Reflections and Blog

When Others Prosper and You Do Not

This past Sunday, we heard from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 that righteousness and wisdom, while God-glorifying and the best ways to live life, do not always result in earthly blessing. While this is a hard truth, the perhaps even harder truth to accept is that God may choose to bless other persons, who seem just as or even less deserving, and not you. For example, your business may struggle while your friend’s succeeds, your body may be debilitated by disease while your neighbor is healthy and carefree, or your worldly acquaintances may have all happily found boyfriends/girlfriends or spouses while you remain single. We often respond to these situations with envy, anger, or despair. “Does God simply hate me?” we ask, “Otherwise, why would God give others what they want and not me? Why should God cause others to prosper and not me?”

As with suffering, one can find many examples in the Bible of God’s righteous having unequal experiences of prosperity. Some righteous women had no children, few children, or children who grew up to be evil, while other righteous women had many and/or godly children (consider the various experiences of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Jochebed, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Anna); some Old Testament prophets were dishonored, persecuted, and killed, while other Old Testament prophets were honored, heeded, and preserved (consider the variations between Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist); and some New Testament Christians were martyred early while other Christians had long ministries before their martyrdoms or were never martyred at all (consider the experiences of Stephen, James, Peter, Paul, and John). These outcomes were not simply based on righteousness, i.e., some experiencing more blessing because they were more faithful to God. Rather, God simply determined that one righteous person should be blessed in a particular way and that another righteous person should not.

How should we respond to unequal prosperity? Though this topic is worthy of a whole sermon, let me briefly outline three ways:

1. Humble yourself before God. As with other difficult circumstances of life, we must first recognize that God has a right to do as he pleases with his creation. If he wishes to exalt one person and afflict another, even two brethren in the same church, that is God’s right, and he does not owe an explanation. He is the potter and we are the clay (Isa 45:9-10; Rom 9:19-21). His ways are far above ours, and we do not have to understand what God is doing to trust him. Furthermore, that we experience any good from God is already an incredible grace (Gen 32:10; Luke 17:10).
2. Beware craving earthly gain. One reason we resent the prosperity of others is because we think we need what they have in order to be happy or secure. But Solomon has shown us again and again in Ecclesiastes that this is false: there is no lasting joy or protection in the things of the world, even in the good but temporary gifts of God. After all, whenever you do finally get what you have been coveting, you will find—just as the toddler does who finally gets the toy for which he whined—that it is only vapor. For good reason the Scriptures exhort us to set our minds on treasures that truly last (Mt 6:19-21).
3. Remember God’s perfect love. Though we must all submit to God’s sovereignty, we should remember that God is no miser. Rather, he is a loving and generous father who loves to give what is good and needful to his children (Mt 6:25-33; 7:7-11). The Scriptures even promise that God never withholds good from his own (Ps 34:10; 84:11). Therefore, we can say with confidence that, if we lack a certain blessing, it is only because it would not be truly good for us to have it. God knows what each person needs, and all of us need most of all to know, become more like, and glorify Christ.

Varying levels of prosperity are a fact of life. While God’s wisdom often leads to success, it does not always, nor does it always lead to the same measure of success as experienced by someone else. But God has a good purpose even in this variance, which means we truly can fear God, keep calm, and carry on.

Matthew 20:15, Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?

Questions to Consider:
1. Which is easier, to “weep with those who weep” or to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom 12:15)? Why?
2. Our society is currently seeing a greater push toward socialism, wealth redistribution, and “equity of outcome.” Are these ideas biblical? Why or why not?
3. Where in your life do you need to repent over your jealousy of others’ prosperity?