Poverty and Prosperity in the Lord

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Sometimes stricken with poverty and our earthly store is very meagre. At times this may appear as a mysterious providence that our earthly store is so small. The hymn ‘Praise to the Lord says ‘praise to the Lord who doth prosper thy work and defend thee.’ If we are prosperous it is only the Lord that has done this. I have had to grapple with issues of lack of funds in my own life and I know William Miller also wrestled with poverty for a long period of time. Likewise many other Bible characters struggled with poverty yet others like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had great wealth. We often hear of the experiences of the prophets of God how they lived out in the wilderness and the caves whilst being persecuted. The majority of the people in Jesus’ day were poor as was Jesus himself.

None need be ashamed of honest poverty. For thirty years Christ was subject to His parents, and by the labor of His hands He helped to sustain the family. Thus He would teach that labor is not a degradation, but an honor, and that it is every man’s duty to engage in useful, honorable work. . . . {UL 94.3}

Honest poverty arises out of circumstances. If we are poor because of honest poverty then we need not be ashamed of it. Psalms does give us reason to be ashamed if we behave that way.

Proverbs 24:30 I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; 31 And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. 32 Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. 33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

The Word of God condemns slothfulness and laziness therefore it is a cause to be ashamed. If our poverty arises for this reason then who have we got to blame? Jesus suffered honest poverty. He toiled hard to make ends meet but he and his family were still poor.

Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Sometimes although we work there are reasons why we become poverty stricken. The Bible identifies slothfulness as one of the reasons for poverty and actually condemns it. On the other hand the Bible actually commends diligent effort and labour. We look at the diligence and labour of Joseph and what sort of man he was.

Genesis 39:2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. 5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. 6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

Joseph was a slave and yet he prospered and benefited his heathen master through his diligent efforts. However, Joseph is unjustly accused and sent to prison – but even in the prison he prospered.

Genesis 9:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

Here was Joseph in poverty and in prison yet he prospered. He had very little but the Lord prospered everything he did. What was the secret of Joseph’s success? Everything he touched turned to gold as it were. Whatever circumstances he was in he did all things as unto the Lord and did not give up in discouragement.

The marked prosperity which attended everything placed under Joseph’s care was not the result of a direct miracle; but his industry, care, and energy were crowned with the divine blessing. Joseph attributed his success to the favor of God and even his idolatrous master accepted this as the secret of his unparalleled prosperity. Without steadfast, well-directed effort, however, success could never have been attained. God was glorified by the faithfulness of His servant. It was His purpose that in purity and uprightness the believer in God should appear in marked contrast to the worshipers of idols–that thus the light of heavenly grace might shine forth amid the darkness of heathenism. {CC 74.3}

Joseph was shining amid the darkness of humanism wasn’t he? This is how we shine too – by our efforts, steadfastness and industry. It is a way for us to shine to the world and when we do this the Lord blesses our efforts. In Genesis we learn of the experience of Jacob the fugitive who ran away from home. All Jacob possessed was on his back, then he laboured for Laban for 14 years as payment for Leah and Rachel. After that he worked another 6 years – in all 20 years’ service.

Genesis 30:27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake. 28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.

Laban acknowledged with Jacob what Potiphar acknowledged with Joseph – that God was blessing him that is why he persuaded Jacob to stay on and keep working for him.

Genesis 30:29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me. 30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the LORD hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?

Jacob did the following;

Genesis 30:38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. 39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstreaked, speckled, and spotted. 40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstreaked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. 41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. 42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

During Jacob’s 20 years’ service Laban changed his wages only 10 times. Here Jacob describes to Leah and Rachel how hard he worked for their father and how Laban tried to defraud him his wages. Laban was a selfish man.

Genesis 31:6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. 7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. 8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstreaked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstreaked. 9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

Even though all that corruption was taking place, Jacob came out from Laban a wealthy man. Jacob said I have taken all his cattle. God can do that because he owns everything.

Psalm 50:10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. 11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: 15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Through Jacob’s diligent efforts he increased in wealth greatly because God overruled and gave him all the cattle. So if we prosper – is it a sin?

The Bible does not condemn the rich man because he is rich; it does not declare the acquisition of wealth to be a sin, nor does it say that money is the root of all evil. On the contrary, the Scriptures state that it is God who gives the power to get wealth. And this ability is a precious talent if consecrated to God and employed to advance His cause. The Bible does not condemn genius or art; for these come of the wisdom which God gives. We cannot make the heart purer or holier by clothing the body in sackcloth, or depriving the home of all that ministers to comfort, taste, or convenience. {CS 138.2}

The Scriptures teach that wealth is a dangerous possession only when placed in competition with the immortal treasure. It is when the earthly and temporal absorbs the thoughts, the affections, the devotion which God claims, that it becomes a snare. Those who are bartering the eternal weight of glory for a little of the glitter and tinsel of earth, the everlasting habitations for a home which can be theirs but a few years at best, are making an unwise choice. Such was the exchange made by Esau, when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; by Balaam, when he forfeited the favor of God for the rewards of the king of Midian; by Judas, when for thirty pieces of silver he betrayed the Lord of glory. {CS 138.3}

If we acquire wealth like Jacob it is not a sin. Nor does it say that money is the root of all evil. Money is not the root of all evil but it is a sin to love it. On the contrary it is God who gives power to get wealth. He sends the rain to the farmer to make the farmer wealthy. He gives us strength to work and brain power to think to do our job. This ability is a precious talent when consecrated to God to advance his cause. It is actually a blessing that God gives us to get wealth. However wealth and possession can be dangerous.

The man with many possessions who came to Jesus and said what shall I do to inherit the kingdom of God? Jesus said, give all you have and follow me. In this instance Jesus knew that wealth was a danger to the young man because he had a covetous nature. Wealth was dangerous to Judas also. Like other gifts from God the possession of wealth brings increased responsibility and peculiar temptations. How many in adversity have remained true to God while those with great wealth have forsaken him. To them the heavenly treasures of the Word of God have no value. It is only greed and selfishness to have all this gain. Can the power to gain wealth be removed? If God can give it can he remove it? God gives us this power and we can use it

Haggai 2:16-17 Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty. I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD.

You see they were agricultural people and they depended on the land for their produce and their wages and God took away their ability to make gains here.

Haggai 1:6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. 7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. 10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. 11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

God can remove the power to gain and he can also give it back again.

Malachi 3:11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.

A striking illustration of selfishly withholding free will offerings from the cause of God was given in Haggai. The Jews undertook to rebuild the temple of the Lord but they discontinued the work in a severe drought. This drought reduced them to severe want and convinced them that it was impossible to compete the temple. They said “the time that the Lord’s house should be built has not come.” But a message was sent to them by the Lords prophet commanding them to build it.

Haggai 1:3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? 5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. 6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. 7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.

Have you ever felt that you can’t give because you are in dire straits? Well if you do you should give anyway. You know I’m glad that God is merciful and not arbitrary. God sometimes blesses us even though we don’t always do the right thing. He is merciful. The people in Haggai were assuming too much. God is merciful he won’t cut us off in a moment if we don’t do the right thing. But if we presume the mercy of God like the people in Haggai when we know better – what can we expect? Poverty.

Malachi 3:10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. 11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. 12 And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.

We know from these scriptures that God expects us as his people to live according to this way

2 Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

It is better to be a cheerful giver than to give hypocritically. This is one of the reasons why God’s people can run into poverty. There are two more reasons for poverty that I want to cover.

John Vessels

John Vessels was a millionaire in South Africa in the early Seventh Day Adventist church. He was a wonderful giver to the cause and gave thousands of dollars to promote the cause. This story is relayed by his grandson in a book. When John Vessel became a Seventh Day Adventist early on he would have been considered a millionaire in today’s terms. He decided that he wanted to do something special for the Lord – something of his own so he said, I have heard about the medical work and the climate of the cape, it could be a marvelous place for a sanitarium. So out of his own pocket he built a sanitarium on the slope of a mountain not far from his own mansion and what a wonderful blessing it was. Then something strange happened; one day some of his wealthy friends came to him and said, we would like to take some of our vacations at the sanitarium that you have built.

The Sanitarium has a good reputation and we want to be close by but you know we drink a little and puff a little and play cards but we don’t want to give up those things when we come to your sanitarium and we will pay for it when we can have a smoking room and a little ale and play our playing cards without being disturbed. John thought it best not to do it and said no but they prevailed on him and finally he thought it shouldn’t do any harm because they wouldn’t be mixing with the other patients and so he allowed them to do it. One week after he made the decision a letter arrived from EG White, she had been shown in a vision that he was not using his finances and influence correctly. We must use the means that God gives us correctly. A second, third and fourth letter came. After the fourth letter came he became perturbed and said it is my business my money and I will do with it what I please. Then something strange became to happen. Where he had had the monopoly with all the feed stores supplies, farmers with the grain implements and fertilizers, one by one he started losing these stores in South Africa. He couldn’t figure out why. One day he went up north to see one of the ranches because he needed to cover some debts and while he was there he received a telegram from his brother. The telegram read ‘Sanitarium burnt down – come home immediately.’ He took the first train he could which took two days to arrive at Cape Town. As he pulled into Cape Town Station John said to his brother Henry ‘It’s too bad that the sanitarium burnt down but it doesn’t matter because we have the insurance’. Then Henry replied to John – ‘I tried to tell you before – I had to economise because of some of the bad turns of some of our business and I so I did not renew the insurance.’

There was still money owing on the sanitarium even after it had burnt down. John had lost most of his business but had two stores left. He also still had his favourite ranch. It was the one he said would retire in. Unfortunately the only way to recover his debts was to sell the ranch. The ones who were once his friends were now pressing him to get their money as they do. Once the ranch was sold the new owners discovered the richest diamond mine the world had ever known – the Kimberly diamond mines. This money could have gone into the cause and changed the whole of history. John Vessel went back to Cape Town a broken man. All his friends had forsaken him, his beautiful mansion with all its furniture the creditors came and took and under South African law you could only keep certain pieces of furniture. Up until this time he had kept the letters from Sr White. To date there were 69 letters of which 64 remained unopened. When John Vessel moved to the outskirts of town where the poorest of the poor people live, one friend brought an ox cart and took out the furniture. As one of the cabinets was taken out of the car it fell over and Sr White’s letters fell out of the draw. On a cold winters evening on the outskirts of the town and by candle light he read every one of those letters and read them all until morning. Do you think he repented? He read how Sr White said in a vision she saw that the sanitarium would burn to the ground. This was the way it happened. In these letters he read his whole life story of what might have been.

Sr White wrote that if John Vessel had used his influence and finances correctly the Anglo Bore War in South Africa would have never been (Australia was involved in this war) then she made the statement ‘John if you had used the wealth correctly the government of South Africa would have been well served to help the Seventh Day Adventist Church.’ It would have been a different government. Now this is the bit where he repented and how the Lord helped him. He prayed for many months and finally he was convicted to start up his feed business again and live up to the counsel of the Spirit of Prophesy. He started with a small store and again the Lord blessed him. Fairly soon he had a good business going and he had a good property and the Lord again blessed him again and there was a diamond rush and a gold rush and they found gold on his land. Today the family is still operating the Vessel’s Gold Fund. Never again would the Lord give him the equivalent to his first opportunity but he was blessed and he financed Avondale College in Australia. The Lord can prosper us so much if we are faithful and if we make an effort as well. He can do so much for us. He can do for you what he could have done for John Vessel if he had been faithful – change the world! Now let us look at another cause of poverty.

Jeremiah 12:1 Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?

Just because a man is poor it doesn’t mean that we should look down on him. Sometimes the wicked prosper and God allows his people to be poor for a reason. David says the same.

Psalm 73:3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

Why aren’t the wicked men in trouble?

Psalms 73:6 Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. 7 Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. 8 They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. 9 They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. 11 And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? 12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. 13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. 14 For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.

The mysterious providence which permits the righteous to suffer persecution at the hand of the wicked has been a cause of great perplexity to many who are weak in faith. Some are even ready to cast away their confidence in God because He suffers the basest of men to prosper, while the best and purest are afflicted and tormented by their cruel power. How, it is asked, can One who is just and merciful, and who is also infinite in power, tolerate such injustice and oppression? This is a question with which we have nothing to do. God has given us sufficient evidence of His love, and we are not to doubt His goodness because we cannot understand the workings of His providence. Said the Saviour to His disciples, foreseeing the doubts that would press upon their souls in days of trial and darkness: “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20. Jesus suffered for us more than any of His followers can be made to suffer through the cruelty of wicked men. Those who are called to endure torture and martyrdom are but following in the steps of God’s dear Son. {GC 47.1}

Is that not worth a mortal crown and immortal riches? It is nothing to the riches of this world in comparison is it? He permits the wicked to reveal their true character that none may be deceived. Again the righteous are placed in the furnace of affliction that they themselves may be purified. This is another reason why the Lord allows us to suffer in poverty that we may be purified in poverty too. The wicked are permitted to prosper that they may reveal their enmity against God. Do we need to be envious of wicked people who are prospering? No.

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.” Some think this text teaches that they must be secret in their works of charity. And they do but very little, excusing themselves because they do not know just how to give. But Jesus explained it to His disciples as follows: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” They gave to be regarded noble and generous by men. They received praise of men, and Jesus taught His disciples that this was all the reward they would have. With many, the left hand does not know what the right hand does, for the right hand does nothing worthy of the notice of the left hand. This lesson of Jesus to His disciples was to rebuke those who wished to receive glory of men. They performed their almsgiving at some very public gathering; and before doing this, a public proclamation was made heralding their generosity before the people; and many gave large sums merely to have their name exalted by men. And the means given in this manner was often extorted from others, by oppressing the hireling in his wages, and grinding the face of the poor. {1T 193.1}

Psalm 73:12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Proverbs 1:31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

The wicked are prosperous but we read here that it is a form of self-destruction. Sometimes God allows us to suffer poverty because it is for our own saving. We might be unfaithful in other circumstances or we might genuinely be encountering “honest poverty.”

Jeremiah 12:1 Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.

We have no reason to envy any of these poor souls in the world who are prosperous, in fact they should envy us in our poverty with the Word of God. What riches, what treasure we have. We should place a greater value on these things than we hold. Isn’t Jesus so precious to you? These are the true riches, the bank of heaven. This is where I will be able to put my money and it won’t go bankrupt like the banks in the world will one day. The Lord’s coming is soon. May we glory God in poverty and in wealth in my prayer.

Amen.

Posted on November 23, 2010, in Divine Service Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. His great grandson was my pastor 25 years ago, and the very best SDA pastor I have ever seen!
    I originally heard this story from him-with a few different twists.

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