This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
In beginning this morning I just want to put before you some of the basic words or concepts that are used in this connection. They’re not all synonymous, they have different shades of meaning. I’ll deal with the positive and then I’ll deal with the negative. There are about four main groups of words on the positive side. Rich and riches; wealth and wealthy; prosper, prosperous, prosperity: that’s a verb, an adjective and a noun. And again, abound, abundant, abundance. Just let me repeat those once so that you can absorb them. Rich and riches. Wealth and wealthy. Prosper, prosperous, prosperity. Abound, abundant, abundance.
Now, there’s an important distinction. When we use the words rich and riches, wealth and wealthy, we speak about somebody who has considerable financial and material assets. But when we speak about prosper and the related words and abound and the related words it does not necessarily imply that the person who does that has a lot of money in the bank or owns great material possessions. So, there’s a difference. Actually, God’s promise is more specifically abundance than it is wealth. I think in a little while—maybe we should deal with that now.
Abundance really means that you have all that you need and something to spare to give to others. That’s the essence of abundance. I’ll say it again. It means that you have all that you need, there is no need in your life, no lack; and you have more than you need to give to others.
The word prosper, especially as it’s used in the Bible, has a connotation of success. It doesn’t necessarily mean tremendous material wealth or possessions. One of the most interesting examples—well, let me put two scriptures together. 1John 2. John says:
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health as thy soul prospereth.”
I think that’s a beautiful statement of the will of God for the committed believer. Gaius, to whom that epistle was written, was a model believer. If you study the epistle, he was walking in all the truth that God had made available. The apostle John writing, I believe, as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit said to him, “Beloved, I wish above all things [or I pray above all things] that thou mayest prosper, be in health as thy soul prospereth.” Those are the three realms: the spiritual, the physical, the material. The will of God is good in every one of them.
The word that’s translated “prosper” there means literally to have a prosperous or successful journey. In Romans 1 Paul says, he’s praying that he may have a prosperous journey by the will of God to the Christians at Rome. It’s the same word. I believe God answered that prayer and you can find the answer described in Acts 27 and 28. But Paul did not travel first class, he traveled as a prisoner in chains. He went through a tremendous storm, it seemed as if the whole ship and all who were on it would be lost. They survived the storm, no one on the ship was lost, they arrived in the islands and had what you would call a spiritual revival and when they left, the islanders loaded them with all that they needed for the rest of their journey. He had a prosperous journey but it wasn’t exactly a comfortable journey and he didn’t travel first class.
So, I want you to see that when we use the words prosper and abound we’re not necessarily talking about people whom the world would classify as being very wealthy or very rich. So, just quickly again, to lay the basis, let’s take those four different concepts and I think now you can see a certain difference. Rich and riches. Wealth and wealthy. Those are basically synonymous. Prosper, prosperous, prosperity relates to doing the thing successfully. The opposite, in a sense, is failure. Abound, abundant, abundance means that you are not living in want or lack or frustration. You may not have much, you may not have anything in the bank. I always say about Jesus, he didn’t have a big bank account though they did have a bag in which they took the offering. But, my description of the way Jesus lived was he used his Father’s credit card and it was always honored!
Actually, very wealthy men really don’t need a lot of cash. I was with a wealthy man in one place once and he went into a restaurant and gave me a beautiful meal and he didn’t even produce a credit card, he just signed his name on the bill. That was enough, they knew it would be taken care of. So, let’s not just focus on the idea of having a lot of money in the bank, that’s not essentially what we’re talking about.
Let’s look at the opposite words which are pretty obvious, I think. The ones I’ve listed are as follows. Poor and poverty. Want, need, lack. Fail and failure. I think it’s pretty obvious how they relate to the other words that we’ve spoken about. I’ll just go through them again. Poor and poverty. Want, need, lack. Fail and failure.
I’m going to state five basic principles. The first principle is that God’s provision is in his promises. I’d like you to turn to 2Peter 1, we’ll just read verses 2–4:
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.”
Without pausing to dwell on that, notice that the Christian life is a life of multiplication. It’s not static, it’s not just holding on to what you’ve got, it’s not even merely addition. It’s multiplication. It’s all through the knowledge of God and of Jesus. Everything that we ever need is all channeled to us through God and through Jesus. We don’t need any other ultimate source of supply but God and Jesus.
Then verse 3 comes out with a most amazing statement.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness...”
Stop there and note the tense. It’s the perfect tense. It’s very, very emphatic in the Greek language. God has already given to us all that we are ever going to need for time and eternity—For every area of our lives, for life and godliness. God has already given it to us. I want to emphasize that. Many, many times we pray on the basis of a misunderstanding. We’re asking God to give us something he has already given us. It’s not easy for God to answer those prayers because in answering them he would support the misunderstanding. Sometimes we have to adjust our thinking in order to pray the kind of prayer that God is able to answer.
Now, the second half of verse 3 says:
“...through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue.”
Notice again it’s all included in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Greek says “called us to his own glory and virtue.” Not our glory, it’s his. It’s not our virtue, it’s his. So, God has already given us everything we’re ever going to need and it’s all in the knowledge of Jesus. The Greek word can be translated “acknowledging.” It means both knowledge and acknowledging. It’s not merely that we intellectually know about Jesus, it means that we effectively acknowledge him in our lives.
Verse 4 contains the next vital part of this revelation.
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises...”
Here’s the key. God has already given us everything we’re going to need. Where is it? It’s in his promises. In the promises of his word. The way I present this is God’s provision is in his promises. I think if you can grasp that and hold onto it it could have a tremendous effect on your Christian life. I’d like you to say that with me. “God’s provision is in his promises.” Let’s say it again. “God’s provision is in his promises.”
Now, looking at the end of verse 4 we come to another breathtaking statement. It says:
“...by these [that’s the promises] ye might be partakers of the divine nature...”
I just wonder whether contemporary Americans understand that language. I don’t know how to say it any better. It means that we become partakers of God’s own nature. We receive the actual nature of God. We become divine. You might say that’s a risky thing to say, and it is. But Jesus said when he was challenged about being the Son of God, he quoted one of the psalms and he said, “If ye called them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.” That’s quoted from a psalm which says, “I said ye are gods.” God actually spoke to man and said, “I said you are gods.” Jesus gives us the divine commentary. What was the basis? It’s because the word of God came to them. “If ye call them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.”
So, because the word of God comes to us through the promises of God, we can become partakers of God’s nature. We can become divine. I realize that statement can be taken and misused but I believe it is actually in the way that I’ve presented it an accurate representation of what the scripture teaches.
Then the final part of that revelation is:
“...having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
In proportion as we become partakers of the divine nature we are delivered from the corruption that is in this world. The divine nature and corruption are incompatible. The divine nature is incorruptible but everything in this world is corruptible. As we become partakers of the nature of God, we are delivered from the corruptible. I’d like to go through that again and I invite you to meditate on it because the scope of that revelation is such you cannot absorb it in just a few minutes. It demands that you expose your whole mind and being to that truth and really live in it.
Going back to verse 3. God’s divine power has already given unto us everything we’re ever going to need for time and eternity. It’s all included in knowing or acknowledging Jesus. The provision of God is in his promises. As we appropriate the promises we become partakers of God’s nature. And as we become partakers of God’s nature we are delivered from the corruption that is in this world. I think I’m going to say that again. It may not come out exactly the same but I’ll do my best. Why don’t we say it together? Or rather, you say it after me. God has already given us everything we’re ever going to need for time and eternity. It’s all included in knowing Jesus. God’s provision is in his promises. As we appropriate his promises we become partakers of his nature. And as we become partakers of his nature we escape the corruption of this world. All right. After that I think the only thing you can say is praise the Lord!
Principle number one, God’s provision is in his promises.
Principle number two, the promises are our inheritance. That’s what God is bringing us into. There’s a very simple parallel between the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament under a leader named Joshua, God brought his people into the Promised Land. In the New Testament under a leader named Jesus—which in Hebrew is the same word as Joshua—God brings his people into a land of promises. Old Covenant, a Promised Land. New Covenant, a land of promises. Turn for a moment to Joshua 1 and just see the basic conditions which God gave to Joshua. Joshua 1, beginning at verse 2. The Lord is speaking to Moses. He says:
“Moses my servant is dead...”
I think that’s very significant. I think before we come into something new there always has to be a death of something old. I think the spiritual life, in a certain sense, is like the seasons of the year. There is a continuing, ongoing cycle of seasons. We have spring, summer with its abundance. Then we have the fall, a time of withering. Winter’s a time of death. And then spring, the time of renewal and resurrection again. I find this is a principle that goes through our lives. God only blesses that which has died and been resurrected. When I was reasoning with the Lord about that because it didn’t fit in with my own personal wish and desire at that particular moment, I said, “Lord, why is it that you can only bless that which you resurrect?” I felt I got this answer. Because when God resurrects something, he only resurrects what he wants. We have given it to him and given him the right only to resurrect that which he wants. So, there had to be a death of Moses and of that whole generation, in a sense, before the new purpose of God could be unfolded through Joshua.
“Moses my servant is dead...”
Somebody said once God buries his servants and carries on his work. And God gave great attention to burying Moses, that’s a significant thing. I mean, he did it in person. That’s remarkable.
Also, God is really an understanding person. He didn’t ask the children of Israel to act as though they didn’t care about Moses, he gave them 30 days to mourn for Moses and get it out of their system. Then he said, “Now, get ready, we’re going to move on.”
I find that that’s true. I find people who don’t know how to express grief and just bottle it up and it comes up later. It’s very unhealthy to adopt this modern attitude, “I really don’t care.” You know, somebody has died but “We’ll carry on.” It doesn’t work. It’s much better to say, “I do care. It’s painful but I’ll get over it.”
“Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people...”
And as I was reading that verse this morning I noticed something I’d never seen before, that God wasn’t going to leave any of the people behind. We would be very content in most circles today if we could get 90 percent of the people over. God said everyone’s got to go. I really believe that’s how God views our situation today. Everybody’s got to go.
“...thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.”
Notice the tenses. God says there, “I give them the land.” It’s present tense. At this moment I am giving them the land.
Then he says in verse 3:
“Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.”
Once God gave it, it was given. But from then on it was in the past tense. “Now I’ve given it unto you.” And from that moment onwards, as I understand it, the land legally belonged to the children of Israel.
We have to distinguish between the legal and the experiential. Many times when you talk about being baptized in the Holy Spirit or receiving some further provision of God, you talk to somebody from a fundamentalist background and they might say, “I got it all when I was saved, there’s nothing more to get.” One way to answer that is, “If you got it all, where is it all?” Nevertheless, I do believe that, in a sense, it’s correct. Legally when you came to Christ you became an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. The whole inheritance is legally yours. There’s a great difference between the legal and the experiential. My little quip about this is if Joshua and the children of Israel had been fundamentalists, at that point they would have lined up on the east bank of the River Jordan, folded their arms, looked across the river and said, “We’ve got it all.” Legally correct, experientially incorrect. If they had been Pentecostals—this is just a sort of, you know, a parable—they would have crossed the River Jordan, lined up on the west bank, folded their arms and said, “We’ve got it all.” But they’d just gone one stage further, that’s all.
The interesting thing about the children of Israel taking the Promised Land is that God brought them in by a miracle. He gave them their first victory over Jericho by a miracle. After that, they had to fight for ever other thing they got. Don’t expect to get your inheritance without conflict. The way that they were to get it was “every place that you put the sole of your foot upon shall be yours.” So, legally it’s all yours. Experientially you’ve got to move in and assert your claim to what God has given you. Put your foot on it.
I think that’s a very vivid picture for asserting, “God has promised this to me and I know lay claim to my promise.” So, the second principle is the promises are our inheritance.
The third principle is the promises are the expression of God’s will. God never promises something that was not his will. It’s very important to understand that. Suppose I have a young son and I say to him, “Now, if you sweep the garage out and put everything in order there and do a good job, I’ll give you a dollar.” So my son goes in, sweeps the garage out, does a good job and everything’s beautiful. He comes back and says, “Dad, I want my dollar.” What would you think of me if I said, “I never meant to give you the dollar. It wasn’t my will.” I mean, you’d write me off as a failure as a father, as an unreliable and undependable person. So it is with the promises of God. We never can come to God at any time having met the conditions and expect God to say, “I didn’t really mean to give it to you. I was just leading you on.” It’s obvious that when we look at it, God doesn’t act that way. The promises that God gives are the expression of what he wants to do.
When we know God’s will we pray with confidence. Turn to 1John 5:14–15:
“This is the confidence that we have in him...”
That’s in God. The word translated “confidence” there means freedom of speech. It was a very important word in the political background of the Greek people. One of the things that they fought for in democracy was freedom of speech which is, of course, very familiar to American democracy. This word means basically freedom of speech. This is the absolute freedom we have to say what we believe about God. This is the confidence that we have in him. I point that out because I think that confidence needs to be expressed in what you say. If you don’t say it, you don’t have it.
“This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
Notice once we know we’re asking for something according to the will of God, we know we have it. Not we’re going to have it but we have it.
Mark 11:24, Jesus says:
“Therefore I say unto you whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them...”
When? I didn’t hear you. When we pray.
“...and ye shall have them.”
One thing is present, another is future. The receiving is present, the actual experiential working out of what we have received is often future. But if we don’t receive now we won’t have then. One of the great keys to successful petitioning is receiving when we pray. “Therefore I say unto you whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray... The King James says “believe that you receive” but the Greek says “believe that ye receive them and it shall be given unto you.”
And here John says if we ask anything according to his will we know that he hears us. And if we know he hears, whatsoever we ask we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. One of the devil’s favorite tactics is to get us to put off to some future moment the thing that we ought to appropriate now.
In my book Faith to Live ByI illustrate this with a story that’s always been very vivid to me. As a young man about 20, a student at Cambridge University, the university gave me a grant to go to Greece because I was studying Greek philosophy and culture to look at the monuments and the statues and all those things. I went with another friend of mine who is the son of the vice chancellor of Cambridge University, a close friend of mine. We stayed in a hotel in Athens. After about three days I got tired of ruins, antiquities an all the rest and decided I’d seen enough of them. So, we had a good time in Greece!
Every day when we walked out of our hotel there was a little group of shoe blacks on he sidewalk waiting to polish our shoes. If you’ve ever been in the Middle East or the Mediterranean countries you won’t understand this. But in those countries shoe blacks are determined. I mean, they are going to polish your shoes whether you want it or not. It’s even worse in Cairo. So, they’d say, “Shine your shoes?” or “Polish your shoes?” or whatever it. We would say in Greek no, ?aughkey?. When you say no in Greek you say ?aughkey? and you throw your head back at the same time. They polished our shoes anyhow. So this wasn’t working.
One morning my friend thought up a scheme and when we got out of the hotel door and the shoe blacks approached us and said, “Polish your shoes?” he said ?abrio?. How many of you can guess what ?abrio? is? Tomorrow, that’s right. And that took them off their guard. We got by the without having our shoes polished because they didn’t quite know, do we or don’t we?
I think many, many times when you’re on your way to appropriate God’s blessings the devil says ?abrio?, tomorrow. You just hesitate for a moment and you don’t appropriate. The scripture says what is the accepted time? Now. People say today is the accepted time. It doesn’t say that. It says now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. God lives in eternal now. When you need God it’s never yesterday and never tomorrow, he never says “I was” and he never says “I will be,” he always says “I am.”
The third principle is God’s promises are the expression of his will.
The fourth principle, all God’s promises are now available to us through Christ. Turn to 2Corinthians 1:20. There are many different ways of translating this verse and different translations follow different ways. Personally, I still think the King James says it about as clearly and emphatically as is possible to say it. I don’t want to go into the various possible ways of rearranging the words. 2Corinthians 1:20 is a key verse, especially when you’re dealing with dispensationalists, people who say this was for yesterday and that’s for tomorrow and meanwhile, let’s live on crumbs.
“For all the promises of God in him [Jesus] are yea and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
I looked at it in the Greek this morning, you could translate it something like this. “God gave all the promises to be yea and he fulfilled all the promises to be amen in Jesus.” I mean, it’s just another way but whatever way you look at it or whatever translation you follow, there are certain key words that don’t change. First of all, “all the promises.” Not some but all. Secondly, “are.” Not were, not will be. And then, “in him.” There is only one channel through which God makes his promises available to us. Only one. It’s Jesus. And then it says “to the glory of God.” Every promise that we appropriate in the will of God glorifies God. God has so arranged his promises that when we appropriate them the result is he is glorified.
See, Romans 3:23 says:
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
There are different ways of translating that. But in essence I understand it to mean by our sin we have robbed God of his glory. How do we repay it? Romans 4 says about Abraham “Not being weak in faith he gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that what God had promised he was able to perform.” How do we give back to God the glory that our sin has robbed him of? The answer is by believing his promises. When Abraham believed God’s promise he gave glory to God. So, all the promises that God has given us are now available to us in Christ and they are for God’s glory.
Then, what I like about the King James is the two little words that come last. “By us.” It’s not by the apostles, it’s not by the early church, it’s not by special Christians, evangelists or missionaries. But us means you and me. So, all God’s promises are now available to you and me through faith in Christ. So all God’s promises are now available to you and me through faith in Christ.
You don’t need all God’s promises right now. You couldn’t claim all God’s promises just in one moment but any promise that you need and that fits your situation is available to you right now. The way I sum this up is this: Every promise that fits our situation and meets our need is for us now. I’d like you to say that after me. Every promise that fits our situation and meets our need is for us now. Let’s say that once more. After me, not with me. Every promise that fits our situation and meets our need is for us now. That’s the fourth principle, all God’s are now available to us.
The fifth principle is the fulfillment of God’s promises does not depend upon our circumstances but upon our meeting God’s conditions. That’s very important. When God gives a promise it is not limited to a particular set of circumstances. It doesn’t have to be easy for God to do what he promises to do. And one of the big snares is when we’re confronted with a promise of God we say, “Yes, I see that but in this particular situation it would be too much.” So our faith wavers. The truth of the matter is God’s promises do not depend upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves. They make no difference. You can be 100 years old, your wife can be 90 years old but if God says you’re going to have a son, you’re going to have a son. It doesn’t not depend on anything around about you or in you, it’s nothing physical, nothing temporal, nothing in the peacetime world can change the eternal promises of God. That’s the lesson, that’s why God so often allowed the men of faith to get into totally impossible situations. He wanted to make it absolutely clear that in no case were his promises dependent upon a favorable set of circumstances. So, usually he’d let the circumstances get just about as unfavorable as they could be.
Like, you know, Elijah wants the fire to come down so he douses the sacrifice in water three times and lets the water run around and be in the ditch and says, “Now let’s see what God can do.” And when the fire came it burned up the water, it burned up the dust, it burned up the wood, it burned up the sacrifice. God’s fire has got no more problem with a ditch full of water than a dry ditch, it doesn’t make any difference.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of this fact is the provision of God for Israel in the wilderness. For 40 years he fed, clothed, provided for, guided something like three million people: men, women, old people, infants, cattle, everything in a totally barren desert where there wasn’t water, there wasn’t food, there was just nothing. God went out of his way to say, “Make it difficult and let me show you what I can do.” In fact, he made it difficult. He was the one who arranged the situation. It’s most important to understand that you must not let your focus move from the promise to the situation because that’s when you begin to sink.
I’m going to read through those five principles just to fix them in your mind and then we’re going to go on. The five principles are, first, God’s provision is in his promises. Second, the promises are our inheritance. Third, God’s promises are the expression of his will. Fourth, all God’s promises are now available to us through Christ. And fifth, the fulfillment of God’s promises does not depend upon our circumstances but upon our meeting God’s conditions.
Now I want to consider two specific promises of God which are basic to everything we’re going to talk about. They’re both found in the psalms. The first is Psalm 34:9–10. I’ll read the King James Version. Basically there’s no significant difference in any of the versions.
“O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
Then a similar promise in Psalm 84:11. Keep your finger in Psalm 34 because I’m going to give you a little test on it in a minute.
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
Notice the clear statement at the end of Psalm 34:10, “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” At the end of Psalm 84:11, “No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Before we plunge into claiming the promises let’s do this logical thing and examine the conditions. Here’s where many people go astray. They say, “Ooh, that’s a beautiful promise, I want that,” but they don’t pause to examine the conditions. Most of God’s promises are conditional. He says, “If you do this I will do that.” There are some unconditional promises of God, Acts 2:17:
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
I understand that to be an unconditional promise of God at a certain time. His promises of the restoration of Israel is unconditional. Thank God it is because if either the church or Israel ever had to qualify, it would never happen. There are some things that God says “I’ll do unconditionally when it suits me.” But most of them are conditional.
Now, just a little exercise in analysis. I find in those three verses, Psalm 34:9–10 and Psalm 84:11, I find three conditions. Those promises are only for people that meet three conditions, that have three qualifications. I’d like you to look for a moment and see if you can pick out the three simple conditions. We must fear the Lord, seek the Lord and walk uprightly. Let’s say that again. We must fear the Lord, seek the Lord and walk uprightly.
Provided we meet those three conditions then the scripture says God will withhold no good thing from us. Isn’t that exciting?
One more thing that you have to see and here you have to use your best logical mind. There’s still one further point. As you know, I was a logician before I was a preacher and I find it sometimes useful. I better not say any more about that! When we say God will withhold no good thing we’ve got to consider the full implications of the word “good.” I suggest that before we jump in and say this is for me or why didn’t God do it, we need to ask two questions. First of all, is the thing good in itself? Or, in a philosophic phrase, absolutely good? Okay? That’s invariable. A thing that’s absolutely good is always good.
The second thing that we have to ask is is the thing good for us in our particular situation? That’s the variable. A thing that is absolutely good in itself may not always be good for us in our particular situation. You will find if you haven’t already discovered that when God deals with us he doesn’t just hand out the absolutely good, he determines if it’s good for us in our particular situation. Sometimes he withholds the absolutely good because it wouldn’t be good for us in our particular situation. How many of you have ever discovered that?
You take the father of a young boy growing up who’s just got to the age where he can qualify for his driving license. The father would like to give him a beautiful sports car. That in itself, let’s say, is a good thing. But the boy is undisciplined and he’s presumptuous and he doesn’t give heed. The father knows that if he gave the boy the car at that particular point in his life he might kill himself. So he doesn’t give him the car. That’s a very crude example but over and over again you’ll find that we are in a situation where we ask God for something that’s good, God doesn’t say it isn’t good but he says it’s not good for you just now in the light of your character, your situation, your weaknesses, your problems, your misunderstandings.
You know, looking back over a walk with the Lord that has lasted 37 years, I thank God for the prayers he’s answered but I also thank God with all my heart for the prayers he didn’t answer. Do you know that? Oh, when I see where I could have been if God had answered some of my prayers I just say, “God, thank you that you were wise enough not to give me what I asked for.” Not because God withholds the goods, he never withholds the goods in the sense if it’s good for us. But much that is absolutely good may not be good for us in our particular situation. I think if you see that it solves a lot of the problems of unanswered prayer. It isn’t really unanswered prayer, just God answered a different way from what you expected! A lot of people say some people don’t even realize no is an answer.
Now, the next thing we need to do is ask ourselves about the subject that we are dealing with. Riches, wealth, prosperity, abundance—is it good? Is it absolutely good? I think it’s most important to ask ourselves this question because I think there’s a kind of religious tradition that’s very prevalent—maybe more in Europe than in America. But certainly in Europe, that anything nice is sure to be bad. You know, put it this way, the worse the medicine tastes the more good it does. I went through a tremendous personal struggle when the Lord saved me and baptized me in the Holy Spirit to get out of a background that I’d grown up with which, in essence, was if you’re going to be a Christian, prepare to be miserable. I remember hearing Pat Boone giving his testimony once in which he said that as a young boy growing up in high school he came to the conclusion if he were to become a committed Christian it would mean 70 years of misery and heaven at the end. He wasn’t sure that heaven was worth 70 years of misery.
Well, you can laugh at that and it may not be so true of all American Christians but it really is the basic attitude of east European Christians. That’s one reason why there aren’t many European Christians. I mean, I say that. Less than 5 percent of the people of West Germany attend any kind of church. I think less than 3 percent in Britain. That’s partly cause and effect. Who wants to go to a place to be made miserable? I mean, there’s enough misery without running after it.
I don’t want in any way to be sarcastic or negative but this past year, almost a year ago, some of us were in a tour in Italy and we went to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. I’ve always had a deep admiration for St. Francis but frankly, at the end of that tour I had to take exception with some of the things that he had said. Yet, I think that St. Francis as much as anybody has influenced tremendous numbers of Christians. I’ll just give you an example of some of the things that I could not accept. One thing, he called his body the ass. He, in a sense, I would say, deliberately abused it. Well, I find that the Bible calls my body the temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s a very different concept.
Then he called death his sister. I find the Bible calls death the last enemy. I don’t want death as a member of my family. I mean, I’m not being sarcastic or cynical.
And then, he wanted to be married to poverty. I want to ask this morning is poverty good or bad? Are riches good or bad? I don’t want an emotional answer, I want a clear, logical, scriptural answer. I don’t want to be married to something bad. In fact, I want to get disassociated from anything that’s bad.
My thesis is that riches or wealth are essentially good, absolutely good. All right? I’ll say that again. My thesis is that according to scripture riches or wealth are essentially good. There are multitudes of scriptures we could look at but I want to content myself with very few. The first is in Revelation 5:12. This is the voice of the angels and the living creatures and the redeemed and the saints in glory. What they are saying is surely right. I mean, it doesn’t need to be edited or amended. They’re saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain [that’s Jesus Christ] to receive...”
And they list seven things. Seven, I believe, is the number of perfection.
“...power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory, and blessing.”
My conviction is every one of those seven things is essentially good. They belong by eternal right to the Lord Jesus Christ. The second one mentioned there is riches.
Let’s look at the others. Power, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, blessing. That puts riches in very good company, doesn’t it? I mean, all of them are excellent things.
On the other hand, nearly all of them can be misused and abused. Obviously, power can be misused and abused. Strength, riches—wisdom can be misused and abused. I believe Solomon is an example of a man who had tremendous wisdom and misused it. He ended up in idolatry. So the fact that a thing is absolutely good in itself does not mean that it cannot be abused or misused.
But, we would be very foolish to refuse the thing because it can be abused. This is one of Satan’s frequent traps. For instance, I was with a Pentecostal missionary organization in East Africa for 5 years. And after about a year my wife and I realized that they practically never exercised any gifts of the Spirit. We said, “Why don’t we have any gifts of the Spirit?” They said, “Oh, in Canada they’ve been misused.” Well, you know, that’s not logical. So, they’ve been misused, does that mean we’re not to use them? If that’s the way the devil can stop us using good things then there’ll be nothing good left because the devil can always find people to misuse any good thing.
You’ll find multitudes of Christians are influenced to that point where they no longer appropriate what is good and what is theirs by right because somebody has misused it. I don’t care if the whole world misuses riches. If it’s good, I want it. Or wisdom, or power, or strength, or glory, or blessing.
Let’s read that verse. Verse 12. Not saying “with a loud voice,” let’s just say the rest. I’m sure it can’t be different in any of the translations.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
After I’ve said those words out loud I feel wonderful. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything evil in any of those things in essence.
Now, let’s look at another fact. Turn to 1Chronicles 29:12. David is praying to the Lord and he says very simply:
“Both riches and honor come from thee...”
There’s another basic principle. What is the ultimate source of riches and honor? The answer, God himself. God is the ultimate source of riches and honor. Say that after me. God is the ultimate source of riches and honor. There are many other passages in the book of Chronicles which confirm that but we won’t look at them.
Now turn to Deuteronomy 8:18:
“But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers...”
Who gives us power to get wealth? God, that’s right. Many men misuse that power but it comes from God. Why does God give it to his people? It’s very interesting. That he may establish his covenant. It’s part of his covenant commitment to his people. God is the one who gives us power to get wealth.
When I see the people that get wealthy I see it does not depend on education. Did you know that? A lot of educated men can’t cut it and a lot of men who can’t even spell their name right get very wealthy. There was a man in Britain some years back, he was interviewed in the newspaper. This is just a little illustration. He couldn’t read or write. He applied for a job as a janitor and they said, “You’re very suitable.” And then they said, “Sign your name on this application form.” He said, “I can’t sign my name.” They said, “We can’t give you the job.” Having been turned down as a janitor, he started to sell cigars. And, he became a millionaire. So, a man interviewed him and said, “Isn’t that remarkable! You can’t even sign your own name and you’ve become a millionaire! Think what you would be if you could sign your name.” He said, “I’d be a janitor!”
I mean, if you think about the people you know, you’ll find that it doesn’t go with education. The most unlikely people get rich, really. If it happens anywhere it happens in America. I’m not saying there aren’t basic principles, I think you can pick them out. The principles, actually, we’re going to be looking at. But nevertheless, that ability is not to be explained purely in natural terms.
The next thing I want to say—and we’re still in the book of Deuteronomy, we’ll turn to chapter 28—is that obedience to God brings prosperity and abundance. Why don’t we say that while we’re looking for it. Obedience to God brings prosperity and abundance. Just look what God says in Deuteronomy 28. This chapter, as many of you know, is divided into two portions. The first, which is shorter, is the blessings that follow obedience. The second, which is much longer, is the curses which follow disobedience to God. We’ll look, for a moment, at some of the blessings, looking at them very quickly.
“It shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God...”
I want to point out to you that in that verse is really the basic requirement to belong to God’s people. It’s if you will listen very carefully to God’s voice. I think if you go through scripture you’ll find the basic simple requirement for being one of God’s people is that you’ll hearken to the voice of the Lord.
Turn to Jeremiah 7:22–23 for a moment. God is speaking to Israel about redemption out of Egypt. He says:
“For I spake not unto your fathers, no commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices...”
God did not deliver Israel from Egypt on the basis of their giving him burnt offerings or sacrifices. That’s a historical fact and an interesting one.
“...but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God...”
I think that’s the shortest way in which you can sum up God’s requirements to be one of his people. “Obey my voice, and I will be your God.”
And in John 10:28 exactly the same principle is carried on into the New Testament. Jesus says:
“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”
That’s all you need, basically, to belong to Jesus Christ, to be one of his sheep. You hear his voice and you follow him. I want you to realize that because a principle that runs all through scripture, the key is hearing and obeying God’s voice. Lots of fundamentalists interpret that as if Jesus said, “My sheep read the Bible and they follow me.” But he didn’t. He said, “My sheep hear my voice.”
Do you know it’s possible to read the Bible without hearing the Lord’s voice? It’s also possible at times to hear the Lord’s voice without reading the Bible. What is the one basic requirement? To hear the Lord’s voice. Particularly if you study the conditions for healing—and I studied them when I was sick in hospital. I discovered almost every promise of healing related to how you hear.
Let’s go back to Deuteronomy 28:
“It shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the lord thy God...”
The Hebrew says “if you will listen listening.” Do you know what that means? Listen with both ears. God showed me all this when I laid sick in the hospital and I was seeking healing. I said, “What does it mean to listen listening?” He said, “You’ve got a right ear and a left ear. To listen listening means to listen to me with your right ear and your left.” Then I saw how many people listen to God with the right ear and the devil with the left. What do they end up with? Confusion, because they’ve got two different things coming from two different sources and meeting inside them.
Then God says in verse 2:
“All these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee...”
You know, it’s beautiful to be overtaken by the blessings of the Lord, isn’t it? Some people run after them but I like to live the kind of life where the blessings run after me. I’ll point out to you later that’s really one of the keys.
“Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and in the field.”
“Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.”
Every trip to the supermarket will be a blessing.
“The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy barns, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto...”
You’ll never do anything that isn’t blessed. Verse 11:
“The Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground... [verse 12] The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand...”
You just read through those carefully. There is no area of our lives that is omitted from the blessing of God.
And then just further confirmation. If you look in Deuteronomy 29—but don’t lose 28, we’re going back there. Deuteronomy 29:9. Some statements in scripture are so simple.
“Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.”
Prosper in all that we do. Well, that leaves no room for failure, for frustration, for defeat, for anything but success.
Now, look very briefly at the opposite, the curses for disobedience. Deuteronomy 28 again, verse 29. Please note this is following on verse 15. We ought to read verse 15 because it’s so exactly the opposite.
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God...”
There’s the basic point of departure from God, it’s not listening. Again, I venture to suggest to you if you trace the history of men or tribes or nations that have got away from God, it always begins there. If you cease to listen. It’s very subtle. We can still maintain outward conformity to God’s requirements for a long while after we’ve really ceased to listen. But the problems begin when we do not any longer listen to God. Verse 15, the latter part:
“...all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.”
The list of curses is very lengthy, you might do well to read it for yourself. I think you could find, as I’ve said to people before, that you’re enduring a curse instead of enjoying a blessing. You’re in the wrong list. Let’s look at verse 29. This is just part of the curses.
“And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper...”
What’s that? Curse or blessing? Curse. Not prospering is a curse. Would you say that? Not prospering is a curse.
Only one more and we’re going to stop for this morning. I haven’t got as far as I intended to but I’ve got as far as you can take. Deuteronomy 28:47–48, bearing in mind this is still under the curses.
“Because thou servest not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things...”
Please note that’s the will of God. What is the will of God? That we serve the Lord with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things.
What’s the alternative? That’s painful.
“...therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee...”
Let me point out to you that if the Lord sends your enemies against you, you have no option, you are going to serve them. When Judah transgressed, God said to them, “You’re going to put your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon. You don’t have an option.” They said, “We won’t.” God said, “You will.” I have seen believers who’ve transgressed and rebelled against God. God has turned their enemies loose against them and they have had to serve them. There’s just no alternative. If God says you’ll do it, you’ll do it.
“...therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things...”
Look at that list for a moment. Hunger, thirst, nakedness, want of all things. Picture it. No food, no drink, no clothes, nothing. Sum that up in one word. Poverty. I would say absolute poverty. Which is it? Curse or blessing? Curse.
Let’s say that. Absolute poverty is a curse. Let’s say it again. Absolute poverty is a curse. That’s all we’re going to do this morning.