BLINDING: Money is not evil, but it is dangerous.
- 1 Timothy 6:10.
- The dangers of money are not a new problem. Here we are way back in the Old Testament and we see the same thing (although back then it was probably a lot smaller percentage of the population).
- It’s a telling passage and it helps us answer an important question: what does God have to say about prosperity – or, more specifically, the dangers of prosperity?
- There are many who presume that money is intrinsically evil. That’s not true. Money is morally neutral. It can be used for good or bad.
- The correct translation is not that money is the root of all evil but that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
- This passage, though, is a reminder to us that money is dangerous. In this passage, we are specifically going to be talking about the fact that prosperity is dangerous.
- Israel here is in a time that has some prosperity. We should not presume from this passage that the prosperity had reached everyone in that society. It is likely that the prosperity was among the ruling elites (Amos 6:1). The prosperity was having significant negative effects on those enjoying it.
- Let’s look at what specific accusations that Amos makes as the Lord’s prophet here.
WHERE PROSPERITY CAN LEAD:
1. Prosperity can lead you to trust in your own strength.
- Amos 6:1.
- Verse 1 tells us that they were trusting in their own strength – they felt secure on Mt. Samaria. It’s a picture of trusting in your own strength.
- Prosperity has that effect on people. You start to believe in how much power you wield. You start to believe in the influence you have.
- It’s been interesting and tragic to me to watch the economic devastation that the Coronavirus has caused. It’s brought our economy to its knees. A virus revealed how easily our thriving economy can stumble.
2. Prosperity can lead you to believe bad times will never come.
- Amos 6:3a.
- Verse 3 speaks of putting off the evil day. The wording is challenging, but it points us toward their thought that the day of judgment was off in the future. They were untouchable for the moment.
- They were confident that the good times would keep right on rolling.
- Not only that, but I expect that they also presumed God’s pleasure with them and so they perhaps dismissed the thought that there could be a chance that judgment was coming for them. Surely not – they were the blessed leaders of God’s chosen people.
3. Prosperity can lead you to care only for your own pleasure.
- Amos 6:3b.
- The second half of verse 3 tells us that they brought near “a reign of terror.” What does that mean? You might be inclined by that phrase to think of hoodlums running wild causing destruction. Here, though, I think the problem is the way they have society organized in their favor. Regular people are struggling and they are only concerned about themselves and their pleasure.
- We think of evil in terms of banditry, but we need to recognize how respectable it can look. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The greatest evil is not done now in sordid dens of crime. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
4. Prosperity can lead you to justify your exorbitant lifestyle.
- Amos 6:4-6a.
- Verses 4-6a share the sumptuous details of this prosperous lifestyle they were enjoying. It sounds pretty nice.
- As we enjoy nicer and nicer lifestyles, it’s easy to justify each step along the path. We compare ourselves to other people like us and think that we’re not really that far out there in how we’re living. In so doing, we don’t think about the many who are living far below where we are.
- We just enjoy the good things of life and presume that we deserve them.
WHAT GOD WANTS FROM PROSPEROUS ISRAEL: He wants them to grieve over Israel’s reprobate condition.
- Amos 6:6b.
- Deuteronomy 28:1-68.
- What does the “ruin of Joseph” mean?
- First of all, Joseph here is a reference to Israel. Joseph, of course, is one of the patriarchs of the nation.
a. It could refer to upcoming judgment as a consequence of the disobedience caused by the prosperity. That would point toward something that hadn’t happened yet but was on its way.
b. It could refer to the current state of Israel in that moment. Although they were prosperous and thought they were doing great, in truth they were already spiritual “ruined.” They were not pursing God’s things; they were after their own comfort and pleasure.
- In either event, whether it’s a current reality or an upcoming event, it’s clear that Israel is a mess because of their prosperity.
- It should be said here that the analogy to today is not Israel/America. It’s Israel/church.
- As we think about these money dangers, we should not at all be surprised when America runs passionately after wealth and prosperity simply for the sake of their own pleasure and ease. After all, that’s what we would expect unregenerate people to do.
- What is surprising and painful is the degree to which the church in America looks like the rest of America. We should have our lifestyles altered by our understanding of the gospel. We should have higher priorities than our own comfort and ease. We should be passionate about spending our money on things with spiritual impact.
- And perhaps the first step in that direction is to grieve over our current state.
- The “ruin of Joseph,” as noted a moment ago, might refer to the current compromised state that Israel was in because of the prosperity. As we look at the church in America, if we believe that we are in a similar spot, are we grieved by that? Are we really bothered? Or do we see it as an unfortunate detail, but we’re enjoying the prosperity ourselves too much to really be sad about it?
- There is a question I’ve posed in the past about revival in America that’s worth revisiting here: if God came to you in a vision and said He would bring a tremendous revival to America but it would require seeing the economy shrivel by half, would you agree to it? It’s a tough question. On the one hand, we obviously know that we desperately need revival. We would all love to see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit with lives and society transformed. On the other hand, are we willing to see such a precipitous drop to our standard of living? Rarely eating out? No vacations? Keeping cars until the wheels fall off? For many American Christians, it’s a question that gets harder the longer you think about it.
- Review the four above prosperity points, considering whether they are true of the church in America.
a. Does our prosperity lead us to trust in our own strength?
- We do think the American church is the envy of the world despite our lack of fruitfulness.
- We do find our comfort in our own competence.
b. Does our prosperity lead us to believe the bad times will never come?
- There are a number of signs that indicate that America has great struggles ahead. (See, for instance, the exploding national debt or the out-of-wedlock birth rate.)
- We as the church so enjoy our American prosperity that I think we don’t want to think about the possibility that it might go away at some point.
c. Does our prosperity lead us to care only for our own pleasure?
- This is the easiest one so far to prove. We are just as focused on our own material ease as everyone else.
- Within church life we have the term “church shopping,” which lets us know that someone is looking for a church the way you would look for a consumer product: does this please me? It’s now become justified to leave a church for another just because you “don’t feel your needs are being met.” Shouldn’t your opportunity to serve factor into it? Shouldn’t the need for people to help a stagnant church grow factor into it? Shouldn’t the leading of the Holy Spirit factor into it?
d. Does our prosperity lead us to justify our exorbitant lifestyle?
- And now we’ve found one that’s even easier to justify that the last one. There is precious little self-reflection going on among American Christians about the lifestyles we’re living. It’s an American right to live this way!
- We should be good at discerning between our wants and our needs. We should be good at generosity. But what we’re really good at is enjoying the American way.
- It’s worth noting that this issue was one that God warned Israel about way back at the outset. As part of His instructions to the fledgling nation, God told them: I am going to bless you and you are going to allow those very blessings to make you forget me (Deuteronomy 28:1-68).
- They would end up loving the blessings more than the Blesser. What God intended for their joy would lead to their disobedience. (This is not to say it had to be that way. It is possible to be blessed and use the blessings in a way that honors God, brings joy, and doesn’t lead to spiritual compromise. Again, as stated at the outset, money is morally neutral, but it’s dangerous.)
WHAT'S AHEAD WITHOUT REPENTANCE: Exile and an end to the prosperity.
- Amos 6:7.
- Verse 7 details two outcomes.
- The first is that they will go into exile. Of course, we all know that for them that means physically being taken from Jerusalem and Palestine and spending years in captivity.
- What is the analogous situation for us as the church in America? Obviously the physical movement part doesn’t match up. Exile for the American church might look like the church being a shell of its former self and existing in a nation that has completely abandoned its values. It might look like the few faithful Christians left feeling like outcasts in a culture that mocks their beliefs. Whatever the specifics, it’s a vision of distance from God.
- The second outcome is that their feasting and lounging will end. This is tied to their exile, which will not be a time of prosperity in any sense. Sadly, at first, I imagine many of them would be more pained by the loss of their prosperity than their distance from God.
- I’m not a prophet, so I can’t predict if this might be an outcome for American Christians, but we should heed the warning here in any event. Whether there is a widespread end to prosperity during our lives, it’s still dangerous to our spiritual lives and therefore something we need to be attentive to.
A FINAL QUESTION: How am I using the prosperity that God has given me?
- Am I using it for self or for Kingdom?
- Again, we don’t have to live like medieval monks. God wants us to enjoy life. But we need to do that knowing that the greatest joys in life aren’t material, but spiritual and relational.
- It’s important that we don’t get distracted by prosperity. It’s important that we don’t get compromised by prosperity. It’s important that we don’t get blinded by prosperity.
- There is tension between being a prosperous American and being a faithful Christian. The two are not intrinsically incompatible, but they definitely push us in different directions. Because of that, we have to be thoughtful about which identity has our priority. Things of the Kingdom need to be our higher priority.