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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Prosperity, Abundance, and Paul

Gold coins

by Dennis Pollock

Mention the prosperity movement to a group of Christians, and you will probably get some pretty strong reactions. Some are convinced that the movement is the greatest thing to hit the church since the days of the apostles. Others are certain that this doctrine came straight from the depths of hell and that those who teach it are surely doing the devil's work. I have never been comfortable with the idea that all Christians are supposed to be rich, but I have no doubt that our Heavenly Father is a generous provider and takes no pleasure in His children living in squalid poverty. According to Jesus, seeking God's kingdom first in our lives guarantees that our needs will be met, without the necessity of us making the acquisition of money a huge priority. Indeed, to make wealth our major focus is strictly forbidden in Scripture, for "those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare…" (1 Timothy 6:9). (It's OK to be rich, you just can't want it all that bad!)

Though fabulous wealth is not promised to all who would follow Christ, a life of abundance is. One of the best ways of seeing the difference between the two is to study the life of the apostle Paul. As far as I am concerned, Paul was as close to the ideal Christian as we can find. He wasn't perfect, but he was wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus Christ. This, plus the fact that we have a lot of information about him in the Bible, makes him the perfect study whenever we want a glimpse of what the Christian life should be all about. As we observe Paul's life and ministry, we shall find that, though he was by no means a wealthy man, the abundance of heaven constantly overshadowed his life and ministry. 

Paul's Financial State 

Amazingly, the greatest theologian in the history of the church was a bi-vocational minister. He made tents to help provide the money to live and do his ministry. Paul met the married couple, Aquila and Priscilla (who later became his spiritual protégés) as a result of them both working in the same business: "and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers." (Acts 18:3) In some ways it is sad to think of Paul, who could have written so much more, wasting his time making tents throughout the day. How in the world did he ever find the time to write such a masterpiece as the book of Romans? Nor did he ever get rich at it. Paul did not build his tent-making into a major business, with many employees and a central headquarters building. He simply made enough tents to keep him going, while he focused in his free time on his true passion—the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Apparently his tent making didn't always provide very well for him. To the Corinthians he describes himself thus: "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Elsewhere he says, "To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless." No doubt some of today's Christians, had they been there at the time, would have severely chided the great apostle for making such a negative confession. But Paul was simply telling it like it was. By the world's standards he was oftentimes a poor man. He did not have the luxury of buying whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Often he had to do without. He writes in another place: 

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:11-13) 

Paul learned contentment in all situations. How do we learn things? We learn them by practice, and Paul had lots of opportunities to practice being full and being hungry, abounding and suffering need. There is a skill to living well when we are in desperate need, a skill which few seem to have. To maintain a positive faith in God, a kind disposition, and a hopeful spirit, while facing scarcity and lack, is no small ability. But Paul had learned his lessons well. He got straight A's in Scarcity 101. (He did equally well in Plenty 101.) It is ironic that the "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" declaration is one of Paul's most famous quotes, yet few stop to think that suffering need is one of the "all things" to which Paul referred.

One of the indispensable components of Hollywood's movies and TV programs are the scriptwriters. Most of these men and women are never seen and would make lousy actors. They aren't as pretty as the people you see on screen, but without them Hollywood would come to an immediate halt. They sit at their computers every day and use their imaginations to create intricate plots, filled with action, comedy, and desperate situations for the actors to get themselves in and out of. What many people do not realize is that there is a Heavenly scriptwriter who has mapped out the course of our lives long before we ever came along. David writes: "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them" (Psalms 139:16). When we were born the script was already written; we were given no vote or opportunity for input. And within that heavenly script for most of us are times of hardship and lack, as well as times of ease and plenty. When Jesus instructed Ananias to go and pray for Saul (who became Paul), He told him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake." Of course, Paul could have rejected Jesus' script and fashioned his own, but he didn't, and the world was infinitely enriched when the young rabbi submitted to the plans of the Lord.

We can see from Paul's life that the idea that all Christians will be wealthy if they just have enough faith is nonsense. In truth, Paul could have been a wealthy man, had he rejected Christ's call on his life. With his brilliant mind and tremendous ambition, he could probably have succeeded in almost anything he set out to do. He could have been one of the richest men of his day. But Christ had called him to preach the gospel, and His plans for Paul didn't include the acquiring of great wealth. Of course Paul, as an itinerant evangelist and apostle, is a sort of special case. Most Christians will hold down regular jobs, live in one place, and need regular income to pay their bills and provide for their families. But the point remains that the majority of believers are not going to be wealthy regardless of how great their faith is.

While there may be a few Christian professional athletes, brain surgeons, millionaire entrepreneurs, and the like that make tons of money, the majority of Christians will be school teachers, factory workers, mail carriers, grocery store clerks, and so forth. These people will never drive Ferraris or own houses with 12 bedrooms and five bathrooms or shop for dresses or suits that cost thousands of dollars. Most Christians will shop at Wal Mart and Target and Kohl's, and sometimes buy second hand clothes at Goodwill stores. They will drive Fords and Chevys and Toyotas and Hyundais, and live in modest homes with thirty year mortgages. There is nothing wrong with any of that. If they follow hard after Christ they will experience the abundance of heaven in their lives, but it will usually not be reflected in millions of dollars or in a fleet of luxury cars. God's true riches can never be measured by bank accounts or net worth. 

Paul's Abundance 

The Apostle PaulIn the truest sense of wealth, Paul was a fabulously wealthy man. The abundance of heaven was constantly poured out in his life. The power of God flowed in and through him in a way that has probably never been equaled since. He wrote to the believers in the Colossian church: 

To them (speaking of the Gentiles) God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. 

Tradition tell us Paul was not an imposing figure, said by some to have been short and bow-legged. In his epistles he admits that he was not an especially eloquent speaker. Yet wherever he went multitudes believed on Christ, churches were birthed and established, and demons run out of town. This persecutor turned preacher left a trail of divine blessings behind him as he traveled the dusty roads of Asia Minor, and proclaimed "the unsearchable riches of Christ." As a poor man he did indeed make many rich.

One of the greatest insights we can gain about this world is that things are not always what they seem. This itinerant preacher/tent-maker didn't look very impressive, but the impact he made on his world, and continues to make on the world today, is immeasurable. Even the demons knew him well. When some pseudo-Christians were trying to cast out a demon by saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus who Paul preaches," the unclean spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Paul reminds us of the church in Smyrna, of which Jesus declares: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty" – and then adds these profound words: "but you are rich." Indeed the apostle was so rich in the power of God that they would place handkerchiefs on his body just to soak up the anointing of the Holy Spirit that he carried upon him. After a while, they would collect the handkerchiefs and take them to sick and demon possessed individuals. The inspired Scriptures tell us, "and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them."

But Paul's greatest riches went beyond raw spiritual power. He writes to the Philippians, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…" Paul knew Christ in a way that few have ever known Him. As you read his epistles, you find them saturated with references to his Lord. Out of the abundance of his heart his pen surely wrote. The first chapter of Philippians, for example, contains eighteen references to Jesus by name, along with the use of the word "gospel" six times. Paul's beautiful and brilliant epistles to the churches are totally Christ-centered and have been a treasure for believers since the days they were penned. His theological insistence upon justification by faith in Christ alone has brought the church back to its center again and again when it began to stray and has been the fuel for countless spiritual awakenings throughout the centuries. 

We, too 

Most of us are not going to get anywhere near Paul's level, but we, too, can live in the abundance of heaven. Christ's smile on our lives, His Spirit's presence filling our hearts, and the inestimable privilege of fulfilling His calling are treasures that make us wealthy indeed. On top of that, He has absolutely guaranteed that if we put His interests ahead of our own, He will make sure all our material needs are supplied us. And out of His kindness and generosity He not only supplies our needs, but provides many of our wants as well. We will not only be taught to suffer need, but also to be full. And at the end our days we will be taken to that dazzling city whose pavement is pure gold, and where unfulfilled desires are never known. Jesus is, after all, a very, very Good Shepherd.




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