Elijah prophesied that it would not rain in Israel until he said so. That got the king upset with him, so he went into hiding. God sent him directly to Queen Jezebel’s homeland, perhaps the last place anyone would look for him. Eventually, he stayed with a widow in Zarephath. To herself and everyone around her, she looked destitute. Actually, she more nearly represents the biblical model of divine prosperity than anyone else I can think of.
It has been a long time since I have watched much Christian television. Many popular ministries I know of preach some kind of gospel of self-esteem. I know that some of the ministries that I used to hear preach what they called divine prosperity are still on the air, so this Sunday school lesson I prepared years ago is probably still current.
God wants everyone to be prosperous. He promises prosperity in all of his covenants. The Bible has too many promises of prosperity for anyone to deny that, but we have to let the Bible define divine prosperity. It isn’t driving a luxury car instead of a cheaper model. It isn’t having a fancy house. It isn’t using your faith to accumulate a bunch of toys to enliven your spare time. It isn’t, in short, what the world and some of those television preachers think it looks like.
Paul’s clearest statement of biblical comes in the 8th and 9th chapters of 2 Corinthians, where he urges that church to give generously to the needy in Jerusalem. I’ll quote just two verses here: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9); and “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
In other words, God wants believers to be rich and prosperous, but defines prosperity as having enough to meet their needs (again, according to his definition, not society’s) and a lot left over to do good to others. With that in mind, let’s look at the widow of Zarephath:
- When Elijah asked her for some food, she had enough food for one last meal before starvation.
- Elijah told her that if she gave him some of it first, God would take care of her.
- She believed him. Faith is prerequisite for receiving any of God’s promises, including prosperity.
- She acted on her faith. Assuming she divided that meal equally among Elijah, her son, and herself, she gave a third of all she had to Elijah’s ministry. (Taking a tithe, 10%, off the top of our gross income and sowing it into God’s kingdom suddenly doesn’t look so unreasonable, does it?)
- She had her needs met. She already had a house and clothing. Now, God provided her food supernaturally. Not only that, but when her son died, she received him back.
- She had abundance for every good work required of her as she continued to provide for her guest Elijah until it was time for him to return to Israel to confront the king.
Usually, God meets people’s needs by more natural means. Supernaturally or not, God will meet the needs of everyone who steps out in faith and gives generously to his work. Beyond that, he will make sure that such people have the means to keep on giving.
One person can have a big house, a fancy wardrobe, and an expensive car and be one illness or layoff away from the streets. He may look prosperous, but he is a pauper running scared. Another may have enough money to buy all of that with cash and have plenty more in easy reach. If he keeps it all to himself and does not give, he’s a rich fool.
On the other hand, there are surely lots of people of modest means, including some that may look dirt poor, who cheerfully step out in faith and give extravagantly into the kingdom of God. God measures prosperity not by what people have, but what and how cheerfully they give.