Should we expect to be rich and healthy?

(This article was published in Grace Magazine (Kenya) 2010/4).

Can Christians expect to be wealthy in this life? Is good health and comfort a sign of God’s blessing? Many preachers are teaching these ideas. Some of them promise their people that Jesus will make them rich. Some of them plead for money so that the world can see that the “man of God” is true. On the other side, they say that poverty is a curse from God. If you are suffering from poverty, then there is a sin – or perhaps a demon – in your life that needs repenting of. Is this true? Is this the Bible’s teaching? Of course not. Jesus was the Lord of glory, yet on earth he suffered and was crucified. His enemies, the spiritually blind priests and Pharisees, could not believe that a poor, crucified man from Galilee could be the Lord of glory. The cross was an offence to them (1 Corinthians 1:23-31, John 7:52). It is terrible that men should be Christian preachers and yet believe the same things! The apostle Paul taught us the opposite – the true marks of serving Christ in this life are the marks of suffering (Galatians 6:12, 17).

Of course, to have money is a blessing, and poverty and suffering are bad things. If Adam had never sinned, the world would have no suffering, poverty, hunger or disease. We all face suffering because of Adam’s sin. We are all his children, and we each have to live in the world which was cursed because of his disobedience. And if our own nearer fathers were lazy or wicked, then we will have further problems. If our fathers leave us no inheritance, and teach us no trade, life will surely be hard.

It is also true that if we obey God’s word, then it leads to blessings. The Bible teaches us to work hard. It teaches us to be honest. It teaches us wisdom so that we can avoid many problems and difficulties. If we use our money carefully and wisely, then we hope we will be able to give our children a good education and an inheritance to help them in life. In God’s world, going God’s way leads to God’s blessing. If we are disobedient, then God can use suffering to discipline and correct us, leading us to repentance (James 5:16, Hebrews 12:5-11).

However, these are only general truths. They are not the final laws for every person in every place. God is sovereign, and he can do what he pleases. Because of our sin, we all deserve terrible suffering. God is free to decide to show kindness to whom he wants. He can make one person’s load lighter, and another person’s load heavier – simply because he is God. He is the potter and we are the clay (Romans 9:14-21). There are many reasons why he might decide not give us blessing. Here are some examples.

God can test his servants. Job was the most righteous man on earth (Job 1:8), but he suffered very greatly to prove that he served God willingly, and not for gain. Suffering also purifies God’s people, like gold is purified in a fire. It teaches us to not love this present world, but to long for Christ (1 Peter 1:6-8). Problems and pains train us in Christian character and lead us to a greater Christian joy (Romans 5:3-5).

God knows our hearts, and some of us would not do well with riches and comfort. If we have too much, then we may grow to forget God and become spiritually lazy (Proverbs 30:8-9). Problems help us to pray to God each day and trust him for our needs each day (Matthew 6:24-34). The love of money is a great snare, a trap which many have fallen into (1 Timothy 6:9). In Jesus’ story, the poor beggar Lazarus went to heaven, but the rich man went straight to hell (Luke 16:19-31).

Christians, then, should not pray to be rich or think that having money means that God is pleased with them, or that having problems means that God is unhappy with them. There are many reasons why these things might not be true. Christians instead should grow up in their thinking, and be mature. These false teachings are for children, who lack spiritual understanding. Instead, we should always watch our lives to keep away from sin, so that God will not need to discipline us. But if we are facing challenges, we should rejoice (Romans 5:3). We should hope that God will teach us, like he taught Paul, to say “Having food and clothes, let us be content with them” (1 Timothy 6:8) and “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content”(Philippians 4:11).

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