And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. (Genesis 13:5-7 ESV)
It’s a tricky issue in the Scriptures, the issue of prosperity. There is a legitimate case for God’s tendency to lavish blessings on His sons and daughters, but there is also the equally important truth that what we do with prosperity, specifically that which God has directly poured out on us, will determine our understanding of why God blesses in the first place.
In this text in Genesis the truth about the danger of materialism couldn’t be any more accurate. These verses blatantly say that because Abraham and Lot had so much stuff they couldn’t live together anymore. And the tragic thing, in my opinion, is that for many of us, this decision to dissolve fellowship sounds reasonable when the other option is liquidating or (gasp) shedding “stuff”. Obviously there is no sin in having things. There is no sin in making a profit. There is no sin in being wealthy. But, there is sin in dividing and breaking fellowship because two people or groups have run out of space for their “treasures”.
I heard Ravi Zacharias say one time that in our economy we use people and value things, but in God’s economy people are valued and things are used. I think this captures the spirit of our time here in the Western world quite profoundly. Election season is in its backstretch (considering that it began three years ago) and so much of the talk on the lips of the nation, the church included, is about economic growth and prosperity. I fear that we are justifying some social divisions because of our drive to have “stuff” and desire to make sure our “stuff” is secure.
God’s prosperity isn’t always an affirmation of the receiving party’s behavior. We would be wise to remember the previous chapter in Genesis when Moses lied to Pharaoh, and gave his wife to him to save his own skin and perhaps to become a little more prosperous. This obvious deviation from God’s plan of courage, honesty, and trust in chapter 12 is followed immediately by the opening of chapter 13 that declares Abraham to be a very wealthy man. Can we really look at Abraham’s wealth in this context and say, “God made him rich because He was happy with Abe’s decisions and discernment,” ? No! Sometimes God blesses because He blesses, not because someone has earned it. We find this to be completely true in the realm of salvation.
So the question is, what lies between us and our family, our friends, our enemies? What has a tendency to slip in and become a mechanism of separation? Money? Stuff? Success? Power? Laziness? Selfishness? Pride?
Before I stop I should point out that riches aren’t the only economic standing that produces division. People with little to no possessions or income divide because of the same reasons. Excess as well as lack can easily create a polarization between people or groups. Both are wrong. The rich can easily feel entitled and the poor can easily feel owed. The truth is much more simple, we are all far more in need of vibrant relationships and active faith families than we are of $20k more per year or an iPad or a Lexus or food stamps or an unemployment check.
Like God told Abraham, we are “blessed to be a blessing”. If our blessings ever cause us to stop being a blessing to others then we have to look closely at how we have mismanaged our gifts. We must safeguard our hearts from our tendency to elevate good things into gods and demote God to a mere good thing.