As we travel around the world equipping the body of Christ for the work of the ministry, we find in many churches a definite emphasis on receiving financial miracles from God. In Brazil there is a thriving denomination with some very large churches whose success in drawing people could be attributed to this emphasis. Humanly speaking this type of focus might appear necessary in countries where poverty is endemic. However, what does Scripture have to say about this trend?
Before we address this issue, let me state that we ourselves have seen financial miracles in the ministry the Lord has entrusted to us. Plainly speaking, it costs money to travel around the world for the gospel. We realize that without the generous support of those who have given to us out of the financial blessings they have received from the Lord, we could not do what we have done. May the Lord greatly multiply the seed they have sown. Having said that, let us now see what Scripture says about money. Here is the very first instance in the New Testament (New International Version) of the word money:
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Money is such an important consideration to human beings that Jesus compared it to Almighty God Himself. In our hearts, it will compete with Him for our love. We can choose only to love one of the two; we will hate the other. No believer can fail to understand the strong polarization involved in the choice Jesus calls us to make.
The problem is that when we focus on financial miracles, it is possible to deceive ourselves. Instead of loving God, we can end up loving Money and the comfortable if not luxurious lifestyle it can afford us.
Of course poverty is an extremely serious problem in some countries and the Church should not ignore it (James 2:16). Yet the poor were also present in the time of Jesus, and the miracles he did were not primarily financial in nature for helping the poor get on their feet. Rather, his miracles as recorded in the gospels were overwhelmingly healing the sick and driving out demons. In Matthew 26:11 Jesus told his disciples, “the poor you will always have with you.” The same can be said today about the poor. So what is the scriptural justification for our fascination with and emphasis on financial miracles? There would appear to be none. The apostle Paul tells us:
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
We know that we must love God instead of Money. We insist that despite our emphasis on financial miracles we still love God instead of Money. But only God knows whether or not this is true. Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?“
It is entirely possible that some in the Church have unwittingly crossed the line and believe in the Lord primarily to secure His financial blessings. God has become the means and the blessings have become the end. These people are no longer serving God. They have slid down the slippery slope, however slowly and imperceptibly, and have become servants of Money.
One could ask why God appears to perform financial miracles for such people. The miracles can happen simply because of the principle of sowing and reaping which works for anyone who applies it, even the unbelieving. The sun shines on both the righteous and unrighteous.
In the gospels and Acts the miracles are predominantly healing the sick and casting out demons. But in today’s Church few know how to heal the sick and cast out demons in the same way. Lacking these kinds of miracles, we have turned to alternative ways of drawing the lost to the Kingdom of God. Many churches, especially in poorer countries, have turned to preaching the gospel accompanied by financial miracles instead of the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons. We ought to consider what kind of believers might result from this kind of evangelistic approach which has now spread through much of the world.
Let’s examine something even more foundational. Why did Jesus not focus on financial miracles instead of healing the sick and demon-oppressed? Here is the answer.
God told Adam that if he sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. And when Adam ate the fruit and sinned, he did in fact experience spiritual death—his relationship with God was severed. Afterwards the Lord cursed the ground and poverty appeared on the earth. Adam eventually suffered from the physical infirmity we call old age and then died in the physical sense. Death, whether spiritual or physical, is the ultimate wage of sin. In this sense, poverty cannot be equated with death. And physical death is the end result of physical infirmity. From this we understand that sickness and disease ultimately are the prison in which people languish because they have broken God’s law by sinning. Death is the eternal continuation of God’s judgment.
When Jesus came to earth he healed the sick, setting them free from the prison of physical infirmities. By freeing these prisoners he proved that he had authority to forgive the sin that had landed them in the prison of sickness in the first place. (Justice, whether divine or human, demands that transgression must be paid for before release from prison.) With this authority to forgive sin through his blood shed on the cross, Jesus had power to deliver sinners from condemnation in hell. Thus his power to heal the sick proved ultimately that he had authority to save from sin and hell.
In such a way we can see that the miraculous healings Jesus did were central to his claim of being the Messiah—the Savior of the world who would take away our sins (Mark 2:10). That is why miraculous healings were far more important to his ministry as the Messiah than miracles of finance and provision. Those who instead focus on earthly blessings have clearly chosen the wrong emphasis and fallen victim to self-deception.
What should we then do?
The Church must go back to the Bible. Instead of emphasizing miracles of money and provision, we must proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. And we must be equipped to heal the sick as we proclaim the gospel in order to prove that his death on the cross indeed gives him the authority to save sinners from sin and hell, granting them eternal life. Today the resurrected Lord is equipping his Church to heal the sick and cast out demons for this very purpose.
Do allow us a final word. Is it against God’s will for a believer to be rich? The answer is not necessarily. It is true that earthly riches can make it difficult for a person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). But there will be some born-again believers to whom God will entrust earthly riches. Paul instructs them:
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
What should we therefore conclude?
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
If we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, “all these things” that we need for life on earth will be provided for us as well. We do not focus on financial miracles, but on his kingdom and his righteousness. We must understand what these mean.
What should we do about the poor?
Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. …29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
As many preachers have taught, we cannot outgive God. Let’s interpret it properly.