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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.”

The Zacchaeus Principle

“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal it. Store up treasure for yourself in heaven where neither moth nor rust can destroy and where thieves can not break in and steal it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

(Matthew 6:19-21)

In speaking about treasure or wealth being stored up in heaven, it is often assumed that one must become like the rich young ruler and give away all he or she has to the poor and go into a life of humble and impoverished service. It is fair that some people are called to such a lifestyle. The rich young ruler is the prime example of this but also people like Joseph Scriven, John Wesley, and John Wycliffe come to mind. These people chose to live lives of poverty and service to build the kingdom of heaven and God chose to bless their labors.

But then there was also Zacchaeus — mentioned in Luke’s Gospel shortly after the account of the rich young ruler. Never does Jesus ask Zacchaeus to sell all he has and give it to the poor. Zacchaeus simply is asked to repay that which he has defrauded others. Why this difference? The difference is found once again in the account of the rich young ruler — that man loved his money and the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The heart of Zacchaeus is clearly in a different place.

The assumption that is often made is that when people speak of storing up treasure in heaven and of using wealth to build Christ’s kingdom and not a personal earthly kingdom, is that then one must give up all the wealth they have and donate it to various charities or missionaries. And friends, if that is what God is calling you to do, then praise the Lord and I would be happy to suggest some missional works that are worthy of your support. That we might call the rich young ruler model.

But might there be a Zacchaeus model as well? Indeed, there must be given that Jesus seems to do so. One might also note that there have been many people that God has blessed with worldly resources to the end that they might focus on building the kingdom with their very special gifts. John Calvin, for instance, it is often pointed out, had financial wealth at his disposal. He lived modestly and served not only as a pastor, teacher, and reformer, but also produced a wealth of theological resources for which the church is forever indebted. One could say the same thing of someone like John Owen whose collected works are still being read with a great deal of profit by pastors, teachers, and laymen in the church today. Arthur Pink, too, had the resources from his father’s estate, to retreat from public life and give himself entirely to writing. And like Owen and Calvin before him, the church of Jesus Christ is far richer because of those volumes. We might also think of people like Frederick III of Saxony, who used his wealth and influence to protect Martin Luther and thus begin the reformation in Germany. We can go on and on with examples of such, but I think we have enough to establish a Zacchaeus principle.

What does it mean to store up your treasure in heaven? It means to use the wealth and resources you are given to build, sustain, or promote the kingdom of God. If the wealth might go to our heart, we must get rid of it — it will bring sin and destruction. If it can remain outside of our hearts and as a tool that can be used for the glory of God, then we are to use our resources in such a way as to promote Christ’s kingdom. Indeed, in some cases that may be worked out in charity, but in other cases it may provide a platform through which service can be done or God’s people can be sheltered from the storms of persecution. Wealth only destroys us when it finds itself as an object of our love and affection — something that is cherished and held onto at the expense of doing ministry. There are both rich young rulers and Zacchaeus’ all around; if you watch their actions closely, discerning the difference is typically not that hard.

The Love of Money…

“And the servant brought out items of silver and items of gold, also garments and gave them to Rebekah. Precious gifts he also gave to her brother and to her mother.”

(Genesis 24:53)


For some reason, the ESV, the NIV, and the KJV translations have chosen to render the word yIlÚVk (keliy) as “jewels” or “jewelry.” The normal meaning of the word has little to do with jewelry one would wear but applies more generally to items, vessels, or implements that would be ornamented with silver or gold. These items might have consisted of anything from eating plates and utensils to a ceremonial knife or other things that might be so decorated. It is assumed by the translation committees of the aforementioned versions that because these gifts are being given to a woman along with clothing, so that they must be forms of jewelry. Yet such is an inference not necessitated by the text. Being as these are gifts given as a form of promise to Rebekah that she will be well provided for, to envision these things as ornate household items might be more appropriate.

What I find more interesting is that the things given to Rebekah are given with detail, but that given to her mother and brother are just generally noted as “precious gifts.” Clearly Eliezer has been well stocked with wealth on this journey and the gifts are meant to be understood as abundant treasures offered to her and to her family, but what is given to Rebekah is far more important than what is given to her family, noting once again that it is to Rebekah’s mother and brother gifts are given, not to her father, again implying that Laban is functioning more or less as the head of the household by this point in time.

You know it is interesting how we sometimes live with respect to earthly treasures. On one level, most of us in the western world work very hard to provide “good things” to our families but at the same time feel guilty about having good things when we realize the condition in which most of the world lives. We live a bit like Jekyll and Hyde in this way. Abraham was remarkably wealthy by ancient and modern standards. He had gold and silver in abundance, a secure place to lie down at night and rest, servants, animals, food, etc… And Abraham was not afraid to use his wealth to achieve his goals nor was he embarrassed about the way God had blessed him — his wealth was God’s doing, something that Abraham never lost sight of.

Scripture does not tell us that money is the root of all evils, but that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). The question then is not so much the money, but where your heart is — or where your treasure is, for there your heart will be (Matthew 6:19-21). Ultimately, money is a tool. It is a tool we can use to help others and glorify God or it is a tool which we can use to harm ourselves. The question is how we use this tool today. Do we sit and dream of money so that we can live in the lap of luxury satisfying our desires? If so, one needs to put that money out of ones heart and hand. But do we recognize money as a tool that God can use in our lives not just to provide for our own needs, but to minister to others? If it is the latter, it will do good and not harm.

It has been estimated that if Americans would cut back on their Christmas purchasing by one-half and then use those funds to provide for others, we could provide clean drinking water for the entire planet all year long as well as put a Bible into the hands of every human being who does not have one. If every Christian church in America would have have a family who would adopt two children out of foster care (or two families each adopting one child…) then there would be no more foster children in our country — all would have Christian families. Similarly, if every Christian church in America would take in and provide for two homeless people, homelessness in America would be eradicated. But what do we do with our resources?

Jesus did not say that everyone needed to go and give all they had to the poor, that counsel was reserved for a man whose heart was bound by his wealth (Luke 18:18-30). At the same time, it is clear that some will be uncomfortable on how they have stewarded the blessings that God has given to them. May we be stewards that multiply the kingdom of God rather than multiplying our own comforts. The author of Hebrews writes:

“May the manner of your life not be marked by greed and be content with what you have, for he has spoken: ‘I will never leave you behind nor will I ever forsake you.’”

(Hebrews 13:5)

Money, Money, Money…

“Yahweh has blessed my lord very much and he has become great. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, manservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys. And Sarah, who is the wife of my lord, has borne a son to my lord after she reached old age. And he has given to him everything that is his.”

(Genesis 24:35-36)


What a remarkable introduction Eliezer gives. You can almost imagine him, in his excitement, speaking faster and faster as he explains himself. Even so, it is things like this that help remind us that these people are humans and prone to all of the kinds of goofy things that afflict us all today. And that is good because it helps us connect and identify with these people through whom God has so greatly worked and it reminds us that God can and will work in wonderful ways through us as well — despite our own quirks.

So this servant begins with the blessings of God in the life of his Lord. Notice, though, how the focus here is on earthly blessings, listing them in pairs of like things: animals, wealth, and servants. I think that we can be forgiving and say that it is the excitement, but we should take note that both Eliezer and Abraham understand that these earthly things, while they might make life more comfortable, are not things that can be taken with them into the grave. The covenant faithfulness of God is far more valuable than any amount of herds or cash. Even so, there is no question that God has blessed Abraham with great riches and that Isaac will become the sole heir of this wealth. Rebekah’s family also needs to be assured that their little girl will be provided for in a way similar to or better than she was provided for in her father’s house.

How often we too get caught up in the physical and worldly blessings of God and don’t spend enough time focusing on the eternal blessings of his Covenant, his Salvation, and life eternally in his presence. How often we spend most of our time and energies trying to invest in things that won’t last us, like money and health, and how little effort we spend on things that will serve us well not only on earth but in eternity as well like godliness and truth. Loved ones, take time to evaluate how you spend your day. What percentage of your time is built on building up your soul? What percentage of your time is spent on non-eternal matters? Why not work to repair that deficit.


Not Withholding our Lives

“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”

(Genesis 22:15-18)


There is truly a ton of material in this passage, but it is valuable to keep the whole statement of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Christ, as we look at the parts. Once again, He speaks for God and with authority. He states to Abraham that “you have not withheld your son from me.” Notice too, the language of Abraham sparing his son. Jesus uses similar language in teaching his own disciples:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If someone desires to come after me, then he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For the one who wants to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it benefit a man if he acquires the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?’”

(Matthew 16:24-26)

Now our English translations of this passage in Matthew do a bit of a tricky switch on us, that I am hopefully remedying here. In each of the cases that I have translated as “life” the Greek word yuch/ (psuche) is being used. This is the term from which we get the English word, “psyche,” and it means much the same thing in both English and Greek. The yuch/ (psuche) refers to the seat of one’s person or you could say his personality. It is what makes us tick and what makes us individuals and different from one another. It is also typically seen as the primary place in which we bear God’s image. It can be used to refer to our physical life here on earth and sometimes it can be used to refer to the ongoing nature of our spiritual life, though it is a distinct thing from the pneuvma (pneuma) or spirit.

The dominant English approach to translating this passage of Matthew is to presume that Jesus is talking about one’s physical life in the former part of the statement and talking about one’s eternal spiritual life in the latter part, but that is not what is literally being stated. If we render the word consistently, all of the way through, we realize that the emphasis is not so much on eternal things but on temporal ones. And what good does it do for you if you spend all of your energy building an empire for yourself, but it kills you in the process? As people often say, “you can’t take it with you…” Jesus is not condemning a man to eternal fire for building a financial empire, but he is asking the question, “are the sacrifices you are making worth the riches you have acquired?”

Abraham is a wealthy man at this point in his life, but the greatest wealth that he holds is found in the person of his son Isaac and in the promise of God that Isaac and his children will be multiplied greatly on the face of the earth. God has thus asked Abraham to place even that on the altar of sacrifice. On a purely human level, Abraham and Sarah could have lived the life of a king in terms of their wealth, but then they would be gone and their witness forgotten. This child was everything, yet they were willing to lay even that to the side if God so desired it — choosing to be in submission to God’s design and not to their own.

This is the heart of what Jesus is teaching his disciples. Their obedience would cost them their lives in a variety of ways. Most would die martyrs deaths. But for all of them, the real cost would be that they would set to the side their personal plans and aims and follow God’s plans for them. Ultimately, God’s plans for us are far better than any plans that we could make on our own, but it takes faith and obedience to go through the process of getting there. It means picking up the implement of our suffering and death (the cross) and following Jesus wherever he would lead. It is counter-cultural to do so, but in the end, it is far better. Ask any pastor or missionary who has left a life behind to follow Christ, and like Abraham, they will affirm, “Yes, it is infinitely better than what I could have designed on my own.”


Thus, where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.

(Matthew 6:21)

Stuff, stuff, and more stuff…  We fill our lives with stuff, we fill our homes with more stuff, and we fill the homes of others with even more stuff.  In and of itself, stuff is not bad—we need stuff to survive.  We need food to eat; we need water to drink; and we need shelter and protection from the elements.  All of that is stuff.  Certainly, some have more stuff than others, but it still is stuff. Frankly, I like stuff; I cannot deny it, but I would suggest that God also likes stuff. Roughly 6,000 years ago, God decided to create, well, stuff.  And not only did God create stuff, but he pronounced it, “good.”

The problem with stuff is not the stuff itself, but what we use it for. Often, our stuff just collects dust. We fall into a trap of wanting to have stuff and more stuff just for the sake of having the stuff. Even worse, we find ourselves embattled with others, each trying to gain and secure more and more stuff than the other.  Our lives begin to be consumed by the pursuit of stuff.  Where does it all end!?!

Ultimately it does come to an end. There will come a time when all of us will die and leave behind our stuff to others. Death is the great equalizer as someone once said; we all die and we cannot take any of our stuff with us. Where we go next is not dependent on the stuff we have or even on what we have done with our stuff; where we go is dependent upon the finished work of Jesus Christ and whether or not our name is in his great Book of Life.

So, if my salvation is neither dependent upon the stuff I have nor upon how I use it, what does it matter? Jesus has some words to this question, because while your salvation is not dependent upon anything but Christ’s finished work, Christ’s finished work in your life should affect what you do with your stuff in this life. We are taught two major lessons about our stuff in scripture. The first is that God blesses us with stuff primarily so that we can be a blessing to others—not only in how we share our stuff with them, but in how we share our stuff with them for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.

The second thing we learn from Scripture is found in this verse—our heart will dwell with what we treasure. Now, for the Hebrew culture, the heart not so much reflects the passions as it does the personality and mind—in other words, the thing that you think about all of the time will be what you treasure. For the Christian, our minds and thoughts ought to be on Christ and upon God’s word; sadly, we often are tempted to fall into the trap of pursuing more stuff and in that pursuit they become consumed. The Apostle John warns about this trap:

Do not love the world, nor that which is in the world.  If a certain person loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all of the things in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and arrogant living-is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away as well as its lusts.  Yet, the one who does the will of God will continue living eternally. (1 John 2:15-17)

So, the question is not so much about the stuff, but it is about the heart. Have you set your heart upon God and upon the things of God or is it on the stuff that those who live in this world set their hearts upon. If, then, your heart is set upon God, the stuff that you have and accumulate in this life becomes rather secondary. And when stuff is secondary, using it to bless others becomes second nature. All our stuff comes from God anyhow, let us use it as an evangelistic tool and not an end in and of itself.

Faithful in Unrighteous Mammon (Luke 16:10-11)

“The one who is faithful in small things will also be faithful in many things, yet the one who is unrighteous in small things will also be unrighteous in many things.  If then, you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will believe you in that which is true?”

(Luke 16:10-11)


Some would hold that these verses are the beginning of a new parable, but given the linguistic connection of “the unrighteous mammon” it seems far more sensible to see this as the conclusion of the prior parable that we have been looking at.  If, then, this provides the conclusion, we should expect the principles that it speaks of to provide for us an interpretive guide to understanding the parable as a whole.  Before we look in detail at this parable, though, I think that it is wise for us to start putting some of our puzzle pieces together so that we can see how the conclusion of the parable unifies them.

To begin with, we established that this parable was spoken against the Pharisees, they understood it, and were offended by it (Luke 16:14).  Secondly, we found that the steward in this parable was unjustly accused of wasting his master’s funds.  As we see the parable develop, this steward is not only unjustly accused, but he is honest.  He has not built up a nest egg for himself to fall back on because he is afraid of having to beg or to go out and work in the fields.  It was not the menial wage that deterred him, but the fact that he was not strong enough to do manual labor and too honorable to beg.

We also established that the man was not fired immediately, but was given some time to close out accounts if you will.  He also was not persecuted for the crime he was accused of, which once again implies that the steward was honest and kept at least some degree of the trust of the master.  We also established that the reduction of debit in order to collect at least a portion of the loan was a common and reasonable practice in Jesus’ day just as it is in our own day and age, thus, what the manager did with the debtors was honest, fair, and within his authority as steward of his master’s affairs.  In fact, it is pretty clear that the master commended him for this action, and given that it is clear that the master in the parable is representative of God, it is impossible for us to put forth the idea that the master is commending the steward for a dishonorable act.

So, if the manager is guilty of something that is causing him to be released of his duties, what is he guilty of?  This raises the question of what exactly is the role of a steward in ancient times?  As we discussed earlier, a steward’s job was to manage the affairs of his master.  The bottom line is that a steward was responsible to protect the wealth that the master already had, add new wealth, and to do so in such a way that his master’s honor was kept secure.  My suggestion, then, is that the releasing of the steward from his duties has nothing to do with his squandering of his master’s wealth as the false charge stated, but that he is being released due to his harming of his master’s honor.

Let us make the connection between the Pharisees and the steward at this point.  Historically, the Pharisees arose during the Hasmonean dynasty in Palestine, a sect desiring the purification of religious worship.  Sadly, in the 150 years or so between the start of their sect and the ministry of Jesus, they had largely grown legalistic and hypocritical, being more interested in the letter of the law than in the intent behind the law.  According to the letter of the law, the Pharisees were doing exactly what they were required to do—yet they had missed their mark in terms of what they ought to have been doing, that is, stewarding God’s word, and were bringing God’s name in disgrace.  They were abusing their privileges and refusing to grant people forgiveness until the very letter of the law was satisfied with the spiritual debts that people owed to the temple. 

It seems that we have a connection here that we can hang our hats on.  Just as Pharisees were called to steward God’s word and were more interested in the letter of the law than the calling they had been given, so too this steward was more interested in collecting the letter of the debt rather than fulfilling the intent behind his role as steward.  In any business arrangement, given that we live in a fallen world, we are going to end up with people who go into debt to you that they are unable to pay.  By forcing someone to pay the whole amount of the debt, you bankrupt the debtor and then rarely, if ever, collect much of anything.  A wise steward recognizes this and understands that in reducing a debt to a point where people can pay it, you not only get some of the money owed, but you also build the reputation of your master as one who is fair and who desires to maintain a business relationship.  In reality, by reducing the debt, you also help the debtor to stay in business and he will likely continue to deal financially with you, building up the estate of your master.  In the long run, the amount you forgive will often come back to you in future profits. 

The Pharisees missed the point and proved themselves faithless in their task.  The beauty of the parable is that this steward, when the chips were down, got the point, and seems to have repented of his previous ways.  And for his repentance, he is commended by the master.  Sadly, the Pharisees were largely not willing to repent.  They had proved themselves to be faithless even when the common sense business practices of the world would have told them otherwise.   Jesus is saying very clearly that if they do not even understand the basic principles of interacting with people in terms of this world, how will you handle things of true value—namely God’s word.

Most of our English translations insert the word “riches” toward the end of these verses, but literally the verse ends with the words, “that which is true.”  I think, especially given the language of the following verses, that the contrast here is not so much small wealth and big wealth, but worldly wealth with the truth of God’s word.  What does this have to do with the language of “eternal dwellings”?  It is very simple, the heart of the job of the Pharisees—and all who are called as stewards of God’s word!—is to guide people into God’s word that they might repent, believe, and come into an eternal relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son.  Are we not to use the opportunities of this world to do just that—win people to Jesus?  Are we not to use our wealth to build up the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ in the eyes of the world?  Are we not to live in such a way that draws people to Jesus?  Are we not to steward God’s law that not only honors the law but honors the intent of the law?  Are not eternal places waiting for the believer as he passes from this life to the next?  Oh, believer, how we are to proclaim the gospel in all that we do—we are sons of light, are we not?  Thus, let us shine that light into the sin-darkened world around us!  Yet, how we can learn from the basic business practice of forgiveness when we deal with those around us.  Let us demonstrate the forgiveness of Christ, for we have been forgiven, and let us point the people of the world toward the eternal places that are reserved for those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye

To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

Where my possessions lie.

I am bound for the promised land,

I am bound for the promised land;

Oh who will come and go with me?

I am bound for the promised land.

-Samuel Stennett