Being Content with what We Have
NCW 69: August 2000 - January 2001
Q. I've been going through financial hell for years now, poverty has become a way of life and I'm fed up with it. Why shouldn't I follow the teachings of the Prosperity gospel? Doesn't God want to prosper us?
A. Nobody enjoys poverty, especially grinding poverty. I myself have had to learn to live with little over the years and be satisfied with what God provides for me and my family. The Scriptures promise to give us exactly what we need, not what we want, and unfortunately people judge "needs" differently according to the culture they live in. Thus the need of someone in a Third Word country may be a clean water supply whereas someone in the rich West may think he "needs" a bigger TV or a more powerful PC.
The basic message of Scripture is this: "Keep your lives from the love of money and be content with what you have" (Heb.13:5, NIV). Paul said: "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 everything through Him who gives me strength" (Phil.4:11-13, NIV).
Now such statements are not popular with Christians in affluent societies who have grown to "expect" things as a "right". We are cursed by the doctrine of rights.
God wants everyone to prosper but He has both a timetable and a list of priorities. What use, for instance, would it be, if He prospered us financially and we were paupers in spirit? One of Yahweh's most important goals is to bring us to perfection, and to do that we need to have a proper perspective first of who we are, otherwise we will never truly perceive what it is we need, and end up like the Laodicians: "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev.3:17, NIV).
I have met a lot of people from the "Prosperity Movement" who fit the Laodician description to the ticket. Indeed. it is my firm belief that most of the Churches in the rich West are exactly like that. They're so absorbed with making money that they completely lose sight of the spiritual path. They rejoice in prosperity theology and think they are spiritually rich too.
The final issue - the bottom line of discipleship - is not whether one is rich or poor but whether one has learned to be content with either.
Once some soldiers came to John the Baptist and complained about their terrible soldiers' pay, to which he replied: "...be content with your pay" (Lk.3:14, NIV).
Now, I am not unsympathetic to your predicament because I have felt exactly same the same way as you do (more often than I care to admit) and have also been discontented. The trouble with the latter is that it usually ends up as a complaint against the Lord which is not at all a healthy thing to do. Job learned that lesson and had to repent of his attitude problem.
If we find ourselves in a situation consisting of great poverty then there are only two reasons why: (1) We have sinned somewhere along the line and the Lord cannot therefore fulfil His promises to us; (2) He has a spiritual purpose in mind. There are many things we can do, including taking a good look at our life with reference to the Scriptures.
(1) In regard to the first possibility, we might like to examine ourselves and see whether or not we are paying the Lord His tithe (Mal.3:8). All that we own ultimately belongs to Him and we are but the stewards or custodians of our property and wealth. Are we living beyond our means and justifying not paying tithes because we are? Do we own a fancy, expensive car whilst living in poverty? Do we take expensive holidays with our family? Are we under pressure from wife or children who expect luxuries and are unwilling to see a reduction in the standard of our living? Are we usurers? (OB 97). Have we understood that the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word (Lk.12:21)? The closer you look at yourself, the more surprised you will become. Have you, for example, stopped tithing in order to finance luxurious "wants" rather than genuine needs? You'd be surprised at some of the twisted logic man uses to cheat Yahweh of His tenth. And you'll be shocked to discover just how selfish and how unwilling to sacrifice people are too.
Most Christians I meet aren't living Yahweh's stewardship laws at all and a small minority I meet even go so far as to say that tithing under the New Covenant is demonic! To be sure, some churches abuse the tithing law but that does not in itself abrogate the law. So let us be quite clear about one thing: tithings and offerings were commanded by Yahweh in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New (Mt.23:23; Heb.7:4-14). Please note that freewill offerings have not replaced tithing but are "above and beyond" the latter.
Errol Müller writes:
"Tithing since the time of Abraham was considered an expression of worship. The longest chapter in the Bible, Numbers 7, is nearly 2,000 words long, and is all about giving. Tithing in the time of Moses became a definite legal requirement as it was used in the first Tabernacle, the Levitical priesthood, and later the Temple.
"In the New Covenant, Yah'shua (Jesus) is High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, and it supersedes the Levitical system. Faithful Abraham tithed to the Melchizedek Order and so do the New Covenant faithful (Heb.6:20; 7; Gen.14:18-20).
"How can they go, if they are not sent? To fulfil the Great Commission, Paul taught that "the work" of preaching the Gospel was to be supported by those who had the Gospel preached to them (1 Cor.9:14; Gal.6:6).
"In our market-driven culture, religion has become a consumer product. People tend to develop a free-for-service mentality and they want to be served by the church - sadly this is not the heavenly attitude our Creator has in mind. Yahweh owns everything. He is the greatest giver in the universe, and we all have a personal obligation to give something back. He wants to teach caring and generosity to all His creation (Ps.112:5). Tithing teaches giving. You don't grudgingly scrape off the bottom of the barrel to give something, one gives the best 10% - right off the top. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously, "for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor.9:6-7)" (The Mystical Rites of our Creator, White Stone Communications, Lake Worth, FL, USA, 1999, The Habits p.131)
A footnote by way of warning. Watch out for churches which are using tithing for anything else but the witnessing of the Word. It's use is solely for supporting missioners (missionaries), preachers, evangelists, pastors and their families if it is needed (i.e. if they are genuinely unable to support themselves), and for spreading the Word by other means (e.g. booklets, tapes, videos, etc.). Tithing is not for the building of chapels, temples, tabernacles or other ostentatious buildings, or for the giving of a regular salary. Free will offerings are to be used for feeding and clothing the poor, and other projects (another important article explaining how the tithe is to be divided will soon be published). We are to beware of false prophets who appear meek and righteous (Mt.7:14) who might use tithing to finance their own personal agenda and ends. If you're not a part of a church that tithes, or which uses tithing in an incorrect way (may be you should get out), then at least support an organisation that gives away free Bibles!
(2) In regard to the second possibility, viz. that Yahweh has a spiritual purpose in mind in being poor, we must be more spiritually sensitive. This is an area which the purveyors of the "Prosperity Gospel" ignore or demean. There are potentially many different reasons why the Lord might want us poor. Some people just don't known how to handle money - it seems to slip through their fingers like water. I know many Christians like that, including those who acknowledge the biblical principles of financial stewardship. Such people He seems to give no more than they are able to handle and just enough to make sure they can feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families.
The vast majority of the world lives in poverty simply because there aren't the resources to go around to justify a universal Western standard of living. Needless to say the "Prosperity Gospel" does not fare so well in the Third World. There's enough for everyone to be sure but not at the Western world's standard of living. To feed, clothe and shelter the whole world so that everyone has the basic necessities of life is certainly possible provided there is a lowering of the Western standard of living and corruption is eliminated. My point is that poverty is also a collective responsibility of mankind. The only way the Lord could possibly right the imbalances on a world-wide basis would be to directly intervene in a miraculous way - which is what He will do at the end of the dispensation, but not before. Of course, communism and socialism in general have tried to "right" the "wrong" of unequal distribution by stealing off one class of persons and giving it to another without dealing with the problem of human greed. The former communist nations were riddled with corruption and cronyism. Then there's the question of false religion. God does not bless the pagans except in a general sense of giving everyone sunshine, soil and rain in which to grow crops. Furthermore, Satan runs the show down here because men and women let him. The responsibility of poverty generally is man's, not God's.
So we must see poverty within a world-wide context too. The trouble is in our "I" culture Christians only look upon financial stewardship in terms of themselves as individuals and have lost the communal sense. Instead of asking why "I" am poor we should also be asking why "we" are poor. Our questions tend to be selfish. That is not to say I am advocating abandoning the evangelistic Gospel for a social Gospel (the error of the liberals) - far from it - but I am saying that the issue is perhaps a little broader than our narrow-minded sense of righteousness, which is invariably centred on "me". In other words, the question perhaps ought to be centred around Yah'shua's (Jesus') teaching: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn.12:25, NIV; see also Lk.17:33; 9:24-25; Mk.8:34-35; Mt.10:39; 16:24-25). Maybe if we worried about those less fortunate than us in our congregations by freely sharing what we have as the first Christians did (Ac.2:44-45ff) we might find ourselves becoming prosperous together. As it is, the "Prosperity Gospel" is what "I" can get for "myself". If you'd like a vision of what this kind of Christian sharing can be like, then I strongly recommend the video film called, The Mission (starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, Warner Home Video, 1986 - 5-014781-163927). In it you will see the possibilities that can be had from living the New Testament law of financial stewardship and how genuine Biblical prosperity can occur. You will also see how this system is 100% diametrically opposed to the selfish, egocentric and satanically-inspired "Prosperity Gospel" theology of today.
Finally, if the Lord is keeping you in poverty is may well be for you personally - to teach you about some flaws in your personality which you might otherwise be blind to in prosperity. It is not without sound reason that Yah'shua (Jesus) said that it is particularly hard (if not impossible) for a rich man to get into heaven, because money corrupts (Mt.19:24; Mk.10:25; Lk.8:25; 1 Tim.6:10; Heb.13:5).
My concluding advice, as one who has lived in poverty for a long time, would be this: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'. So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Heb.13:5-6, NIV). And then finally, having the law of tithing and the way the first Christians lived (having hopefully also seen The Mission), "Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life AND IMITATE THEIR FAITH" (Ibid., v.7). And if they're not imitating the first Christians themselves, don't imitate them!
Of course, if you want to rebel against the scriptural recipe and do your "own thing" or imitate a false teacher, you are free to do so. However, you will have no promise. You might well become wealthy (but there's no guarantee), but you might also lose your soul.
This page was created on 19 January 2001
Last updated on 19 January 2001
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