64 million babies have been aborted in the United States since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was passed. What does the Bible teach us about abortion? How does it speak about widows and orphans? What does this teach us about human dignity? In this session of Secret Church 15, Pastor David Platt teaches us that every person was made intentionally in the image of God. He helps us to understand these difficult cultural and political issues according to God’s Word while emphasizing the importance of showing each person dignity and respect.
- Abortion and God
- Abortion and the Church
- Orphans and Widows
- God and the Lonely
- God and the Orphan
- God and the Widow
What then does the gospel have to do with all these cultural issues? My contention is that the gospel has everything to do with all these cultural issues. If you believe the gospel, it radically changes the way you think about abortion, orphans and widows, poverty and slavery, sexuality and ethnicity, immigration, liberty and persecution. People look at this list and they think, “These are social issues or political issues.” But what I want to show you tonight is that before these are social or political issues, these are God issues. These are gospel issues in the sense that we should view them through our understanding of Who God is, who we are, and what we must do in response to Who Christ is and why He’s unique. We need to know why all of this is important, not just on this earth, but for all of eternity. I think we have a tendency to miss this.
Take an issue like abortion, and I’ll be the first to say that for years—not just as a Christian, but as a pastor—I was shamefully silent about this issue. I relegated it to a political issue, and for that matter, an issue for “far right” politicians. But then one day I distinctly remember reading Psalm 78, and I saw a mention of the children yet unborn. That took me to Psalm 139, which we’re going to look at in a minute, and I realized that if I believed the Bible, then moral or political neutrality on the issue of abortion is not an option.
Now, I mentioned earlier that all these different issues are sensitive, and I know there are women listening right now who have had abortions. I’m not going to presume to know what is in your mind or your heart as we address this issue. Abortion has been called a secret killer, not only of babies but of moms whose abortions leave deep wounds and difficult scars. I want to be as sensitive as I can to you and to your heart. I want you to know that we’re going to look at stark truth from Scripture about abortion. We’re going to see the sinful nature of abortion according to the Word. I want to show every single person tonight who’s ever thought about having an abortion or is thinking about having an abortion or who will ever think about having an abortion—I pray that you’ll have the Word lodged so deeply into your heart that abortion won’t even cross your mind as a possibility again.
This is a word not just for childbearing women who are involved in Secret Church, but for all of us in the church, the people of God. We need to see what God’s Word says about abortion. We need to see the severity with which Scripture addresses it so we can think and speak biblically about it and stand boldly against it. I want to be clear, and I want to be compassionate to the countless women and men who’ve been affected by abortion. More than anything, I want you to see, hear, and feel the love of God in the gospel, even when it comes to this issue.
Abortion and God
Let’s start with our primary text, Psalm 139:13–16:
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
Three truths spring from that text that are reinforced all over Scripture. Number one, abortion is an affront to God’s sovereign authority as Creator. “You formed my inward part; you knitted me together.” As we saw in the gospel, God is the Creator of all (Isaiah 40:28). He’s the giver of life. A man and a woman can come together and attempt to produce life, but only God can make that happen. Only God. He’s the giver of life, and He’s the taker of life. It’s God’s prerogative, God’s authority alone to give and to take life. But abortion says we’re in control of life. We decide when someone lives or when someone dies. It’s not true. God is the Creator of all Who makes that call. Abortion is an affront, an offense to God’s authority as the One Who gives and takes life.
Second, abortion is an assault on God’s glorious work in creation. I love Psalm 139. Right after David confesses God’s work in creation, he says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together…I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.” Think about it. The way God creates people compels praise. David says, “The way You formed me, the way You knit me together—it evokes awe and amazement and worship.” And it does, doesn’t it? David writes that in Psalm 139, and he didn’t even know what we know now—how God takes a little egg and a sperm and brings them together, how within two weeks a human heart is beating, circulating its own blood.
Within a few more weeks, fingers are forming on hands. Brain waves are detectable. After six and a half weeks, these inward parts are moving. Two weeks later they have discernible fingerprints. There is discernible sexuality. Kidneys are forming and functioning, then a gall bladder. By the twelfth week, all the organs of a baby’s body are functional, and the baby can cry. All within three months—the first trimester. Heart, organs, brain, sexuality, movement, reaction—God on high doing every single bit of that. It evokes awe, amazement, praise and worship.
So imagine—at that moment, during that time period, inserting a tool, taking a pill, undergoing an operation that takes the life that God is designing and destroys it. Without question, it is an assault on God’s glorious work in creation. There’s no way around this. Most abortions take place between 10 and 14 weeks of gestation, what they say is the “optimal time” for dismemberment and removal. And the beauty of what God is doing, the intricacy of the person God is forming, is ripped apart.
This in large part is the crux of the whole discussion concerning abortion: what’s happening in the womb. The womb contains a person formed in the image of God. According to Psalm 139 and other texts in Scripture like Genesis 1:26–28, God is forming a person in His own image. Unlike any other part of His creation, He’s knitting together a human being.
Now, people have argued and will argue about what full “personhood” is. When does an embryo or a fetus become a “person”? I’m convinced this is the most important question. Virtually every argument in the abortion controversy comes back to this one question: what or who is the unborn? What or who is in the womb? Because once that question is answered, every other question comes into perspective. Think about it. If the unborn is not human, then no justification for abortion is necessary. So some say the unborn isn’t a human person. It’s just a “nonviable tissue mass,” merely part of a woman’s body. Others say it’s a “potential human,” or a human that’s not yet a person—whatever that means.
The reality is, if that’s true, the argument is over. Have the abortion. No justification for abortion would be necessary. On the other hand, if the unborn is human, then no justification for abortion is adequate. This is where I’m indebted to Gregory Koukl, who wrote a great little booklet called Precious Unborn Human Person. People say abortion is such a complex issue; there’s just no easy answers. But if that which is in the womb is a person, then this issue is not complex at all. Think about it. If it’s true that what’s in the womb is a person, then every single justification for abortion falls apart.
People say, “Well, women have a right to privacy with their doctors.” And certainly, we all have a right to a measure of privacy. But no privacy argument is a cover for doing serious harm to another innocent human being. We have laws that invade our privacy all the time when we start harming another person’s welfare. Privacy is not the issue here. “Making abortions illegal forces women into back alleys with coat hangers to do abortions themselves there.” So then, are we saying that if it’s dangerous to kill a person, we should make it easier for them? If it is dangerous to rob a bank, do we make it convenient for bank robbers?
“More children will create a drain on the economy.” So when human beings get expensive, shall we kill them? “Women should have the freedom to choose.” Some things, sure, but not all things. Yes, we have the freedom to choose whether or not to have children, but we don’t have the freedom to simply eliminate toddlers or teenagers if they’re inconvenient to us. No one has the freedom to kill a child—if it’s a child, right? Koukl mentions a little girl named Rachel, the daughter of family friends of his. Listen to this:
Think of a little girl named Rachel. Rachel is two months old, but she is still six weeks away from being a full-term baby. She was born prematurely at 24 weeks, in the middle of her mother’s second trimester. On the day of her birth Rachel weighed one pound, nine ounces, but dropped to just under a pound soon after. She was so small she could rest in the palm of her daddy’s hand. She was a tiny, living, human person. Heroic measures were taken to save this child’s life. Why? Because we have an obligation to protect, nurture, and care for other humans who would die without our help—especially little children. Rachel was a vulnerable and valuable human being. But get this: If a doctor came into the hospital room and, instead of caring for Rachel, took the life of this little girl as she lay quietly nursing at her mother’s breast, it would be homicide. However, if this same little girl—the very same Rachel—was inches away resting inside her mother’s womb, she could be legally killed by abortion.
That makes no sense. It’s utterly ludicrous if this is a person, if this is a child in the womb. Everything revolves around what’s happening in the womb, and God’s Word is crystal clear: the womb contains a person being formed in the image of God. You cannot believe God’s Word and deny that. Once that is realized, there is absolutely no adequate justification for abortion. One of the wonderful things Psalm 139 does is it gives us a glimpse into what God sees and what God is doing in the womb. When we read it, we realize that while the unborn is visibly hidden from man, he or she is never hidden from God. He’s seeing. He’s working. He’s forming. He’s knitting. He’s creating. He’s nurturing. He’s shaping and crafting in a way that evokes awe and praise. And abortion is an assault on that work of God. The way God creates people compels praise.
And all of God’s works are wonderful. Psalm 139:14, “Wonderful are your works.” This is key, because much of the contemporary defense for abortion involves denying or assaulting that reality. Abortions here and around the world happen because childbearing is seen as an inconvenience. It’s costly and inadvisable for women in certain situations to undertake. The advancement of medical technology allows the detection of sexuality, which is huge in some countries like China. There they have a “one child” policy, so it’s advantageous to have a boy, and girls are aborted. Or in India—where it’s more expensive to have a girl because you lose money on their dowry—girls are also aborted.
In additional to sexuality, disabilities can be determined. It’s possible to determine whether a baby in the womb has Down’s Syndrome or some particular disease that will affect their life. Should abortion be permissible in these circumstances? Not if you believe Psalm 139:14. Not if you believe all of God’s works are wonderful. Because when you believe this, when you know this, you know that God’s work is wonderful—even or especially in the case of disability.
It’s all over Scripture. In John 9:1–3, a man is born blind. The crowds ask, “Whose fault is that?” Jesus says, “This is not his or his parents fault. This happened so that the wonderful works of God might be revealed to and through him.” God did this so that one day this man could see and declare and delight in His glory.
Here’s the deal. I don’t presume in any way to know all the difficulties that are involved with disabilities. A few years ago Heather and I ventured into a journey to adopt through a special needs program in China, and our eyes were opened to all the orphans who had disabilities in the world. You have to think of the many children—in large part because of their disability—who were never even born into the world, but who were murdered before then.
One article in ABC News from a pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital in Boston said an estimated 92% of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies. 92%. We deny the wonderful work of God even—and especially—in the case of disabilities. God has a design and a desire to use everything for the good of His people and the glory of His name. It is wrong to play God in any situation by saying, “I know what is better than You.”
God’s works are wonderful, even and especially in the case of disability, and even and especially in the midst of difficulty. God delights in taking difficult circumstances—even evil circumstances—and turning them into good—Genesis 50:20. He takes all things—even what seem to be tragic things—and works them together for good. This is Who God is—Romans 8:28.
At this point some people ask, “What about cases of incest or rape? Is abortion justifiable then?” And again, I cannot presume to know what it’s like to be in that situation. I shudder at the thought of this in my wife, or any other woman for that matter. I will not in any way presume to know the physical and emotional toll that brings—not just upon the woman but upon the family. But come back to the fundamental question: is the baby in the womb a person? And if so, that changes everything.
Would you murder a child who’s out of the womb because they were conceived by rape? Of course, you wouldn’t. Then why would you murder a child in the womb because they were conceived by rape? Why should a child pay for his father’s crime—Deuteronomy 24:16? How do we treat an innocent child who reminds us of a terrible experience? With love and mercy.
People ask, “What about the emotional toll on a woman?” Again, I don’t want to treat that lightly in any way, but just think about it. If the rapist were caught, would we allow the woman to murder the rapist in order to have emotional relief? No. Then why would we allow her to murder her innocent child in order to have emotional relief? I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying this is easy at all. But I am saying this because Scripture is saying this: God has a record of taking the most evil, painful, horrible circumstances and turning them into joy and good and life. He took Joseph’s brothers’ attempt to murder him and turned it into saving an entire people.
Look at the story of incest between Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 and the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1. God put the child of incest into the family line of the Son of God. Isn’t this the message of the gospel? God takes unimaginable evil and turns it into ultimate good. God takes the murder of His Son and turns it into the means of our salvation. We can trust this God. You can trust this God.
The third truth concerning God and abortion is this: abortion is an attack on God’s intimate relationship with the unborn. Hear the intimacy in David’s words. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God is not relating to an “embryo” there, but to a person. His relating to that person from conception, from the forming of inward parts, is astoundingly intimate.
Listen to how Scripture describes God’s relationship with the unborn. He fashions them (Job 31:15). He values them (Exodus 21:22–25). He knows them (Jeremiah 1:5). He relates to them (Psalm 22:9–10). He calls them (Galatians 1:15). He names them (Isaiah 49:1): “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” He anoints them (Luke 1:15, 44) where he’s talking about John the Baptist. Do you see the intimacy here that God has with a baby in the womb?
And in the process, then, do you see how serious abortion is? Abortion is not primarily a social issue or political issue or a women’s issue or a children’s issue or a health issue. Yes, it’s all those things, but before that it’s a God issue. It’s an affront to God’s character, an assault on God’s work, and an attack on God’s relationship with precious babies that He’s creating.
What Does the Bible Say About Abortion and Orphans: Abortion and the Gospel
As a result, abortion is a gospel issue. So how does God respond to all this? We’ve seen what we have done to God, how in abortion we offend God’s character and debase His work. So what does God do in response to abortion? Two things I want to point out that we saw in the gospel. One, God is the Judge of sin. He is a righteous Judge (Genesis 18:25, Romans 2:6). As a righteous and good Judge, God hates the taking of innocent life, and He judges all who take innocent life.
Which means mothers who have aborted babies stand under the judgment of God. Fathers and friends who have encouraged abortion stand under the judgment of God. Grandparents and others who have supported abortion stand under the judgment of God. Doctors who have performed abortions stand under the judgment of God. Leaders who have permitted abortion stand under the judgment of God. This includes pastors who have counseled people to have abortions.
As a side note, the only time medical action like we’re talking about here would be justified is in the case where obviously a woman’s pregnancy would kill her—like tubal pregnancies. Obviously it’s better for one human to live, a mother, than for two humans to die, a mother and her child. The intent there obviously is not to kill a child but to physically save a life, and the tragic, unavoidable result is the death of that child. I think it’s a given—I just want to make sure it’s out there.
But apart from that, no biblical warrant exists for pastors to counsel people to have abortions. So God will judge leaders, including pastors and legislators and others who work to make abortion possible—which includes the current President of the United States, whom I respect and pray for, but who has proactively and is proactively aggressively working to keep the murder of innocent children legal.
We’re going to talk about the role of government more specifically when we get to religious liberty, but for now I just want to draw your attention to Romans 13:1–4, where Paul addresses the role of civil authorities and our responsibility to civil authorities. The Bible very clearly teaches that government is given by God for the good of people. The government exists under the authority of God and is instituted by God to be a terror to bad conduct. So those who do good are approved by the government—that’s God’s design.
So the primary purpose of government in the design of God is to protect and promote the good of its people. The government does that by making and enforcing laws, which leads to the second purpose of government: the legislation of morality. Government is given by God to affirm the good and to condemn the bad. It’s what Romans 13:3 is all about—to insure justice and to promote good for people. That’s foundational.
Yet, many people say it’s not the state’s job or the job of government to legislate morality. But that’s a sham argument, and we all know it. The state does have the responsibility of legislating morality, saying that stealing is wrong, lying is wrong, murder is wrong, and a host of other things are wrong. When it comes to the issue of abortion, people immediately say, “Well, we shouldn’t take someone’s right to choose away.”
But the government exists to take people’s right to choose away. You can’t choose to steal. If you do, there will be consequences. You can’t choose to do a whole host of things for which there are laws against—and this is good that the government says these things. If everyone chose to do whatever they wanted to do, the inevitable result would be anarchy. We would all be free to do whatever we want.
It’s not good. It is the basis upon which many—even many in the church—are saying, “Well, maybe I wouldn’t have an abortion, but I don’t think we should take someone else’s right to choose away from them.” We take people’s right to choose away from them every day in society, and that is really good for all of us. It’s good for us to say, “No one has the right to do evil.” And it’s absolute moral silliness, cultural suicide, to say that everyone should have a right to do whatever they choose to do.
So this is where I want to call you, Christian, out of a muddled middle road that says, “Well, I think we shouldn’t impose morality on somebody else.” I want to call you to realize we impose morality on others every day, and that’s a good thing for us all. When it comes to evil, it’s right for us to oppose it—to wisely, graciously, firmly, humbly, boldly and compassionately oppose it. To say you’re pro-choice begs the question: pro-choice about what? Whether you have Mexican or Chinese food? Where you live? What kind of car you drive? Of course you’re pro-choice. But you are not pro-choice about rape. You are not pro-choice about burglary. You’re not pro-choice about kidnapping. So are you pro-choice about killing children?
This is what I didn’t realize for so long, but I realized when I came face to face with God’s Word that moral or political neutrality here is not an option. Which led me to realize that Christians who have done nothing about abortion stand under the judgment of God—and I have been the chief of sinners on this one. God brought me to realize, in a way that I pray we will all realize, that there is a battle raging in our culture and in cultures around the world. And if I or you—if we sit idly by while millions of individuals, people in the image of God around us, are dismembered and destroyed, then we are directly avoiding God’s command to speak and to work on behalf of the weak, the oppressed and the innocent among us. Randy Alcorn put it best. “To endorse or even to be neutral about killing innocent children created in God’s image is unthinkable in the Scriptures, was unthinkable to Christians in church history, and should be unthinkable to Christians today.”
God is the Judge of sinners, but thankfully that is not all. Ladies and gentlemen, God is also the Savior of sinners. He’s the Judge. He hates abortion. He’s the Savior. He loves sinners. So let me encourage you—please hear this. To anyone, everyone, who has aborted a child, supported abortion, encouraged abortion, performed abortion, permitted abortion or done nothing about abortion—know this. Hear this. Feel this. Lodge this deep within your mind and your soul: God forgives entirely. Entirely. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11–12).
To every woman in this gathering who has had an abortion, please hear this. Christ has paid the price for your abortion. He’s endured the penalty for your abortion. God forgives entirely. He heals deeply. God does not desire you to live your life in pain and regret, but in peace and in joy. Yes, yes, to hate the sin of your past—that’s a good thing in every area of our life. The pain of sin from the past is often a powerful deterrent to sin in the future for all of us. But that pain should not, cannot, rob you of the peace God has designed for you in the present. Remember what Jesus said to the woman who lived an immoral lifestyle: “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:47–50).
He heals deeply. He restores completely. Hear Romans 8:1. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Believe this: in Christ you are not guilty anymore. There’s no condemnation for you. You do not walk around with a scarlet “A” on your chest. You’re forgiven. God does not look at you and see the guilt of abortion. He looks at you and sees the righteousness of Christ. This is true if you’ve had one abortion or five abortions. If you’ve medically performed thousands of abortions or legally permitted millions of abortions. We’re like the thief on the cross: “Today in paradise.” Not to dwell on past sin, but to enjoy permanent mercy.
God forgives entirely. He heals deeply. He restores completely, and He redeems fully. We’ve seen this already, but hear it again. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things…” All. That’s a big three-letter word there. “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God will turn evil into good. I know people—women and others—who are ministering to others out of the pain of past abortion and the pleasure of present grace to serve other women and to oppose abortion.
Abortion and the Church
This is where I want us to see abortion and the church. Out of all that we’ve seen, I hope it’s clear that moral neutrality is a myth when it comes to this issue. Ephesians 5:11—we must not only avoid works of darkness, but we must act against them. So Christian, what does this mean for your life, for your family? I want to call you to act in these ways, based on what we see in the Word.
First, look around and learn the facts about abortion. See the pictures of abortion. I’ve not shown pictures here tonight, but I believe we need to know, we need to see, we need to feel the horror of abortion. Think about it this way. Did people need to hide from images in concentration camps in Nazi Germany because it was just too painful for them to watch? No, they needed to see it. So we don’t need to hide from images. We need to feel the weight of an unborn child’s humanity, to realize the horror of what’s happening in medical clinics all across our culture every day.
We need to learn, we need to see, and we need to listen to the victims of abortion—to walk with one another in our churches in such closeness that brothers and sisters will find in you an open ear to talk about what is often hidden below the surface. One estimate is that 95% of people in the church who have lost a child through abortion have never really come to terms with it. I don’t know how you measure statistics like that, but if it’s anywhere near true, that makes me very concerned pastorally—assuming there are a number of people here in this gathering tonight who have never told a single person they’ve had an abortion, and they’re suffering in silence.
So, Christians, look around. Listen. Brothers and sisters, step forward and share your burdens from the past with your brothers and your sisters. Those burdens are not intended to be carried alone. And then if you are now or in any point in the future even beginning to contemplate abortion, share your struggles in the present with your brothers or sisters. Step forward and listen to wise, loving, tender, truthful biblical counsel.
And then to all of us, speak up to God in prayer. This is a battle that is intense in our culture and in the church, and it necessitates prayer and fasting. Speak up before the government, particularly if you’re in a country where you have a say in democratic processes. Use your voice. Speak up. And finally, reach out through giving to pro-life causes and ministries, through serving unwed and underage mothers, through volunteering at pregnancy centers, through supporting abortion alternatives, and through adopting unwanted children. Show a watching culture that sees children as unwanted liabilities—show them that children are wanted and loved by God.
I’ll close this section with a story of a little girl who was born in a country where girls are not popular. Her mom, though, decided not to have an abortion. She took that newborn little girl, wrapped her in a light blue cloth, placed her in a brown paper box, and in the middle of the night laid her in front of an orphanage. She was found the next morning. A search was made for the mother to no avail.
But praise God, this little girl lived. And every time I come home and walk into my house, this little girl runs up to me, jumps in my arms, and screams, “Daddy’s home!” And she also cooks omelets and makes smoothies. And I praise God that she wasn’t aborted, that she was ultimately cared for by the Father to the fatherless and the Defender of the weak—the Defender even of the unborn. This gospel has everything to do with abortion.
Orphans and Widows
This leads to the second issue: orphans and widows. I’ve shared our story many times, and many people know it, but I’ll give a quick recap. My wife Heather and I have four kids. We tried for about five years to have kids, to no avail. This led us down the path to adoption, which at first we thought was second best, but we realized quickly that this is just as “best.” We adopted our first son, Caleb, from Kazakhstan, whose ninth birthday is Sunday. We got back home with Caleb, and two weeks later found out to our surprise that Heather was pregnant. So Joshua, our second son, came along nine months later.
We knew we wanted to adopt again. Obviously we discovered at that point that we were able to have children biologically, but for three years God didn’t provide children that way. We started the adoption process again, and God led us to China to adopt our daughter. We came back from China, and three months later we found out that Heather was pregnant again with our third son Isaiah. So Heather’s doctor said, “If you adopt four, you’ll have eight.” We said, “Oh. I don’t know if that’s the way it works, bro.”
When people hear our story, they’ll tell us, “I hear about that happening all the time. There must be some emotional trigger or something physical that causes that.” We simply don’t agree—not that I know all of the factors at work. But I am convinced that God withheld children from us in one way in order to lead us to an obscure city on the other side of world in Kazakhstan, to a little boy we would never have met otherwise. We celebrate his birthday together this week. And He did this because He loves the orphan.
And for that matter, He loves the widow. In Deuteronomy 10:17–18, just hear the majesty and the power of God described and see it connected with the orphan and the widow. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice…” How does He show His might and how awesome He is? By executing “justice for the fatherless and the widow.”
God and the Lonely
All over Scripture it talks about God and the lonely. When I use the term “lonely,” I’m referring specifically to those who have lost, or maybe never had, a significant member of their family, namely a mom or dad or a husband. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary,” i.e. those who are alone, “in a home” (Psalm 68:5–6).
I wish we had time to dive into the book of Ruth, as it’s probably my favorite book in all the Old Testament. There we see God seeking the lonely as His family. Boaz is a reflection of God’s character, seeking after a widow—really two widows, Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi—as his own family. He saved the lonely from harm, protecting Ruth in his field and providing for her and Naomi. He serves the lonely at his table. Ruth unexpectedly finds herself on her first date at Boaz’s barley grill, eating bread and dipping morsels together in the wine. It’s romantic, and it’s all followed in the next chapter by an interesting night on the threshing floor.
But this all sets the stage for one day when Boaz showers the lonely with his grace as a picture of how God showers the solitary with His grace. It’s a beautiful story of God’s design to care for the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the lonely as His own.
What Does the Bible Say About Abortion and Orphans: God and the Orphan
With that stage set, let’s think about God and the orphan. All throughout the Old Testament, God places priority on care for the fatherless. Psalm 10:17–18. Psalm 27:10—I love this verse. “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” This is why in the New Testament we see God commanding the church to care for the orphan and the widow. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Very simply, I want you to think about how the gospel uniquely compels care for orphans. Think about gospel foundations. Even our in lives as Christians, by God’s grace we’ve been adopted as sons of God, which is what Galatians 4:5 teaches, “…that we might receive adoption as sons.”
If you look at those two verses, you see that adoption requires that somebody comes at the right time, possesses the right qualification and has the right resolve. You don’t accidentally adopt. We didn’t stumble into Kazakhstan. That was pretty intentional. You don’t adopt accidentally; you adopt purposely—which is exactly what God has done. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4–5) Praise God, He determined to redeem us. He died to rescue us, to adopt us.
By God’s grace we’ve been adopted as sons of God, and for God’s glory we’ve been given the privileges of sonship. You might wonder why we’re just talking about sons here, and not children generally. Yes, I know we’re talking about men and women, but the whole picture in the New Testament and the New Testament cultural background is with sons who receive full inheritance in a family. That’s why we see sons mentioned like this, because men and women together—we all have full inheritance, full privileges of sonship.
This is the beauty: position is not what this is all about, as great as that is. Yes, the gospel could stop here, and we would fall to our knees and worship. But the gospel doesn’t stop there. The gospel doesn’t just say, “Justified and forgiven—and now go on with your life.” The gospel doesn’t just say, “You’ve got a new position.” Instead, the whole picture is that we have privileges we enjoy.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Let me assure you, Caleb and Mary Ruth—when they became our son and daughter—that was not the end of the story. That was the beginning of an entirely new story. These two children know that I’m their father and they’re my children—not because of the love we showed years ago in traveling to adopt them, but because of the love we showed them this morning when they got up out of bed.
So it is with God. Yes, your position with Him is based on the day when you first trusted in Him to save you. But your life is based on a living relationship with Him, in which He showers you with new mercies every single morning, all day long and into the night. Christian, moment by moment, day by day, we live in the reality that God is our Father. We pray, “Our Father in heaven.” He loves us. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). He understands us. He provides for us. You have no reason to worry about anything. Your Father places value on you as His child.
He loves to forgive us. Do we still sin against Him? Dreadfully, yes. But praise God we have a Father who forgives. He disciplines us—and this is good. It’s good for me to discipline my children. They’ve disobeyed a couple of time—just a couple of times, the four of them combined. But, ah, when they disobey me, it’s good for me to discipline them. And it’s good for God to discipline us. He leads us. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
He is our Father, and we are His children—which means we have a new name. We’re children of God—we have a new spirit, His Spirit. We have access to the Father’s presence. We can go to Him any place, any time, now and forever. We have access to His presence, and we have an inheritance in the Father’s Kingdom. Oh, Christian brother and sister, you do not need to run after the things, the pleasures, the pursuits, or the possessions of this world. You have a Kingdom waiting for you from a Father in heaven Who is delighted to give it to you (Romans 8:16–17).
What are the implications of this? They’re clear. We worship God our Father. We pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). We glorify God our Father. We imitate God our Father. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). We obey God our Father. And we reflect God our Father. He’s Father to the fatherless and protector of widows—so we “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).
Do you know what’s interesting? The word “visit” in this verse is used 11 times in the New Testament and a few times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It literally means to look out for someone. So it’s not just to go visit somebody casually, but to visit someone with the responsibility to care for them with a concern for their wellbeing and a commitment to caring for their wellbeing. This is what the religion God our Father accepts as pure and faultless: to care for and take responsibility for orphans and widows in their distress.
Look at other places where that word is used. In the midst of Israel’s wanderings in Egypt, Joseph promises his brothers before he dies that God will visit them. He’ll care for them and take responsibility for bringing them home (Genesis 50:24–25). In Psalm 8:4 and Psalm 106:4, the same word is used to describe how God will visit His people to save them. In the New Testament, in Luke 1:68, you see that in Christ God has visited and redeemed His people. Luke 1:76–79, God brings light into the darkness when He visits them from on high.
Jesus is teaching in Luke 7:16, and the people exclaim, “God has visited his people!” Acts 7:23 refers to how Moses visited the children of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt to lead them out into freedom. Acts 15:14 recounts how God was visiting the Gentiles and came to provide salvation for them. Paul told Barnabas he wanted to visit the churches they planted to care for them and look after them (Acts 15:36). When you get to Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus tells the story of people who were visiting the sick or those in prison. It’s a powerful statement. He says, “When you visited them, you visited Me.”
So this word “visit” is a great word: to seek out someone in order to care for them. And God says, “This is what you do for orphans.” When you understand that word in James 1:27, you realize that God is serious about His people looking after the orphans. It’s interesting—this word also has in the Greek a couple of antonyms, opposites. Those antonyms are to forget, to willfully and completely neglect, or to refuse to look after. So the picture is that not to look after is to neglect, not to care for is to forget. The options are clear: either we visit orphans or we neglect orphans. Either we care for orphans, or we forget orphans. And with millions of orphans in the world, ignorance is inexcusable.
Without question, one of the lessons I learned in the adoption process in my own life—I had read the statistics and seen the numbers of orphans in the world, and they’re overwhelming—but they were just numbers to me until I got to an orphanage in Kazakhstan, and I saw children playing outside. I walked past the rooms inside, and suddenly those numbers on a page came alive in my heart, and I realized this was Caleb sleeping in one of those cribs, and it was Caleb who was included in those numbers.
All of a sudden the numbers became very real and very personal, and I learned that orphans are easy to forget until you see their faces. They’re easy to forget until you know their names. It’s easier to pretend they’re not there until you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes. So church, are you willing to see their faces, are you willing to get to know their names, and are you willing to hold them in your arms? As a result, are you willing to look after them? In light of this word “visit” in James 1:27 and its antonyms, it’s clear that inaction is action.
May we not forget or overlook why. It’s because of the gospel. This is huge. Ministry to orphans is not mere humanitarianism. This is not about altruism. This is important, because there is a lot of orphan care that’s going on today—particularly in our culture and even church culture—that in many ways is selfish and humanistic. It’s almost trendy or cool to care for orphans. Then people start the process of adoption or otherwise, because it seems attractive based on a moving video of needy children. Or maybe they just like the thought of having an adorable family picture to send out with the Christmas card—a cute little child from another country.
Here’s the problem, though. What are you going to do when that child you adopt, that child you bring into your home, is not so cute—when that child has fetal alcohol syndrome, and can’t even sit still for your family picture without throwing a tantrum? What happens when that child’s mom is addicted to crack cocaine, and as a result that child has permanent brain damage that affects their behavior for the rest of their life—and their teenage years turn into a living nightmare for you and your family? What happens when the years that child has spent in an institutional orphanage by themselves causes them not to know how to even begin to receive love, so every time you try to show it they resist it? What happens when the child you adopt is dangerous?
Mere altruism won’t carry you in those circumstances. Only the gospel will, because in the gospel you realize there was a day when you yourself were a child of wrath, filled with evil desires, unable to control your sinfulness and in need of a Savior Who would love you through the death of your wickedness—and He did. By His grace, He adopted you as His own.
So now when you see a child nobody else wants, because nobody else can even begin to handle the issues that are found there, you care for that child—why? Because of the cross of Jesus Christ. Don’t miss this. We care for orphans not because we’re rescuers. We’re not a group of good, altruistic people out to be saviors for orphans around the world. That’s not what drives orphan ministry. We care for orphans not because we’re rescuers. We care for orphans because we are the rescued. We’re the ones who found ourselves in a pit of sin and death, with nothing in us to attract Christ to us, headed to an eternal hell. And God reached down and saved us and called us His children.
So now it just makes sense to love the unlovable, to care for the uncontrollable. It just makes sense to persevere through long hours and long days and long weeks and long years in the challenges foster care and adoption may bring. I don’t mean to paint an awful picture here or orphans here or around the world. Some adoption processes are smooth as can be for both the family and the child. But I know of families at the Church at Brook Hills that can testify that this is not an easy path. Teenagers across the Church at Brook Hills have grown up as orphans in difficult circumstances, and adjusting to families has not been easy for them.
The point is, regardless of where we’re born or what our family background is, we all need the gospel. Not one of us is a rescuer. Christ is the rescuer, and we all need to be rescued by Him, and then we become a reflection of Him.
God and the Widow
God and the orphan leads right into God and the widow. Just as God places a high priority on care for the orphan, He places a high priority on care for the widow. James 1:27 is not just about orphans, but also the widows. Let’s look at gospel-driven foundations and gospel-driven instructions here. First, gospel foundation. They’re all over Scripture. We see the care of the Father for the widow. He’s the protector of the widows. Exodus 22:22–24 is really strong. “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword.” Deuteronomy 10:17–18, and on and on and on.
We see the care of the Father for the widow, and we see the compassion of the Son for the widow. Christ comes on the scene in the New Testament, and care for the widow is evident in His life and ministry. The widow at Nain in Luke 7:11–17. Hear His warning to the scribes and Pharisees and His commendation of the widow in Mark 12:38–44. We see His care for Mary in John 19:25–27. The life of Christ reflects the heart of the Father, which is intended by God to be translated over to the church.
See the concern of the church for the widow that is evident in the early church in Acts 6:1–6, where they choose leaders to make sure to attend to the needs of widows. There’s the picture of Tabitha the widow in Acts 9:36–41. In addition to instructions like James 1:27, we come to explicit instructions in 1 Timothy 5:3–16, where Paul says, “Honor widows who are truly widows.” He goes on to give almost a whole chapter of specific instructions, saying, “Honor destitute widows through support.” Bruce Winter describes the background of how widows became destitute in the first century. Notice in light of that context that there are qualifications on which widows the church should care for.
Paul doesn’t just say, “Anyone who’s a widow—do this for them,” and the church should do that for every widow in the world. Instead, Paul specifically addresses care for widows in the church. He says some of them need to be supported, but here are the qualifiers. They must be devoid of relatives. “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4).
Paul is specifically talking about a widow who is truly all alone and doesn’t have any physical family to support her. If she does, the Bible says, then that family should support her. So sons and daughters biblically support their parents and grandparents. A widow’s children and grandchildren have that primary responsibility—or other members of her family. There’s a clear mandate here to Christian families to care for widows if there are widows in your family. This pleases God and demonstrates the gospel.
And it also relieves the church. In other words, the church is not intended to be the first line of defense. Family is to take precedence whenever possible. So a widow must be devoid of relatives to support her, and she must be dependent on God and set her hope in God (1 Timothy 5:5), trusting in Him (Jeremiah 49:11)—much like the widow at Zerephath in 1 Kings 17:8–16—and she must be devoted to prayer. Paul says, “She continues in supplications and prayer night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5), not self-indulgent but Christ-centered. The picture is wonderful here—the images of Christian widows with a unique devotion to prayer, uniquely given to prayer without ceasing, like Anna the prophetess. Susan Hunt notes that older women who are widows and no longer have responsibilities for raising children should be devoted all the more to prayer and intercession, as the Word instructs.
Churches should support widows in situations like this financially, physically and otherwise. They should honor destitute widows through support, but then the Bible says they should enlist the older widows for service (Titus 2:3–5). In 1 Timothy 5:9–10, Paul addresses a unique group of widows that are “enrolled.” There’s debate about what Paul is talking about there, but it seems that Paul is addressing older widows whom he’s calling to service in the church—much like in 1 Timothy 3—and he’s putting qualifications on how they might serve in that capacity.
He said they must be mature women. So he’s talking there specifically about older women—he mentions in 1 Timothy 5 at least 60 years of age. It’s probably not a hard and fast rule, but more of a reference to women who are beyond the ability to work and support themselves, and maybe less likely to remarry, which we’ll talk about in a second. The Bible says they must be mature women who have been faithful wives, who have cared for children, who are hospitable hosts and humble servants, unselfish, kind and devoted to good works.
Paul is saying there’s a unique opportunity for widows like this to serve the church—to lead out in service to the church. He’s calling widows to maximize their time on earth through service in the church. At the same time, he’s calling the church to honor widows by supporting them as they do that. Then you get down to verse 11 in 1 Timothy 5, where Paul talks about younger widows. He says to encourage younger widows to marry.
Again, Paul is addressing specific circumstances in 1 Timothy, and we know that because other times—like in 1 Corinthians 7, which we’ll talk about later—Paul seems to encourage single women to stay single. So the background here is important. You have false teaching that is going around in Ephesus where women were being encouraged by false teachers to avoid marriage, to neglect their roles and responsibilities in the home, and as a result, you have women—including many younger widows—who are causing problems in the church. Paul says very pointedly two things. First, widows must avoid laziness, and they must abhor gossip—because apparently, that was what was happening there in Ephesus.
I think it’s important for us to learn from this text that there are differences between younger widows and older widows. Younger widows have a greater likelihood of remarrying than older widows. It’s not that younger widows are commanded in the New Testament, “You have to remarry.” But the New Testament is teaching that it is good to remarry, they’re free to remarry and to carry out the privileges and responsibilities of a wife and mom in another marriage. I know that’s a struggle for many who sometimes wonder, “Is it okay to remarry?” I believe Scripture is saying very clearly it’s good.
It’s one of the primary reasons Paul says don’t enroll younger widows in that particular type of service because they’re more likely to remarry and be unable to carry out that service that’s unique to widows. So younger widows are simply more likely to remarry than older widows. But even if you’re a younger widow and you don’t remarry, Paul is saying, “Avoid idleness and gossip. Spend your life for the good of your family and church. If you need support, look first to your family and then to the church—and God, the defender of the widow, is committed to providing for your every need.”
And then for older widows who may be less likely to marry—it’s certainly not that it’s wrong to remarry, but it may be less likely—Scripture is encouraging you to seek the Lord diligently in prayer and to serve the church with the unique opportunities that are before you. In the end, the gospel compels families to care for their relatives. In the words of John Calvin, “Before the church has to carry the burden, let the children do their duty.” Care for your relatives, and then for those who have no relatives, the gospel compels churches to care for the widow (1 Timothy 5:16). For both younger widows and older widows, the church—the body of Christ—should go out of its way to make sure widows in their midst are loved and supported and nourished and encouraged and cared for and provided for.
Let me put all this together. I shared a little about adoption in our family. Just about ten years ago, I received a devastating call from my brother that my dad—my best friend in so many ways—had just unexpectedly died from a heart attack. I can still feel the pain I had that night and how it progressed in the days that followed in a way that periodically comes back unexpectedly on various days. But amidst the severity of grief in those moments, I also experienced the comfort of God’s presence as the people of God immediately surrounded my brothers, my sister, and my mom in powerful ways.
I can still remember specific people hugging me and praying for me, driving me to Atlanta, friends who came to visit my family, who went out of their way to be at that funeral. Even today, years later, I receive texts, emails, and calls from people who take the time to pray for and encourage me in ways my dad would have. The family and I have said continually that we could not imagine going through that grief without the church around us.
I am convinced that God has uniquely designed His church to care in these ways for the orphan and the widow. I’ve seen it in the church God has given me the privilege to pastor. I’ve seen it in my own family. I’ve seen it in widows and families who’ve stepped up to foster care, in families who’ve adopted children, and in families who’ve supported those who are adopting or doing fostering. The church, by the grace of God, has unique resources from God to care for the orphan and the widow, and we must take seriously that responsibility to reflect the love of the Father to the fatherless and the Protector of the widow to the culture around us, Christ-called to action in light of orphans and widows.
All right, let’s hit one more—poverty. We’ll go at warp speed. Here we go. Not that we’ve been going slow necessarily, but here we go.
Some essential questions we need to ask ourselves in light of the massive needs we talked about at the beginning tonight. Are we willing to hear God’s Word, even if it convicts us when we talk about money? We must realize that God’s Word on money is true, that it’s more true than any financial counsel we could get from any financial advisor in the world. We’ve got to start accepting that the Word of God on money is true and God’s Word on money is thorough. Over 2,300 verses address the subject of money, which might surprise us.
We might think, “What does the Bible have to say about money? Maybe we should go to the Wall Street Journal, Fortune or Forbes Money Magazine. Let’s be honest—Scripture is about spiritual life. I need wisdom for financial life, so I’m going elsewhere for financial help there.” Well, God’s Word talks about money more than it talks about faith and prayer or heaven and hell. Why would Jesus talk about money so much? Why would God prioritize money so much? What does God know about money and possessions that we need to know?
God’s Word on money is thorough, and God’s Word on money is clear. Randy Alcorn wrote, “My interactions with people as a pastor, teacher, counselor, and researcher—as well as my observation of my own tendencies—have convinced me that in the Christian community today there is more blindness, rationalization, and unclear thinking about money than anything else.” But it’s not because the Bible is unclear.
Now, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy to understand or apply, but it’s not some minor issue on the side of Scripture. It’s everywhere. Not one of us is going to be able to stand before God one day to give an account for how we used our wealth that He entrusted to us and say, “Well, You really didn’t give me much in Your Word.” Twenty-three hundred verses. Maybe the problem is not that the Bible is unclear on money, but the problem is it’s too clear on money. It’s clear.
At the same time—and it’s not a contradiction—God’s Word on money is complex. So clear doesn’t mean easy. It takes work to look at all God said about money and possessions and then to determine how it applies to our lives. This is not an easy process. And then you add on the infinite number of financial scenarios in our lives and around the world—when it comes to applying this Word, it is complex.
One example is in Luke 12:33, which seems to be a simple command from Jesus. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” That’s a command from Jesus. But then in Hebrews 13:2, the author there commands people to show hospitality—which is likely to refer to hosting strangers in your home. Which begs the question: how can you host strangers in your home if you’ve sold your home? So the task we have is to dive in and say, “What’s this passage saying here? What’s this passage saying there? How can I obey both at the same time?”
So, God’s Word is clear, but it’s complex—and we’ve got to do the hard work of reading and studying and applying the Bible, knowing that it’s going to confront us. God’s Word confronts us, particularly in our culture. It pierces. It commits the unpardonable sin in our day: it makes us feel guilty. There are things here that would make a lot of financial planners—even Christian ones—blush and say, “That’s not wise.” I mean, at one point Jesus commends a poor woman who gives everything she has as being wise, and He condemns a rich man who stores up more and more in barns as unwise.
We would say the exact opposite in our financial books today. In fact, if this Book were written today and judged according to what it says about money and possessions, you would not have much chance of getting it published. And if it was, no one would buy it. This Book is a hard sell. Remember the foundation: we have a Father Who knows what is best for us—far better than what we think ourselves. So let’s resist the temptation at every turn to twist the Word of God to fit our lifestyles. That’s a recipe for foolishness. It’s not just sinful, it’s stupid—and I use that word intentionally. It’s stupid to live according to our own financial counsel instead of God’s.
That’s because, yes, this Word confronts us, but it also comforts us. Psalm 19:7–11 tells us that what God’s Word says is far more valuable than what our money will bring to us, and it will comfort and reward us if we will just listen to it and live by it. God’s Word frees us. We think, “I’d rather just not deal with these issues. I want to live how I’m living. I’m content with doing what I’m doing.” But if we think that—if we think, “I’d rather just be content with the way I’m living now”—I would ask, “Are you really content? Are you really content not listening to God your Father says about these things?”
Can any follower of Christ be content to ignore the words of God? You may be comfortable. You may be even somewhat complacent. But you can’t be content if you’re ignoring God’s Word. This Word is intended to free us and to guide us. Are we willing to hear the Word even if it convicts us, and are we willing to obey the Word even if it costs us? Even if it goes against everything our culture says? Even if it goes against everything even our affluent religious neighbors say?
What Does the Bible Say About Abortion and Orphans: Biblical Foundations
This is a question of biblical foundations, of just taking those core truths of the gospel and applying them to money based on Who God is. Billy Graham said, “Tell me what you think about money, and I can tell you what you think about God.” How does our belief in God inform and transform the way we think about money? We see in Scripture clearly that God is the sovereign owner of all things, and we are His stewards.
Stewardship is not a subcategory in the Christian life; stewardship is the Christian life. There’s nothing you or I have that belongs to us. It all belongs to Him, which means our possessions are His to do with as He pleases. If He says, “Get rid of them all,” we get rid of them all. We’re money managers in this sense. He’s the lead. One day a distraught man furiously rode his horse up to John Wesley, shouting, “Mr. Wesley! Mr. Wesley! Something terrible has happened. Your house has burned to the ground!” Weighing the news for a moment, Wesley replied, “No, the Lord’s house is burned to the ground. That means one less responsibility for me.”
And it’s true. The Gospels are filled with parables, like the one Jesus told in Matthew 25:14–30, that highlight God’s ownership. First and foremost, He has authority over all we own. He has expectations for how it’s to be used. He’s Master and we’re stewards. He gives trust. He designates and entrusts responsibility to us. He’s strict in the sense that He’s serious about what we do with what’s been entrusted to us. And yet He’s generous at the same time, promising blessing and reward to responsible stewards. He’s absent in each of the parables Jesus tells like this. The owner leaves for a while, and then comes back. So the steward knows ultimate accountability is coming. He knows that the owner will return. It may be sooner. It may be later. He can return at any moment, likely when we least expect it.
That’s the image we have of God, and in our stewardship, we’re accountable. We’re accountable to God for how we use all our money. So we must be faithful, focused on serving Him and fearful in a healthy way that fears dishonoring Him. We must work hard with what’s been entrusted to us and be wise about how we use what’s been entrusted to us. And ultimately, we must be ready. The wise steward wakes up every day thinking, “This could be the day the master comes back.” God help us to learn and live this truth. God is sovereign over all things, including every single one of our possessions. We’re stewards, so we work hard to use every dollar He’s entrusted to us for His purposes as we wait for His return.
The second truth is God is the compassionate judge over all peoples, and we are His servants. This is illustrated in the next parable, in Matthew 25:31–46, which shows that in His compassion, God cares for the poor and—as we talked about—God defends the powerless. In His compassion, God does these things, and in His justice God dispense property and possessions to people. So He gives us property and possessions for the care of the poor and the defense of the powerless, which is why all over Scripture God condemns the prosperous who disregard the poor, who take what is given them and ignore those who are in need—Proverbs 21:13, 28:27, Luke 6:24–25.
James 5:1 says, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” It’s not because wealth is bad, but he condemns the wealthy and powerful who are ignoring and oppressing the poor. Knowing this, as His servants, we realize our goal is not luxury in this world. In 1 Timothy 6:17–19 He commands the rich in this present day to be generous, ready to share, rich in good works, setting their hopes not on the riches of this world but on the riches of God. As His servants, our goal is never luxury in this world. Our goal is love for God. We want to love Him more than we want luxury in this world. We want to honor and glorify the Savior of the world, the Defender of the weak, the Provider for the poor—and that radically changes the way we use our possessions.
Which leads to who we are. Here we are, created by God, corrupted by sin. What does Scripture say about our sinfulness as it relates to money and possessions? Here again Scripture is clear. In the hands of sinful men and women, wealth is dangerous. This is hugely important. It’s not that money itself is sinful, or wealth itself is sinful. Money, wealth, things are not good and bad in and of themselves. Think about it. Money can be used to buy a slave, bribe a judge, fund terrorism. The same money can be used to buy a gift, pay a salary, fund a mission.
So it’s not the money that’s good or evil, but it’s the people who are handling the money who are good or evil. Money in the hands of those who are good and God-honoring is positive. Money in the hands of those who are evil and man-honoring is negative. You put that together with what we saw about the sinfulness of man in the gospel, and you realize that in the hands of sinful people, wealth is extremely dangerous. Possessions are extremely dangerous when mixed with a heart that’s prone to center on self. That goes against everything our culture says.
Christians in the United States just don’t believe the Bible on this one. We’re good with seeing possessions as blessings from God. We rarely stop to think that our possessions actually may be barriers to God. But God said they are. They’re dangerous. Think about it. Wealth in a sinful world leads to injustice, where we forget the poor. We all know this. We can carry on our lives in this culture, turning a blind eye to the poor around us in the world. This is what drove me to write the book Radical a few years ago—the reality that I could be a successful church pastor, and everybody could look at me as successful, and turn a deaf ear to the mass poverty around me in the world.
We’re prone to forget the poor. We pretend like they don’t exist. We’re prone to immorality, in which we forget the truth. We ignore the truth about what God’s Word says about money—it’s sinful. And wealth in a sinful world leads to idolatry. Wealth leads us to trust in goods instead of trusting in God. We find our security and our satisfaction in things instead of in God, and we forget our God. This is 1 Timothy 6:9, and Revelation 3:15–20, where Jesus says, “I’ll spit you out of My mouth. You think you’re rich because you have all this stuff. You have no idea the depth of your poverty.”
Now, again, that doesn’t mean money or possessions are bad. We need to see our hearts and our tendencies to misuse money and possessions in different ways. Follow this. In the lives of sinful men and women, asceticism and materialism both pervert God’s design for possessions. Martin Luther once compared humanity to a drunkard, who falls off his horse to the right, gets back up, and falls off to the left.
So there are extremes here to be avoided. In our sinfulness, we’re prone to error on both sides. Asceticism sees money and possessions as sinful, as evil, and so that means we define holiness by avoiding money and possessions. We deprive ourselves of possessions, and so all of a sudden piety becomes poverty, and self-denial actually becomes self-advancement. You deny yourself possessions in order to increase your status before God—which misses the whole point of the gospel.
On the other hand, materialism sees money and possessions as all-satisfying. Materialism takes that which is a good gift from God and turns it into that which is ultimate. Materialism is greed. It’s looking for satisfaction in the next thing, the next gadget, the next purchase, the next nicer house, the finer things. It’s the constant, endless quest for satisfaction that’s never ultimately satiated. It always wants more.
The effects of materialism are spelled out all over Scripture. Materialism blinds us to our spiritual poverty. Everything looks like things are well. We have stuff, but we can’t see the depth of our sin or our spiritual need. Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor, said, “When men prosper in the world, their minds are lifted up with their estates, and they can hardly believe that they are so ill while they feel themselves so well.” That’s scary. Materialism is blinding.
Materialism also brings us worry and anxiety. It leads us down a path of “if only’s.” “If only I get a raise, a better job, nicer car or house, this or that, then I’d be happy.” You’re always looking for more—something new, something else—fostering worry and anxiety. It leads us to endless futility, where we seek fulfillment in more. We’re like drug addicts. We pathetically think our hope lies in just getting one more.
Materialism lures us into self-sufficiency. Why do you need God when you have all the bases covered yourself? The name of the game in our day is financial independence. How do you balance that with spiritual dependence and desperation? You don’t have. You’re not independent. You never will be. You’ll never get a breath without God, much less a dollar. So the very expression “financial independence” is almost blasphemous. We need God, and materialism convinces us we don’t.
Materialism traps us in self-centeredness. We begin to think we have a right to stuff. We deserve it. We earned it. And in this way materialism distracts us from our purpose. Think about good things here. A TV, for example. Is that bad? Not necessarily. I have one, for the record. When you have a TV, that’s not all. You either hook up an antenna or subscribe to some kind of cable. Then you buy the DVD player, and you start renting movies. Then you need surround sound to hear the effects of the movie. And your neighbor gets a bigger TV, so it’s time for your upgrade.
Now it’s not just about money, but time and energy and attention—time taken to watch immorality, time taken from your family or reading the Word or praying or hosting people in your home or serving the poor. The cost of the TV all of a sudden becomes a lot more than that initial price. It can distract.
Or take a boat. Yes, first of all you pay the money. Then you’ve got to justify the cost of the boat, which means you have to be gone on the weekends, which means you miss gathering together with the church. You’re unable to lead a small group because you’re out of town. It’s not that boats or TVs are bad, but think about it. It’s not just the things in and of themselves. It’s the resources we end up pouring into the use of those things that take us away from the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
It distracts us from our purpose, it deceives us in our churches, and ultimately materialism keeps us from the Kingdom. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy…” Nor the greedy. Did you see that? Nor the greedy. We’re going to talk about homosexuality in a bit, but we are hypocrites to the core in our culture if we don’t look inward to see the greed in our hearts at work in our affluent lives in a passage like 1 Corinthians 6:9–10.
Which is why we all need Jesus. We all need Jesus. Remember how He’s unique? See how the gospel uniquely transforms the way we view money and possessions. The incarnation of Christ lays the foundation for generosity in the church. The incarnation. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We see His poverty in the world. He gave up His rights to come to us. He gives us His resources. This is what Jesus has done for you and me.
So now that we’re His people in the world, how do we live? We give up our rights, and we give others our resources. Generosity becomes the overflow of the gospel in our hearts. It’s what 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are all about. When Jesus saves us spiritually, He transforms us materially. When the gospel was first preached in Acts, Jesus invaded 3,000 lives with radical spiritual transformation. People were saved, and the very next verses show the material effect of that. They were living in fellowship with one another, giving to each other, and selling their possessions for each other.
It wasn’t natural for them. That was supernatural, and that’s the point. When Christ fills your life—whether in the 21st century or the 1st century—your life looks different materially. It’s not possible to become a Christian, deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Him, and your life look exactly the same as your affluent, atheistic neighbor next door. It’s not possible. When we come to Christ, Jesus covers our sin, and He changes our life from the inside out.
Which means—follow this—we don’t live and give sacrificially because we’re in debt to Christ. In other words, we don’t say, “What can I do, what can I give away, in order to pay Christ back for what He’s done.” The beauty of grace is you can’t pay it back. So don’t try to live paying it back. We live sacrificially because we’re indwelt by Christ. He lives in us. We’re ultimately not motivated to give by guilt; we’re always and ultimately motivated to give by grace. What motivates us to obey God? God does. God’s grace at work in you.
So what must we do? Repent and believe, right? Repent and believe. What do repentance and belief look like in action here? Faith in Christ involves surrender of all our possessions to Christ. Luke 14:33—we give up everything we have. Which for some of us means selling our possessions to advance His Kingdom. Jesus told the rich young man in Mark 10, “Sell everything you have.” Which means He could say the same thing to me or to you. We’ve got to be open to that.
For some of us, this may mean selling our possessions to advance His Kingdom, but for all of us, this definitely means using our possessions to advance His Kingdom. In the New Testament we see two kinds of disciples: one who sells all he has in order to advance the Kingdom, and one who keeps some for the advancement of the Kingdom. We don’t have a third option here—in other words, one who does whatever he or she feels like doing with his or her money and possessions and fails to use them for the Kingdom.
Faith in Christ results in generosity toward people. It is simple and glorious how this generosity works. Follow this. In the gospel, faith in Christ reconciles us to God in such a way that we no longer live for earthly treasure. We have God. We love our eternal treasure. We love Him. We seek Him. We’re satisfied in Him. We don’t need nice, bigger stuff. Faith in Christ reconciles us to God, and faith in Christ reconciles us to one another, in such a way that we don’t live for selfish gain anymore, like we lived when we were separated from God in our sin. We now live with selfless generosity, so we’re free to take what we’ve been given and to give it away to others.
See how the gospel changes everything—especially in light of what’s at stake. Randy Alcorn wrote, “A startling thing has happened among Western Christians. Many of us habitually think and act as if there were no eternity—or as if what we do in this present life has no eternal consequences.” Oh, don’t forget. The Christian’s use of money and possessions carries eternal consequences. Matthew 25:31–32 and other Scriptures are clear: God will judge us in eternity according to our works, which includes our use of possessions.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Don’t miss the gospel. Works are not a necessary basis or means of our justification. In no way, please—Christ’s work alone is the basis of our justification before God. Our faith in Him is the means by which we’re justified. But when He covers our sin and He changes our lives, works are a necessary evidence of our justification, which means our use of money and possessions changes drastically. It’s what Matthew 25 is highlighting in bright yellow.
Scripture also teaches that God will reward us in eternity according to our works, which includes our use of possessions. So as we live for God’s eternal glory, we experience our eternal good. Ah, God has our good in mind when He calls us to sacrifice, when He calls us to sell, when He calls us to give. Texts like Matthew 6:19–24 indicate that a Christian’s use of money reveals our values. If you just think about it: the world uses money to store up earthly trinkets, and the value that’s clear there is temporal satisfaction. Temporal satisfaction.
But this is not what we live for, Christian. The Christian uses money to spread everlasting treasure. We know the value is eternal salvation. We’re not just talking about the joy of our salvation—we’re talking about the joy of others’ salvation. May it not be said of us that it was evident in our lives—in our lifestyles and our homes and our budgets—that we valued our temporal satisfaction over others’ eternal salvation.
Ultimately the Christian’s use of money and possessions foreshadows the eternal redemption. So see and spend money with that end in mind: looking forward to the new creation, a place of spiritual reconciliation and a place of material restoration—which we’ll talk about more at the end of tonight. Live now as a new creation. Use your resources to share the gospel with the lost masses. What matters more than this? What if God actually does want His gospel to get to the ends of the earth? Might He give His people unprecedented wealth in the history of the world to make that a reality? It’s what He’s done. So let’s use our resources to that end, and use our resources to show the gospel to starving multitudes.
We’ll run through these practical applications very quickly and then be done and go to break. One, submit to Christ. Go to Christ. Go to Christ. He gives objective truth in Scripture. He gives subjective guidance through His Spirit. So go to Christ. Spend time in His Word and in prayer, saying, “Lord, what do You want to do with me and my possessions?” Don’t compare yourself to all these others. “Well, I’m generous because I give more than them,” or “I’m not as generous because I don’t give as much as them.” The life of Christ is our standard.
Don’t despair. Don’t think, “I have so far to go, where do I even start?” That paralysis will often lead you to do nothing. The presence of Christ is our hope. He’s living in you. He wants this to be a reality in your life. So avoid apathy. Don’t just sit back and say, “Well, I’m just going to live like a good Bible study. I’m going to move on just like I was before.” No, the joy of Christ is our possession. He’s calling you to deeper intimacy with Himself. Avoid lethargy. Don’t be indifferent to what He’s saying in His Word. Live for His glory as your goal.
Go to Christ, and second, commit to the church. Here’s the comforting reality. Commit to the church. We’re not alone in this battle against materialism in our lives, and God intends for us to learn from each other and to live for each other. So do this together. Gather together with brothers and sisters in the church and say, “How can we help one another fight against materialism?” I think oftentimes people in the church don’t fight against materialism because they see other people around them in the church, and everybody else is living like the world. They think, “Well, why should I do anything different?” Let’s compel one another and encourage one another. We’re together on a spiritual mission, preaching good news with social ramifications that compel us to address deep needs. A spiritual mission with social ramifications is what the church is all about.
Submit to Christ, submit to the church, and third, work wisely as long as you’re able. Work hard wherever you are. Student, businessman, businesswoman, stay-at-home mom, senior adult—work hard as long as you’re able. And as long as you’re able, gain wealth. Make money. It’s not that it’s bad to make money. It’s good to make money. It’s God-honoring to make money. And not even just for yourself. If you can work 20 hours a week to cover your own living expenses, then don’t just work 20 hours a week. Work a full 40, 50, whatever hours a week so you have more to give away and help somebody else.
As much as you’re able, gain wealth. Note, the Bible never encourages retirement. You say, “What do you mean—the Bible doesn’t encourage retirement?” Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about retirement in a positive way. Now, I’m not talking here about retiring to serve, to continue working for the glory of God. What I’m talking about here is we don’t save up money for a life spent on luxury. The whole idea of saving up large amounts of money so we can arrive at a point in our lives when we live a life of ease and luxury without working any longer for the spread of the gospel—so we can coast it out—is nowhere near found in Scripture. We might save up money for a life spent in ministry—that “retirement” makes sense biblically, to work for the spread of the gospel as long as we’re able. Our hope is not in our retirement. Our hope is in Christ’s return.
So work wisely, and live simply. Second Corinthians 9:6–11 says God gives enough for us. We should identify our “enough.” First Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” John Wesley described it this way:
Christians should give away all but the plain necessities of life—that is, plain, wholesome food, clean clothes, and enough to carry on one’s business …. Any Christian who takes for himself anything more than the plain necessities of life lives in an open, habitual denial of the Lord … He has gained both riches and hell-fire!
Well, tell us what you really think, John. That’s pretty strong, but that’s exactly what he did. Basically Wesley set a cap on his lifestyle. I think it was £30 in his day. He said, “I’m going to live on £30,” and there came a point where he was making £1,400 a year, but he still lived on £30. He had this much to give away. He identified his “enough.”
People scoff at that idea but just picture it. What if people making a $50,000, $75,000, $100,000 decide a $100,000 salary doesn’t necessarily necessitate a $100,000 lifestyle? What if we believed we were made in God’s design—not so we can have more, but so we can give more, that the excess grace from God is not intended to increase our standard of living but our standard of giving? So identify your “enough.”
Prioritize necessities. Minimize luxuries. Ask questions. What needs to be shared? What needs to be sold? What needs to be sacrificed? God gives enough for us, and then God gives excess for others. So isolate your excess. Put a cap on that lifestyle, and believe that God has given us extra—not so we can have more. Instead, God has given us extra so we can give more. Live simply—give sacrificially.
Start this application with one initial question: are you currently giving less than your ability, according to your ability, or beyond your ability? C.S. Lewis said:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.
This is tough. Everybody likes a safety net they can control. It limits risks. So what’s true? Why sacrificial giving? Well, it’s generous. It’s not always asking, “How much can I keep?” but “How much can I give?” It’s consistently, regularly, systematically giving. It’s voluntary. It’s excellent. Excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). Sacrificial giving is excellent. It’s cheerful. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Some people say, “If you can’t give cheerfully, don’t give.” Well, I can’t give cheerfully, so I don’t give. Well, that’s not the proper response. Ask Christ to change your heart, and then be happy and give.
Sacrificial giving is worshipful (2 Samuel 24:24)—a great verse. Sacrificial giving is proportionate. Remember the widow’s mite? She gave an actual amount far less than anybody else, but in proportion she gave extravagantly—which is not how we often look at things. We think the bigger, the better. The reality is that one person can give $25 in an act of great sacrifice, where another can give a million dollars and not sacrifice at all. Someone that makes $10 million a year and gives away $9 million and only spends a million on themselves—well, we may be impressed with the $9 million, but is this really sacrificial living in God’s eyes? It’s one reason why it’s unhealthy and misleading to publicly laud large donors in the Christian community, because oftentimes their sacrifice than those whose names will never be known.
Sacrificial giving is proportionate. It’s quiet, mainly in motive—so we don’t give in order to be seen. It’s honest. I don’t recommend pulling an Ananias and Sapphira. That would be the last time you give. And sacrificial giving is purposeful. It’s purposeful to give in ways that are gospel-centered and church-focused, building up the church around the world. Give to people, churches, organizations with integrity, reliability, sustainability, in ways that promote relational ministry, and in ways that you can connect through personal ministries. You can’t just write a check and keep an arms’ length distance. You’re involved.
Think through one final question. What would happen if we stopped asking how much we could spare, and started asking how much it would take to impact a people group with the gospel, to help a church over there in poverty? Give sacrificially. Two more applications. Help constructively. Helping the poor is a responsibility of a Christian. It’s the responsibility of a Christian, and helping the poor is a mark of a church. So as we help—we’re flying—let’s be focused.
Again, prioritize the church. There is a priority in the New Testament on caring for members of the church. Prioritize. Care for the church—here and around the world. We need to look at how we can care for our brothers and sisters globally. We prioritize, and we evangelize the lost. Be focused and spread the gospel through giving.
Then be wise. This applies especially to the poor. We should not subsidize the irresponsible. We should supplement the responsible. So we’ve got to think through: how do we give in ways that don’t just help people get through a day while ignoring how to help them get through life?
Be focused. Be wise. Be relational. Give consistent accountability as we give. Give personal attention. Give long-term commitment. Acknowledge diversity. The reality is people are poor for different reasons, including sinful personal choices, unbiblical worldviews, disasters, lack of technology and inequality of power. The list could go on and on. We must help the poor in different ways. There’s a whole evening’s worth of stuff we could talk about there.
But my encouragement in all of this is: avoid excuses. Don’t think, “I’m not doing anything to hurt the poor,” when God desires people to help the poor. Don’t think, “I’m just one person. What can I do?” The logic that says, “I can’t do everything, so I won’t do anything” is straight from the pit of hell. Don’t think, “I’m only responsible for helping people close to me.” Yes, proximity is significant, but physical distance does not necessitate spiritual separation. In other words, a whole offering being taken up in the New Testament—in Romans 15—is for the church that’s suffering in Jerusalem. If we think about our brothers and sisters who are starving from malnourished bodies and deformed brains all over the world, just because they’re not near us doesn’t mean we don’t give to them.
Help constructively, and finally, invest eternally. Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” Realize that God’s return on your investment is going to be better than anybody else’s. The constant argument against giving now is: invest so you can give more later. And there’s validity in that argument, but there’s also caution. Think about it. That argument oftentimes assumes that Wall Street is going to be able to outperform God in the long term. So, yes, if you put $10,000 in the market now, it may grow to hundreds of thousands later—and you can pull it out in 30 years and have hundreds of thousands to spend. So that might be a wise thing to do.
At the same time, what if you give that $10,000 now to support a church planter going into an unreached village? What if that church planter leads people in that village to faith in Christ—including influential leaders that then spread the gospel to other villages around there, and an entire people group is reached with the gospel? Now, obviously, 30 years from now you may not have a hundred thousand dollars to show from your investment, but you might have hundreds of thousands of believers and a people group reached for the gospel. Would that be worth it?
Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:29–31. “There is no one who leaves all for Me that will not receive a hundredfold in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” That is a good investment strategy. Anyone who guarantees 10,000% interest on that which is given to him is a good one to work with. So, God’s return on your investment is better than anyone else’s. Just remember—you’re not just living for 30 years from now. You’re living for 30 billion years from now—and that changes the way you spend your money. Remember, this world is not our home.
Ah, I forgot this section right here! Can you guys hang like five more minutes? Okay. Sorry, you don’t really have an opportunity to answer, but they said yes.
Critical cautions. A definition of the prosperity gospel: a theology which believes that God’s aim is to make believers healthy and wealthy in this life. It is represented by people like Kenneth Hagin. Some call him the father of the word-faith movement. Benny Hinn. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. There are less overt, more subtle, but just as dangerous teachings that sometimes come from corners, like Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer. And I hesitate to throw out names, but we’ve got to be aware that this is killing the spread of the gospel around the world—and it’s subtly destroying people’s understanding of Christianity. From some popular churches in Birmingham to Bangladesh, that don’t advertise that they’re teaching a prosperity gospel—but unbeknownst to church members and attenders they are deceiving masses in the process.
The deception of the prosperity gospel—the consistent error—is that they rip texts from their contexts. Take a verse like 3 John 2 that talks about being in good health and say, “Okay, does that prayer guarantee health and wealth?” Or take Mark 10, which we just looked at, that talks about a return on investment. Well, people talk about Mark 10, verses 29 and 30, and say, “Well, see. You’re going to receive a hundredfold now in this time—look at all the blessing!”
But certainly, that’s not Jesus saying to Peter, who He’s probably talking to, “Don’t worry, brother. Since you’ve followed me, I have a condo in Jerusalem, a split-level in suburban Bethany, a cabin in the mountains of Carmel, and a summer beach house near Caesarea that are just waiting for you.” That’s not what He’s saying. He’s saying, “Peter, I have a cross waiting for you. I have a cross waiting for you.”
So, have those who claim the benefits paid the price? Do the proponents of the prosperity claim the blessing of persecution like they do the blessings of wealth? Name it—claim it. By the Word of God, I claim suffering for the gospel. I claim beatings for the gospel. I claim imprisonment and homelessness for the gospel. You don’t hear that in prosperity theology. You have Psalm 103:2–3 about God forgiving our iniquity and healing our diseases. Is that a general praise or a guaranteed promise? Surely, that’s not a promise that if you have cancer, you’ll be healed if you just trust in God—and every Christian who dies of cancer did not have enough faith.
And then you’ve got counter-examples all over Scripture. The life and teachings of Jesus, which—if you look at what He says—is not really the health and wealth gospel. It’s more like the homeless and wounded gospel. The reality in John 12:23–26 is God may accomplish higher purposes in our death than in our life. If you look at the life and teachings of Paul. In 2 Corinthians 4:7–12, he refers to troubles, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, almost dying. That’s not the prosperity gospel. That’s more like the adversity gospel. God may actually accomplish higher purposes in our sickness than in our health.
You see Paul praying for healing from the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. When God chose not to heal him, Paul didn’t name and claim and demand that God heal him. Instead, he acknowledged God’s purpose in his adversity. Today’s health and wealth preachers will bypass that and say that the disease was from Satan. Yes, but God was sovereign over it. Satan would never give anything to someone to keep them from being conceited—which was the purpose of what was going on here in 2 Corinthians 12. It wasn’t Satan, but God Who refused to removed whatever that thorn was, despite Paul’s pleading.
So if you’ve prayed and asked for healing and have not received it, take heart. You’re in good company: 2 Timothy 4:20, Philippians 2:24–30, 1 Timothy 5:23. I love Randy Alcorn here:
When Paul was taken in chains from his filthy Roman dungeon and beheaded at the order of the opulent madman Nero, two representatives of humanity faced off, one of the best and one of the worst. One lived for prosperity on earth, the other didn’t. One now lives in prosperity in heaven, the other doesn’t. We remember both men for what they truly were, which is why we name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero.
Why is this so-called “gospel” so dangerous? Think about the dangers here. It perverts our understanding of wealth, always seeing wealth as a sign of God’s approval. If wealth is always a sign of His approval, then God is evil—for history is full of successful madmen and prosperous murderers. We know that’s not true. Is poverty always a sign of God’s disapproval? If so, what does that mean for Jesus or Paul or impoverished brothers and sisters around the world in Africa and Asia?
Second, it disregards the purpose of wealth. Does God give us more so we can get more? Or does God give us more so we can give more? It misses the whole purpose of wealth. It undercuts it. It minimizes the dangers of wealth that we’ve seen. Wealth is not just a blessing from the king; it’s also a barrier to the Kingdom. It feeds the desire to be rich, while Scripture forewarns us against the desire to be rich. Prosperity teaching commends selfish luxury over selfless generosity. It explicitly encourages people to indulge in pleasures in the world while implicitly leading people to ignore the poor.
It appeals to the desires of the flesh instead of calling people to deny the flesh (Luke 9:23–24). It encourages people to waste their lives on things that do not last (Matthew 6:19–21). It exalts God’s gifts, things we receive from God, above God’s glory, the treasure we have in God. “Come to God and get stuff,” which is exactly what Jesus counters in John 6:35. “All you need, all you’re hungry for is Me,” Jesus says.
It abuses God by making Him a means to an end. If God is the ticket to more stuff, then God is a tool for man-centered ends, and God’s reason for existence is to give us what we want. Instead of trusting God for our needs, we use God for our wants. Instead of God-centered intercession, prayer becomes man-centered coercion.
Prosperity teaching overlooks the design of suffering—how Christians may suffer despite their righteousness. Christians may actually suffer because of their righteousness. It’s something Jesus promised. Finally, prosperity teaching is so dangerous because it subtly infuses all Christianity, which is evident in how little we give in the church and how extravagantly we live in our culture.
Here’s the deal. Subtly, almost unknowingly, we’re all tempted—myself included—to drink this Kool-Aid. And the battle against materialism is real in our culture and in cultures around the world. So don’t be a part of it, church. Don’t read supposedly Christian writers and don’t listen to supposedly Christian teachers who even subtly advocate something that so clearly contradicts the gospel and the call of Christ in a world of massive spiritual and material poverty. And may those who would point out the falsehood there make sure that we’re not functionally living according to the same theology that they’re promoting.