Is it wrong to prosper?

“Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria. Notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes! Go over to Calneh and see; and from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory?” (Amos 6:1-2 NKJV).

When I make reports on my work in undeveloped nations a very common response is “That sure makes us appreciate what we have doesn’t it?” Others will say, “We sure are blessed.” Behind such comments is an inference of guilt. Are we wrong to have so much when so many have so little? I believe a lot of sincere American Christians ask that question, and fear the answer.

Though the Bible warns of the dangers of greed (Luke 12:15) and the difficulty of salvation for the wealthy (Matthew 19:23), there is no condemnation of wealth nor any indication that righteous or godly people cannot be rich in material possessions. On the contrary, Old Testament Patriarchs were usually men of great riches (Genesis 13:2; 26:12-14). The wealth of Solomon was legendary and was attributed to God’s blessings (1 Kings 3:13; 4:20-28).

In the New Testament commands are given to the rich as to how they are to use their possessions, confirming that not all Christians were of modest income (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Men like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-39) are generally believed to have had some wealth and, while not called disciples, showed signs of righteousness and of faith in Jesus.

Yet, on the other hand, there is much evidence that wealth may be a hindrance to godliness and that many who prosper are displeasing to God. Amos’ strong condemnation of the upper classes of Israel (Amos 6:1-7) reveals several ways in which prosperity may cause God to judge us.

First, we commit sin when we trust in ourselves and our possessions rather than God (Amos 6:1). Wealth may contribute to our comfort and to our ability to help others, but it is not a source of security. Only God can preserve us. Israel was invited to go to great cities of the past which had perished and asked, “are we stronger (or better) than they?” The answer was clearly, “No.”

Second, we sin when we gain or use our wealth selfishly for mere physical pleasure and comfort (Amos 6:3-5). The prophet was indignant at the idle wastefulness of the rich in Israel. That was clearly not the purpose of their possessions and it was a wrongful use of that which God had given (see Luke 12:16-21).

Third, we sin when we neglect those in need (Amos 6:6-7). Amos had previously condemned the social injustice of the leaders of Israel (Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-13). God defends the poor. Jesus identified with the hungry, naked, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-40). John defines love by how one helps those in need (1 John 3:17). James gives a similar interpretation of true faith (James 2:14-17).

God does not promise prosperity to every Christian, but neither does he forbid it. Some will be given the “gift of giving” (Romans 12:8) which has to imply that they will have the means to be generous. One Christian writer put it like this: “You have money? That’s good. Money has you? That’s bad.” I believe Amos would have heartily agreed.

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