At church this morning, we sang the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". To read the lyrics and listen to the song, click here. Above the title of the hymn in our hymn-book was a quotation of the first half of Proverbs 10:22, which states (in the King James Version): "The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich".
hymn focuses on what could be called spiritual riches: God's mercy and
love, joy within us that leads us to sing, going home (which presumably
means going to heaven after we die), and our wandering hearts being
bound to God. And in the sermon, the pastor said that many seek money
and power, but Jesus wants for us to have spiritual riches, such as joy.
can identify other spiritual riches----such as love and giving to
others. One can be spiritually rich and materially poor. I think of
that episode of Little House on the Prairie, "The Richest Man in Walnut Grove". Click here
to watch it. While the Ingalls family did not have much money, they
pulled together in tough financial times, chipping in, saving, and
giving whatever they could. Mr. Olsen, the well-to-do local
businessman, thought that Charles Ingalls was the richest man in Walnut
Grove on account of that, whereas Mr. Olsen looked at his own family and
noticed that it did not pull together that much because its financial
situation was usually quite good.
There is a lot in the Bible about riches. I just mentioned Proverbs 10:22! The Bible presents people getting rich as a good thing. But the question that many have is, "What kind of riches?"
There are some who look at those passages about getting rich and
interpret that as spiritual riches. But then there are advocates of the
prosperity Gospel who maintain that the Bible promises the faithful
material riches, as well, if they do the right thing.
I'd say that
the Bible talks about spiritual and material prosperity. A significant
part of God's covenant with Israel was that God would prosper Israel
with crops and international renown if she obeyed his commandments (see,
for example, Deuteronomy 8:11-18). In the Book of Proverbs, being rich
often means material prosperity (see here).
God blessed Job with flocks and herds. In the New Testament, however,
there is a notion that one can have lots of material wealth yet be poor
before God (Luke 12:21).
At Bible study earlier this week, we
were discussing this issue. In Mark 10:29-30, we read: "And Jesus
answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left
house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or
children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive
an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and
mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to
come eternal life." Advocates of the prosperity Gospel can
point to this passage and say that God will bless Christians with
material possessions in the here-and-now, not just in the afterlife.
But critics of the prosperity Gospel don't take the passage that
literally. In a sense, when we join the church, we become part of a
family. And perhaps, because Christians share their possessions with
one another (think Acts 2), believers do gain land and houses, not so
much in terms of personal ownership, but rather because believers can
benefit from the possessions of other believers. But things don't
necessarily work that way in today's church, which has less of a
family-like atmosphere than what we see in Acts 2.
Does God bless people materially today? II Corinthians 9:11 seems
to say that God will bless believers with enough that they can be
generous to others. But there may come times when believers lack. In
Philippians 4:11-13, Paul says that he is content in whatever state he
is in (even times of hunger and need), for Paul can do all things
through Christ, who strengthens him.
Critics of the
prosperity Gospel can say that there are plenty of people who are poor,
so should we assume that God is cursing their lives or is withholding
blessing? But I think that one can make a similar argument about
spiritual riches: there are Christians with chronic depression and
feelings of hopelessness. Should we assume that God is withholding
God's blessing from them? That doesn't make God out to be all that
nice, does it? One would think that faith could give everybody some base of hope, but there are Christians who still struggle with despair.
terms of what I would like, I would like to have enough for myself and
to help others, a la II Corinthians 9:11. And times when I lack can
make me sensitive to the need to help others. But I wouldn't consider
poverty to be a blessing.