The Prosperity of the Gospel
THE PROSPERITY OF THE GOSPEL
The Good News Today is this: When we know the prosperity of the Gospel we shall give ourselves away. The prosperity of the Gospel consist of two parts.
- Our inheritance
- Our Reward
First, the prosperity of the Gospel consists of our inheritance. There is perhaps no more challenging text that relates to wealth, health, and following Jesus than the story of the rich man who came to Jesus asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Mark doesn’t say he is a ruler in the community. He doesn’t say he is young. In fact, Mark doesn’t tell us that the man was wealthy until after Jesus tells him to sell everything he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. These seem like unreasonable commands. But Mark lets us know that Jesus said this to the man because he loved him. He was for this man not against him. He said these commands for his good not for his harm.
This man dealt with a problem that many of us deal with. He led a good life. He kept the commandments, he attended synagogue, he was a success financially, he was well respected in the community. But all the money, success, and respect in the world couldn’t convince him of his own worth deep in his heart. “Good, Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As I studied this passage the absurdity of the man’s question struck me for the first time in my life. Because the entire point of an inheritance is you can’t earn it, you don’t do anything for it, it is earned for you, it is given to you when someone dies. It is given to you to give you a better chance at a joyful life. It is given to you not because of anything you have done but because of who you are. Because you are someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s granddaughter, someone’s grandson.
In my own life my grandmother set aside some $30,000 dollars worth of savings bonds, starting with the year I was born in 1983, which I used to pay for expenses during three years of seminary so I didn’t have to work and could focus on my studies. I didn’t do anything for that money. I received it for the simple fact that I was Louise Robert’s grandson.
The rich man had trouble entering the Kingdom of God because he was good at being an adult. He thought eternal life was a problem to be solved. But to enter eternal life Jesus said you can’t be an adult. Jesus says to enter the Kingdom of God you must become like a child. And what held this man from becoming a child was his wealth.
1 Timothy 6:10 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires, that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” And our text itself does suggests that it is this man’s love of money that is the root issue. We know this because at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel Jesus calls his first disciples while they are fishing by the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that they dropped their nets and immediately followed him. But Mark doesn’t tell us that Jesus asked them to sell their possessions. Granted, they were fisherman, and didn’t have that much to begin with, but still Jesus never commanded them to sell the little that they had.
We see this throughout the Gospel of Mark. We know that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew had a house. Jesus didn’t command them to sell their house. We know that at least Peter was married. We know this because Jesus cured Peter’s mother in law of a fever, and you can’t have a mother in law unless you have a wife (Mark 1:29). We are told that a group of women followed Jesus (Luke 8). But Peter’s wife is not mentioned to be among them, suggesting that Peter left his wife and children to follow Jesus. Perhaps he deemed the journey too dangerous for the rest of his family. The Apostle Paul suggests that Peter or Cephas as he was also known returned to his wife and family after Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 9:5). So the separation didn’t last for his entire life.
Peter and the other disciples were from Capernaum. And Mark does suggests they return to Peter and Andrew’s house in Mark 9:33. In Peter and Andrew’s house Jesus uses a young child as an example of greatness in the Kingdom of God. The context suggest the child is Peter’s child. And Peter is probably thinking, “do you know my kid Jesus? Do you know the trouble I have with him?” But he isn’t saying we should become childish. Instead, he is saying we should become helpless like a child.
Knowing this, it is no surprise to see Peter reply to Jesus’ command to Rich man, “ See, we have left everything and follow you.” Peter is not boasting to Jesus. He isn’t saying “Look at we have done Jesus. We are way better than that horrible rich man.” Mark suggests that Jesus interrupts Peter, as if he knows what he is going to say, and wants to stop that train of thought. The text suggests that this incident happened in Capernaum, Peter’s home town. And they had just gotten done with a visit to Peter’s family. And now Peter is leaving his family for the second time to follow Jesus. So when Peter sees Jesus say to this rich man to sell all he has, his response isn’t a boast, he is wondering the same thing as the rich man, does he have to do something more to follow Jesus? He is thinking, “I just left my family for the second time to follow you Jesus. Isn’t that enough? What else do I have to do? Do I have to sell everything I own and make my family homeless as well?”
Jesus says to Peter that no he doesn’t have to sell all his stuff, because money isn’t an obstacle for him. He adds that everyone who leaves their home and family for the Gospel will receive in this life and in the next a reward, along with persecution. Jesus doesn’t say Peter can earn his way into the Kingdom of God. But he does promise a reward for his work as a Son, both in this life and in the next. The promise is not in terms of what we would call liquid assets, that being cash, that Peter can do whatever he wants with. Instead, the promise is in terms of land, to provide for the needs of his family, and new relationships to compensate him for the ones he might have lost while following Jesus took him away from his family and friends. But he also promises persecution. Blessing and persecution seem to be a package deal in this life. Though the Lord promises only eternal blessing in eternal life.
So yes this text is about the love of money and not the selling of our possessions for the sake of selling our possessions. The scripture is clear that the love of money is evil. But why is the love of money evil? And how do we know we are in love with money?
Often people think the love of money is expressed in extravagant and wasteful spending. This is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, who asked for his inheritance, and his Father gave it to him while he was still alive which was unheard of at the time, and the prodigal son went to a far off land and spent it on wild living. But the love of money isn’t primarily about bad behavior. It is about who we spend our money on. The prodigal was interested in spending money on himself to satisfy his sexual fantasies. But Luke also shows us that one can be extravagant in one’s spending, and even unethical, but not be guilty of the love of money.
The Gospel of Luke makes this point with the Parable that follows the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the dishonest manager in chapter 16. In this parable there is basically a manager who is defrauding his boss. His boss finds out about the fraud and is about to take away the manager’s position. The manager knew he would have trouble making it in the real world. He says of himself that he is not strong enough to dig and he is ashamed to beg. So he comes up with a plan to write off the debts of those who owe his master money, before his master takes the position away from him. That way when his position is taken away he will have made some friends to help him out. Instead, of punishing the manager for his unethical behavior, the master commends the manager for his shrewdness. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “ And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” ( Luke 15:9). The difference between the prodigal son and the dishonest manager isn’t bad behavior, they both behaved badly, it is who they spent money on. Though the dishonest manager defrauded his master, which is as bad as sexual sin, he is commended by his master. The dishonest manager basically forgives debts, which is more or less spending his master’s money without his master’s permission, to make friends out of his own self interest. Both the prodigal and the dishonest manager are spending money in extravagant ways. One spends it on himself. One spends it on others for selfish reasons. One is a bad example. The other is commended by his master. This shows us that the love of money isn’t primarily about spending. We spend money on the things we love. Some of those things are good and some are bad. But we love those things not money. Love of money Jesus tells us is not about spending. Instead it is about saving.
Jesus suggests a key sign of the love of money is how much of it we save. Jesus says, “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 is also.”(Matthew 6:19-20). Jesus makes clear we can put our money away in the bank and stock market till we are old if we want. He won’t damn us to hell for it. But it is not a good long term investment if we are going to live forever. The Apostle Paul explains why this is in 1 Timothy 6:7,
“Godliness with contentment is great gain for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”
When we are going to live forever with the Lord, saving more money than we really need in this life is short sighted because you can’t take material things with you when you die and we can gain a reward in heaven if we use our time, talent, and treasure differently in this life. We don’t gain a reward if we give our money away after we die. We gain a reward if we use our resources differently before we die. God wants us to prosper. He is generous and he wants to bless us. And he gives us a choice if we want to be blessed in this life or in eternal life. The Bible never says that we will all be equally blessed in heaven. Instead, Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first. He says we can earn a reward that will be stored up in heaven. It is just that the way God rewards people is different than the way we reward people. Here is what Paul says to folks who have a lot of money in this life,
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:16). Jesus says there will be a distinction of rewards in heaven based on where we put our treasures. So Jesus was loving the rich man. By giving his riches away he would be reimbursed by the LORD in heaven. If we are concerned about being first, if we are concerned about how much blessing we will have, if we are concerned about our status, Jesus tells us how to be rich in heaven. That is why Jesus says it is better for us to give than to receive. Because God rewards us for our generosity. Even if we don’t feel like it. Even if we feel unappreciated and unrecognized the Lord sees our good work and wants to reward it. The only question is whether we would like our reward on Earth or in heaven? If we want it on Earth it will come with persecution, we may lose our reward, and we won’t be able to take it with us to the next life. If we would like our reward in heaven we will get it without persecution, it can never be taken from us, and we will enjoy it forever.
Jesus teaches us that is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) because there is a reward for our giving, even if we are not cheerful about it. That being said, Paul is clear that God rewards us for giving but he loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). God rewards us for good behavior because like a good parent he wants us to experience the joy in the behavior itself. He demonstrates this in how the Good Son responds when the prodigal comes home. The good son, who fulfilled all of his Father’s commandments, who toiled in the field and never complained, carried resentment in his heart. When the prodigal returned and the Father threw his lost son a party, the good son resented his brother for wasting his father’s wealth and said the Father never killed the fatted calf so that the Good Son could celebrate with his friends even though the good son had been faithful. The Father replied,
“ Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) The Good Son’s treasure was in his own goodness. The good sons treasure was not in righteousness, peace, and joy, but in his desire to be right and he received his reward. If he admitted where his treasures really were, in his knowledge of right and wrong, then his heart would have moved away from those earthly treasures towards the inheritance that was already his if he wanted it. For where our treasure is there our heart will be.
My friend’s In God’s eyes no one gets away with anything and no one goes home empty handed. If you have ever felt unappreciated in your work, in your ministry, in your family, if you have given when you haven’t felt like it, if you have given and not been acknowledged for it, I want you to know the Father sees you in secret, and there will be a reward. He’s sees everything you do, and everything we do matters. Each one of us is worth more than any fortune five hundred company could ever pay us. If you are made in the image of God who could pay you for what you are worth? The answer is no one, only God can. So we need to start working out of what we know we are worth instead of trying to prove our worth with our work. Because that never works. And that is not want God wants. He didn’t ask that of the rich man. He only asked him to become a Son. He only asked him to embrace his inheritance. So let us today embrace our inheritance. Because all that he has is ours. And when we embrace our inheritance we will be free at last to work for the reward that truly matters. We will be free at last to grab hold of that which is truly life. And the world will know our prosperity. The world will know a prosperity that no one could ever pay them. The prosperity of the Gospel.
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit.