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Poverty, sickness and salvation?

by Church Times





By Gbenga Osinaike

Let me state from the onset that it is  not proper to celebrate poverty and sickness. And I do not think anybody in his right senses will do. It is one experience in life nobody wants to go through. Poverty is bad. It is not dignifying. It reduces our humanity and makes someone to think less of himself if care is not taken.

But to say poverty and sickness are indications that one is not of the Lord is to reduce the gospel of salvation to the mundane. And that is if we are looking at poverty and sickness from human standpoint.

It is true God placed a curse on the ground because of Adam.

Genesis 3:17-19

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”

Reading further in the Old Testament it seems that serving God was equated with plenty. Each time the children of Israel derailed they were faced with lack and penury and attack from the camp of the enemy.

Deuteronomy 28:47-48

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.

These scriptures and many others in the Old Testament are convenient grounds to link poverty to a curse from God. This is so because the Old Testament is a shadow of the real thing. But Jesus changed that narrative when he paid the supreme price for our sins. He died that we may have eternal life. Now eternal life is far glorious that any form of life. In the New Testament the emphasis shifted from the physical possession to spiritual possession. Paul tells us in Romans 14v17 that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. But then we are told in the same Old Testament that Poverty is a consequence of laziness

The book of Proverbs was clear as to the causes of poverty

Proverbs 6:10-11

“A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”– Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.

Proverbs 10:4

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.

So whether you are a Christian or not as long as you are diligent you will make money for yourself. There are many people who are legitimately rich who never stepped into the church.

Coming to the New Testament, one of the scriptures prosperity preachers will always stretch to the extreme is 3John verses 1, 2

King James Version
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

The first thing you must note is that John who wrote this scripture suffered great persecution. He was banished on the island of Pathmos and was in an unpalatable physical condition. But he was a beloved apostle who loved the Lord. The other point is that the scripture is a wish and not a canon. He wished that they prosper and be in health. But the reality then was that many of the apostles were in dire conditions. Some suffered ill health and some were in the throes of death and persecution because of their faith.

Apostle Paul made a striking remark in describing his own condition in 2 Cor 11 v 27, 28

I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

There were also instances where the apostles battled with sickness

Philippians 2:27 Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death Timothy was encouraged to use a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23

2 Timothy 4:20

Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.

Paul himself had to battle with a thorn in the flesh.

The New Testament did not present a gospel of ostentation and materialism as we are being made to believe in some circles today. The life of a Christian is not defined by the money he has or he does not have. Poverty and riches from the human standpoint are neutral and are by no means parameters to measure how holy or sinful you are. That does not mean poverty could not be a product of a curse but it is not a given.

Jesus healed a blind man in John 9v2 and 3. But the disciples asked, who sinned, why was the man born blind? Jesus replied neither the man nor his parents sinned but the work of God must be done

As a matter of fact the fact that you are rich could as well be a testimony of your wickedness and fraudulent acts. There are many fraudulent people who parade wealth and we celebrate them in our churches without recourse to how they made the money. But that does not mean every successful person is fraudulent. There are men and women who are genuinely wealthy. But the point is that poverty or wealth is neutral and has no direct link with salvation. That you are in good health and have material wealth is not an indication that you are closer to God than the man who is poor and sickly. And that you are poor and sickly  does not mean you are also closer to God. Unfortunately the gospel we hear in some places is that when you are spiritually strong it will reflect in your material possession. If wealth is a fallout of the state of our spiritual lives, the richest people would be those who are Christians.

Paul warned in 1Tim 6v5

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The reality on ground is that believers also go through lack. They could be poor or rich. They could be sick or healthy. They could be despised or celebrated. Jesus himself warned that the life of man does not consist in the abundance of the things that he has.

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