Christian: you are not promised worldly successBy Matthew Gillham | 02/15/2016 9:44am
Six months leading up to several 45-minute interviews, I knew what I wanted. After a few moments, my tongue-tied language left me without one of a handful of jobs for which I had toiled and prepped. I was frustrated.
“God must have something better in store for you” was a common phrase tossed around, often followed by “there must be an even better job for you waiting in the spring.” If God has something better in store for me, it must mean an even better job.
It seems like the thought is becoming less the exception than the rule, finding its way into casual conversations where our material benefit is more a guaranteed part of the abundance of life Jesus brings. A friend recently told me of a sermon he listened to on the financial benefits of being a Christian. Jesus died on the cross so that you get ... financial security? Death, resurrection and a three-hour Intro to Personal Finances class might be interchangeable at that point.
But we’re treading through dangerous waters. Wedged somewhere in between our American ideals of capitalism and our Bible Belt heritage, some, as Christians, have slowly misinterpreted the promises of God to mean promises for earthly measures.
God does have our best interests at heart. Paul tells the Romans that “all things work together for the good of those who love him (8:32),” and Jeremiah details to the Israelites suffering through years of captivity a promise for “plans to prosper you, not to harm you, and plans to give you a hope and a future (29:11).” It’s nearly impossible to grow up in the church and not see verses like these plastered over the walls of your Sunday School classroom.
But, evident in the rise of the “prosperity gospel,” we’ve taken promises for prosperity, pulled them from context and translated them to mean material success, social influence and financial security. If God truly plans to prosper me, it must be through my definition of prosperity.
Yet, both the “prosperity gospel,” and the subtle miscalculations of Scripture couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the poor who are blessed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and it’s the Lord in whom we are to delight (Psalms 37).
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he states our good is ensured, continues on, citing not financial benefit or social power, but the prophet Isaiah, in saying “we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” That doesn’t sound like any kind of worldly success to me. He continues, stating Jesus’ love makes us even “more than conquerors (Romans 8).” The Scriptures are flooded with these kind of juxtapositions – where one line promises hurt, suffering and pain, and the next promises abundance of life in the midst of impossible circumstances.
God absolutely has something greater in mind for his people – a relationship with his son. Material blessings, social influence, power – all things that aren’t inherently bad – are not promised to Christians. We’ve been tempted to conclude that worldly success is a prerequisite for the promises of peace in Christ Jesus.
I might never achieve any kind of worldly success, be financially stable, have any social influence or anything else I label as good. No, that wouldn’t be a contradiction to what Jesus has promised his followers. If Paul, who was beaten, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and without money, teaches us anything, it’s that the rich abundance of following Jesus isn’t in worldly definitions of success.
So Christians, you aren’t promised material wealth or worldly recognition. You are, however, promised a relationship worth far more.
Matthew Gillham is a senior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.