Cadillacs or Cavaliers

"Our God doesn't want his people driving a Cavalier; He desires that you drive a Cadillac. In fact, He wants the very best for his chosen people!" proclaims a popular Christian radio speaker. Or a television healer and evangelist promises his audience that if they send him one hundred dollars to support his ministry, the Lord will multiply the sender's gift by blessing him with a thousand dollars. Still another preacher stands before his attentive audience and rebukes the "spirit of poverty," assuring them of material prosperity. 

Are these teachers of the Word telling the truth? By the large number of church members of every denomination who subscribe to this "prosperity theology" you would come to that conclusion. Even if they do not share these preachers' Biblical concept of the "health and wealth gospel" often by their attitudes and lifestyles, many mainstream Christians have bought into the idea that material blessings are a gift from the Lord.

One of the popular proof texts is the passage found in Mark 10:29-30: "I tell you the truth; no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. Did Jesus really mean this as the "prosperity" preachers would have us believe?

1. Unlike the disciples Jesus was talking to, most of the prosperity preachers have themselves never given up their wealth and left their wives and children. So how can they claim the promise, if they have not fulfilled Christ's conditions?

2. If the disciples believed this promise, how come the New Testament is silent about their luxury condos in Jerusalem, summer cottages on the shore of Galilee and vacation cabins in the Carmel mountains?

3. One passage should never be taken out of context in relationship to all the other New Testament passages that give a balance concerning wealth and poverty.

Poverty or Prosperity - Which is Scripturally Correct?

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the Christian world about the question: Should modern day Christians be examples of poverty or of prosperity? Consequently, some preachers claim it is your God given right when you are born into the Kingdom of Christ to be well-off, while other clergy state emphatically you must give up all that you possess to follow our Lord. To help you understand this problem, let's contrast the differences between these two opposing viewpoints:

Poverty Theology

Basic concept: To reject anything to do with wealth and to disdain anyone who has possessions.

Basic attitude: To be in God's will is to be poor.

Scripture reference: Luke 18:22: You lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. then come and follow me." Other texts: Philippians 3:7-8; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.

Basic needs met by: Don't worry or be anxious, for God will provide. Matthew 6:33. "Seek you first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well."

Basic purpose: Because they have few possessions, they are preoccupied with providing for their daily needs.

Problems with this theology:

1. They believe that if one is wealthy it was obtained by dishonest means.

2. They are financially stupid--they forget that if every Christian gave up all that they owned, there would be no means to support them.

3. They use their non-wealth status as a spiritual identity or ego.

4. They often use their poverty lifestyle as a way to manipulate others into giving to them and their families.

Prosperity Theology

Basic concept: Money and possessions are the reward of the righteous.

Basic attitude: To be in God's will is to be rich.

Scripture reference: Matthew 7:7-8 "Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Other texts: 2 Corinthians 9:8; III John 2.

Basic needs met by: The concept of the farmer -- plant a seed and you will reap a harvest. Luke 6:38 "Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Basic purpose: Too often they are preoccupied with money management and earthly investments.

Problems with this theology:

1. They believe that if one is poor it is a sign of God's disapproval.

2. They are Biblically stupid -- they feel guilty for having riches and forget that Jehovah allows the rain of financial blessings to be poured on the just and unjust. King Solomon says he has seen both -- "a righteous man perishing in his righteousness and a wicked man living long in wickedness." Proverbs 22:2.

3. They use their wealth status for the wrong motive -- serving God for the blessings he will give out, rather than serving him for who He is and what He has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

4. they often depend on their wealthy lifestyle and forget to give credit to God with a grateful heart.

True Stewardship

Basic concept: Money and possessions are entrusted to us by God.

Basic attitude: To be in God's will is to love and serve Him whether we are poor or rich.

Scripture reference: Every man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Basic needs met by: And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need. 2 Corinthians 9:8.

Basic purpose: A godly steward is not preoccupied with managing earthly possessions or just providing for daily needs, but seeking spiritual wisdom.

Why there are no problems with this theology:

1. They neither reject poverty or declare themselves owners, but simply partners with God.

2. They recognize that one of the basic stewardship issues is: what are you doing today with what you have been given rather than with some future wealth? An example would be supporting the church through tithes and church budget with the moneys you have today. Remember, Jesus in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 condemns the one talented church member for hiding his Lord's money.

Stewardship is a total life-style. It involves our health, time, environment, relationships, spirituality and finances.

Used with permission. The Stew Pot is produced monthly by the Pacific Union Conference Stewardship Ministries, Director and Editor: Gordon Botting.

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