In Matthew 25 Christ gave the parable of the talents. It's a very well known story. But what is often missed in that story is that the master each servant only what he could be trusted with. It says, And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability. He did not have a socialistic impulse to equally distribute the wealth. And the master's attitude toward each servant is interesting later in the story.
The one who had five talents doubled his money, as did the one who had two talents. The one who was given one talent was afraid of the risks involved in investing, and instead he buried his talent in the ground. The master was upset that he didn't at least put it in the bank and gain interest there. Most people focus on the fact that this servant failed to invest and therefore lost the privilege of handling the master's goods. And dominion stewardship is a very important element of that story. But the major point that Christ makes is that with increased capacity to handle goods, increased goods will be given. Christ tells both the men who doubled their money, you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. So both of them are given increased stewardship. But its interesting what the master does with the talent he takes away from the poor steward. He didn't divide it up equally between the other two. He gave it to the one who already had the most. Why? Because even though both had increased the threshold of what the master could trust them with, the man with ten talents could still handle more. Modern society rewards those with welfare who deserve it the least and punishes those who have the most. And because we are immersed in this kind of a society, it is easy for us to think that God will give give the most money to those who need the most money. That's a consumer orientation that is foreign to the story, and it's backwards to God's way of thinking. God says, "Those who have learned good stewardship the best with the gracious things I have given will be given more, because I trust them to use it better." Listen to Christ's anti-socialist conclusion. He says, For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. I don't know about you, but to me that is strong motivation to excel as a steward in my Dominion. I want to be a faithful servant to whom Christ can say, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. And today's sermon is devoted to looking at what it takes to raise the threshold of prosperity that God can trust us to have. This is the last point from Deuteronomy chapter 8. And if you would turn to Deuteronomy 8:11 we'll begin with subpoint A. Seek God & His Purposes - Do not forget Him.
IV. How to Raise the Threshold of Prosperity God Can Trust You To Have (vv. 11-20)
Seek God & His Purposes - Do not Forget Him (v. 11a, 14, 18a,19a)
The surest way to be insecure in your wealth is to seek wealth as an end in itself and in the process to forget God. Verse 11 says, Beware [the idea is that we need to watch out for an enemy; to be on guard. "Beware"] that you do not forget the LORD your God… Forgetting can come on you without your even expecting it. It comes unexpectedly on even Christians. After all, He is talking in this verse about people whom God says was their God. So it is something that we need to be careful about. The negative side is forgetting God. The positive side is seeking God. And this chapter is very clear that if you forget, God is not motivated to let your prosperity continue for very long. How do we raise the threshold of prosperity that God can trust us with? Don't forget Him, and seek Him with all your heart.
Now I think it is worth asking the question, "How do we forget Him?" One way is mentioned in the rest of verse 11: it's by neglecting His Word. I would say that if we don't listen to our wife, we have forgotten our wife. If we don't listen to our children we have forgotten our children. And if we don't listen to God's Word, we have forgotten God's Word. And so being in the Word is a very important way in which we prepare ourselves as vessels to be prospered.
But there are other ways of forgetting God mentioned in this chapter. Verse 14 says, When your heart is lifted up [Now we will look at pride in a moment, but pride can make you forget God, and right now I just want to look at the description of what forgetting God looks like. "When your heart is lifted up], and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know… etc. God is basically saying that it is possible for these Israelites to forget all the incredible, marvelous things that God has done in the past and to begin to take God for granted. When we take God for granted, He is not uppermost in our minds. He's in the back of our consciousness somewhere and comes to the fore only on special occasions like devotions and church. We might think that we haven't forgotten Him because we worship Him every Sunday. But God wants to know why He is not in our thoughts in the business deal, in the bedroom, in the recreation, etc. Psalm 10:4 says, The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts. How is it that he does not seek God? By failing to have God in his thoughts. Some of us can go a whole day without thinking about God. In contrast, the person God can trust with an increased level of stewardship is the person who has a constant awareness of God's smile or frown. He lives coram deo before the face of God. But the wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.
In fact, God can be so taken for granted that in verse 17 Moses says that these Israelites could make the mistake of thinking that they had done well because they were such skilled wilderness wanderers, such skilled fighters, and planters, and builders, etc. When God blesses our socks off with a major killing in the financial markets, we could make the mistake of patting ourselves on the back and bragging about our own prowess.
So forgetting God is the sure way to be cursed, rather than blessed. Psalm 50:22 says, “Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, And there be none to deliver: Now God is patient and He is slow in doing that, and praise God that He is slow because otherwise we wold constantly be in trouble wouldn't we? We tend to forget God by neglecting His Word, or by not having Him in our thoughts. But we aren't preocuppied here with God's disciplines. I'm trying to find out how we can increase the threshold of prosperity that God dares to trust us with.
So the first step is to put off forgetting. But Psalm 10:4 says that the opposite that we are supposed to put on is seeking. God delights to bless those who seek Him. What was Christ's promise in Matthew 6:33? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. The theme of seeking God is connected to prosperity in the Scriptures. Psalm 34:10 says, The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. That's an incredible promise. How do you raise the threshold of what God can trust you with so that you don't lack any good thing? Seek the LORD. Hosea 6 promises that when we pursue the knowledge of the Lord and when we seek Him, He will pour forth showers. Ezekiel 34 promises prosperity in many areas and sums up by saying, I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Not a dribbling of blessing, but showers of blessing. 2 Chronicles 31:21 even provided healing to those who sought the Lord with all their heart.
We tend to be skeptics. Israel tended to be skeptical of such promises of blessing. I think that's why the Scripture emphasizes this issue so much. For example, Isaiah 45 promised prosperity, and to back it up said in effect, "Hey, God created and controls everything anyway. HE can do what HE says." Here's how He worded it: For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, 'Seek Me in vain'; You can't seek God in vain.
Psalm 9:10 says, "For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You."
Seek His Righteousness (v. 11)
The second key to raising the threshold is to seek His righteousness. Christ said, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. That's a promise. It will be added to you. So its not just seeking God and His kingdom, but seeking His righteousness. And when we do, HE guarantees that HE will add. That's increasing the threshold. And He won't just add one or two things, but HE says, all these things shall be added to you. We are to seek His righteousness. Or as Hebrews words it, we are to pursue holiness. This is implied in the previous point, but I think it bears extra mention. Deuteronomy 8:11 says, Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments and His statutes which I command you today, lest… And after a parenthesis, verse 19 tells us what the lest is. Lest you lose it all. And I want you to notice that this verse does not just tell us to keep the 10 commandments, but also the judgments and statutues. Those are the case laws which flowed from the commands.
We live in such an antinomian age that even Reformed people sometimes deny that God rewards human behavior. And we have to say, "Yes, all is of grace. But grace is not powerless and ineffective. It changes us and it produces responsibility and holiness." And part of God's grace is His loving discipline. And another part of His grace is that HE loves to pour blessings into the lives of those who honor Him.
Who is the first person you think about in the Old Testament when you think about grace? Well, for me it's David. And yet David says in 2 Samuel 22:21, The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. And lest you think that was David sinfully speaking, those exact words, word for word were included in Psalm 18:20, a Psalm of David. God wants us to put those words on our lips. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. Boy, that's a motivation to seek righteousness, isn't it? He is not saying that righteousness gained him salvation, or earned God's favor. All he is saying is that God raised the threshold of prosperity that HE could trust David with because of David's growth in righteousness.
Who is the New Testament apostle that articlulates the Gospel and is associated with love and grace? Well, in my books it's the apostle John. But 2 John 1:8 says that we can lose our rewards as we begin to fall away from righteousness: Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. How do we avoid loss and how do we increase the threshold of prosperity that God can trust us with? Seek to be holy. Ezra 7:9-10 says about Ezra, the good hand of his God [was] upon him for Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord and to do it…
Be On Guard Against Pride (v. 14,16,3,5)
I'm going to read Zephaniah 2:3 and see if you can hear the first three points of this sermon connected to prosperity. We are moving on to point C, but see if you can recognize all three points in the same order. Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, Who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger. Let's deal with that third point, "Seek humility." Back to Deuteronomy 8, I want you to notice the relationship of pride to God's unwillingness to increase the level of prosperity. Verse 14: when your heart is lifted up. That's an expression of pride. You can actually feel it. There doesn't even have to be anybody else around to pat you on the back. You maybe in your weakness were desperately pleading with God for wisdom knowing that you didn't have any. The Lord gave incredible wisdom. And as you look back on the success, your heart momentarily starts to take credit, and you can sometimes feel the pride in your accomplishment taking over. And it's like your chest is lifting. Your heart is lifted up. You feel good and proud about your accomplishment. And you have to beat it down and confess it to God, acknowledge your dependence upon Him and humble yourself. And if you don't, God will humble you. In fact, He has to humble you before HE can trust you with an increased threshold of prosperity if you don't humble yourself. He says in verse 16, Who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that HE might humble you and the He might test you, to do you good in the end. God's purpose is still to increase the threshhold of blessings and prosperity - to do you good in the end. But it can't be upfront. It's in the end - after He has humbled you by treating you as a child. Verse 3, So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger. Sometimes he humbles us with difficulties. Verse 5: You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you. We want our children to prosper, but before they are ready to handle large amounts of money and responsibility they have to mature some. According to the Scripture, all of us have pride. The question is, are we seeking to subdue it? Are we willing to humble ourselves, and do we respond appropriately when the Lord humbles us. This is a huge factor in whether God trusts us to increase the level of prosperity that He has given, whether that is prospering in health, finances, or other areas. As Zephaniah 2:3 says, Seek the Lord, seek righteousness and seek humility.
Remind Yourself of your Frailty and Your Need of God (v. 17)
Point D is a very related point and deals with a sense of dependence or a lack of a sense of dependence. Verse 17 describes what kind of person God is reluctant to prosper any further than He already has. Then you say in your heart, "My power and the mighty of my hand have gained me this wealth." Put yourself in a parent's position. You can understand and be patient with a little child who keeps saying "I did it myself" when you know that he did 5% and you did 95%. It may seem cute, but you do need to correct the child's thinking: "No, we did it together, but you did a nice job on what you did." But you recognize that as an aspect of immaturity.
But if you gave your teenager and his friends a lovely three course meal and a desert, and he tells his friends, "How do you like the meal I cooked" when all he did was peel the potatoes, you wouldn't think that was right or honest. And if this was the pattern of his life, you would discipline for the dishonesty and not keep blessing him with what he is ungrateful for. That's the way God is when we begin to think and say that we pulled outselves up by our bootstraps, God is insulted. He may let us feel what it's like to have to do things on our own.
In contrast, God is very pleased when we admit our frailty and appreciate all that He has done. I think our attitude should be that of Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was the lame son of King Saul, and you know how Saul sought to kill David for years. He tried to hunt David down to kill him. But David showed kindness to Mephiboseth, giving him Saul's vast lands and other assets. Mephibosheth sat at David's table and ate meals with him. He was secure in David's love and favor, but he had no illusions about deserving them. Scripture says, Mephiboseth bowed himself, and said, "What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I? It was his humilty and constant recognition that what he had and even the labors he engaged in were all flowing from David's graces that made David find such pleasure in continuing to give to him. But later, when David thought that Mephibosheth not only didn't appreciate the sacrifices, but was actually trying to take the whole kingdom, David lost motivation to bless him.
I remember as an RA at college, I was working with a kid who thought he was hot stuff. I had thanked God in prayer for helping me on an exam and prayed for wisdom for coming studies. HE commented afterwards that he felt no need to pray to God for wisdom since he was the one who had to do all the studies and good grades depended upon him alone. And so he felt no need to thank God. It''s the only professing believer that I've ever heard talk like that. And I pointed out that God not only created his brain but enabled it to keep functioning and could make him lose his memory at any time that God chose. In God we live and move and have our being. HE upholds all things including every atom of our bodies with the word of His power. And without Him we can do nothing. Without that attitude, and that recognition of our weakness and frailty, He is not about to bless us with more. None of us is invincible financially. But we act like it sometimes. None of us is invincible physically. But we act like it sometimes. If you want the threshold of prosperity that God can trust you with to increase, acknowledge that weakness.
Reject Polytheistic Pluralism (v. 18-19)
The fifth factor is that we need to reject polytheistic pluralism. Verses 18-19: And you shall remember the LORD your god, for it is He who gives power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them… and then he proceeds to say that God would diminish and even destroy them. Now you may think that you don't follow other gods, let alone serve and worship them. But keep in mind that the apostle John even told the Christian Jews in 1 John 5, Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Outward idolatry was an abomination to Jews. They weren't even tempted by it. They prided themselves in avoiding even the remotest semblance of idolatry with stone and wood idols ever since the Babylonian captivity. There probably wasn't a Jew in Christ's day who would say, "Oh yeah, I'm an idolater. I serve other gods." But John said that even regenerate Jews could fall into idolary. In fact, Os Guiness, in his book, No God but God, points out that our hearts are idol factories, and idolatry and polytheism is one of the most pervasive sins in the evangelical church. Schlossberg defines idolatry as "any substitution of what is created for the creator" (p. 6). A political party that cannot be challenged can be an idol. Psychology can be an idol. David Wells speaks of even a lust for academic respecability can be an idol. He speaks of the D-Min-ization of the ministry alluding to the rush for doctorates of ministry by pastors.
But for purposes of this sermon, this chapter indicates that we can follow other gods because money has become an idol. How is that possible? Well, Christ said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. What has captured your heart? That is your god. The danger that this chapter warns against is that we can become preoccupied with our wealth rather than seeing it as a means of advancing His covenant. Verse 18 says for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish Hs covenant… God's only interested in adding these things to you if you are seeking His kingdom with that wealth. If it works at cross purposes to His establishing His covenant, He may take it away. Or at least He will not trust you with more.
Fear God's Sanctions More Than You Fear Man's Sanctions (vv. 19-20)
But I think the last point is perhaps as strong an indication as any that we have other gods. When we fear men more than we fear God, we are polytheistic because fear or reverence is at the heart of religion. If you want to increase the threshold of prosperity that God can trust you with, I would encourage you to buy the book When People are Big and God is Small, by Ed Welch. He shows how all of these six points that we have looked at this morning are simply aspects of the same problem. Now he doesn't look at this passage. But in effect, that is what the book is about. And he gives concrete ways in which we can keep God big in our hearts and make people small. IN other words, how we can develop the fear of the Lord. I'm not going to go through all of the ways that we fear man more than we fear God.
But I do want to at least deal with fear as it relates to prosperity. If the other five points are meaningless to you, then it is unlikely that you will take seriously God's sanctions in history. A sanction is either a blessing or a curse, prosperity or the taking away of prosperity. The culmination of the argument in this chapter is that these things must be in place or God will bring His sanctions. And those are spelled out in the last part of verse 19 and in verse 20. I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God.
There are threats made by God and there are threats made by man. Which do you fear more? There are promises made by God and there are promises made by man. Which do you believe more? It's a simple concept, yet it is profound enough that entire books have been written on it. But if you are to be entrusted with more health, more wealth, more wisdom, more responsibility, etc., then you must learn the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 22:4 says, By humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches and honor and life. Did you notice in the other Scriptures that I quoted, how all of these points are linked together. He says here, By humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches and honor and life. And it's because these six points are really just facets of the same diamond of a God-centeredness that flows from a steward's heart. They are related to such a degree that it is hard to have one without the others. If you keep these six points as life goals, your threshold for prosperity will keep getting higher and higher.
Seek God and His purposes
Seek to be holy and don't compromise
Recognize your frailty and need for God
Don't raise anything in creation to a status of God
Develop the fear of the Lord
The charge is taken from Micah 6:8 "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?"