In prosperity and adversity

A study of Jesus’ teachings indicates that He warned about the perils of material prosperity. Read what the author believes to be these three perils.

Gordon E. Christo, PhD, serves as executive secretary, Southern Asia Division, Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Jesus declared that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). Several theories have been presented to explain what Jesus meant. Two are (1) the “eye of a needle” was the small door set in a huge city gate. Yes, a camel could be forced through such an opening, but it would be quite an accomplishment. (2) Jesus was playing with sounds of two Greek words—kamelos and kamilos. The first means “camel,” and the second denotes a thick rope used to fasten a ship to the dock. Either Jesus meant it was as difficult for a rich person to enter heaven as to squeeze a camel through a door was for humans, or it was as impossible as threading a thick rope through the eye of a needle.

We usually imagine Jesus referring to rich people such as the young ruler who had “great possessions” and approached Him seeking salvation. But the disciples knew that He really meant the lesson was for each of us. Matthew 19:25 says they were greatly astonished. They asked, “Who then can be saved?” (KJV) Who of us would be willing to liquidate all our assets and distribute the money to the needy? We could have more easily accepted His instruction if He had asked us to dispose of our surplus. But every­thing? He could not be serious, could He?

The danger of things

Instead, a study of Jesus’ teachings indicates that He warned about the per­ils of material prosperity for everyone.

What are these dangers?

1.  Material prosperity takes one’s focus away from heaven. Jesus taught that it was not possible to worship God and wealth at the same time (Matt. 6:24). He observed, “ ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ ” (v. 21, NKJV). So if one pursues wealth, it fol­lows that interest in God will deteriorate.

2.  It keeps one selfish. In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus referred to the “ ‘deceitfulness of wealth’ ” and clarified it by indicating that one would never be satisfied but would see further things (Mark 4:19, NIV). We desire a nicer house, a fancier car, and a little higher salary. We never have enough and seldom arrive at a point where we think, Now I have enough. I can start giving away.

3.  It encourages a false sense of security. Jesus narrated a parable of a rich fool who thought to build bigger and bigger barns and then take life easy, eating, drinking, and making merry. He reminded His hearers that death could come suddenly and wreck all of their plans (Luke 12:16–21). A person with limitless money grows to believe that he or she can deal with any situation. They do not need to ask God for it because they can buy it.

Job’s prosperity

Job was perfectly prosperous. His possessions are described in perfect numbers—sevens and threes, and fives and fives that add up to tens—of exact whole numbers in hundreds and thou­sands (Job 1:3). Everything speaks of success beyond imagination. He must have owned extensive fields for his hundreds of oxen to plow. His sheep would have provided wool, meat, and milk. The camels and donkeys would have served to transport his goods near and far. He was the richest person in the East. One can imagine what would be needed today to be labeled the richest person in their half of the world.

Despite his wealth (though Satan would say, because of it), Job was religious. Not only does the narrator describe him as perfect and upright, but God employed the same adjectives to describe him (vv. 1, 8). We might call him a saint. Job functioned as a priest for his children—sacrificing on their behalf, perchance they had sinned (vv. 5, 6). At the end of the story, Job functioned as a priest for the three friends who visited him, and God accepted his mediation on their behalf (Job 42:8, 9).

God rejoiced in Job’s scrupulous and meticulous service. When Satan came to His heavenly court, God proudly drew attention to His model subject with faith­ful service to God. Satan scoffed at Job’s loyalty and accused God of manipulation. Of course, Job would be faithful to God. This was a matter of expediency: Job serves God and God takes care of Job. Satan charged that if God removed the protective hedge around Job and exposed Job to disasters that his loyalty would vanish. The important image here is the “hedge.” Invisible but real, the hedge filtered out threats and only allowed things that contributed to Job’s prosperity and well-being (Job 1:10) to come in.


God granted Satan permission to change the situation. Job had by this time lost his possessions and children. Job could not have known that God had restricted Satan in that he was not to take Job’s life. We can assume that, if given the chance, Satan would have afflicted him with the worst disease pos­sible, ending in death. To have taken Job as close to death as was possible would have suited Satan’s purpose best; Job himself declared that he had escaped by the skin of his teeth (Job 19:20). At this point, no good thing was coming his way, to such an extent that Job described himself fenced, cornered, and unable to escape from calamities. Like Satan, he employed the imagery of a hedge, but this one accomplished the opposite, filtering out everything good and allowing only evil to access him.

Job’s success

In tennis, the players change sides to neutralize any advantage one half of the court may hold. Although both sides of the court are constructed to be as identi­cal as possible, players often have a preferred side from which they feel they perform better. On some amateur tennis courts, the advantage can be significant, which means those on the better side of the court have great advantages over those on the bad one.

For the first part of his life Job had everything in his favor. Whatever he attempted succeeded. His wealth mul­tiplied in the absence of setbacks. Satan accused God of holding Job to the good side of the court and not requiring him to change to the bad side. “Naturally, Job will win,” Satan snickered. “You have got it all fixed.” And he challenged God to move Job to the bad side of the court and see how he would falter and fail. God practically had no choice. He could not keep Job playing on the good side only and still proclaim him a champion. He had to call Satan’s bluff.

Job, of course, won the first set playing from the good side. He had no idea he was changing sides. Behind his back, the court was rearranged. The net, what he called the hedge, changed in character, and he found himself battling the odds as disaster after disaster befell him and his fortunes suffered until he was reduced to abject poverty.

But this match was not about pros­perity but about maintaining faith in God. And Job won by saying, “ ‘The LoRD gave, and the LoRD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LoRD’ ” (Job 1:21, NKJV)

Job won the set, and God pointed it out to Satan. Job should have been restored to the other side at this point. But Satan had a further charge. The hedge was still there. God was still protecting Job. God could not uphold Job as a champion until Satan was given full freedom to test Job’s faith.

So Job stayed on the bad side and was exposed to the full fury of Satan’s attacks. In the first series of tests, Job only had to deal with losing what he had gained. Job realized that what had been taken away had been given to him earlier as a bonus. He had come into the world naked and was willing, if he had to, to go out the same way.

In the final round, Job was tested by Satan; he took away his health, something he had been born with and arguably had a right to. Job responded, after being queried and scolded by his wife, “ ‘Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ ” (Job 2:10, ESV). If we accept blessings, we ought to accept not only the removal of blessings but even curses.

True champions

Praise God that most of us have been allowed to play on the good side for so long. Yet, the story of Job reveals that remaining faithful and loyal to Him in such situations has little merit. On the other hand, there are many who find themselves playing with challenges­ business misfortunes, loss of a job, death of a loved one, lingering disease, and failures of all sort. Winning is not about prosperity or adversity but about maintaining faith in God. One can be on the better side and still lose. Prosperity can lead to a disrupted relationship with God. Similarly, one can be on the bad side and still win. This depends on one’s faith in and loyalty to God.

Whenever we find ourselves playing from the bad side of the court, or even if we get the occasional bad bounce, we need to be alert to the probability that we are being tested like Job. We cannot be declared true champions unless we can win despite adversity, unless we have been tested to the uttermost. We have to be able to declare like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:14). Then God can declare us winners.

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Gordon E. Christo, PhD, serves as executive secretary, Southern Asia Division, Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India.

April 2014

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