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Prosperity and the Gospel

“The one who loves silver will not be satisfied by silver and the one who loves abundance will not produce enough; this also is vanity. With many good things there are many ones who will consume them. What profit is it to the owner if he only sees it with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of the worker if he eats little or much. The sufficiency of the rich will not let him rest in it or to sleep.”

(Ecclesiastes 5:9-11 {5:10-12 in English Bibles})

“But there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world nor will we be able to take anything away from it. If we have food and clothing, this is enough. But the one who desires to be rich will fall into temptation, a trap, and longings for many foolish and harmful things which sinks men into ruin and destruction. For the root of all evil is the love of money. It is through this desire that certain ones have been led astray from the faith and have pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

(1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Both Solomon and the Apostle Paul write much the same thing here…the love of money brings ruin. For Paul, it is the root of all evil because it leads people into all sorts of sins and temptations. For Solomon, the emphasis is that it cannot bring contentment. Those who love silver and wealth will never find their contentment in their silver and in their wealth. They think that they will be satisfied when they get to this level or to that level, but when they arrive at that goal, the heart is as hollow as it has always been.

One of the themes that we find Solomon repeatedly coming back to is this idea of finding satisfaction in the things of this world — it is vanity. It will never suffice. We are designed to find our satisfaction and contentment only in one place…and that is in God himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. For the Christian believer, this becomes realized and for the non-Christian, a life of discontentment only becomes realized in its fullness when they find themselves enduring God’s wrath in Hell for all eternity — a place not only of hopelessness and torment, but also a place that is devoid even of the hope of future contentment. It is the saddest of all estates and then infinitely worse.

And not only does discontentment multiply with the accumulation of wealth, Solomon also points out that the more you accrue, the more people you have around you seeking to leech off of your resources. In many cases, the health comes and goes so quickly that all you can do is see the wealth passing by. And without contentment, sleep is fleeting and restless. Indeed, God gives his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2). And, as Paul says, those who have been led down this path have found a life of many sorrows. And isn’t it sad how many people buy into the lies that come along with the “prosperity gospel.”

Thankful in Times of Prosperity

You might be tempted to think that being thankful in times of prosperity is a given — an easy thing for believer and non-believer alike. You might be tempted to think that thankfulness during good times is quite natural. But, were this the case, the authors of Heidelberg would never have needed to ground faithfulness in a knowledge of God’s providential governance of his creation. So, perhaps genuine thankfulness is not as natural as we might initially think.

First of all, thankfulness, by definition, is a state of being grateful for thinks placed into your life. That sounds pretty benign at first glance, but it raises the question, “to whom” is that gratefulness supposed to be directed? The answer, of course, is that it is to be directed toward the one who brings the gift or blessing into your life. And, for most people, here is the rub. Yes, our neighbor might do us a favor and it is proper to thank him. Yet, God’s providence governs your neighbor’s actions. Yes, a relative might give us a gift and it is proper to thank them, but again, God’s providence governs the actions of our relatives — even of our pagan ones! Yes, good things may happen to me, but God governs all of these things. And, if God’s providence governs all things that take place in our life, then our gratefulness, in the ultimate sense, is to be directed toward Him.

You see, as Question 28 of Heidelberg points out, all things in our life are ultimately governed by God’s providence. So, when good things happen we ought to be thankful, but to be genuinely thankful, we must address that thankfulness toward God. The non-Christian does not naturally thank God — in fact, the non-Christian rejects thanking God for the good things and prosperity in his or her life. In turn, that means that they are not truly expressing thankfulness as they ought.

Yet, it is not just the non-Christian that often struggles with thankfulness, it is also the Christian. Often, thankfulness to God is our secondary response to good things in our life, not our first response. Often, we forget and have to remind ourselves to thank God for the events of the day and often we forget entirely to do so. Worse yet, often, when good things come into our lives, we assume them to be things that we have deserved or earned for ourselves. Yet, even the money paid for the labor of our hands (which is arguably earned) is something for which we must give God thanks for God has given us both the skills of our hands and the opportunity to use said skills in a productive way. All of this has been orchestrated and brought to pass by God’s providence, thus, again, we find ourselves needing to express gratitude to God.

Yet, often we do not express gratitude toward God in any intentional and meaningful way. We might say, “Thank you God for…,” but do we live in a way that demonstrates our gratefulness? Often we do not. As we continue to reflect on the catechism, do make a point of asking yourselves how intentionally you express your gratitude to God for all that takes place in your life…in this case, especially when it comes to times of success and prosperity.