The Christless Moderate

~ from email ~

The Bible teaches that God prospers his people, but I know someone who cites Proverbs 30:8 to claim that believers should not be rich. The verse says, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” How should I respond?

Proof-Text

This is a case of proof-texting gone wrong. It is hypocritical that the same people who claim that we should not pray like Jabez would say that we should pray like Agur, even though the Bible praised Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). Jabez prayed that God would bless him and increase his territory. God approved and answered.

Your friend rejects the context of the verse he uses from Proverbs and he rejects what other parts of the Bible say on the subject. Then he sets himself up as a model of modesty and moderation. He is a religious phony. Someone like this should be exposed and condemned.

Proverbs itself teaches the way to prosperity, written by someone who possessed ridiculous prosperity, and who associates wisdom with health and wealth.

Proverbs 3:5-10 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Health and wealth.

Proverbs 3:13-16 says, “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.” Proverbs maintains the same priority as other parts of Scripture. Of course wisdom is more valuable than silver and gold. But wisdom is holding…health and wealth.

Proverbs 4 :20-22 says, “My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. ” More health.

Proverbs 8:1, 18-21 says, “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? …With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing wealth on those who love me and making their treasuries full.” More wealth.

Proverbs 22:4 says, “Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.” Health and wealth in your face.

Look at the commentaries. You will see that when scholars run into verses on health and wealth, they almost always attempt to weaken them. They will appeal to genre, context, experience, the history of redemption, other parts of Scripture, and when nothing seems to work, resort to raw rebellion and refusal to accept what is written. But when they run into verses that they claim to endorse sickness and poverty, they do not ram them through the same reduction machine. And they never do it with verses that talk about love, hope, peace, and such things, regardless of the genre or where these appear in the history of redemption.

Why? They already had their minds made up apart from the Bible, and when they open the Bible, they are only looking for words and phrases to justify their existing beliefs. When the Bible contradicts their beliefs, they sidestep, qualify, and neutralize. They attack others for handling the Bible this way, when they do it at least just as often. In any case, any strategy used to crush one set of verses must also be used to crush the other. If you throw out Solomon, Agur goes with him. So all the verses become meaningless and everybody goes home. Nevertheless, the techniques they use often strengthen the verses that they wish to destroy, such as when we examine the context of the verses.

When they attack the prosperity preachers and television evangelists, they portray themselves as taking the intellectual high ground. Even when they are wrong, they would use their convoluted scholarship to cause misdirection. They cannot do that with me. I am not someone they can bully. I know their tricks and I am not fooled by them. I have demonstrated that I understand their positions clearly, clear enough to completely decimate their orthodoxy, showing that their cherished creeds and doctrines often cannot even amount to a basic theism. And I also understand the positions of those they attack, and slander.

I have produced enough materials to make me immune to the criticisms against the prosperity preachers and television evangelists. Since I have refuted the scholars on their own pet doctrines, and I have differentiated myself from their targets, they cannot dismiss me with a simple wave of the hand. I am on to them, and I can expose them, that they are heretics, blasphemers, and charlatans. These terms that they throw against others return to themselves, sometimes with greater force.

 

Context

We can consider the places in the Bible where God’s glory is revealed in riches, where God’s extravagance is exalted, where God’s abundance is promised, where prosperity is portrayed as good and received by faith. No one who reads through the Bible can avoid them. The issue is whether he will accept them, interpret them fairly, and integrate them with an informed understanding of the rest of Scripture, or whether he will hold on to his unbelief and tradition, suppress his conscience, and explain away God’s word. In any case, these areas in the Bible are readily discovered. Does your friend address them? If he disagrees, does he refute them? Or does he cite this one verse in Proverbs and assume that it overwhelms everything else in the Bible? This is how cults use the Bible.

Proverbs 30 contains the words of Agur. Has your friend even read the other verses in this chapter? Verse 8 says, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” He loves this verse. But if he uses verse 8 to justify his moderation, then he must also admit verse 9 as his reason for moderation, because verse 9 is the reason for verse 8. And verse 9 says, “Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

In other words, your friend confesses that if he has a lot, he will turn away from God, and if he has too little, then he will steal from other people. Such a man is likely not a Christian. Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). He had experienced both poverty and prosperity, but because his heart was fixed on Christ who empowered him, he was unaffected by his financial situation either way. In contrast, your friend declares that his whole relationship with God is determined by whether he has too much or too little, by how much money he has. If his situation goes too far either way, there goes his faith. Bye-bye, God.

Something goes well, he becomes an apostate. Something goes wrong, and now he becomes a criminal. As for the rest of us, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17, NLT). I trust in God, not money, and this is why I will remain steadfast whether I have a lot or a little. God, whom you should trust, richly gives you things, which you should not trust, to enjoy. Thus just because you should not trust in something does not mean you cannot have a lot of it. In fact, the fact that you do not trust it is the reason you can afford to have a lot of it. So what I have, I thoroughly enjoy. But not with this guy — just a little too much or too little, he abandons God! And he is probably trying to sound all “cool” and “above it all” by referring to this verse. People like this reek of self-righteousness. They attack a prosperity gospel, but they are the ones completely obsessed with money and controlled by money. Their very souls hinge on the amount of their wealth. This is why I despise this kind of religious phonies so much. Spiritual garbage pretending to be gurus.

Is there only one verse in the Bible? Or is there only one sentence in Proverbs 30? Did you read the rest of the chapter before you asked me about this fellow? Why not? Agur wrote, “I am weary, O God; I am weary and worn out, O God. I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. I have not mastered human wisdom, nor do I know the Holy One. Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down? Who holds the wind in his fists? Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak? Who has created the whole wide world? What is his name — and his son’s name? Tell me if you know!” (Proverbs 30:1-4, NLT). But I know. Agur, let me tell you about him. His name is Jesus. He is my life. He is the author and finisher of my faith. He preserves me by his decree and power, so that I can remain faithful whether living in plenty or in want. He taught me that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Without him, money would be useless to me anyway, because even if I live, I would be a walking corpse. I am not just being pious, because I lived like that once. But I am not without Christ. I can do all things through him who strengthens me, and I am not going to abandon my faith or become a thief because of slight fluctuations in my bank balance.

Agur makes a passing, although no doubt genuine, acknowledgment of the word of God in verses 5 and 6. But if he did not speak like the apostle because he was learning and struggling, what excuse does your friend have, after the coming of Christ and the words of Paul? If he has read the letter to the Philippians, does he still identify with Agur, who was “too stupid to be human,” more than Paul, who could do all things through Christ? Since Christ has come and the gospel has been preached all over the place, the most direct explanation is that this man has a wicked and unregenerate heart who trusts only in wealth. And he dares to tell you how a Christian should think?

Agur said, “Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?” But I am a Christian: “The righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart'” (Romans 10:6-7). The word of God is in my mouth and in my heart, and I have the answers that Agur was seeking. Agur said, “I am too stupid to be human.” This describes your friend perfectly. But because I am a Christian, “I have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Jesus is my wisdom, my righteousness, my redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

 

Pretext

Don’t trust him with ministry or with money, because he would abandon God the moment he gets too much. I am serious. Don’t trust him with your possessions, because he would steal from you the moment he doesn’t have enough. Either he is lying when he uses verse 8, or he is liable to commit theft at any moment. If he is in a position where he deals with large sums of money, he should be reported. He should be fired. He has already made a confession, that he intends to steal when he thinks he doesn’t have enough for himself. And surely, don’t ever trust him with the Bible. He only picks out words here and there to justify himself.

He probably does not know Christ, because otherwise he should not feel this way. Although he seems obsessed with money, so that he admits that his very faith and virtue depend on it, I would not debate him on what the Bible says about money but would first talk to him about Christ, because I do not perceive a born again spirit by his use of this verse. In fact, I would refuse to discuss money any further until I become confident that he is converted. He doesn’t need to believe in prosperity when he doesn’t even believe in Christ.

The matter is extremely serious. The Bible says, “Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor” (Proverbs 3:16). If Wisdom is intended as a personified image of God like the Word in the Gospel of John, even Christ himself, then this shows that health and wealth are in fact integral to the nature of God. Thus a gospel that undermines health and wealth is also a gospel that is anti-Christ. It is a different gospel. It preaches a different God and a different religion. The glorification of unnecessary suffering, disease, and poverty is demonic. Any doctrine that makes the Lord an accomplice to this is a damnable heresy.

The religious phonies like to talk about the prosperity preachers and television evangelists. But why should I care about them? Why mention them at all? This is a smokescreen. Since my teachings are different, I don’t need to answer for other people. I am referring to what the Bible teaches about health and wealth, and what the Bible teaches about the nature of God. They are using these people as a pretext to attack Christ. They cannot distract me with a stupid trick like this. They cannot throw me off their trail.

Forget the prosperity preachers and television evangelists. I have produced more than enough to differentiate myself and to make me immune to being identified with their errors and abuses — that is, where they are truly wrong, since they are often slandered. The prosperity preachers, no matter their faults, cannot be used as a pretext to attack me. Anyone who tries is a liar, and betrays his own incompetence and dishonesty. So I am still looking straight at these religious phonies. They cannot brush this aside with their usual tricks. God will hold them accountable to what the Bible teaches about health and wealth.

To this man, I say:

You want to sound pious and humble, but the same verse you abuse also exposes you as a religious fraud. Stop using the Bible — sit down and shut up — and start learning the Bible. You are twisting that verse in the Bible to make an excuse for your mediocre and pathetic life, and to cover up your obsession with wealth and dependence on money. You wish to make mediocrity into modesty, failure into faith, and selfishness into sacrifice. But your attempt backfires, because it exposes you as someone who would abandon God at the drop of a hat, all because of a little money. Examine yourself, and see if you are in the faith. Get back to the basics of the gospel, the milk of the word, if you have heard it in the first place. Don’t try to flaunt your phony piety or make yourself look religious to others. It is more important that you don’t burn in hell.

If you are so afraid of money, you are already in love with it. The fear of money and the love of money are two sides of the same coin, which is the worship of money. You think too highly of money, although you pretend that you don’t. Money has a grip on your heart even before you get very much of it. When God blesses you with wealth, the money is for you. It is for you to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). But it is not only for you. It is also for you to rescue the poor and finance the gospel (1 Timothy 6:18). But you are all like, “Oh don’t give me too much or too little, because I might lose my faith or rob a bank!” So you have no compassion for the poor. You have no ambition for the gospel. Money is all about you.

If you have more money than you need, and if you don’t want to enjoy the surplus as the Bible teaches, then GIVE IT AWAY. Listen, GIVE IT AWAY. It is not stuck to you unless you hold on to it. If money is such a problem, give all of it away. Wait…don’t do that, because then you will become a thief. But give away as much or as little as you want. We live in a time after the Great Commission has been given, with churches, ministries, desperate people, all over the world, and this option never occurs to you? So with all the teachings on what to do with money, you go right to Agur? Man, you are worse than an unbeliever.

Get off your pretentious and self-centered attitude about money. Don’t be a worthless piece of human meat. Don’t be a cliché. By Christ, overcome this tiresome fear of success and fear of money. That’s for the pagans. They are without God and without hope in this world. Everything is a problem for them. Success ruins them. Failure ruins them. Without Christ in your life, you are at the mercy of your environment. If you have Christ, you can stand having a lot of money, and if you have Christ, you can stand losing all of it, because if you have Christ, he will be your treasure. When you become a Christian, you will understand. You can proof-text your way to mediocrity, and even all the way to hell itself, or you can have faith and move into the blessings of God in Christ (Hebrews 4).

You see, “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (Proverbs 10:22). God’s blessing is wonderful. One preacher owns a commercial cargo ship and uses it to transport tons upon tons of food and supplies to people in undeveloped nations as he tells them about Jesus Christ. Certain oppressive regimes offer him special access because he provides free aid to their people.

Prosperity gospel? Of course it is.

Thank God it is.