OUR 4th poison is a surprising one… Prosperity.
How in the world can being prosperous become a poison to your soul? Don’t we all want to be prosperous, financially and every other way? Don’t we work hard and strive and study and take risks investing to become prosperous?
Please understand, I am not about to suggest that being successful, rich or being prosperous is a sin, because clearly it is not. There are very godly rich people, also some very godly poor people, and there are some very ungodly rich and poor people as well.
But this poison is pretty important to God, and He knows how sinister it really is. In fact, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 1 out of every 6 verses deals with money. Of the 29 parables Christ told, 16 deal with a person and his money.
W.A. Criswell tells of an ambitious young man who told his pastor he’d promised God a tithe of his income. They prayed for God to bless his career. At that time he was making $40.00 per week and tithing $4.00. In a few years his income increased and he was tithing $500.00 per week. He called on the pastor to see if he could be released from his tithing promise, it was too costly now. The pastor got on his knees and began to pray. The man asked, “”Are you releasing me from my tithing debt?” The pastor replied, “I don’t see how you can be released from your promise, but I can ask God to reduce your income to $40.00 a week, then you’d have no problem tithing $4.00.”
Many people stay faithful when things are tough, they pray and ask God for their needs, they even trust God to bless them, but forget God when things start to go well.
ABASE OR ABOUND
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Now if things are going badly for you right now, you probably won’t relate to this at all. Here you are, struggling away, wishing you had more money than the next guy, right? I mean, if things went well and you were given a pile of money, your world would be sunshine and unicorns and roses, wouldn’t it? And you would be the most godly, generous soul around, correct?
Charles Spurgeon had some great teaching on this very subject. He said,
“There are many who know “how to be abased” who have not learned “how to abound.” When they are set upon the top of a pinnacle their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall.
The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the fining-pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God!”
Paul tells us he was content to abase and to abound. His eyes were set so firmly on Jesus, whatever circumstances he faced was of no consequence to his disposition. How can you be happy when you are in need? The answer lies in the heart of Paul, not the flesh.
Are you in need right Now? Many have asked for mercies that they might satisfy their own hearts’ lust and desires. Sometimes when we have much of God’s providential mercies, it often happens that we have little of God’s grace, and little gratitude for the blessings we have received and are enjoying. This is when prosperity begins to become a poison in your life!
You can be full and forget God: satisfied with earth, so much so that you are content to do without heaven. It is harder to be full on for Jesus when you are full than it is to know how to be hungry- so desperate is the tendency of human nature to pride and forgetfulness of God.
It’s like God blesses us and we say, “”Thanks, Lord, I’ll take it from here. Call you if I ever need you.”
Don’t let God’s gifts drag you away from Him!
THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL
An often misquoted verse is that money is the root of all evil. That’s not true, and it’s not what the Bible says. It says…
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Money is not evil, it is simple an object. The love of money is what is evil, and when money does come your way, it can be as destructive a poison as any in your life. Consider these people…
Michael Carroll was a garbage man in England when, at age 19, he won £9.7 million in the lottery in 2002. A mansion, drugs and gold jewelry ate up the money quickly. Within ten years Carroll was broke and living off unemployment checks. Now he works on an assembly line in a cookie factory, making £204 per week.
Gerald Muswagon, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, won $10 million in 1998. He bought cars for friends and family, and made his new house into a “party pad.” Within a few years he’d spent all his $10 million and he took a minimum-wage job to support his six children and his girlfriend. In 2005, just seven years after his big win, he took his own life.
Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. 8 years later she filed for bankruptcy.
Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in the Michigan lottery in 1989. Within two years he wrecked his marriage, lost custody of his kids and was charged with attempted murder. He spent his winnings on his divorce and drugs, according to his attorney.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr. won $31 million in the Lotto Texas game in 1997, and he no longer had to stock shelves at Home Depot. He bought a ranch and a few homes, gave money away. Soon his marriage was in trouble as he lent and spent all of his winnings. In 1999, less than two years after his big win, Harrell took his own life.
Sharon Tirabassi, of Hamilton, Ontario, won $10.5 million in 2004. She treated friends to vacations, bought houses and cars and within 4 years, with her husband in jail for a DUI, she lost their home. Now, to pay the rent and support her kids, she takes the bus to her part-time job.
These stories are sad, and they graphically illustrate the lure of prosperity, and the root of evil that loving money can provide. If you face financially challenging times, rejoice! Trust God, rejoice and listen to this message so you don’t face what those folks faced.
THE OLD STORY, ON STEROIDS…
People wanting stuff is not a new story, it’s an old, old story.Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
So the tendency for God’s good gifts to poison our lives is very, very real!
And the pressure is now more intense than ever! We are as a society caught up in addictions to the simplest things—food, drink, fashion, beauty, culture, products?
Throughout history, people have always had the desire to get more stuff. But in our culture today, the media allows us to see how much we don’t have. Because we are exposed to people in different social standings in a way we never could have been before, we are more easily able to compare ourselves to others.
In previous generations, people compared what they had with their family or neighbors (who probably had similar things); today we have TV shows that portray the lifestyles and toys of the rich and famous. And we still envy our friends and neighbours. TV and the Internet scream at us every day about what we haven’t got, and what we need to really be satisfied, everything from new cars to viagra.
When we begin to focus on what others have, we become tempted to live beyond our means. We become obsessed with material things. We become stressed as we work harder and longer in order to buy more stuff. We start to serve the wrong master!
In many Western societies, consumerism calls out to us to follow a path of insatiable pursuit for more or the next “better” of what we already have. In fact, Marketers use dissatisfaction with what people already have to drive them to want more. Media messages continually remind us of our mediocrity if we fail to strive for “the best” in food, fashion, fitness or electronics.
Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) said, “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.”
Is it wrong to have nice things? No, of course not! But it is wrong to pursue good things if your motive is not aligning with God. Are you content without a new home, without a new iPhone, without the latest fashion or toy?
As one writer joked, “The trouble is that too many people are spending money they haven’t yet earned for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”
And you cannot serve two masters, especially when one is as poisonous and deceptive as prosperity can be!
SOMETHING’S GOT A HOLD ON ME!
Everybody hold your wallet or purse up, and wave it in the air. Have you got a hold of it? Good. But the real question is, do you have a hold of your money, or has your money got a hold of you?
Jesus was approached by a young, rich man, who genuinely asked what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus looked right into his heart, and diagnosed the poison. He asked if he had kept the commandments. The young man replied yes, then Jesus said this…
“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Look at the next few verses…
But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is not saying this because He wants you to be poor. He says this because He knows that for many wealthy people, they don’t have money so much as their money has them. Money is not the problem, the love of it is.
And it’s a seductive love! It’s a subtle poison that, before you know it, steals your love of God, your devotion and very often your joy. One rich man was asked how much money is enough, and he replied “”Just a little bit more.”
Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation; a passport to everywhere but heaven. (Discipleship Journal)
WHERE’S YOUR TREASURE?
As a child I remember reading stories of pirates, and they were all looking for buried treasure.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Prosperity and all the good things it brings is always transient….it comes, it goes, it never lasts…
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
We need to recognise that what we have comes from God: our spouses, children, families, friends and jobs. Our houses, property, furnishings, cars, clothes, family heirlooms and all other personal belongings. God gives them to us because He loves us, and they are for our use and enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with these things… They are gifts, but they’re not even really ours, we are just stewards of them.
Yet sometimes our attitudes toward our things can cause problems for us, and become the poison we are looking at here. What’s more, the poison of prosperity can even afflict those who don’t have very much, because ultimately it isn’t about what you have or haven’t got, it’s about the love of money and it’s place in your heart!
How bad is that… You’re not rich, but still afflicted with the same poison!
Our entire nation us afflicted by the notion that you deserve things without working for them. People believe that Centrelink money, rent assistance, government handouts are our God given right. I’m happy we have social security in our country, but we must never be so arrogant as to take it for granted. Be blessed you have it, and be thankful!
If you are struggling to pay your debts, it’s easy to say, “Other people are just like us, but they seem to have so much more than we do. It’s not fair! Why doesn’t God bless us like he does them? Why should we always have money problems?”
Jealousy, anger and ambition can eat away at your life, your health and your relationships. And remember, prosperity is not just about money, it’s about your soul and your health also…
3 John 1:2
Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.
If I gave you a choice today of which prosperity you want, what would you choose? Financial prosperity? Health? Your soul prospering?
PROFIT AND LOSS
Jesus said to accumulate treasure where it will not be destroyed or stolen, where the exchange rate is never against you, and where your return on investment is infinite!
So what’s really important to you? Is it money, stuff, getting stuff for you and your family? Is it success?
Here’s the litmus test… What do you think about most throughout the day? What causes your heart to beat fast in wonder and anticipation? What do you think you couldn’t live without?
Whatever has your attention is your treasure, whatever fills your mind is what you value, but in the end, only God is truly worthy of your heart.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?
The answer… Nothing! Have you ever visited the local city dump? You’ll see everything from appliances to stuffed toys to the most precious family heirlooms. All discarded, all thrown away, all considered worthless.
Jesus wants us to seek real profits—not material ones that pad our wallets, but spiritual ones that benefit our souls. These heavenly treasures represent an investment opportunity too good to pass up. When Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” He means that we naturally worship our first love. If we love money and worldly treasures, we offer God no higher than second place in our lives.
The poison of prosperity will tell you it’s all about things, it will scream at you like Tom Cruise, “”Show me the money!” But Jesus reminds us to invest in true profit by giving God first place in our lives. Heaven’s treasures won’t ever decay, decline, deteriorate or decompose. Heaven has no city dump.
THE ANTIDOTE TO THE POISON OF PROSPERITY
Like all the other poisons, there is an antidote. Jesus touched on it with the rich young ruler, but it requires more than an single action, it requires an entire change of heart!
The antidote is giving. I’m not saying this to pad our church coffers, I’m saying this because a generous spirit is the total opposite spirit to the poison of prosperity.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
I’ve had missionary trips when they’ve counted out every last penny, and no one has had enough money. I’ve had other thrips where everyone rushes to be the first to pay, and money has abounded. I’ve kept a generous spirit in times of great lack, and seen God work miracles in my life, turning things around financially to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
A generous attitude is something you can apply right now, whether you currently have money or not! If you have no money to give, give your time, cook a meal, visit a housebound friend… It’s not just money, it’s everything!
We live in the most self centred culture in history. Yesterday on Facebook I read, “Never before has a generation so diligently recorded themselves accomplishing so little!” It’s the I generation… iPhone, iPad, iPod, I come first!
If we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, all these things are added to us. We will have everything we need, much of what we want, and if we don’t get it we are content anyway, because when you put Christ first, and His Kingdom, you are content whether you abase or abound!
If you are in financial need this morning, I invite you to come forward and let your spirit be renewed in prayer. If you start to be generous with the little you have, like the widow and her mite, then I believe God will turn things around for you. I also want those in business to come forward and let the team pray for you and your future prosperity. If you have a generous spirit, I know God will bless you so you can give more away. If you struggle with this, let’s start taking the antidote to the poison of prosperity today!