Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:7-9
I love God’s truth and when I observe what I believe are doctrinal extremes it grieves my heart. My observation from my many years in the church is that in most instances of extreme teaching the real problem is a heart problem in the teacher.
Proverbs 30 holds the writings of on Agur, the son of Jakeh. I deeply appreciate the heart of this man Agur. He asks the Lord for two things before he dies: Remove far from me falsehood and lying, and give me neither poverty nor riches. Put another way he could have said, “Surround me with your gracious truth and let me live in the abundance of your provision.” That sounds really good to me.
Today the church is plagued with extremes in the teaching on giving and prosperity. There is a lot of very poor exegesis of Scripture among these teachers. Just this week a friend asked me to critique a book that most would put into the category of extreme teaching and there is a lot of poor exegeses. However, I am not going to put this author in the same category of some of the well-known prosperity preachers. He is more balanced than that and has quite a lot of good quality teaching in his book along with some poor exegesis.
It is the nature of much false doctrine that it is built on some truth and then distorted or taken to the extreme and turns truth into error. I had a Bible College Professor who used to say, “Truth out of balance is error.”
Because there is a strong push in the church on the extreme prosperity teaching, there is a natural reaction. It seems that one of the laws of physics often works out in the spiritual world as well. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Many otherwise excellent gospel preachers who are reacting against the prosperity preaching end up becoming extreme about denying what is pretty clear to me in Scripture. God does want to bless and prosper his people in all areas of their lives, not just financially and maybe not even primarily financially. Nonetheless, a financial blessing is something God wants to bestow on his children along with suffering and persecution. It is paradoxical I know.
What is God’s character? One dimension of God’s character is that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
I think it would be wrong to limit this to financial rewards, but how can we eliminate them from the equation? There are many passages of Scripture that speak of material rewards as blessings to God’s people. It seems to me to ignore, or even worse, to oppose them in reaction to extremes on the other side of the teaching is a mistake. If we do that, we fail to declare the whole counsel of God.
So what’s the solution? Let’s look again at Agur’s prayer.
Remove from me falsehood and lying. We might rephrase that as “remove from me false doctrine.” And, I would add false doctrine that either enshrines prosperity as the great measure of faith and God’s blessing or, on the other hand, enshrines saintly suffering as the real proof of faithfulness. Neither is a thoroughly Biblical understanding of our relationship to the physical world.
Then Agur pleads for a middle of the road blessed life. Don’t make me too wealthy because I might forget you Lord and not see you as my real treasure. And, don’t confine me to poverty where maybe I would not trust you for my provision and would steal from my brother rather than love him and thereby profane your name. Agur recognizes his very common humanity which all of us share with him. We are prone to pride and arrogance when we are wealthy and are prone to fear and anger when we are in poverty and feeling wholly inadequate. These attitudes are in themselves sinful but also lead to other sins. So, Agur, in his wisdom, asks God for a middle of the road life, one that is adequately blessed by God in his provision and not subject to falsehood about his relationship to the material world.
What is my point? Don’t get caught up in false teaching about wealth and prosperity on the one hand but also don’t fail to trust God who is the rewarder of those who seek him. If you have material needs, seek him as the rewarder and look to him as your source. Learn to be content like Paul whether you live in abundance or poverty. Godliness with contentment is great gain.