We have noted last time the three major purposes of prosperity which are as follows:
-To make us CONDUITS and not CONTAINERS.
-To reveal our true CHARACTER to ourselves.
-To make us THANKS-GIVERS to God.
Now we come to the “Perils of Prosperity,” for according to the teaching of Jesus, prosperity is a most perilous condition as He states in Matthew 19:24,
“And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of
a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Enough said! I can’t think of a more demonstrative and even outrageous analogy. How far may I ask would a camel get through a needle’s eye? The camel in that situation is ridiculous enough, without even mentioning his hump or humps. I think that the Lord is trying to tell us something about the extremely perilous condition of the prosperous.
THE PERILS OF PROSPERITY
1. PROSPERITY CAN CAUSE MAMMON-ADDICTION
To start with, what is “Mammon?” Is it the first cousin of manna? Or perhaps mammon is mummy food. No, mammon is not quite as mysterious or Egyptian as one might think. The Greek word for mammon is “Mammonas” which which simply means “Wealth” or “Riches.”
We read in the Bible the well knows words of the strong principle stated by our Lord in Luke 12:48,
“And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required….”
But equally true is the following reality when it comes to riches:
“HE WHO HAS MUCH ALREADY ALWAYS WANTS MORE.”
We read in Ecclesiastes 5:10 these revealing words:
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves
abundance with its income. This too is vanity.”
Allow me to quote from my new book Modern Christianity Corrupted on pages 177-178, “It appears that the more money and possessions man acquires, the emptier he feels and the more he needs to try to fill his emptiness. It is a vicious circle. It brings to mind the tragic reality that the only reason drunks continue to drink more is that they drank too much already. And the only reason that people continue to buy more is that they bought too much already. It is so sad but so very true that even as drunks drink themselves thirstier and obese people eat themselves hungrier, so the covetous buy themselves greedier. In short, the covetous and greedy person is always feeling himself in want of more.”
Riches are like drugs, they only give a momentary high. Riches are like throwing a few pounds of meat to starving tigers. It will calm them down for the moment, but they will soon return to their ravenous hunger for more. That is why riches are addicting, for the more you get, the more you must have. It is the old “Mammonitis Addiction.” It too has its own feeding frenzies.
This Mammonitis also explains ingratitude in the addicted-rich covetous person! Why?
“BECAUSE WHEN YOU ARE ALWAYS NEEDING AND CRYING FOR
MORE, YOU ARE NEVER TRULY GRATEFUL OR SATISFIED
WITH WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE.”
And that is also why riches have the great potential for the enriched ones being unable to include the word “Moderation” in their frenzied-mammon vocabulary. Not only could they not write an essay on moderation, they couldn’t write a sentence. They may seem satisfied for the moment, but it won’t be long and their unsatisfied satisfaction will kick in and they will be complaining about their lack and start hankering for more. They remind me of the little child who gets fed up with his food, shouts “Done” as he hurls the plate on the floor, and it isn’t long and he starts crying and screaming for something sweeter and tastier. Cake and ice cream will do nicely thank you. Typical! And if you don’t oblige him or her, they will turn a spoon into a javelin and hurl it at you.
Mammon-addicted man always wants more, bigger and better. And so he stockpiles ever greater and bigger amounts of money and possessions to feed his addiction while he remains calloused to the great spiritual and physical needs of the world all around him. This is in direct conflict with the plain-as-day words of our Lord when He says in Matthew 6:19-21,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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
destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Jesus makes it clear that in this world somewhere down the line, if mice don’t eat holes in our treasures, then naughty men will break in and carry them away. If household infestation doesn’t get us, then household vandalism will. Some of us already have tiny little critters in our houses eating away and were not even aware of it. That is why “Pest Controllers” and “Exterminators” get rich off from our bugs.
Either Jesus said these words or He didn’t. I believe He did! Either His words mean what they say, or they don’t. I believe they do! As John Wesley stated:
“TO LAY UP TREASURE ON EARTH IS AS PLAINLY FORBIDDEN BY
OUR MASTER AS ADULTERY AND MURDER.”
Jesus goes on and then says,
“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Jesus makes it very clear:
“THE HUMAN HEART IS WRAPPED UP IN WHAT IT TREASURES THE
MOST. IT CAN BE IN A SAFE-DEPOSIT BOX! OR IT CAN BE IN THE
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN! BUT IT CANNOT BE IN BOTH PLACES.”
When Christians amass wealth for that rainy day, they are not only living by sight and not by faith, but they are no different than the world. More than that, when we have the means of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world and we do not use those means for missions, it is nothing more or less than spiritual fratricide.
When the worldly rich man knows that he is going to die, it is then and only then that he might will some of his favorite things to a few of his favorite people. He also might then will some of his money to reputable charities in the event there is a God he might have to impress. But while he is alive, he must make sure that he will never end up like Uncle Henry and Auntie Em on a windblown, broken down old farmstead on a dismal prairie in Kansas. So he continues to horde and pile up savings and stuff.
By the way, I found my wife on a humble farm in an old farmhouse, not in Kansas, but on the farmlands of southwestern Michigan. There she lived with her father Harry and mother Jennie and her 13 brothers and sisters. Her father was a hardworking farmer of humble means. Everyone pitched in, for it was indeed a family farm. In our courtship days, I was invited to Ruthie’s farmhouse for supper where the sibling multitude was gathered around the table with father and mother. It was a glorious experience, as the staple meal of farm-grown meat, potatoes and vegetables was consumed with grateful gusto, and the feelings of love and warmth and joy filled the air. I realized immediately that I was not in a farmhouse but in the Temple of King Jesus.
In Harry’s and Jennie’s temple of love, each meal was begun with prayer and ended with Scripture reading and prayer. Then often several of them would gather around the old living room piano and sing hymns and psalms of praise to God. My wife is a walking hymnbook to this day. They were not addicted to earthly treasures but addicted to Heaven’s Christ. Their treasure was in Heaven and it showed in every way.
How Harry did it was amazing to me. I come from a much smaller family and my father was a Godly jeweler. Somehow Harry supported the Church, Missions and the Christian School as well as his remarkable family who always had their needs met. He did it the old time Bible way:
“WORK DILIGENTLY FOR THE CURRENT NECESSITIES, SERVE THE
LORD TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT, PUT EVERYTHING ABOVE
PRESENT NEEDS INTO THE WORK OF THE LORD, AND
TRUST HIM FOR THE FUTURE. TO THOSE WHO PUT
HIM FIRST, HE HAS PROMISED, ‘ALL THESE
THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTO
YOU.’” (Matthew 6:33)
William MacDonald points out in his booklet True Discipleship on page 13, “People plead that there are certain material possessions that are necessary for home life. That is true. People plead that Christian business men must have a certain amount of capital to carry on a business today. That is true. People plead that there are other material possessions, such as an automobile, which can be used for God’s glory. That is true. But beyond these necessities, the Christian should live frugally and sacrificially for the spread of the gospel. His motto should be that of A. N. Graves:
“LABOR HARD, CONSUME LITTLE, GIVE MUCH – AND ALL TO CHRIST.”
While we are on the subject of always more, bigger and better, Billy Graham relates when the Standard Oil Company was looking in the Far East for a man, they chose a missionary to be their representative. They offered him $10,000 and he turned it down; then $25,000 and he turned it down; then $50,000 dollars and he turned it down. They asked him, “What’s wrong?” He said:
“YOUR PRICE IS ALL RIGHT, BUT YOUR JOB IS TOO SMALL. GOD
CALLED ME TO BE A MISSIONARY.”
For sure, when it comes to material and spiritual smallness and greatness, these are defined quite differently in the heart of the believer and the unbeliever. Christians are addicted to an entirely different standard of greatness. William MacDonald comments in this regard on page 46 of True Discipleship, “The Christian’s calling is the noblest of all, and if we realize it, our lives will take on new loftiness. We will no longer speak of ourselves as “called to be a plumber” or “called to be a physicist” or “called to be a dentist.” Rather, what we will see ourselves as “called to be an apostle” – and all these other things as mere means of livelihood.”
Even religion can become addicted to the newest, the biggest and the best. Y. P. Yohannon relates in his book Revolution in World Missions, “A friend in Dallas recently pointed out a new church building that cost $74,000,000. While this thought was still exploding in my mind, he pointed out another $7,000,000 church building going up less than a minute away.
These extravagant buildings are insanity from a Two-Thirds World perspective. The $74,000,000 spent on one new building in the United States could build nearly 7,000 average-sized churches in India. The same $74,000,000 would be enough to guarantee that the Good News of Jesus Christ could be proclaimed to a whole Indian State – or even some of the other smaller countries of Asia.”
2. PROSPERITY CAN CAUSE PRIDE
Not only can riches be addicting, but they can cause enormous pride. There are very few people in the world whose heads do not swell with their bank accounts and their lavish possessions. Remember “Good King Hezekiah?” No one is perfect, no one! The treasuries of his kingdom were overflowing, his armories fully fortified, and the pomp and circumstance of his kingly court rich and renowned. He made sure that it would be! He was like a child showing off his toys. Children seek to get attention either by acting up or showing off. Hezekiah was showing off. I think that God fought down the urge to turn him over His knee then and there. Hezekiah’s heart puffed up like a peacock’s feathers as he bragged his brains out to the Babylonian ambassadors as you may recall in Isaiah 39:2,
“And Hezekiah was pleased, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver
and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and his whole armory and
all that was found in the treasuries. There was nothing in his house, nor
in all his domain, that Hezekiah did not show them.”
Then God sent His prophet Isaiah to this proud Head of State and said to him in Isaiah 39:6,
“‘Behold the days are coming when all that is in your house, and all that your
Fathers have laid up in store to this day shall be carried to Babylon;
nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord.”
When God saw this peacock of a king strutting his stuff, it brought His blood to a full boil and he told Hezekiah that all of the stuff he had flaunted would all be taken from him by the very people he had been blowing his horn to. Pride is no small caliber misbehavior in God’s eyes. That is why somewhere along the line God always opposes the proud (James 4:6, I Peter 5:5), and in this case God would strip Hezekiah’s royal flesh to the bone. Briefly, why is vaunting, vomiting pride such an eyesore and an earsore to Heaven? Simply because, as in the original instance of Satan then Lucifer:
“PRIDE WILL ALWAYS SEEK TO REPLACE GOD AS NUMBER ONE.”
Then of course there is the well known case of Nebuchadnezzar’s swollen heart with regard to the riches he had amassed and the grandeur of his Babylonian kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar over the centuries has become the paragon of wealth and haughtiness as we remember his fomenting in Daniel 4:30,
“The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have
built a royal residence by the might of my power and for the
glory of my majesty?”
King Neb would be the type of fella to stand on a rock out-cropping above the Grand Canyon and take full credit for the whole thing. If he saw Mount Rushmore today, he would demand that his face be chiseled in the rock as well, but bigger than all the others. This puffy, pompous blowhard would be the type who so much enjoys being paraded in public so that he could wave at his worshiping subjects. In short, Neb was a real load!
Then immediately we read in Daniel 4:31,
“While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King
Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared, sovereignty has been removed from you.’”
The rest could well be a “Drama Series” on “Animal Planet,” with King Nebuchadnezzar as the featured “Herbivore.” God takes humbling the proud very seriously and to extreme limits. One moment ‘Ole Neb’ was a grand-stander and the next moment he is a grass-eater.
God alone knows how to get the job done and the haughty humbled. This was not just the suspension of palace privileges. This was the turning of an wealthy, uncommon potentate into a poor, common beast. Amazing! It would take more than a verbal rebuke from God to get Nebuchadnezzar’s self-worshiping attention off from himself. God knows how and has the perfect pride-punishment that goes way beyond a heart-to-heart talk. It only had to be done once, as the grazing cattle of the fields suddenly had the pleasure of a newcomer’s company. Things instantly went from “ALL HAIL KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR” to “HERE KOOBAS, HERE KOOBAS.” The next thing we hear when the disciplinary treatment is over is King Koobas saying in Daniel 4:31,
“Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt and honor the King of Heaven, for all His
works are true and His ways are just, and He is able to humble
those who walk in pride.”
Oh yes, God is able to take any “Uppity” down several notches and keep him there for good!
However there is much more seriousness to this business of riches and pride. Wealth-engendered pride gives birth to two other very bad “Ps,” namely “Wealth-Pride Prayerlessness” and “Wealth-Pride Presumption.” We will take a very quick look at both, though each deserves an entire sermon on its own demerits.
First, there is “Wealth-Pride Prayerlessness!” Nothing will destroy the “Prayer Altar” like wealthy pride. Allow me to quote once more at the outset of this discussion from William MacDonald in Where Is Your Treasure on page 14, “The amassing of riches makes the life of faith practically impossible. Why? Because it is almost impossible to have riches and not trust in them! The man with money doesn’t know how much he depends on it.
‘The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall
in his own conceit.’ (Proverbs 18:11)
He depends on money to solve all of his problems, to give him present enjoyment and future security. If he were to lose it all suddenly, his props and crutches would be gone and he would be in state of panic.
The truth is that we would rather trust in a bank balance which we can see than a God Whom we can’t see. The thought of having no one or nothing but God to trust is sufficient to bring on a nervous collapse.
‘LEFT IN HIS HANDS, WE DO NOT FEEL WE SHOULD BE SAFE; WHEREAS
IF WE HAD OUR FORTUNE IN OUR OWN HANDS, AND WERE SECURED
AGAINST CHANCES AND CHANGES BY A FEW COMFORTABLE
SECURITIES, WE SHOULD FEEL SAFE ENOUGH. THIS FEEL-
ING IS SURELY GENERAL: WE ARE ALL OF US IN DANGER
OF SLIPPING INTO THIS FORM OF UNQUIET DISTRUST
IN THE FATHERLY PROVIDENCE
OF GOD.‘ – Samuel Cox
God’s will is that our lives should be ‘a perpetual crisis of dependence upon Him.’ We defeat His will for our lives when we lay up treasures on earth.” (End of MacDonald quote)
“WHEN WEALTH IS A MAN’S STRONG CITY, AND CONCEIT HIS
HIGH WALL, WHY WOULD HE PRAYERFULLY AND
HUMBLY MAKE GOD HIS DAILY FORTRESS?”
“WHEN WEALTH OVERFLOWS HIS STOREHOUSE, PRIDE MAKES
HIM CARRY HIS HEAD SO HIGH THAT HE DOESN’T EVEN
KNOW HOW TO BOW HIS HEAD IN THANKSGIVING
TO AND TOTAL DEPENDENCE UPON GOD.”
“WHEN THE PRIDEFUL-WEALTHY MAN IS AT THE PINNACLE OF
SUCCESS, WHY WOULD HE PRAY PRAYERS OF CONFESSION
AND REPENTANCE WHEN IT IS OBVIOUS TO HIM THAT
HE CAN DO NO WRONG.”
I have seen first hand and up close the royalty princes and princesses of wealthy suburbanites shun their hoi-polloi classmates who are from the wrong-and-poor side of the tracks. Each day they are spoiled rotten by overdoses from their overindulgent parents of the affluence that their now selfish, conceited and arrogant teenagers have come to expect. In fact so self-righteous is their no-spanking, non-discipline home environment, that when their pampered and daily-indulged-to-excess juvenile delinquent sons and daughters disobey and defy the authority of the school and the teachers, their parents come to their rescue and attack the faculty and their superiors for excessive legalism and enforcement of unreasonable rules.
Like the high school student who was disciplined for drinking soda pop in the school hallways which was against the well-known rules, and he called the disciplining teacher in front of many students in the hallway a “f—head.” He obviously did come from a praying home, but from a wealthy, prayerless , godless home. His parents accused the teacher of cruelty and being too touchy. Furthermore they argued that their son’s freedom of speech was being violated. If I gave you all of the concrete examples which I could give you but won’t, and there are many, you would be shocked. Then again, perhaps you wouldn’t.
Second the other “P” produced by the big “P-Pride” is “Wealth-Pride Presumption.” David committed this very sin of “Wealthy-Pride Presumption” in his confidence after his deliverances from Saul, and his victories over all his enemies that surrounded him. His prosperity had raised him to such a pitch of presumption that we actually hear him say in Psalm 30:6,
“Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, I will never be moved.”
In other words, in his pomp, plenty and magnificence, he speaks out with a cocky and self-assured invincibility, as he thought that he now had the world by the tail and that he could never ever be defeated. He had made it big, and now nothing could bring him down. With his “Wealthy I Gloat,” which had become the verbal accompaniment to his greatness, richness and power, he presumed upon the God who had provided it all, and Who could in a heartbeat reduce him to smallness, poorness and impotence. He presumed upon the God Who had exalted him, and Who with one wiggle of His pinkie could turn David’s royal banquet table into scraps for dogs.
So as is so often the case in life, his presumption lasted no longer than the next verse when he says in Psalm 30:7,
“Thou didst hide Thy face, I was dismayed.”
That is how it goes doesn’t it, one moment we feel unconquerable at the top of the world, and the very next moment life has us in a headlock. One moment the sun is out in all of its glory, and we strut our stuff singing, “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything is going my way.” Like Frank Sinatra, we had the world on a string, so we thought. That was David! But the next moment the sun disappears under some ominous clouds, and he was singing quite a different song. Our pompous, presumptuous self-reliance always has a way of eventually breaking up sour.
The prophet Nathan chided David for his two great sins – immorality and presumption, and worse of all, both of those sins were committed when David was swimming in wealth and pleasure poured out upon him by God. He recounted to David what God had done for him, and how open-handed Divine providence had been with him, in heaping blessings upon his head even to the exceeding of his desires. Nathan speaking for God in II Samuel 12:7-8 reminded David Who it was that had so bountifully blessed him as he says,
“Nathan then said to David, ‘You are the man!’ Thus says the Lord God of
Israel, ‘It is I Who anointed you king over Israel and it is I
who delivered you from the hand of Saul.
I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care,
And I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too
little, I would have added to you many more things like these.’”
Not only had David sinned against God, but worst of all:
“HE WAS SINFULLY STRIKING GOD WHEN GOD WAS SO
BOUNTIFULLY BLESSING HIM.”
Now listen to this. What Nathan is saying is that it is one thing to commit adultery and murder (you are the man), but quite another thing to commit those sins against already overflowing Divine goodness and mercy. If you will:
“THERE IS NOTHING MORE REPREHENSIBLE TO GOD THAN FOR
A MAN OR WOMAN TO SINK INTO BADNESS, AND AT THE
SAME TIME FLY INTO THE FACE OF UNSPEAKABLE
In such a case, we must remember:
“THAT THEN WE HAVE TURNED GOD’S INCREDIBLE MERCIES
INTO WEAPONS OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS AGAINST HIM.”
He that hath an ear let him ear what the Spirit of God is speaking! Every blessing poured out upon the heathen, proud, prayerless and presumptuous wicked by God shall rise up and testify against them in the judgment.
I conclude with yet another peril of prosperity, in that it can so quickly make us dull of hearing God’s voice. We read in Jeremiah 22:21where God says:
“I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, ‘I will not listen….’”
Why is that? Why will not the wealthy receive God’s wisdom? Very simple really:
“BECAUSE THE RICHEST MAN WILL THINK HIMSELF THE SMARTEST MAN!”
“THE MAN OF FORTUNE THINKS HE NEEDS NO ONE ELSE’S
ADVICE OR HELP.”
I have listened to Donald Trump on several occasions, and have never heard him say anything close to, “If the Lord wills,” or, “With the Lord’s help.” That same spirit of wealthy independence and self-sufficiency was revealed by the Lord in Laodicea where the church said of itself in Revelation 3:17, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing….”
So that if you and I refuse to learn, to listen and to practice what God has been teaching us about the purposes and perils of prosperity, it is a strong indication that our wealth has already made us feel too smart to listen to God. Amen!