Who Is Rich?

“Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody,” said Benjamin Franklin. Wrong, says the Bible, and so begins a story that is typical of scripture’s upside down approach to teaching values and the meaning we bring to life.

So who is prosperous?

The English dictionary describes a prosperous person variously as one who  is successful, fortunate, thriving and making gain. A state of being characterised by affluence, riches, being well off, well-to-do, wealthy and a capacity to grow and to increase.

Who might best embody all or most of these attributes?

A slave – well…according to the Bible, and he doesn’t have to be content!

To underscore this lesson  the Bible points to a man who owned nothing. He who himself was the property of another. One to whom the world would not accord any rights or privileges. He had neither citizenship nor family of his own. A non-entity.

His experiences of life, the grace to see another day, to have pleasure or know a moment of joy, depended on the whims and caprice of his owner. He was a chattel. But the Bible insists one person in such a situation was a prosperous man!

Why does the Bible point to someone so unfortunate and disconsolate as prosperous?

The man in question was Joseph. And the references to his prosperity were when he was at the lowest points in his life. The first time in Genesis 39:2, when he was Potiphar’s property. The other time was in Genesis 39:23 when he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

From human trafficking to slavery to jail, ill-fortune found an enduring expression in his life. His experience spiralled from his position as the favourite son of the most blessed human on earth through betrayal and injustice to the very dregs of Ancient Egyptian society.

He hoped for a change. He pleaded with Pharaoh’s butler to be leveraged out of the position of ‘prosperity’. As William Hazlitt said, “Liberty is the only true riches”.

“But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon,” 1Genesis 40:14-15 Joseph said.

As soon as fortune smiled on the butler, he quickly forgot about Joseph.

Why does the Bible point to someone so unfortunate and disconsolate as prosperous?

Jesus Christ had an angle on that question. While shutting down someone’s attempt to enlist him into a fight over a real estate, Jesus said:

“…Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” 2Luke 11:15

According to Jesus, prosperity is not about being affluent, rich, being well off, well-to-do, wealthy and a capacity to grow and to increase! Jesus would later return to that theme in his address to the church of the Laodiceans. He told that church:

“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” 3Revelation 3:17

So what makes one prosperous in the reckoning of heaven? The Bible points to a presence in Joseph’s life, even if it was no consolation to the man himself.

“And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man…” 4Genesis 39:2

Lesson one. When God is with one, one is prosperous. But such prosperity need not effect a change in the individual’s social and, or material condition. It’s not a ‘selfie prosperity’.

Prosperity is a grace that’s worked out in you, when God is with you, to the good of the world around you.

As we learn in Joseph’s case, although God’s presence in his life didn’t make his experience any less desperate, it positively impacted everything and everyone connected to Joseph. We’re told that Potiphar, his owner, yielded control of all he had to Joseph because he sensed that his whole house was blessed because of Joseph. 5Genesis 39:5

During his spell in prison, the keeper of the prison soon cottoned on to the anointing upon Joseph and committed all the prisoners to him..

“…because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.” 6Genesis 39:23

Considered carefully, the measure of the presence of God in Joseph’s life and consequently, his ‘prosperity’, at the time the Bible referenced it, had nothing to do with the impact it had on Joseph’s life. The measure was in the impact that it had on others.

This message is at the core of the calling of God upon Abraham and the blessing bestowed upon him and his descendants.

 “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” 7Genesis 12:2

As far as God is concerned, it is not about material possession or social status, but about what God can do with us and through us. So prosperity is a grace that’s worked out in you, when God is with you, to the good of the world around you. It’s not necessarily something you possess and are charitable with, though that too is of enormous value to heaven.  It is what makes us vessels of the divine presence, an outpost of heaven for the good of humanity.

No life that’s open to the divine presence is void of prosperity.

The Bible teaches us that it’s possible to have all of the world’s riches and be wretched. Conversely, one could have nothing and be prosperous. It depends on whether or not heaven finds in us a habitation for the divine presence and a disposition fit for  the divine vision.

Joseph came to understand fully what his journey in life had been about all along. Having triumphed over the travails that dogged him for much of his life, he brought the wisdom of years of trials to bear on the moment of his reconciliation with the siblings that sold him into slavery. At the height of his success and in position of power, he told his brothers that his experiences were contrived by heaven for the salvation of a world that was headed for a drought.

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20))

Whether rich or poor, high, mighty or lowly, inspired or despondent, no life that’s open to the divine presence is void of prosperity. We just need to discern what God is doing with us and through us.

References   [ + ]

1. Genesis 40:14-15
2. Luke 11:15
3. Revelation 3:17
4. Genesis 39:2
5. Genesis 39:5
6. Genesis 39:23
7. Genesis 12:2

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