Needs Met and Not Met – Phil. 4.10-19

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.     (NRSV)

Here Paul thanks the Philippians both for the material support they gave him in the past when he was in need, and for their present gifts. Here’s what I’ve been thinking.

How do we relate what Paul says about being ‘content with whatever he has’, whether having plenty or being in need (vv.11-13), with his confidence that God will meet ‘every need’ that the Philippians have (v19)? In recounting his experience of need and plenty he implies that he did not always have his needs met. It appears that he did not believe that God always met his every need through material provision, but rather God both gives him the strength to endure this lack (v.13) and also has formed his character so that he has ‘learned the secret of being content in any and every situation’ (v.12).

Could it be that Paul understands God’s provision as primarily operating through the ‘giving and receiving’ that had characterized the relationship between Paul and those in Philippi (v.15)? Is it this reciprocity that Paul understands as God’s provision? It certainly grows out of the love which God forms in them by his Spirit, and as such is the work of God in and through them.

If this is the case, is Paul’s confidence that any need they may experience in the future will be met based on how they have shown such love for others and in turn would receive it when they were in need (reciprocity)? Is God’s provision often reliant upon the faithfulness and love of his people through whom he wishes to provide? And we to trust that God will provide for our every need, even though the needs of Paul himself sometimes went unmet?



Suggested Reading: a summary of prosperity teaching

For a very helpful summary of prosperity teaching (from a non-sympathetic perspective) drawing on the work of many others, see The Heart of the Prosperity Gospel: Self or the Saviour? by Dan Lioy, pp. 1-9. You can freely view this in PDF format by clicking the link.

1 John 2.15-17 – ‘do not love the world’

2.15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; 16 for all that is in the world-the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. [NRSV]

So what is John trying to communicate in this passage? Is he saying that we should not desire or enjoy material things? Things that GOD called ‘good’ and gave to us (Gen 1)?

‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world’ (v.15)

When John speaks of ‘the world’ he means both the physical ‘space’ we inhabit (creation of which we are a part)[1] and humankind in the embrace of patterns of life contrary to the commands of GOD. ‘The ‘world’ hates the recipients of John’s letter because of their love for one another (3.13); ‘false prophets’ and the ‘spirit of the antichrist’ are ‘of the world and the world listens to them’ (4.1-5); ‘the whole world is in the power of the evil one’ (5.19); and through ‘faith’ the world will be ‘overcome’ (5.4-5).

And so John tells his recipients not to ‘love the world or the things in the world’. The ‘love’ spoken of here is not the same as the ‘love’ John exhorts his readers to. It is rather an affection for the patterns of life that characterize human society and culture in rebellion against GOD, patterns which focus on satisfying oneself. To ‘love the world’ is to long for and take delight in the “desires” John speaks of in v16 which do not have their origin in the Father but in humanity without GOD.

‘the desire of the flesh’

While the term ‘flesh’ may easily evoke the thought of sexuality given a past association of sex with our ‘sinful flesh’, it is more likely used in a similar sense to to Paul’s use in Romans where it refers to perverted human character in general.[2] The NIV helpfully translates this as ‘the cravings of sinful man’.

‘the desire of the eyes’

Again, in a society and culture where “sex” is invading more and more of our visual space through billboards, magazines, Television and movies, it is hard for it not to spring immediately to mind here. But the thought need not be so restricted, and can refer to the desire for anything aroused by seeing it,[3] whether it be material things such as clothes, the latest cell phone, cars or anything one wishes to possess. Greed and materialism are certainly in John’s view here given the following ‘desire’ (‘pride in riches’) and 3.17 which we will look at in another post.

‘pride in riches’

This is fairly straight forward and can include the attitude and belief that one is self-made, self-sufficient, has no need for GOD, and no acknowledgment of GOD’s provision of all things.

‘The world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever’ (v.17).

The old order, human life in rebellion against GOD due to its love for the ‘things of the world’, is being brought to an end. John is not saying that the physical world should not be enjoyed or that it is evil. What he is saying is is that believers need to be vigilant to guard themselves from the perverted ways of enjoying GOD’s good creation, the idolatrous and self-serving ways that put the ‘self’ (me) at the center of living which characterize ‘the world’.

Marshall sums it up masterfully:

“Clearly all people need possessions, and therefore it cannot be wrong to want and take pleasure in and what God has provided for our needs. But when I begin to desire more than other people, to covet whatever I see, to boast of what I have, and to claim that I am self-sufficient, then my desires have become perverse and sinful, and I stand condemned. John’s teaching stands as a timeless warning against materialism.”[4]

[1] For this sense see 4.1, 3-4, 9, 17

[2] So I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 145.

[3] ibid.,

[4] ibid., 146

The Language(s) and Logic of “Prosperity”

“Because of the price he [Jesus] paid we have a right to live in total victory… He has paid the price so that we may be totally free… abundantly free”[1]

“God’s plan for your life, including your money, is summed up in one beautiful word: prosperity… God wants you to succeed in the area of your soul, in the area of your physical body, and in the area of  your finances”[2]

The language used in prosperity teaching is not uniform, many different images and metaphors are used including those in the above quotes.  But while the language varies from preacher to preacher and book to book, a clear logic constantly emerges:

  • GOD desires that we “prosper” in every area of our lives –>
  • This includes our finances and material possessions –>
  • This means it is GOD’s intention for us to possess an abundance of money and material possessions.

This sounds amazing and exciting. It takes as its starting point the fact that GOD loves us in our entirety. He is not merely interested in us carrying out “religious” rituals and avoiding certain actions that are an offense to him. He is concerned with the whole of our being and our life in all of its dimensions. So where does prosperity teaching go wrong if at all?

Here’s what we need to ask: Does GOD actually make these promises? Does GOD intend for us to “prosper” in these ways in this life? Or do we await for the “fullness” of GOD’s kingdom in the future? Have we been too quick to move from the clear scriptural fact of GOD’s love to what we think that should mean for us now? In other words, having begun with a sweeping and general theological theme (GOD’s love), have we ignored the concrete particulars of the NT?

I believe there is a fundamental failure in prosperity teaching to understand the truly ‘eschatological’ nature of GOD’s mission. We still await the full presence of GOD and his reign on earth including the full transformation of our bodies and hearts and minds and lives. This will be the time of “prosperity”, where no one is without food, shelter,peace, joy, and love. Until then, we know in part, we love in part, this world is set right in part. Prosperity teaching seems to operate with an “over-realized eschatology”, when the fullness of the personal aspects of salvation, along with the social and cosmic still await realization in the future.

[1] Joel Orsteen, Parts of a Sermon from YouTube.

[2] Derek Prince, God’s Plan for Your Money (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1993), 13-14

Introducing “Prosperity Teaching”

Is it GOD’s intention for us to possess and enjoy financial wealth and/or material abundance in this life?

For some of us, the answer is clearly no, for others yes. Then there are those who would offer a ‘qualified’ yes, or a ‘no, but…’.

That said, this is not a question to be considered of peripheral importance to the Christian faith. In their helpful book, Across the Spectrum, Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy cite the maxim, “In the essential things, unity. In the nonessential things, liberty. In all things, charity.”[1] How we define “essential” and “nonessential” is an important question, but here I simply wish to say that how we understand GOD’s intentions for our lives in the present is crucial in a way that debates over the nature of “Hell” or the “destination of the unevangelized” are not.

Our answer to the above question reveals our expectations of GOD and what we believe GOD expects of us. It provides a means of judging how we’re doing in our walk with GOD and can lead us to disappointment and despair if we our expectations are mistaken.

The theology that I will refer to as prosperity teaching and which others have called “the prosperity gospel”, answers with a resounding YES! It is GOD’s desire and intention that we “prosper” financially/materially.

I believe this answer is mistaken and that it is of non-negotiable importance that we get it right. And so, it is essential that we discuss this, and that we do so with charity.

[1] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2002), p8

The Abuse of Tithing

The following are reasons that I have a problem with teaching tithing as a requirement for followers of Jesus.

  • It can reinforce the idea that the ‘pastor’ or ‘leaders’ are the only ones capable of hearing the Spirit and knowing where our money should be used.[1] Can we not all gain wisdom in this area by starting to read the words of Jesus?
  • A negative consequence or assessment is often attached to failing to tithe. E.g. living under a “curse”, preventing GOD from giving you his “full blessing” or “true riches”, being willfully disobedient, not putting GOD first in ones life, serving “Mammon”, the “devourer” will take the 10% anyway.
  • The requirement to tithe is often accompanied by the idea that GOD will grant financial prosperity in return (if tithing is carried out with the right heart/attitude).[2] While gaining more money isn’t inherently wrong, any promise of financial prosperity in this life is lacking in the NT and it encourages self-centered rather than GOD-centered living, cutting right across this fundamental change that GOD wishes to bring about in us.
  • Those at the lower end of the economic spectrum and those who are struggling financially and only just able to pay their bills can be pushed into debt or condemned with guilt when required to tithe. This simply makes no sense when it is clear that we are to help those in material need.[3]
  • It can lead to a public perception of the faith as a money making scheme where charismatic leaders take advantage of peoples hopes and desires. This prevents many from even considering the truth of the gospel.

These reasons mean that some of the current trends in “tithing” cannot be something we can agree to disagree on. It can be damaging to GOD’s people (psychologically and materially)  and damaging to our testimony to the gospel of GOD’s transforming love and promise.

[1] This elevates the leadership and creates a two-way dependency where leader is reliant upon the followers (for a salary) and followers reliant upon the leader (for direction). Unhelpful at best.

[2] Some teach that prospering financially will not result from tithing but only from “offerings” given over and above the 10% “tithed” to ones church.

[3] We need only recall Acts 2.44-46 where the believers used their money and material goods to meet each others needs. While this is not laid down as a model to be adopted, it certainly embodies Jesus’ teaching and example (Mattew 25.31-46; Luke 9.10-17).

Pressing Concerns for the Church

My interest in the topic of money and possessions was sparked in the last three or so months by discussions with a new found friend with whom I work. The man has some serious concerns about the effects of some of the teachings and practices surrounding money that he has heard, seen, and experienced within some of the churches in New Zealand (where we live) and at seminars he has attended. I have been shocked and dismayed by some of the things that are being taught, the weakness of the supposed “biblical basis” of many of them, and the way the they conflict with what I thought were the clear teachings on money and possessions in the New Testament. These issues concern me so much because I believe they are holding people back from aspects of the transformation GOD intends to bring about in us, and because of the perception of the Church and hence the gospel that they leave those outside the faith with. So here I am to engage these concerns, please join me.

We will be exploring some of the following big questions:

  • Is it GOD’s intention for us to possess and enjoy financial wealth and/or material abundance in this life?
  • Does what we do with our money hold back or release GOD’s blessing in our lives?
  • Does GOD instruct us to “tithe” to a church?
  • Are those experiencing extreme poverty throughout the world our concern?

Each of these immediately raises many more questions as we examine the terms used, what the questions presuppose, and what the typical answers necessarily require us to do. We will explore these things in coming posts.