Prospering & being blessed

Question 139, from Sarah-Louise, United Kingdom

Some Christians say that it is the will of God for all believers to prosper financially, that poverty and lack is a curse and that our prosperity is contingent upon our obedience to the Word of God. Does the Bible actually say this?

I don’t think it does at all as plenty of non-believers prosper, people like Mother Theresa died poor etc but I don’t know how to back up my hunch scripturally.

This is a difficult question to definitively answer, simply because either view can be supported through referring to the Bible. Certainly in the Old Testament, key figures in Israelite history were wealthy as a result of their obedience to God. Abraham, for example, saw his wealth grow as a result of his faithfulness.

Others who were significantly blessed in material terms include Job, David and Solomon, and there are several instances of God promising blessing on the nation of Israel if the Law is kept. Interestingly, several of these ‘blessing texts’ are often used to reinforce the idea that true believers will prosper financially, often with little or no regard for the context in which God promises blessing.

Mis-using texts by ignoring contexts
A classic example of this is Malachi chapter 3, verse 10, which is often used to justify appeals for money, as ‘God will financially bless those who give their tithe’ [1]. However, the context of this verse is (more…)

Dirty Money

Question from CM, United Kingdom

I know that churches differ widely on this issue, but does the Bible have a standpoint on whether churches should accept “dirty money” in order to fund work that would otherwise not have been able to take place? By “dirty money” I mean money gained from gambling, the Lottery or even from crime but is given to the church with a giving heart and honest desire for it to be used to glorify God.

This is a quite a topical issue at the moment for many Christian organisations and churches in terms of applying for lottery funding. But while many churches agonise over whether to apply for money from the lottery, there is an almost hypocritical mechanism at work, in that financial donations from any private individual are never questioned. If a stranger walked into a church and dropped a large wad of notes into the collection plate, would the church hand it back if they knew he was a drug dealer? A cynic’s reply would be ‘Of course not!

Gambling is often seen as morally wrong, mainly because it can turn into a destructive vice. There is an element of prediction at work and, of course a person places their trust into whether the horse comes home first. There does not seem to be a definite stance taken against gambling in Scripture, though Matthew’s gospel notes that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes (chapter 27 v35). This is about the only direct reference to gambling and Matthew mentions it in a neutral way because the writer is more concerned about the fact that it fulfils a prophetic statement from the Psalms that the writer presumably felt applied to Jesus (Psalm 22 v 18 – this Psalm begins ‘My God, why have you forsaken me’, the words Jesus says on the cross in Matthew 27 v 46)

However, gambling is generally a waste of money and, since the rise of Puritan elements within Christianity during the Reformation, has been generally frowned upon by Christians. As most of the Protestant denominations owe much to Puritan roots, this attitude that gambling is a sinful activity is very well established.

In terms of using “dirty money” for good purposes, there are Biblical stories that would seem to indicate that this is acceptable. In Luke chapter 7 a woman who “had led a sinful life” (usually regarded as a coded reference to prostitution) broke an alabaster jar of nard, an expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with this. The reaction of Simon the Pharisee centred on the woman’s sinful past and Jesus rebuked him, seeing the use of this perfume, which probably acted as her financial security due to its worth, as indicative of her repentance. Similarly the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke chapter 19 sees the penitent cheat giving his ill-gotten wealth to the poor, an action that leads Jesus to declare that “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9).

It would seem that in both these instances the change in the individual and their subsequent use of their wealth met with Jesus’ approval. However, this does not provide Christians with a carte blanche to earn money by any means necessary. It is important to note that the money earned through dubious means was done so before these people encountered Jesus.

The lottery money is there to be spent and, if Christians do not spend it, then other people will. Does that mean its right to use it for ‘the Lord’s work’? Well, the answer to that has to be ‘maybe’. Is God interested in how we earn and use our money? The answer to that is ‘Yes, definitely!’ The rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18 acts as a counterpoint to Zacchaeus. He could not bring himself to give his money away to the poor (verse 23) and the implication is that as a result he failed to enter the Kingdom of God. Yet there is no inference that his money was in any way “dirty”. His fault lay in his heart attitude and that he valued his wealth more than the promise of the Kingdom.

Thanks for your question, CM. I hope that you found this answer helpful.

Stewardship II

Question from CM, United Kingdom

In response to your previous answer to my question on Stewardship, is it good stewardship to get into debt, even for something like buying a house or a car?
Is stewardship more of an attitude than a set of do’s or don’ts?

Debt isn’t clearly addressed in the Bible, at least not in the modern sense of the word. There were Old Testament laws forbidding the charging of interest (Leviticus 25 v36) or of demanding repayment and taking away a person’s livelihood (Deuteronomy 24 v6). The first 11 verses of Deuteronomy chapter 15 outlines the plan that every seven years all debts would be cancelled. The problem with all these, and numerous other references, is that they tend to apply more to the lender than the borrower, perhaps because the lender tends to have power over the borrower (Proverbs 22 v7).

The issue of debt comes down to personal choice. Some people would have no problem with it. Unless you are very fortunate, you will have to take out a mortgage in order to buy a house. It is a form of debt we are all familiar with. However, the average personal debt of an adult in the UK is running at £5500, not counting mortgages. In fact the UK’s combined personal debt is soon going to overtake the UK’s Gross Domestic Product. In other words as a society we are going to owe more than we can produce in a year.

Stewarding our resources calls for us to be as ‘wise as serpents’. We are also called not to conform to the pattern of this increasingly materialistic society. Much of that personal debt has been incurred as people try to ‘keep up with the Jones’ or to have ‘something nice’. Impressing our neighbours with our material wealth may be a valid form of witness these days, but it lacks Biblical support and could be theologically dubious as well. The ‘You’re worth it’ attitude has led to people assuming an existential position – ‘If I don’t have the best, then I’m not worth the best’. The tie-up between personal worth and material wealth is getting stronger and stronger, reinforced by advertising and the obsession with ‘celebrity’ (which has to be the most cheapened word of the 21st century).

Stewardship is clearly an attitude, not a set of rules, as you rightly pointed out, so there is no ‘should’ about getting into debt. It may be a ‘necessary evil’, but as Christians we need to make sure it is necessary, as that makes it a little less evil.

Stewardship – the use of money, property and resources

Question from CM, United Kingdom

Dear Freelance Theology,
Can you give a brief explanation of Stewardship and tell me your thoughts on how far it should apply in our lives. Does it only apply to our finances or to all material things in our life?

In a previous answer, specifically about whether Christians should own stocks and shares, I wrote the following: “We are stewards of the money and resources given to us, not the sole owners, therefore God has a legitimate claim on everything in our life, including our money.”

In the Old Testament the Israelites are constantly reminded that everything they have is from God, including the land of Israel. The institution of the ‘Year of Jubilee’ (in Leviticus ch25 vs8 and following) was to show that human beings had no claim of ownership regarding the land – it belonged to God. (more…)

Stocks & Shares

Question from RB, United Kingdom

Someone asked me a question and I need help with an answer! My friend asked me “What should I do about my stocks and shares?”

Some Christians are opposed to investing in stocks and shares, simply because they view it as a form of gambling. However, while the stock market does present a risk, investments are usually made using market knowledge. Very rarely is an investment made blindly.

From the point of view of a Christian trying to be salt and light in the world, it is best to invest through an ethical broker. These are fairly easy to find, although they are few in number. Obviously, investing ethically may not offer as big a return as ploughing money into arms manufacturers, but there is a serious question of conscience when it comes to investing.

From a theological point of view it is very important that Christians are aware of the following points.

1. We are stewards of the money and resources given to us, not the sole owners, therefore God has a legitimate claim on everything in our life, including our money.

2. If we are to ‘do everything as to the Lord’ (Colossians chapter 3 v 23), our financial transactions must be squeaky clean and done in an attitude of honesty and righteousness.

3. The first two commandments given by God to the Hebrews at Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy chapter 5) relate to the priority God has in our lives. We are not to allow anything to become more important than God or trust in any thing man-made (idolatry) – man-made wealth included!

4. Jesus urged his followers to store up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6 v21) and warned the rich that they would suffer in the life to come because they had already received their reward (Luke 6 v24).

5. The Early Church was characterised by ‘cheerful’ giving (in older translations ‘The Lord loves an hilarious giver’ 2 Corinthians 9 v7) and a sharing of wealth (See the early chapters of Acts).

6. The Lord does bless the upright, often through material wealth. However most of the Old Testament blessings are conditional on the people of Israel fulfilling their side of the covenant. Jesus promises his disciples everything they could possibly need, but the flipside of this is he was all they really needed. There is an old saying ‘The Lord gives you what you need, not what you want.’

Having made those points, we are charged with providing for our families, acting responsibly, treating others with dignity and being mindful of the poor. If your friend can do those things through prudent investment in the stock market, then theologically he has nothing to worry about.