Rich According to the Scripture?
When we get rich before getting saved, we have to resist the temptation to think that our life depends on the riches (Luke 12:15). When we get rich after getting saved, we have to resist the temptation of the distractions that are bound to come with wealth.
We will only be in a position to manage the riches of this world if it is strictly put under the dominion of the spiritual authority. This may mean different things to different people, but those who are willing to hearken to the Word of God, the Bible has parameters of how we need to relate with wealth. If we can’t figure it out from the Bible, our critics will frequently and freely tell us when we cross the line. Unlike many people believe, criticism—whether positive or negative—can help us be better people. The problem comes when we get desperately defensive and sensitively jittery.
Good stewards of the Master must avoid taking selfish advantage of people and circumstances in order to exploit, extort and manipulate them. We talked about the Zarephath widow (1 Kings 17:9-15) in chapter 4. Sorry to be blunt but there are many people who have used this scripture to extort money from very poor people. Remember that the reason Elijah was in Zarephath in the first place was that he was sent by the Lord God Himself. He had also commanded the woman to feed Elijah. This means that everything was laid out so that Elijah didn’t ‘labour’ to convince the widow. When he assured her that her resources would never ran dry, it was not a manipulative strategy but a divine appointment. It was a special miracle that may not necessarily be duplicated for everyone else. It was not an area to build a doctrine.
How can we tell that somebody is extorting material gain in a religious context? While conceding that it can be very difficult telling if one engages in extortion, it doesn’t eliminate all the possibilities of telling that somebody has crossed the line into the territories of extortion and manipulation. We can tell this from the body language; the circumstances; the twisting of the scriptures; the character of the person, etc. It was Judas Iscariot’s character of stealing from the treasury that helped the understanding that he never cared for the poor enough to make him perceive that the costly spikenard ointment Mary poured on Jesus feet at Bethany was a wastage (John 12:4-6). Servants of God who are lost into indulgent and luxurious lifestyle may most likely manipulate believers in order to sustain if not to increase their indulgence.
I recently watched a guest preacher making frantic financial appeal as his host cheered, or if you like, agreed with him. This followed an insightful teaching of the Word of God. In my conviction, this set a very good stage to impress on the audience that God was speaking through them—and why not? We know (or ought to know, for that matter) that there are distractions that can get servants of God compromised.
At the end of a teaching session, the host preacher introduced a pastor, saying, “He is a mighty man of God with a great church… ” With that short introduction the pastor took over. He pointed his finger at the camera and exuding an energetic conviction, he began by saying:
“Right now you are watching me and this program has been going on and this rises up in my spirit, just for you, only for you! You’ve got to watch me, just for you! Something have been stolen from you! I mean something has been ripped off.”
At this he captured my attention because I have lost a great deal. The way he pointed “at me” I was in it. I would accept the prayer. I felt like it was just me, but when he started counting the possible losses, I realized that we could be many of us and not just me.
He went on (counting the possible losses):
“Your children—maybe on drugs; maybe have been separated; a breakdown in your marriage; or your job; or something that you had. There is loss. I just hear the word ‘Loss!’”
I wonder why I didn’t see it coming. It would take something before the prayer. This could be alright but my inner man started getting troubled. He reminded ‘me’, well, ‘us’ of the story of Samuel, as he put it, “… when he was gonna prophesy over Saul.”
He explained that Saul had gone out with his servant to find his daddy’s donkeys. They were at the verge of giving up when the servant suggested that they could inquire of the seer [Samuel]. Saul objected to the suggestion because according to him they didn’t have any offering to give to the prophet. The servant replied that he had a shekel.
The pastor went on hypothesized what the servant seemed to be saying:
“If we give it to the seer or the prophet, he will then know that we have respect and honour, and what we honour will come to us.”
He also conjectured what could have been the Prophet Samuel’s response: “You will find what you lost because you honoured a man of God.”
It is important to note that the prophet didn’t ask for a gift, leave alone making it a condition for telling Saul and his servant the whereabouts of the donkeys. If this was necessary, it was prompted in their heart without the prophet asking them to do so—and it was the ‘little’ they had.
This is the story the pastor was referring to:
“And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go. Then said Saul to his servant, But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we? And the servant answered Saul again, and said, Behold, I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver: that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way.”—1Samuel 9:6-8.
The minister explained that when you honour a servant of God, you strengthen his prayer and God would be pleased with you for honouring His servant. He implied that you don’t go to the servant of God empty-handed.
He also talked about the story of Job. The following is part of the transcription of what the pastor said:
“The Bible says that Job lost everything. I am talking to someone and I want to say this real quick, just for a moment because the Spirit of the Lord is about to do something. You are about to recover; you are about to get back what the enemy has stolen from you. The Bible says that Job lost everything that he had and he lost it probably in three to ten minutes and this is only a minute and a half that I’m gonna give you because I believe this is just for you. The Bible says that he lost everything: he lost his children, they died; he lost everything! And maybe you haven’t lost as much as Job have but you have lost something and God connected with Pastor … today. And I wanna tell you that I sense in my spirit that God is gonna give you back what you lost and can I use my faith with Pastor together? We gonna believe in just a moment, you gonna get back double. The Bible says that Job put seven rams and put seven bullocks on the altar. When he put that offering on the altar, God stood up, pointed His finger at the devil and said, ‘you give him double everything you’ve stolen from him’”.
“I sense something rising up right now! I sense you going to your phone at this very moment and saying, ‘I’m going to put $77 offering upon the altar. The moment you put that offering through the phone line or through the computer or however you can get it in the next few moments, I believe in my spirit, God’s gonna rise up and say, ‘Satan, what you have stolen from him: their children; their health; their money, you gonna have to give it back’. I want you to go to the phone and even after we’ve gone off the air, I want you to get on the phone and say: ‘You know what? I’m gonna find my loss; I’m gonna get back what the devil has stolen from me.’ And I’m gonna tell you right now, I’ve got five seconds, and I’m gonna tell you what the devil is saying. Whatever you do, don’t listen to him, turn your television, turn another channel quickly, because Satan knows that when you give the offering, it gives God the right to put a weapon in His hand to destroy and rebuke he devourer that has come against you. In the Name of Jesus, I declare it; I feel it; I sense it! You’ve watched me, you are the person and in Jesus Name, go to the phone now! As we go off the air get to that phone because you are about to get back what you lost. Seventy seven dollars, go to the phone now.” (See appendix).
The body language; the urgency; the misrepresentation of the Biblical facts point, in my sober estimation, point to a desperate attempt at extortion. According to the above transcription, it was Job who offered to God the seven bulls and seven rams, a result of which He [God] immediately rebuked the devourer and commanded the latter to restore double what he [Satan] had stolen from Job. The Scripture, however, says that it was Job’s friends who made the offering after God commanded them to do so before Job could pray for them. Note that Job, the servant of God, was not the beneficiary of the said offering. It was a burnt offering unto God. The restoration of Job’s losses had nothing to do with any offerings. The following is the story the pastor was referring to:
“Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.”—Job 42:8.
But even if Job had made an offering to God, it would have been explained by His custom. He used to routinely offer burnt offerings whenever his children had a feast. This was to sanctify them in case they had sinned by cursing God in their heart (Job 1:4-5). It must be emphasized that the restoration of Job’s losses had nothing to do with any sacrifice he made.
Juxtaposing miracle and offering, especially where one is asked to make an offering in order to receive a miracle, has the danger of manipulation. There is a very thin line between extortion and exhortation. While it may be acceptable to exhort people to give their offerings, it amounts to manipulation and extortion to imply that giving an offering is a condition for receiving a miracle. The only condition for a miracle is faith—but even this has some exceptions (1).
There are some of us ministers who price our ministrations. We no longer serve the Lord with our resources but use our gifts to acquire and accumulate more wealth for ourselves. We are good at mobilizing others to fund the work of God while we hoard our resources to fund our luxurious indulgences. This is not a negative criticism. I pray that the Lord may speak to our hearts to understand that this is an area that needs critical examination. The Bible encourages us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
Ananias and Sapphira died when they attempted to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10). They found occasion to lie because of their desire to keep back part of the price they received after selling a property. What they hoarded didn’t help them.
If only this couple took warning from Ecclesiastes 5:13: “There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.”
The apostle James also warns the rich and reprimands them at the way they make their wealth:
“Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”—James 5:3-4.