Proverbs 13:21 has a difficult message for sinners.
Disaster pursues sinners, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.
The problem is, all of us are sinners--including you, me, and the Pope.
Well, then, if disaster pursues sinners and we're all sinners, it would seem the whole world is in trouble. Wouldn't it?
And if we stopped there, that would certainly be the case. Fortunately, for the human race, there is a loophole. His name is Jesus Christ. It's the second half of Proverbs 13:21 that makes the first half, what appears before the comma, understandable.
Why the Righteous Prosper
I believe the key to understanding this verse is to delve into what is meant by "prosper." In what sense do the righteous prosper, and, if we're all sinners, who then are the "righteous?"
The Hebrew word for "prosper" in this verse is the humble towb. Literally, it means "beautiful." More specifically, it means "pleasant," "agreeable," or "good." None of those have anything to do with prosperity, yet the world is full of prosperity gospel teachers who would take this verse and head to the races with it. There is no part of scripture that intends to convey the idea that God wants everyone to be wealthy or that faith in God automatically translates into personal wealth. That is not the true "prosperity gospel."
What, then, is the real prosperity gospel?
For that, I'll turn to a Bible verse that is often used to bolster the prosperity gospel of men like Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and the other Kenneth--Hagin. Jeremiah 29:11 says
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.
These words were expressed to the Israelites during their exile, after they had disobeyed God multiple times, worshipped idols, and followed their sinful leaders down a disastrous path. Remember, disaster pursued sinners, and it certainly pursued the nation Israel. But God planned to restore the nation after allowing them to be exiled and enslaved by the Babylonians. In verse 10, he says
When Babylon’s seventy years are complete, I will attend to you and confirm My promise to restore you to this place.
For, he continues, ...
In other words, because He had made a promise, God intended to prosper His people. That prosperity was not based on anything the Israelites had done or would do. It was based solely on God's promise, God's character, and God's goodness. Nothing else.
But what was the prosperity of which He spoke? Was it wealth? Was it financial success?
No. It was simply the richness of God's blessings. It was spiritual in nature. Then as it is now.
God certainly is a God of prosperity. He loves to see His people do well, but when He prospers His people, it with the unsearchable riches of Christ. That word "unsearchable" comes from the Greek anexichniastos, which literally means "cannot be traced out." The wealth, or riches (ploutos), of Christ are the spiritual rewards that can sometimes be manifested in the physical realm, according to God's divine intention, given to believers as they faithfully carry out God's work here on earth, but the rewards on not given based on performance but on God's own goodness. Nothing more.
His purpose was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to the eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In other words, the church (God's people on earth in the New Testament age) has a heavenly purpose. That purpose is eternal, was accomplished in and through Jesus Christ, and designed to showcase God's wisdom to "rulers and authorities" in heavenly realms. Our prosperity--the beautiful, pleasant, agreeable, and good things of God--flows from that mystery and is distributed to God's people spiritually and materially as we perform the good works He prepared for us advance, and it's based entirely on the predestinated grace and total goodness of God.
The righteous are those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The righteous are those who live by faith, and God rewards those who diligently seek Him.
Proverbs 13:21 has an eternal message with a temporal warning. Chase sin and disaster will pursue you. Live by faith through the indwelling spirit of Christ and God's will shower you with spiritual prosperity, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else.
Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.
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