I recently taught a devotion from Genesis 26 about Isaac. The chapter speaks about his prosperity, which I spoke about. At the end of the devotion, I was asked about the hundred-fold blessing of Isaac and how statements like that in the Old Testament (OT) relate to the New Testament (NT) believer’s relationship to Christ and the prosperity message preached by many preachers.
Christ the Fulfillment
First and foremost, Christ is the fulfillment of the OT and many things in the OT served as earthly pictures of spiritual realities. For example,
“4For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Heb. 8:4–5).
The principle the OT serves as a copy and shadow impacts the question of the prosperity message in two ways. Negatively, in the preaching of the prosperity message care must be taken not to focus on the copy and shadow of things, which it is prone to do. Positively, the message of Isaac’s material prosperity is primarily a message of the believer’s spiritual prosperity rather than on the believer’s material prosperity.
If I have an extra million dollars, or live an extra ten years, what is that in the eternal perspective of things? Not very much. Why give attention to earthly material things in light of the eternal heavenly inheritance reserved for the believer in heaven?
Not that the earthly material things have no value. A pastor should get paid. A worthwhile ministry should be supported. The poor should be helped. Living another fifteen years provides the opportunity to do good and to help others and to gain more treasure in heaven.
Consider Philippians 1:22-24, “21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor.… 24Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”
So, the prosperity message is important, but the heavenly and spiritual overshadow the earthly and temporal. Primary attention must be given to the salvation of souls and other spiritual decisions that people can make of eternal value.
Grace Rules the Day
Second, grace rules the day in the new covenant of Christ. Emphasis must fall on the grace of God rather than the prosperity in things of this earth, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The promises of the OT revolve around keeping the covenants and obeying the law. It is works based and care must be had. If I do what is right, I will be blessed, and if I do what is wrong, I will be cursed. Escaping this mentality is like escaping from quicksand. It is built into our makeup. We live our lives striving to do what is right, so we can be blessed and when we do wrong, we fear something bad will happen to us. When something bad happens, we struggle to figure out what we did wrong, or just have the general feeling that we are being punished for something, like telling that lie, or not being able to control our eating and lose weight.
While there is some truth to the works-based mentality, without doubt, one simple truth rings clear. I am far more blessed than I deserve, right now, as things stand, all things considered, and I am far less punished than I deserve, right now, as things stand, all things considered. That is the grace and mercy of God, and God’s grace trumps our works-based blessing by far, as far as the east is from the west.
First Things First
Third, put first things first. There is something grander, higher, of more value than a million dollars extra or living an extra fifteen years. The spiritual qualities of love and faith are much more precious in the sight of God than those other earthly things. If my suffering strengthens my faith a little, and my illness works in me the precious work of grace (2 Cor. 12), and the abounding of love towards others, I have gained something priceless in my life, something of eternal value.
There is a joke about a man who makes a bargain with God. God allowed Him to convert all his wealth to gold and to take it with him at his death. So just before he died, he converted everything to its equivalent in gold. Then he died. At the gates of heaven an angel met him. The angel gestured to the pile of trunks. “What are those?” said the angel.
“God said I could bring them,” answered the man.
“Please wait here.” The angel disappeared for a short time, then returned. “You’re right. God said you can bring it all into heaven. I just need to inspect them.”
The angel checked each trunk then turned to the man. “Everything is in order, but let me ask you a question, why do you want to bring paving stones into heaven?” (for heaven consists of streets of gold.)
Looking past the earthly things of health, wealth, and prosperity, to the spiritual is like looking through a wall. Our focus often falls on the things we see and know best. Jesus told us to store for ourselves treasure in heaven (Mat. 6:20).
Focusing on the heavenly and spiritual things requires spiritual discipline, and we are poorer in spirit that we like to admit. Why waste time wading through the dirt and collecting paving stones when there is greater treasure to be had.
And so, the prosperity message often places too much emphasis on the temporal and takes away from the spiritual. It also takes away from grace and places the emphasis on works. If I am good, if I have faith, if I believe, if I claim it, then I will get it. Instead, we must make sure to put first things first.
Why Can’t It Be Both – “Uper” Prosperity
Well, ok, but why can’t it be both? Why does it have to be one or the other? Actually, this is a good question. It has to be both. When people get sick, I pray for healing, every time, unless I know that God does not want me to. When people struggle in their relationships, or need a job, or need financial help, or anything else related to the temporal aspects of life, I pray for the blessing in these areas, every time.
At the same time, I emphasize the spiritual necessities of our relationship with God. Faith, love, and hope. Compassion, grace, and mercy. Kindness, goodness, patience, and humility. These need our attention. I preach salvation of souls and rededication of believers. I preach the necessity of spiritual decisions and repentance of sin. These are the things I preach.
And so, rather than believing in a prosperity message, I believe in an “uper” prosperity message. In Romans 8:37 Paul adds the Greek preposition “uper” in front of the verb meaning victor or conqueror. The preposition means something close to “above.” So, “in all these things,” the Christian is in a place “above” conquering, an “above” conqueror, a more than conqueror. We conquer, yes, but there is another level to conquering that the Christian experiences.
The same thing here. There is an “uper” prosperity message. The prosperity message is there and in place, but there is an “above” prosperity that is far better, it is where we are to live as Christians.
As it says in Philippians 1:23-24, to depart and be with Christ is far greater, but to remain in the flesh is needful for others. Let us live in this world and use the means that are at our disposal and pray for the things that we need, but store up for ourselves treasure in heaven where moth and rust and thieves don’t break through and steal. While praying for the earthly needs we each have, let us look for the spiritual and heavenly things that will last for ever.