“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9
“Give me neither poverty nor riches”. I can see a lot of people agreeing with the first part of that statement, but the second part is a little bit harder to swallow. Who wants to have to struggle with poverty? Who doesn’t want to be rich and wealthy? This statement seems counter-intuitive in this modern culture which has a “get rich or die trying” attitude towards wealth. In our world today it will seem that money is the solution to all our problems. It would at least make life more comfortable and enjoyable.
It seems as if this same attitude towards money, wealth and prosperity can be found within the church. In a new show that will be shown in the USA on the Oxygen Network called Preachers of LA, one of the cast members says”P. Diddy, Jay-Z, they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/preachers-of-la-trailer-teases-with-lavish-dramatic-lifestyles-of-six-mega-pastors-99070/
). If nothing else, the statement seems to imply that Christians deserve to live the good life like the celebrities of our day. And how else can we do that if we our bank accounts aren’t overflowing like the drainage system in Accra after heavy rains.
The gospel message in recent times seem to be focused on living life to the fullest or said another way, living to your full potential. 99% percent of the time this refers to being materially wealthy and successful. When you have fees to pay, relatives to support, “chop money” to give to the wife etc that is a message you want to hear. There are lots of people who are genuinely struggling to survive on a daily basis and this message gives them the hope that this is will finally be the year of their financial victory. On the 31st of December, when millions of Ghanaians hold all-night vigils at church to welcome the new year, the predominant message that is often preached is the assurance that “this is your year of financial breakthrough”. The result is that the focus of gospel messages seem to be around material wealth and prosperity. You would think that we become Christians in order to drive Ferraris and live in large houses.
This shift in focus has at the very least skewed the message of the gospel, and in doing so the attention is being shifted away from Christ to earthly possessions. The gospel message when phrased in purely materialistic terms seems to almost forget the heart of the human problem, our need for forgiveness.This shift sometimes makes us think that the blessed Christian refers only to the person who is financially prosperous and if nothing else fuels the desire for wealth. This shift does nothing to teach Christians what godliness with contentment means.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” – 1 Timothy 6:6-10
I don’t think Paul is asking everyone to resign themselves to a life of poverty. He tells Timothy that instead of eagerly pursuing material wealth and wandering from the faith like so many have done, he should rather pursue things that have an eternal value (“… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” – 1 Timothy 6:11 ). He instructs Timothy to command the rich to not put their hope in their wealth but on God(” Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth” – 1 Timothy 6:17) and to be generous with what they have. The point is, whether rich or poor, our lives must centered around pursuing godliness and God by His Spirit will enable us to do this. Paul says it in another way in Phillipians:
“..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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” – Phillipians 4:11
The gospel tells us that our biggest problem is not our lack of material possessions. Our biggest problem is that we are alienated from God (” Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior… ” – Colossians 1:21) and in desperate need of a Saviour. Christ has reconciled us, through his death, holy, unblemished and free from accusation, to God (“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death…” – Colossians 1:22). We now have an inheritance which is free from the decay of this world and kept for us in heaven where we will reign with Christ forever. The Holy Spirit is a seal that guarantees this inheritance(“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” – Ephesians 1:13-14) and enables us to live godly lives until that day.
This is the gospel and hope that Paul held on to and enabled him learn to be content in whatever situation he was found himself. This is the gospel that enabled Paul say that godliness with contentment is great gain because his hope was not in the riches of this world. This is the gospel that enabled Paul to tell the rich to be generous and place their hope in God because they know how much they have received from Him. This is the gospel that allows the weak to say they are strong and the poor to say they rich because of what the Lord has done. This gospel shifts the focus from ourselves to Christ and from material possessions to our glorious inheritance.
A gospel that emphasizes material possessions and blessings is always saying “this is the year of my financial breakthrough” and asks “which revival and/or prophet/pastor etc I can go to make this happen?”. This in turn creates an environment where con-artists can parade as men of God to lure and deceive the desperate and gives them a false hope that only glitters like gold but has no substance. But a gospel that has Christ has its centre says “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it” and asks “how do I grow in godliness?” and can make the difficult decisions for Christ when they come because their hope is built on Jesus Christ.
A Christ centered gospel produces a Christians that have a faith that looks back at the cross and a hope that looks forward to the glorious inheritance that has been kept safe for us. And while we are in this world we trust and pray to God for our needs so our financial lack doesn’t drive us to ungodliness and we are also generous with our wealth so that the lure of riches doesn’t drive us to ungodliness.
The writer from Proverbs can say that “Give me neither poverty nor riches” because he understands that there is something more important than our financial status. He is so focused on living for God that he prays that God will take away whichever one will shift his focus. I wonder how many of us have that focus or are even praying that God gives us that focus.
This might not be the year of our financial breakthrough. It might not be the year of financial victory. But today is the day that the Lord has made and are we living for God in it? That is ultimately a much more important question.