Luxury, Poverty and the Historic Debate
The issue of God’s standards for material wealth has been a source of debate for centuries.
In the sixteenth century, Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop of York, built an enormous palace, larger and more luxurious than anything even King Henry VIII possessed. Henry was quite good at executing his opponents, even his wife Anne Boleyn. So when word came to the Cardinal that the king was jealous, he wisely decided to donate his Hampton Court Palace to the king! It is still standing today.
Yet at the same time as Cardinal Wolsey built his palace, monastic Catholics were arguing that only giving up all possessions and taking a vow of poverty reflected the ideals of Yeshua. Meanwhile, the Reformers railed against the financial abuses and opulent living of Roman Catholic Church leaders. So to quote Solomon, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The Debate on Prosperity Today
Today some prosperity gospel teachers assert that it is God’s will for all of His children to live in a prosperity which they define almost as a right to opulent living. The teacher ‘proves’ the truth of his teaching by himself making a huge salary and benefits. Some with broadcast ministries have even told their listeners that to become prosperous, they need to contribute to these ministries! In his later years, Kenneth Hagin, himself a prosperity teacher, began to address these abuses.
Some of our young millennial believers are forming urban communities where simple living and modest compensation are the rule. And what of business leaders, sports figures, entertainers and others? How do we look at the enormous compensation packages that they receive? And what about the idea of socialism to level out compensation?
People hold widely varying views on this subject. But what is God’s view of prosperity? What are we really promised?
Surveying the Biblical Promise of Prosperity
Recently, Creation House published my book on prosperity, with the same title as this article. The book surveys the whole Bible on this subject, and seeks to show that there is indeed a promise of general prosperity and well-being for those who walk in faith, who tithe, and who give generously. However, it is not an unqualified promise to live in opulent wealth. (Actually, for those who live in ‘First World’ Nations, our middle class standard of living already looks opulent to the rest of the globe.)
God’s promise for prosperity is connected to calling, and I summarize it in the following words:
God will abundantly provide whatever you need for whatever you are called to do.
God’s standard for those who make a living in full time Gospel ministry, is a standard I call modesty. The testimony of history is very clear that this was the example of Yeshua and the 12, the other apostles that followed after them, and especially the great apostle Paul. Paul warned against using the Gospel as a means of getting rich and against the desire to get rich (1 Timothy 6). Yeshua Himself promised abundant provision for those who left all to follow Him. And of course, that provision can be applied to those who are suffering and imprisoned for the Gospel, and to those who find themselves in all kinds of societies today.
So how is modesty defined for those who live by the Gospel? This is basically connected to compensation packages that fit the region where one is called to minister. This should include adequate shelter, food, education for the children, a modest vacation and recreation and saving for retirement. Most ministers of the Gospel by this standard are underpaid. But when one goes much beyond this standard of modesty, the compensation packages tend to discredit the Gospel and those who profess it. People will look at wealthy ministers as involved in a money-making racket for themselves. Witness Newsweek’s recent report on ministers with the largest compensation packages and those who have the highest net worth. Many of you would recognize the names. Newsweek did not hold up wealth as a proof of the ministers’ great faith! I understand that through diligent saving and investing a minister could be well off in the senior years, but it should not be through an exorbitant compensation package.
What of the business leader? If his heart is to use his wealth mostly to extend the Kingdom, I believe there is much more flexibility for his lifestyle. He does not have to maintain a testimony of living from the Gospel. Yet even here, flaunting wealth is not according to the spirit of Yeshua.
This book has important advice for all, regarding how to spend, save, invest and steward resources. I urge you to read it.
“Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.”
“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.”
This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration October 2016 Newsletter and reposted with permission.