Does following Christ mean getting health and wealth?
View the cartoon that accompanies this post.
The day after Jesus fed the 5000 many of that same crowd went looking for him, and when they greeted him, he told them, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” He warned them, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26-27a).
Ever since that day, some have wanted to follow Jesus for what they can get out of it. Missionaries to countries of the Far East have a term for such would-be disciples. They call them “rice Christians.” Other seekers swallowed the teaching of tele-evangelists that Jesus promises his followers health, popularity, and prosperity if only they will follow Him. This happens despite Jesus’ own words that those who follow him must surrender to Him all they have, deny themselves daily, and take up their crosses (Luke 14:33 and Luke 9:23).
It is true that Jesus promises His disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, that in their mourning they will be comforted, that their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied, that they will receive God’s mercy, that they will know God and experience his love. The same passage, however, predicts that they will also be insulted, persecuted, and defamed because of Christ (Matthew 5:3-12). Anyone who thinks the path of following Jesus is all roses and no thorns cannot blame Jesus for this misimpression.
Even the Old Covenant wasn’t “health and wealth”
“But,” someone may ask, “what about in those passages in the Old Testament in which God promises health and wealth?” It is true that God does make such promises, and He does so quite explicitly, leaving nothing to be inferred or carefully interpreted. Read Leviticus 26:3-13 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
These promises, however, are in the context of the maintaining of a loving and obedient relationship with God, a relationship that began with the glorious redemption from Egyptian slavery in the Exodus. Having redeemed Israel, God gave them the greatest command, to love Him alone with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Maintaining their relationship with God meant being committed to a holiness that mirrored His own character (see Leviticus chapter 19, which includes the second great command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” v. 18).
God’s design was not that the Israelites receive fiscal and physical blessings in payment for their obedience. He greatly desired to bless those who were in a loving relationship with Him. God had made them His by His gracious saving acts, and they remained His as they fully trusted Him.
Giving in the New Covenant: Three steps
When we look at the principle of giving in the new covenant we find that involves three steps.
Step 1: Not “Give to get”
Jesus does not teach “Give to get,” but He does teach “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38).
Step 2: Give and you will get
This combination of command and promise is not in the context of receiving but one of blessing one’s enemies, praying for those who mistreat you, turning the other cheek, and giving or lending freely (Luke 6:27-30). Jesus follows these exhortations with His famous Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The next paragraph continues the theme of proactive love that involves lending freely without expecting anything back.
How can anyone persist in obeying such counter-intuitive commands without fearing they will run out of the resources to continue? Jesus reassures us that God will provide us with the resources we need. “Give and it will be given to you,” he says, adding, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). This helps you to compensate for when your giving turns out to be non-reciprocal and thankless.
Step 3: Give and you will get to give
Paul takes up this same theme when he urges the Corinthians to keep the promises they have made to be generous for the collection for the poor Christians in Judea (see 2 Corinthians 8-9). He promises that God has designed for equality to be the operating principle within the Body of Christ — not just within a local congregation, but between congregations. He writes, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (2 Corinthians 8:14).
A few verses later, Paul lays down this principle of giving: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). In v. 8, he adds, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
He continues by quoting Psalm 112:9: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” This psalm concerns a person who trusts in the Lord and seeks to obey him. As a result, he becomes a generous, giving person.
In v. 10, Paul promises, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and in large the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11).
God’s true principle is not “Give to get,” but “Give and you will get – to give.” The goal is not getting, but more giving, in order that we might experience the self-sacrificial character of God our father, reproduced in His children by the working of His Spirit.
Want to dive deeper?
Consider 2 Corinthians 8:15, in which Paul quotes Exodus 16:18. The quoted verse refers to what happened when the people first gathered the manna that God miraculously provided to the Wilderness Generation. They were told to gather an omer (about 2 quarts) for each person in their family. When they all measured what they had gathered, some having gathered much and some little, they discovered that “he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
Did God perform a miracle of apportionment or did the people share with one another in a wonderfully efficient and compassionate way? The latter explanation would seem to fit the context of what Paul wants the Corinthians to do, but one could argue for its alternative almost as well.