PROSPERITY & SECURITY
By Dr. Lim Poh Ann
Prosperity is the prevailing theme, especially during the Chinese New Year. Caught up in its festive mood, Chinese Christians often wish one another a new year filled with peace and prosperity.
There is nothing wrong with wishing “A Happy and Prosperous New Year” as it is a socially acceptable greeting akin to what John wrote: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).
Certainly, there is no inherent virtue in poverty. And we, in our right mind, would not wish that our family or friends remain poor like a church mouse.
But a rethink is needed. Is this emphasis on prosperity, which is ingrained in Chinese culture, correct in light of biblical teaching? As believers, how much significance should we attach to prosperity?
Wealth is positive in many ways. It protects us from danger and ill health, and lets us live in secure, guarded and gated homes. With wealth, we can afford insurance, more nutritious food and better healthcare; and have opportunities to pursue tertiary studies and wider options for work and leisure. Going overseas for holidays, not possible if we are poor, may help us to manage stress and improve our health. After all, a rich man’s wealth is his fortress, the ruin of the poor is their poverty (Proverbs 10:15).
But if he is haughty and thinks there is absolute security in wealth, he is wrong. To cling to prosperity as our security blanket is unwise.
DON’T BE A FOOL
In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21), Christ warns of the danger of attaching too much importance to wealth. Following a bumper harvest, a rich man decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He told himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But God told him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; now who will own what you have prepared?” Self-centered and covetous, he failed to realise that wealth loses its value upon a person’s death. This reminds me of those who keep on accumulating freehold property, not realising that they themselves are “leasehold”.
Like this rich man, many are constantly driven to acquire stuff. Sadly, they are often insensitive to God’s calling or the needs of others. And when they die, or their empire collapses, everything they hope will grant them security is lost. Our riches won’t help us on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then (Proverbs 11:4).
We are warned: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist” (Proverbs 23:4). The principle here is that we must be wise and not relentlessly pursue wealth. This does not mean, however, that it is wrong to make money through hard work and legitimate means – or even to have a lot of money. Money in itself is not evil; it is the love of money which is a root of all kinds of evils (1Timothy 6:10).
Those with a consuming desire for riches but neither consult God nor live for Him are foolish from a biblical viewpoint. Why? We brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. Instead, we should be content, generous, set our hopes on God and be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6: 7, 1 Timothy 6: 17-18).
Honest work and an enterprising spirit bring honour to God’s name. In fact, businessmen and entrepreneurs can play a vital role in the marketplace by creating job opportunities and funding corporate social responsibility projects. Laziness, on the other hand, ought to be condemned.
The danger lies not in the abundance of wealth we possess but how much the wealth possesses us. The issue is not how much money we have; it is the state of our heart – whether it is covetous or God-centered.
A splendid example of someone unaffected by great wealth is Job. Though very rich, he was blameless, upright and feared God. When afflicted with many woes, including disease and the loss of his children and wealth, he did not curse God despite his wife’s suggestion.
In fact, he philosophically accepted his loss as part of God’s sovereign will: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
How many of us can maintain our integrity like Job in the face of such monumental losses, heartache and misery? If our security is tied to money, things or self, we’ll be badly shaken, even panicky, if one or more of these props are removed.
However, if God is the centre (not money, things or self), we know that His peace, presence, wisdom and strength are with us as we face trials. For God will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on Him (Isaiah 26:3).
Because of his integrity amid adversity, Job was vindicated. God not only restored his fortunes but blessed him with twice as much. He started a new family and died in fullness of age. Thus God blessed Job’s latter years more than his early days.
Here was a man who had absolute trust in God. He did not trust in gold; neither did he rejoice because his wealth was great (Job 31: 24-25). In the storms of life, he was not overwhelmed because he had deep spiritual roots. His security was primarily in God, not in money, things or self.
Jesus came that we might have an abundant life (John 10:10b). But we must not equate abundance with material wealth. Jesus also taught that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15) and we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
Let’s be reminded that when we love the world and the things of the world, we love God less (1 John 2:15). And we cannot love God and money to the same degree. “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” (Matthew 6:24).
Clinging to material wealth as our security blanket is unwise. We certainly do not want to be like the self-centered man in the Parable of the Rich Fool, who met with a tragic end.
Let’s be reminded that while there is nothing wrong in greeting one another, “A Happy and Prosperous New Year”, we must not get carried away by its emphasis on prosperity, which is cultural rather than biblical.
Wealth may make us more secure, but it does not mean prosperity will invariably guarantee security – now or in the hereafter.
Asian Beacon: Apr – Jun 2018 (Vol 50 #2, p42-43)