Confusing Prosperity with Christlikeness

This week a startling research paper was published suggesting that Russia, China, and North Korea are all exaggerating the status of their economies. The reliability of such an accusation is not for me to say. What is more important is that the possibility of this is even newsworthy. This is not the first time that someone has leveraged accusations against a government inflating its numbers. Spanning the Americas from north to south, including the United States to Argentina, the same charge has been played out. From underreporting inflation rates to over-reporting GDP, the incentives to overemphasize economic stability (and even growth) is profound enough to provoke intentional deception.
Again, not affirming or denying the truth of such accusations because I have no beneficial information, there is a deeper issue at hand that this points to. Why is economic deception considered to be such a significant sin? Because financial accountability and stability form the basis for all judgments. The phrase is often uttered that one of the issues with Americans is that they measure everything by the dollar. However, that is not an American concept, it’s not capitalist ideology, that’s the natural form of our modern world. All things are measured by their tie to money (it does not have to be the dollar).
Consider how one’s view about financial prosperity impacts what they attribute to others, both individually and nationally, in the following areas:
  1. Happiness: Often, if one has lots of money they are considered to be happy or there is an expectation that if a person could only earn more money then happiness would follow. Consider how often the phrase is uttered, “If I could just make a bit more money, then I could . . . “
  2. Stability: Furthermore, financial prosperity is thought to bring more stability. However, if stability is tied to money, then the state of existence is constant instability. Where I live, the markets went craze over the last two weeks, with the dollar rising and falling more rapidly than one can follow. In one day our rent dropped by $50, the next day it went back up to the same level, only to drop again by the following week and that continued the following week. If stability is tied to something so unstable, then one can never find a firm footing.
  3. Authority: Notice how quickly one is likely to surrender authority to another person based on wealth. Perhaps it is because success is also tied to financial prosperity. Assuming that if one was able to get themselves in the position they are in, then they must carry a weight of authority that must be obeyed.
  4. Respectability: Similar to authority, many people will often ascribe a level of respect to a person based upon the amount of money they have.
  5. Honor: Finally, places of honor are reserved for those who have notoriety due to their wealth. Special places on boards of director, appointments to certain positions, are often reserved for those people not because of their qualifications, but because they bring money to the table.
Certainly, this list is not exhaustive. In preparation for writing this article, I listed a number of other attributes that could be included. However, these are some of the major ones.
Notice a deeper and richer meaning for each of these characteristics though when we recognize their association with Christ:
  1. Happiness: Paul writes to the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:3). To the Romans, he indicates that through Christ we have access to God’s grace and should rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). He does not stop there but indicates that we rejoice in sufferings (Romans 5:3). Rejoicing signifies gladness and joy, but how can that be in sufferings. Because joy is tied to the unchanging Christ who provided eternal salvation.
  2. Stability: Because Christ is unchanging, so is eternal salvation. Independent of the world’s circumstances, both faith and joy remain constant because Christ remains constant. In this way then, true stability is reached.
  3. Authority: Additionally, Jesus was authoritative. He healed sicknesses, stood against demons, and condemned the Pharisees. Surely, this authority cannot be from man alone. In fact, Christ says that all authority, in heaven AND earth, has been given to him. Thus, there can be no greater authority than his authority (or the authority he delegates to others as his ambassadors).
  4. Respectability: Respectability requires godliness. Read 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence . . . “ There is so much doctrine we could discuss in this one word, but it is important to note that through Christ we have been given all things that pertain godliness. Our respectability is tied to our sanctification, which is not dependent upon our inability, but on Christ’s ability.
  5. Honor: 2 Peter 1:4 continues from verse three and indicates a believer’s position in Christ, escaping the corruption of this world. Instead, believers are given the right to become children of God (1 John 3:1). No honor can be so gratifying and magnificent for mere humans than to be considered the children of God because, for them, a place is reserved for them in the presence of God.
While wealth and riches are dependent upon the time of day and the era of the living, each of these attributes is more firmly grasped when they are placed in the context of the heavenly and not the worldly.
It is interesting that while many are decrying capitalism, the majority still give deference to money. They attribute characteristics that can only be found in Christ to those who have money instead. However, their richness can only be rightly determined when they are found in Christ. He is the very example, the very definition, and the very application of such attributes.

Photo “Shopping Carts” courtesy of user Trevor and Flickr.