God will prosper his people in Christ. I believe all things will work to our good. I believe throughout our lifetime that good is not necessarily material, but to form us into the likeness of Jesus. But I also believe that when he has finished doing so, he will share with us every good thing that belongs to him. We will lack nothing in him and we will prosper in every meaning and sense of that word in a perfect new creation with him.
Yesterday, I wrote about how Romans 8:28 points us to a particular good to which all things are working for those who love Christ. These are not general goods, or wish-dreams that we have imagined, but the greatest good of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus. God has ordered everything in the universe with the specific intention of making his people like his Son.
As part of that, I said we often imagine goodness in a lesser form. We tend to think in terms of the goodness of health, wealth and happiness. Yesterday, I pushed away from that towards the truth of Romans 8:29 which insists the goodness of becoming like Jesus is a greater good than such things.
But it is hard to get away from the reality that health, wealth and happiness are good things. Again, even a cursory glance at the Old Testament shows you how such things are often built into the promises of God to his people. There is a reason why some assumed King Solomon was the one that God was going to send. His reign marked the high point of Israel’s history. They were wealthy, happy and enjoyed peace on their borders. These were part and parcel of what God promised his people.
Reformed people can get a bit funny about this stuff. It is a point Dale Ralph Davis makes so helpfully and graphically that I previously highlighted it here (and frequently think on it). He says:
We can say that 1 Kings 10 speaks a word of testimony, namely, that the prosperity of the people of God is always a gift of Yahweh’s goodness, which (I think) demands of us both gratitude (lest we idolize the gifts in place of God) and joy (lest we despise God’s gifts as though they were sinful). Some have difficulty with the latter response in 1 Kings 10. In spite of the positive tone of the writer commentators seem convinced that all that gold can’t be good and so feel impelled to emphasize the clouds on the horizon for Solomon’s kingdom. It reminds me of what missionary Don McClure once told about the Nuer people in the Sudan: ‘the Nuer believes that milk is a beverage for women and children, but he likes it so well that he cannot bear to see it all go to the women, so he makes a cocktail with a bite by adding cow urine, which makes it a man’s drink.’ That is, he can’t enjoy it unless he ruins it first. I wonder if we don’t do that with 1 Kings 10 – feel obligated to moan over ‘materialism’ and all that could possibly go wrong with such bounty rather than acknowledging that it is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich (cf. Prov 10:22) and being content to enjoy that should he give it. Must we, to stretch illustration into analogy, pour cow urine over the text in our panic to stay out of bed with the whore we call the health-and-wealth gospel?
Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings: The Wisdom & the Folly, Christian Focus, 2002, p. 104-5
Anything that smacks of the prosperity gospel – even if scripture expressly says it itself – must be shot down. We don’t want anyone thinking God might want them to actually be healthy, wealthy or happy do we? Well, that sort of thinking can end up making us deny what the Bible plainly says. Solomon’s reign being one such example.
What does that have to do with Romans 8:28-29? Because clearly that text does say that the good to which God works all things is conformity to the image of his son, Jesus Christ. It is right to say that good is higher than any other we might imagine. So, in what way might we do what Dr Davis tells us we ought not to do with this text?