Mailbag – I was wondering if God treats His people the same way regarding giving “blessing for obedience” in the new covenant. It seems all over the Old Testament—if God’s people obey, they receive a blessing; if they don’t obey, they receive discipline. Does God still treat us this way after Christ came? Is there still a blessing for obedience?
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I know this is probably a weird question, but I never seem to be able to keep it straight in my mind. For example, I had been listening to a sermon series on suffering (which is wonderful), and the preacher confessed that he had caught himself wondering that, “the things their church is doing right is why God is blessing it so much lately.”
He indicated that he shouldn’t be thinking that way, and I was wondering if this means that God doesn’t bless us according to our obedience.
Response – Your question is critical and relevant, especially in our day where there is so much teaching that comes across as Christian-get-rich-schemes. It is so prevalent today that this kind of indoctrination has a label: the Prosperity Gospel.
One of the most famous proponents of this kind of teaching is Joel Osteen, who wants you to know that you can have your best life now. While I agree that Christians should have an incredibly, abundant life, I do not agree that your best experience on earth is necessarily health and wealth.
God Permits Suffering for the Obedient
Lazarus was a man who effectively glorified the Father by being sick and eventually dying. His death experience was part of the Father’s planfor him.
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” – John 11:14-15
The man born blind was another example of a person who magnified the name of God through physical disability. The Pharisees struggled with the idea of his blindness for the very reason that you bring up. They assumed his disability was because of sin.
While it is true that he was a sinner and his blindness was a product of the fall of Adam, it was his blindness that brought glory to God. There is always a story behind the story. The Pharisees could not see what the blind man could see.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:3
And then there is Joseph. His story is an incredible example of the empowering grace of God working through disappointment to magnify God’s great name. The story behind the story was God’s desire to use this obedient servant to rescue His people.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20
Of course, this kind of thinking also directs our attention to the gospel. The Savior was a man of sorrows who was acquainted with a lot of grief. The path He walked was by the Father’s design because you and I needed regeneration. God knew the human dilemma, so He provided a sacrifice as the way to salvation.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:3
Yes, God blesses us when we are obedient. There is no doubt that blessings can flow when we walk upright before Him. However, it is not a guarantee or requirement. We should not be oriented to expect things to always go according to our desires just because we were obedient.
It could be that God has other plans for you, which the stories of Lazarus, the blind man, Joseph, and the Savior articulate. We should always be obedient, but we must guard our hearts against thinking that God is obligated to meet all our requests according to how we think He should meet them.
Prosperity and Suffering Is Your Best Life Now
The Father does allow us to suffer, even when we are obedient. Ironically, at times, it is because we are obedient that He permits us to experience suffering. Christians pursuing obedience can be trusted to steward the gift of suffering correctly. Joseph was an excellent choice to walk the path of the Savior to redeem people.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ, you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. – 1 Peter 2:19
While His children may be allowed to go through the crucible of suffering for their obedience, it is also true that the Father will bless His children in expected ways. In such cases, your obedience leads to things that you enjoy.
The following are two of my favorite “you obey, and you will be blessed” texts. The first verse talks about God providing all we need if we will obey Him. The second verse talks about the Father freely forgiving us if we obey Him.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
How glorious it is to be provided for by our heavenly Father. We all can share many testimonies of God’s abundant provision in our lives that flowed out of our obedience. He is regularly adding things to us (Matthew 6:33), none of which is better than His ongoing forgiveness when we obediently ask for it (1 John 1:9).
It is probably not wise or spiritually healthy for us to focus on what we get or do not get from God. To orient our thinking around this idea of obeying God to have a better life—with you as the interpreter of what a better life means—can wreak havoc on the soul. The following is one of the ways I like to pray about blessings—regardless of what kind it is:
Give me the empowering grace to walk in holiness. Give me the empowering grace to accept the path that you choose for me. I realize that sometimes you believe I should glorify you through suffering. I understand. This reality is what you expected from your Son. There is no reason not to expect you to think that way about me too.
If it takes this kind of path for me to walk down, so be it. I am comfortable with your choices. I only ask that you give me the grace to be content with your decisions for my life. – Rick
The Father Does Not Always Punish for Disobedience
There are times when our heavenly Father blesses us because of our obedience. Blessing for compliance is one way He can show His kindness to us. But what about this? He blesses us even though we have been disobedient.
In such cases, “disobedience equals blessings.” This kind of thinking explains the gospel. It was because of our disobedience that led to our blessing with God’s redeeming love.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
We were in rebellion, and God blessed us with the gospel. Amazing. You could think of it this way: Does God discipline or punish you every time you sin? Let’s praise Him because He does not. Because of the gospel, He does not give you what you deserve.
- God may not give you what you want when you are obedient.
- God may not give you what you deserve when you are disobedient.
These truths should not frustrate us but humble us to the point of totally depending on our Father who knows best. “Lord, you do the choosing, and I will be happy with your choices.”
The Father—for reasons He is not obligated to reveal—is choosing to bless the preacher of the church that you mentioned. This truth about His goodness is His mercy to that body of believers. Then we ask, “Is He blessing us because we are obeying?”
I don’t think that is the right question to be asking. How about if you say that God is blessing that ministry. Honestly, that is all we know or need to know. God is not obligated to tell us why He is blessing us. Our responsibility is to respond to God and others with biblical maturity. It is not imperative whether the blessing is to our liking or whether we understand it.
No Cookie-Cutter Parenting with God
I like to use a parenting analogy when I think about such things as blessings because the Father is a Parent to us. As a father, I sometimes choose:
- To bless my children in ways that they might have expected when they obeyed.
- Not to bless them in ways that they might have expected when they obeyed.
- To bless them though they have done nothing good or bad. I just wanted to.
- To bless them by punishing them for their disobedience.
- To bless them by not punishing them for their disobedience.
We try to keep in step with the Spirit regarding the kind of blessing we “bless” our children with, whether they perceive what they get as good for them or not. I’m aware that I don’t do this correctly all the time. I’m a saint who sins. Contrariwise, God never makes a mistake in how He administers His blessings to His children.
Nevertheless, my hope is not to confuse or frustrate my children. And I have no desire to keep them guessing or on their “Ps & Qs.” That would be unkind and manipulative. I respond in different ways, at different times, to my different children, because I love them, and cookie-cutter parenting is not the best parenting model.
My love and affection for them and the blessings I administer to them are not measured out just because they obey me. I dispense eclectic blessings based on how I believe God wants me to respond to them, with the hope that it will motivate them to follow Christ.
Rejoice Always. Again I Say, Rejoice
It is best to rejoice when we receive enjoyable things from the hand of God. Rather than trying to equate His lavishing upon us as something we merited, we need to rest and rejoice in His mercy.
Conversely, when things are not as enjoyable, we should seek to see God working in our lives. God does not waste pain. Though it may not feel like a blessing at the moment, it is a kindness of the Lord that He would engage us where we need it the most.
This kind of mystery can be a frustratingly hard lesson to learn, especially when things are not going our way, and we see no desirable change as we peer into our future. Job wallowed in this kind of misery for a long time, even though he had a God-centered perspective on suffering at the beginning of his ordeal.
And he said, Naked, I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. – Job 1:21-22
In these challenging times, Christians should seek to express more mature and faith-filled gratitude to God. This response will not come easy, and if it does happen, it will more than likely come through many tears.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7How To Overcome Communication Problems When a Parachurch Ministry Tries to Run the Church »