The prosperity of generosity

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a minister who decided the deacons had been counting the offering all wrong. So he relieved them of their duties, and began to count it himself. This minister had a different approach to counting and appropriating the offering. He would put the offering into a bucket, and then he would throw it into the air. God could have all of the offering he wanted, but whatever hit the floor was the minister’s.

The minister was grateful that God allowed the entire offering to hit the floor—such “showers of blessing” were surely a sign of God’s approval. 

This kind of thinking is often called the prosperity gospel.

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The prosperity gospel is the idea that God will shower us with wealth when we do the right thing.

“Why wait for a mansion in heaven, when you can have one right now?”

“God wants you to live lavishly!”

“If you’ll give God a nickel, then God will give you a dime.”   

Jesus, however, had a few things to say about wealth, specifically: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).

Wealth is not an indicator of spiritual vitality or faithfulness, and it is dangerous to think that it is. Especially, when you consider the inverse. Because if wealth means that you are righteous, then poverty means you are not.

If you want to believe that wealth is God’s reward for good living, you should understand that your logic requires poverty to be God’s punishment for bad living. You cannot have one without the other.

Jesus inverts our conventional wisdom with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

With a great reversal, the Rich Man ends up in Hades, and Lazarus, the poor, wretched man, ends up with Abraham. The Rich Man, who is in agony, and who apparently still thinks he’s in charge, requests for Lazarus to bring him a dip of water. But Abraham explains that it no longer works that way. So the Rich Man tries again; he requests that Lazarus go and warn his five brothers so they are able to avoid this dastardly place.

This time Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

What will it take for us to learn that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10a)? That greed is not a virtue? That God cares greatly about the poor? That you cannot serve God and wealth?

For the sake of clarity, it is important to say that money is not evil. It is the misplaced and misguided love of money that is the problem.   

St. Paul explains the antidote:

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (I Timothy 6:17-19).

Real life is not found in the accumulation of wealth, power, or status.

Real life is found in generosity.

May “the life that really is life” find you, and when it does, remember that it is not yours to keep, but yours to share.

~ Rev. Jeff Harris, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Tryon