. Three times in my working life I made career changes and three times I took a third cut in salary to do it, but my quality of life greatly improved on each occasion. Money does not necessarily equate with quality of life.  But quality of life (and that may include material blessing) is something to concern us but the most important thing is to seek and do His will as He reveals it to us. Speaking about things or possessions, Jesus said, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  Putting the rule of God first is key.

The apostle Paul was later to write, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom8:28) Note the components of that well-known verse. What God is doing – working for our good. Where – in all things. Who is He doing it for – those who love Him. Why only them? Because He needs our cooperation to do so much in our lives and He has that in those who love Him. If someone disregards Him and refuses Him (and He sees that is how they will always be) how can He work with their cooperation? He can’t!  Don’t worry about them; focus on your own relationship with the Lord. Ensure your heart is open to Him and you understand His will for you and you live according to that – then leave the rest to Him. Amen?

47. Accountability

Meditations in James: 47 : Accountability for the Rich

Jas 5:1-3 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

There are commentators who maintain that these verses cannot apply to Christians because of the harshness of them, but elsewhere in this ‘letter’ the references have been to those in the church, and one has to ask the question, if this was to unbelievers, when could they possibly have it read to them?  For a third time in these recent meditations we will suggest that either James knows specific people or churches  where there are people like this, or that he is giving a general warning – in this case to the rich – because he knows the general tendency or the characteristics that so often go with the situation. We will assume the latter, although it is also interesting to view these first six verses as a cry against the rich, when very few Christians were rich. It thus becomes a cry against those who oppress the Christians. However, we will consider it as a cry to include Christians.

Remember two main things that we have picked up in this letter. First, that James is speaking to those of the church who have been dispersed or spread out across the world and who are no longer under the close comfort, direction and protection of the original church at Jerusalem. Second, his fear, and therefore his warnings, is directed against the tendency of Christians to become assimilated into the world.  Again, as we look at these verses, we must comment that although they obviously applied to Christians in the first century, they apply even more to us living in the West at the beginning of the twenty first century, which is a time of unparalleled affluence.

We also need to remember a general principle that comes out of the Bible. God is not against material prosperity, but is against reliance upon it that draws people away from Him. When we observe the wisdom that God gave Solomon, we see that much of that wisdom was used to make the country prosperous and him richer than anyone else in the world. In Solomon’s case it wasn’t the riches themselves that drew Solomon away, but the multitude of foreign wives he had. We also find many references in Scripture to God’s desire to prosper us, and it is clear that that includes materially as well as spiritually.

No, the big concern is what effect riches have upon us.  Jesus taught, No one 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.” (Mt 6:24). If you make money your master, if it is the thing you focus your life upon, then you will find it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord. When James now speaks like and Old Testament prophet, it is simply to create a picture that warns any Christian who might fall into the trap, living out in the world, of being seduced by money and possessions. Remember Jesus’ teaching that followed that reference above: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  The ‘all these things” are material provisions. Possessions are not to rule us; we are to rule over them. Our focus is not to be possessions, but on doing God’s will. When we do that, then God provides the possessions.

With all that in mind, we are then ready to consider what James actually says here. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Now this may be a general warning or it may be a prophetic insight that for them, at that time, there was coming a time of upheaval when riches would mean nothing. Especially for those who rely upon riches, such a time is a time of misery. When we push ourselves financially, and then go into times of recession, these are especially difficult times. The wise Christian never puts their life into a position where recession wipes away their assets or puts them in jeopardy.

See what more he says: Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. James envisages the effect of simply storing up material possessions and not using them. The builder of bigger barns in Jesus’ parable (Lk 12:16-21) couldn’t use his barns and his wealth because he died unexpectedly. The warning here is that if you just leave wealth to store up you won’t be able to use it because of the danger of it deteriorating. How many have stored away expensive pictures or furniture only to find them attacked by woodworm or mildew.  Possessions, of whatever sort, are not for hoarding, but for using. What is even worse about this, is that there is a world in need that we could be helping with our surplus. It is right to make provision for family and the future but if it goes beyond reasonable provision, we have to be careful that we are not putting ourselves beyond God’s protection when it comes to all that affluence.

Finally he says, Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” When all our plans to stock up, fail because the stock market fails or our possessions are stolen or they literally rot, our human plans of self-sufficiency are shown to be folly, and they testify against us. Moreover we feel really upset about what has happened. The phrase, they eat your flesh like fire is a graphic prophetic form of picture that shows the anguish we feel when this sort of thing happens. If you spilt petrol on you and it caught fire, the encroaching flames would eat at your flesh causing immense pain. When all your stored riches come to nothing, the anguish is the same if you have placed all your reliance upon them.

This is the warning James is bringing us, in his desire to draw us back from the ways of the world. Go down the same path they go down, is what he is implying, and you risk suffering the same anguish that they will suffer. The warning is against relying upon riches, against relying upon money and possessions. The warning is for drawing us back into a closer relationship with the Lord, where we make Him and His will our central focus, and money and possessions are merely icing on the cake. A salutary warning for many in the day in which we live!