Putting God in your Debt
One should not want to give even a whisper of support to an abomination such as prosperity theology. The tradecraft of all such false teaching is the ability to twist and distort the Scripture so that it ends up pointing in the exact opposite direction the author intended (2 Peter 3:16). Let’s not forget, however, that the Scripture is being used (though in a wrong way) and certain truths are be handled (though with defiled hands). The challenge for the faithful church is to bring those Scriptures and truths back to God’s people in way that truly exalts God, exemplifies the gospel, and blesses God’s people.
If ever there was a biblical truth prostituted for personal gain it would be this notion of putting God into your debt. If I do X then God has to do Y. Those who are more biblically literate smell it from a mile away and recoil even at such a notion. That is not a bad reaction. The only better reaction would be to ask if Scripture says something like this that perhaps has been distorted. We ask this remembering that Satan does not create evil, he perverts holiness. God created gold, and Satan uses it to make an idol.
This issue of putting God in our debt came to my attention in our study of Ruth. In chapter 2:12, Boaz blesses Ruth with a prayer that he is praying for Ruth. He says, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Boaz understands just what an incredibly sacrificial act Ruth has done for Naomi. Ruth joined her whole life to a widow with no children and no land. That is guaranteed destitution. Yet, Ruth embraced it out of love for Naomi, though primarily because she saw the God of Israel was true; following Him, even if hard and uncertain, was better than a life with security and plenty with the false gods in Moab. Boaz realizes that what Ruth has done is so sacrificial, so selfless, and so in line with the will of God that no one can adequately repay her. No one human, that is. So Boaz wants God to repay her. Ruth has done for Naomi what God wanted, so Boaz prays that God pay her back.
Is this a misguided prayer? This is the time of the judges, when there was rampant disobedience and sin. Perhaps this is just another warped request coming from a spiritually wayward idea. Actually, no. God operates on this principle and tells us so in a number of different places. Three passages will give you a sampling.
Proverbs 19:17 One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed.”
Deuteronomy 15:10 “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.”
Philippians 4:18–19 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
So what do we make of this? What we need to do first is make a key biblical distinction because if we don’t make this distinction, then everything will go wrong. In the Bible, there are different ways we relate to God. The first and foundational way we relate to God is with the Creator/Creature distinction. In this relationship, we never, ever, put God in our debt. As the Creator, God “upholds all things by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3). He supplies everything, at every level, at every moment. Paul told the Athenians that God “gives to all life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25) Paul also asked the Corinthians “what do you have that you did not receive.” (1 Cor 4:7) So down to the breath you are drawing, all the way up to your place in the universe, God gives it and sustains it. At this level, Paul is right to say:
Romans 11:35–36 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
But here is where we have to pause and think. Though this is the foundational reality, we are not called to operate in it with a cold technicality.
For instance, when it comes to prayer, are we ever giving God new information about a situation or about our needs? Never. Jesus highlighted this in Matthew 6:8. So what is the point of praying? It is an unnecessary exercise if only viewed from the Creator/Creature distinction.
But there are other distinctions that the Bible speaks of when relating to God. While the Creator/Creature distinction is always true, in Christ we are brought into a relationship with our Creator as adopted sons. Along with the Father/Son relationship, there are other relational pictures given as well; that of husband/wife and master/slave. It is in these relational categories that we must think about prayer and serving and all other aspects of life.
So while we rest in the reality that by grace God supplies all things as the vine to the branches, at the same time we step out in faith and sacrificially give our lives for the people around us in the expectation that God will respond to our obedience. When we obey like an obedient son and like a submissive wife, God says that he is going to repay what we have given and sacrificed. In fact, this is the reality operating in some of the most wonderful promises. For instance, when Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” he was talking about what God is going to do in and through the one who obeys Jesus’ call to generosity. God is going to bless that person in ways that are greater than that person's giving, and often more so, and many times in ways that money cannot repay. In 2 Corinthians 9:8,10,11, God is seen ready to “make grace abound” and “supply seed” and “enrich” the person who is giving himself in “good deeds”, “sowing”, and giving “liberally”. This is all the outworking of God repaying the faithful obedience of those who serve and give. Viewed from the Creator/Creature distinction alone, this wouldn’t make sense because God is always give the creature something anyway. But in the other relational distinctions, God is pleased to give to the givers, and bless obedience with great reward.
So what do we do with all this? First, you stand in awe of the reality that behind everything is the God who supplies and upholds and gives everything you have. He is to be worshiped as a mighty God. But secondly, you crawl into his lap as a child with a tender father; you rest as a lamb with a watchful shepherd; you share your soul in the intimacy of wife and husband. In these relational places, you joyfully obey and watch how God repays and rewards and replenishes what you have given.