Monday, May 21, 2012
Prosperity in The Atonement -part 1: The Curse of Poverty?
This will be the second part of two posts about what Jesus' death guarantees those who trust in Him. The first post was an attempt to answer the question "Did Jesus die to deliver you from physical sickness?". This post will attempt to answer the question "Did Jesus die to deliver you from poverty?" In order to stay focused on the topic at hand, this post will only answer the question “Did Jesus die to deliver you from the curse of poverty?” It would be very easy to veer off into talking about whether or not God is for or against prosperity and how much prosperity is too much prosperity and so forth. Personally, I believe God blesses people financially, physically, and spiritually when He chooses to for His glory. I am not writing this to say God wants everyone poor or everyone rich. In undertaking these questions, I’ve read many articles and essays that can seem to get slightly off balanced in addressing this issue, so I don’t really want to go there at this point because I think it would take up too much time and paragraphs. If what can be answered in this post are the questions of “Is poverty a curse?” and “Did Jesus die to deliver you from poverty?”, then I have been successful in meeting my goal. Hopefully, addressing the questions and concerns of the biblical view of prosperity will be addressed sometime soon in another post. So here goes.
In the beginning of the last post, I began by asking why things like physical health and socio-economic status were so important to our society and Christianity in our society and why don’t questions concerning the state of our souls have as much impact upon us as questions about our bodies and our welfare. I stated that because of our fallen nature and our over concern with sensuality, it is easy for people to grasp the implications of things that are physical and present rather than things that are spiritual, unseen, and are eternal – either too far off or too transcendent for our minds to think about. Therefore, in response to our sensual and earthly desires, it is much easier to take something such as the Bible and conform it to address the things that we and society place heavier emphasis on, namely, our health, our money, our relationships, and so forth. The issue is not that the Bible doesn’t address these things, because it does to some extent. The issue is do we make the Bible give answers to or make promises about these things that are clearly not there? I believe this is the case with the question addressed today – “Did Jesus die to deliver you from the curse of poverty?” Poverty is something nobody wants,especially if they don’t have to live under it, and in our society (the U.S.), it is seen as something that is controllable in life because in our country, nobody HAS to be poor. So poverty, in the US, is not seen as a cultural issue – meaning the whole nation is in poverty and is oppressed because of issues beyond its control, but rather it is seen as more of a personal problem – just because you were born poor doesn’t mean you have to stay poor. The answer then to eliminating poverty according to some who preach the Bible is “Do this or believe this and you don’t have to be poor”. What does the Bible say to this question? Where does the support from the Bible come from that says “Jesus died to guarantee that you do not have to live in poverty?” There are many verses and concepts from scripture that are used to defend this question. Here are the verses I’ll focus on:
1) 2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
2) John 10:10 : The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
3) Galatians 3:13-14: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Was Jesus Rich or Poor?
According to the prosperity view of 2 Corinthians 8:9, Jesus was rich in heaven prior to the incarnation. He became poor by becoming a man, being a poor carpenter while on this earth, and dying a sinner’s death, so that you might become rich – financially stable and never lacking anything. The problem with reading and interpreting this verse in this way is that it misses the entire context of the passage. It would be similar to me writing a letter to my wife saying “I love you”, and the mailman interpreting the words “I love you” to apply to themselves. That would be a misinterpretation of my letter and this is what often happens with this verse and several others used like it. So what is the context of this passage? What did Paul, the writer of this letter intend to communicate to the Corinthian church when he wrote this sentence?
Clearly, in chapter 8 he is discussing giving, so he is talking about money. Paul wants to encourage the Corinthian believers to give to the ministry for the relief of the saints (v4). Paul uses the Macedonian church as an example of how God's grace enabled the Macedonian churches to give to the ministry for the relief of the saints, even in the midst of their extreme poverty. In light of this wonderful testimony, Paul, through sending Titus to the Corinthian church, wants to encourage (not command) the Corinthians to give to the relief of the saints, not in order to gain the love of God, but to prove its genuineness among them. The basis and source of this giving will come from love - not an earthly, human like, temporary good will for others, but a sacrificial, life-giving, alien-like love that came from Jesus who, though he was rich, (not monetarily -because heaven has no dollars)- but He was rich in glory, grace, the fullness of God, eternal pleasure, joy, and goodness - He became poor - leaving behind all of these wonderful eternal riches,- so that you and I may experience what He left behind: God's glory, grace, fullness, joy, goodness, and life. Therefore, in light of Jesus' rich, grace giving, sacrificial love to poor sinners, the Corinthians are exhorted to finish what they started in their giving - that is, to display this type of sacrificial love to those in need that had been displayed for them in Jesus. If we were to extract this verse alone to mean money, meaning that Jesus was financially rich , then we miss the point. The rest of the passage would mean "Jesus had financial wealth, and then gave up his financial wealth, so that you could have financial wealth." If we interpret this passage through this lens, it actually lessens the meaning of what Jesus came to do and to give. Also, it wouldn't hold true for the millions of believers throughout hundreds of years of the Bible and history who have lived in extreme poverty and lack. Also, notice in the testimony about the Macedonians giving in 2 Corinthians 8:2, the solution was not that Jesus eliminated their extreme poverty, but rather He gives them grace to give joyfully in-spite of it. So according to this passage, which is so often used to prove that Jesus redeems those who trust in Him from poverty, Jesus death doesn’t guarantee any deliverance from poverty, but rather Jesus takes poverty and uses it to serve His glorious purposes of building His church and advancing the gospel.
What about the verse in John 10:10 which states that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”? This is a verse that is often used to defend the notion that God does not want His people to live under poverty, because He came to give them an abundant and wealthy life. Firstly, in the context of this passage, poverty is never mentioned. Jesus is talking about the love and care that He has for His people as a Shepherd has for his sheep (v 1, 10). The issue is not that the sheep are impoverished and broke, but are oppressed by hired hands and robbers who do not truly care for their estate. These thieves and “rent -a- shepherd’s” only care for themselves and therefore they steal from the sheep, they kill the sheep and allow the sheep to be killed, and they destroy the sheep, taking their lives rather than preserving them (v7-10a). Ezekiel 34 is a great reference to the language Jesus is using in John 10. The issue in this passage is who is caring for the sheep and Jesus’ main point is that only He is the Good Shepherd, anyone and everyone else is out for a buck or some lamb chops. When it comes to the life mentioned in this passage, it contrasts those who subtract life against Jesus who gives life abundantly. Nowhere in this passage is money or not having enough money mentioned. Nowhere in this passage is Jesus guaranteeing a poverty free, prosperous earthly duration of years to those who will follow Him. Jesus doesn’t promise to give “the good life” in this passage, but He does promise to give His life. A life defined by the abundant knowledge of Him just as He knows the Father (v14)(also see John 17:3) and a life defined by the love of God being poured out on us because of His sacrifice (v17).
Curse of Poverty?
Lastly, I would like to observe how most who view the atonement as a way to be set free from poverty and lack tend to view poverty as a "curse" and Christ's death as bringing in "the blessing". The line of thought that concludes that poverty is a curse begins with thinking that the curse of God upon the earth for Adam's sin is the same as the curse of the law found in Deuteronomy 27:26. Poverty is not a curse. Poverty is a result of the curse - as is sickness, disease, famine, stress, pain, pain in childbearing, earthquakes, floods, murders, rapes, genocide, and agricultural problems. Because of Adam's sin, the entire creation was subjected into futility and these are the results, yet they are not beyond the control and sovereignty of God. Romans 8: 20 says that God subjected creation to futility in hope that it will be free from the bondage and decay that it is presently in and obtain freedom, the same freedom that the Christian obtains in Christ. It is often said by those who see Jesus' death as a means to financial blessing that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of poverty” and the scriptural basis for this statement is Galatians 3:13-14 which says:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The problem with this statement is two fold.
1) If Jesus has presently delivered all who trust in Him from the "curse of poverty", then it equally means that He has delivered them from earthquakes, famine, sicknesses, pain, murder, rape, and genocide. If poverty is a fruit of the curse, and it is, and Christ has redeemed us from poverty and we can have prosperity and abundance now, then shouldn't that mean we are presently redeemed from the realities of murder, rape, pain, and stress now as well? If these realities were guaranteed on demand for the present, why do women still feel the excruciating pain of childbirth? Why do earthquakes rock nations, and infants are mauled by dogs? True, God has redeemed us from all of these things, in that He uses them for His glory and our joy and He will one day make all things new. The problem with this statement is that is essentially asking for glorification (new bodies, heaven on earth) NOW and God hasn't guaranteed that in this life.
2) Galatians 3:13-14 isn't even talking about the curse from God upon the earth. It deals entirely with the curse that the law brings for those who seek to be justified by it, which is the whole point Paul was making in the book of Galatians (Gal. 3:10). To say that the "curse of the law" is the same as the "curse of poverty" is misinterpretation of the scripture. Once this curse of the law is removed through Jesus becoming a curse for us,bearing the punishment of our disobedience to the law, we are not given material abundance and financial prosperity and wealth, but something greater: eternal life, justification and the promised Holy Spirit, who pours out God's love in our hearts and seals us until the day of redemption.
It goes without saying but poverty is frustrating and I am in no way saying that those who are poor should just be content and not make the attempts to get out of poverty. But to go as far as to say that one is cursed or cut off from God, or still under the bondage of Satan because they are poor is taking it a little too far. God condemns no one in scripture for being poor except for the sluggard (Prov. 13:4). In all other circumstances there is 1 Samuel 2:7 which exalts the sovereignty of God in His establishment of the poor and the rich. " The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts." God gives grace to poor sinners who are rich and poor and He is no respecter of persons.
In attempting to use scripture to guarantee the removal of things such as sickness, poverty, suffering, and affliction, the real problem is not one of understanding the nature of the atonement of Christ; rather, the problem is eschatological. Ministers who preach that deliverance from poverty, health, and a suffering-free life are guaranteed to us now by the death of Jesus replace sanctification with glorification in the golden chain of redemption. Their eyes are set on now rather than eternity. They see eternity as "later" and conclude that God is powerful enough to act now. The Bible teaches that we are justified and declared righteous before God at our conversion, sanctified during our lives as Christians on this earth continuing to face struggles, affliction, sin, temptation, pain and trials, and we are glorified at the last day when Christ comes again and gives us new bodies, eliminates the presence of sin, and makes all creation new. To promise deliverance from poverty, sickness, and suffering now is to insist that God declare us righteous and then make all things new instantly. While this desire is well intended and may even be sincerely preached, it is not biblical because God does not promise to do things this way in His word. If Jesus were to promise a poverty-free life to believers, then it would be applicable to all who have ever trusted in Christ. Instead, what we usually see today is these messages proclaimed and applied in a wealthy America and then watch the same message totally mock the impoverished believers throughout the rest of the world and those who have died throughout history. Abundant life is given to ALL who trust in Jesus, but it is way past our pay grade to define abundant.We do not decide that. If it is defined as a quality of life filled with material and monetary wealth, it is limited because all haven’t had this, don’t have this, and won’t have this. It doesn't mean that God doesn't give material blessings, it just doesn't suggest that they are guaranteed. If abundant life defined as a surpassing knowledge of Jesus as God and an eternal and overflowing fountain of grace that covers all sin so that the believer can enjoy and delight in God forever, then it is sufficient. All who trust in Jesus WILL have this eternal and abundant life and will experience it both now and forever. This life is guaranteed to all who believe in Jesus, whether paid or poor and it works throughout any social status to the glory of God and the joy of His people.