The Right to Provision and Prosperity
More and more seem to believe they are immediately entitled to all the provisions and prosperity that result from years of dedication and hard work. This tendency appears to have increased among the millennial generation (those born from early 1980s to early 2000s). Parents do their children no favor by giving them everything they want (demand), when and how they want (demand) it. Such children are likely to grow up demanding what they think they are entitled to have, instead of learning the long-term benefit of a work ethic that combines the personal responsibility of labor with patience. The impatient person is more likely to selfishly demand his or her “right” to material satisfaction – right now – instead of being content with the fruit of responsible labor.
As American homes have disintegrated over the past 60 years, so has the obligation of generational family care (1 Tim. 5:8). This factor has led to more Americans becoming dependent on governmental assistance for living essentials. Government entitlement programs, once intended to be safety nets for the poorest among us, now provide the major (only) source of income for many. Such programs may help calcify an entitlement mentality in our country, rather than promote the personal responsibility and reward of labor.
There are also false religious doctrines that advance the expectation that God will give you material abundance and riches if you will claim by faith that which you desire. This Prosperity Theology (aka the Prosperity Gospel, the Health and Wealth Gospel, the Word of Faith Movement, or the Seed Faith Movement) is preached by such folks Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar. False teachers who trade on people’s poverty and desires, greed and harmful lusts give false hope that leads to eternal sorrow (1 Tim. 6:9-10; 2 Pet. 2:19). The gospel promises heavenly treasures, not earthly riches (Matt. 6:19-21).
What does the Bible say about our rights to provision and prosperity?
The Right to Work Diligently
We have the right to life-sustaining provisions that result from diligent labor. Genesis 3:17-19 explains that the ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin. Since then, we obtain our provisions from the ground by the sweat of our brow. Our food does not come easily, but only as we overcome the “thorns and thistles” that compete for existence with the “herb of the field.”
Our daily “bread” (food) is not an entitlement; it is the fruit of our labor (Gen. 3:19). True, God blesses us with our daily bread, for which we give thanks. Yet, He commands us to “work with our own hands” to make it so (Matt. 6:11; 1 Thess. 4:11). Labor is a gift from God, as are its results (Eccl. 2:24; 5:18).
We bear a personal responsibility to labor to provide for ourselves and our families. God has made it very clear, “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). When God gave Israel manna for 40 years in the wilderness, each person was expected to gather the manna each day before the sun melted it (Exo. 16:14-36). If they did not work, they did not have food to eat.
Instead of demanding its “rights,” a successful work ethic is diligent. If the lazy Israelite slept in, he would not have God’s provision (manna). Yes, “the early bird catches the worm.” Laziness brings poverty, but diligent work supplies needed provisions (Prov. 20:4). The sluggard should learn this lesson from the ant:
“Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep— So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man” (Prov. 6:6-11; cf. 24:30-34).
The lazy person always has a ready excuse for why he does not work (Prov. 22:13; 26:13-16). Paul did not make excuses, though he could. He worked diligently to provide for himself and others as he preached the gospel (Acts 18:1-4; 20:33-35). Similarly, we are to “aspire” (make it our aim) to work with our hands, so that we “may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that (we) may lack nothing” (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
Let us not forget the value of honest labor. “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight” (Prov. 11:1). We have no right to the reward of another person’s labor. Thus, the sin of stealing is contrasted with good, honest labor in Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” Honest labor does not mean we will become wealthy. (Even though the apostles worked with their hands, they experienced “hunger and thirst,” and were “poorly clothed” and “homeless,” 1 Cor. 4:11-12). But, it means we will have God’s approval as we provide for ourselves and others.
The Uncertainty of Riches
We have the right to remember that prosperity comes and goes. “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:5). The Prosperity Gospel has it all wrong, as it urges people to believe the blessings of faith are measured by perishable things.
Even when we labor diligently, we are not entitled to a guaranteed outcome. Thorns and thistles may overtake us. Time and chance happens to us all, therefore, the “bread is not always to the wise” (Eccl. 9:11). By accepting the fact that unforeseen events can hinder our plans, we are constrained to daily live by faith and especially labor for “the food that endures to everlasting life” (Jno. 6:27; Jas. 4:13-15).
Prosperity does not Give Lasting Fulfillment
We have the right to know that material things do not bring lasting satisfaction. The works of our hands will never satisfy the soul, because “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Eccl. 2:10-11; Lk. 12:15). Accepting we brought nothing into this world and will carry nothing out, enables us to be content with food and clothing, and to devote ourselves to godliness (1 Tim. 6:6-8; Phil. 4:11-12). It is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, because allegiances are easily divided (Matt. 19:23-24; 6:24). It is possible, when one sacrifices all and follows Jesus (Matt. 19:25-26, 20-22; Lk. 14:33).
The gospel teaches us to be content with “food and clothing” (1 Tim. 6:8; cf. Matt. 6:25-34). We must admit that we are not entitled to many of the fine things we possess. Or, do we demand them as our right? Without question, both poverty and prosperity can bring the temptation to love money (Prov. 30:7-9). The “desire to be rich” plunges many souls into destruction (1 Tim. 6:9-10). We who have so much more than “food and clothing” are given a clear command: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). The rights that come with provision and prosperity are to trust in God, to do good, and to share with others. By doing so we lay up treasures in heaven that abound unto eternal life.
Christians face life’s challenges, uncertainties, sorrows, sufferings, pains and losses like everyone else. Yet, we live for heaven, not for this world and its treasure (Phil. 3:20-21). Christians are not an entitled generation, we are a “chosen generation” (1 Pet. 2:9). Instead of demanding our “rights” to material things, let us thank God for His provisions, and use them to lay up heavenly treasures (Matt. 6:19-21).