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What Does It Mean to Have an Abundant Life? Some Thoughts on Prosperity

What Does it Mean to Have an Abundant Life? Some Thoughts on Prosperity

When Christians talk about abundant life in Christ, they share some common beliefs and have points where their ideas diverge, as a Wikipedia article attests! But Scripture is clear that our new life is a reality. Second Corinthians 5:17 talks about this life when it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Old things have passed away and new things have come.” And Jesus calls that life “abundant” in John 10:10.

So what does this new life look like? Ask 10 Christians to define abundant life and you will get 14 answers. And perhaps they are all right in some way, but, if we are being true with Scriptures, the new life given to us in Christ must mean more than merely materially blessings.

Abounding Perspectives

Jesus said, “A thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). People often talk about God doing “exceeding abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Throughout Scripture we see God blessing people, and promising blessing to people. The books of Joshua and Psalms speak to the fact that we can be prosperous. Several of the Proverbs reveal ways we can become prosperous.

Is God trying to tell us that abundant life is the result of having been made new? Is prosperity the sign of abundant life? Because many in the Bible and throughout history have had lives of struggle, suffering and pain, yet seemed to experience abundant life.

Abundance Is not What Some Think

The powerful passage of Hebrews 11 highlights people of great faith and blessing, but also tells us that many believers were tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, destitute, mistreated and homeless. The writer says the world was not worthy of these saints. They were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised. Does that sound like abundant life? Is that prosperity? And yet, we find that these struggling people spoke of a deep-seeded joy.

Paul himself, who penned the oft-quoted “exceedingly abundant” phrase, did a fair amount of writing of joy and peace in the middle of his own difficult circumstances. He used terminology like, “My God shall supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory.” Paul found his life sufficiency in Christ. But what are these “riches in glory” to which he refers?

We know there are some things that can only come from God, not Walmart. God gives peace that passes all understanding. Jesus and Paul promise there will be trouble in the life of a believer. Some of this trouble comes to everyone.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

Actually, some believers deal with some problems because of our relationship with Christ. Their new life in Christ costs them physical and materials abundance; yet, Jesus says we have abundant life!

Always, we are promised a deep abiding peace. This peace is beyond what we can work up on our own by breathing deeply and counting to 10. And have you noticed that peace during these times is the most outrageous blessing ever?

Abundant Opportunity & Responsibility

One way of viewing abundant life is to see when people have been changed by the power of Christ; they live different lives, which affects all aspects of their experience. In missiololgy, we call that “redemption and lift.”

This isn’t just true individually, but can also be on a cultural level.

So, spiritual change, accompanied by better decisions, does often lead to better circumstances financially. (Sometimes it gets you arrested and martyred, so don’t miss the point here.)

However, this is what the book of Proverbs touches on many times. Good decisions, often undertaken because of spiritual decisions, lead to greater prosperity.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest; then your barns will be completely filled, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
  • “Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8)
  • “The diligent hand will rule, but laziness will lead to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24)
  • “The slacker craves, yet has nothing, but the diligent is fully satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4)

So, that’s not the prosperity gospel, but greater prosperity can come from a gospel-centered life and worldview. It’s not because of our “seed faith,” but because we see our faith lived out in a new kind of life.

While everything in my financial life may not be increasing in measurable ways, the gospel is truly prosperous.

In other words, don’t get hung up on money when you see the word “prosperous.” James 1:17 tells us every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights.

What About Financial Miracles?

I don’t think we need to be afraid of the fact there are times when people are blessed materially in Scripture, sometimes even in response to their acts of faith. The question is, “Is this the norm, a common occurrence, or is it the exception?”

Maybe we should ask why God blesses some with more material things than He does others. Is He rewarding faithfulness with more opportunity? Is God trying to show faithfulness in some people through the fact they don’t have as many resources as others?

We want to be thankful for what God has given us and we want to recognize that God blesses others. We also shouldn’t be mad at people who are blessed materially. We all must remember that we’re blessed—as Abraham was—to be a blessing.

When we live this way, we will become conduits of the blessing of God. Some Christians seem to think God has made them containers, complete with a lid. A container stores resources, but a conduit delivers them. We should continually be pouring out into others what God is pouring out into us.

The Key

Acknowledging that people prosper when they are changed by the gospel because they become better at their jobs is obvious. That’s a form of Christian prosperity.

Believing that God can and does bless financially for His own purposes makes sense—and we should respond as those who are blessed by being a blessing.

The key is understanding that we will not automatically receive material blessing and to acknowledge that we can be remarkably blessed, and live an abundant life, in the midst of difficult circumstances. Poverty and persecution cannot overcome the prosperity that God provides for us in Christ.

Abundant Life

Abundant life is not about what we have. It’s not about what we get. It’s not about what we claim. Ultimately, abundant life is about what we receive as a gift from the Lord and to live knowing we are stewards of the blessings of God.

It’s not a sin to be rich (though it might be missing the point if we die rich). Furthermore, stewardship is not measured by what we have received, but by what we have given.

At the end of the day, perhaps that is how we know we have an abundant life—when we have shared our life with others. When we have enough of the blessings of God (mercy, peace, love, grace, wisdom, etc.) to share with our others, and then actually do it; that’s when we truly have abundant life.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is the Dean of Talbot School of Theology at Biola Univeristy and Scholar in Residence & Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is the host of "The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast," and his national radio show, "Ed Stetzer Live," airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.