Walking by Faith: A Study of the Life of Abraham,

The Problem With Prosperity

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist, once said that for every 100 people who could handle adversity, there is only one who can handle prosperity. How true that is. There is something about prosperity that naturally lures us away from God. 

What is it about prosperity that leads us away from God? Wealth produces independence. Money gives us various choices that can be made without consideration of God. Now you may be thinking this doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a wealthy person. And yet, the fact that most of you know where your next meal is coming from, that you have an automobile to drive, that many of you could go to the Dallas Airport and put down a charge card and purchase a ticket that would take you hundreds or thousands of miles away makes you wealthy in terms of the rest of the world certainly in terms of history.

We are a nation of great wealth. But the problem with prosperity is that it empowers us to make decisions apart from God. However, failure to consult God about our choices can lead to disastrous consequences.

1. The Context (Genesis 13:1-4

Some of you, like Abraham, can point to a particular decision that was a turning point in your spiritual journey. It was a decision that led you down a road that took you further and further away from God until you don’t know if it is ever possible to return. Satan says no, but God says yes.

God doesn’t ask you for assurances that you will never make a mistake again—He knows better. All He wants you to do is kneel before Him at the altar, acknowledge your mistake, receive His forgiveness, and begin walking—step by step—in a new direction. That is what Abraham did. But the forgiveness Abraham received that day did not exempt him from any future tests. But this time, Abraham’s test would not come from how he handled famine but from how he handled prosperity.

2. The Conflict (Genesis 13:5-7)

Lot was Abraham’s nephew, the son of Abraham’s dead brother Haran. We don’t know for sure how Lot acquired his wealth. It may have been left to him by his father, or even more probable is that Abraham himself had given a part of his wealth to his nephew. Yet, Lot never once expresses gratitude to either Abraham or God for his wealth. He fails to understand that he is simply a steward of his wealth, that it belongs to another. Instead, he holds his possessions tightly, and that ends up costing him dearly.

The apostle repeats the term “righteous” three times to describe Lot. But Lots was a carnal or fleshly believer who walked by sight, not faith. Like Abraham’s father, Terah, Lot was tremendously detrimental to Abraham’s obedience to God. God told Abraham to separate himself from his family—his father and nephew.

3. The Compromise (Genesis 13:8-9)

Abraham said to Lot, “We are in a strange land, surrounded by all of these Canaanites, and if they sense that we are divided, they will attack. United we stand, divided we fall.” If we’re brothers, we’re on the same team. We need to remember that in the church.

Romans 12:10 says we are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. The word brotherly comes from the Greek word “adelphos,” which means “from the same womb.” Brothers and sisters are to be especially devoted to one another because they have the same blood running through their veins.

Let us never forget that we are brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of our differences. We are members of the same body—the body of Christ. So many churches today are being destroyed because the members have forgotten who the real enemy is. They are battling against one another instead of Satan. Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham understood that truth, and so he was the first one to blink; he was the one who offered a compromise.

Today we equate compromise with weakness. Don’t give an inch, never let them see you sweat, and hold your ground. But God sees things differently. Abraham’s willingness to settle the conflict showed strength, not weakness. And so he offers this compromise, saying, “Lot, you can choose whatever land you desire, and I will take what you leave behind.” Understand that as the family patriarch, Abraham had the right to choose first. But he willingly gave up his rights for several reasons:

  • He Had a Greater Purpose
  • He Possessed a Greater Faith
  • He Looked for a Greater Reward

4. The Consequences (Genesis 13:10-18)

Lot’s choice of the better land seemed logical, especially if your life philosophy was “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.” But as we will see in the weeks ahead, appearances can be deceiving. Lot’s choice resulted in disaster both for himself and for his family. What caused Lot, a believer—a righteous man—to make a short-sighted and ultimately disastrous decision?

For those confronting choices about your career, where you live, or selecting a mate, please note the ingredients for a bad decision here.

Lot’s Three Mistakes

  1. He refused to be content with his present circumstances (Genesis 13:10).
  2. He failed to consult God (Genesis 13:11).
  3. He neglected to consider his family (Genesis 13:12-13).

The city of Sodom was exceedingly wicked, and Lot moved his family to the edge of the city. Why didn’t he move into this corrupt city? Remember, Lot was a believer. He no doubt had heard about the city’s corruption, and with a hint of moral indignation, he said, “Sodom is wicked, and I would never live in such a city, but I can live on the edge of it.” I can always say no to sin. Maybe I can even be a positive witness to those Sodomites.” But he violated two principles in moving to the city’s edge.

  1. He underestimated the power of sin.
  2. He overestimated the spiritual strength of his family.

Now contrast Lot with Abraham.

I love what one writer says about this passage, “For Abraham, the sight of surrender became the place of possession.” After Abraham said, “Lord, I am willing to let go of this possession to glorify your name,” God came and said, “Abraham, nothing is going to stop this land from becoming yours.”

Allen Ross writes these perceptive words, “Abraham had learned that it was not by his plan or power that he would come into possession, not by jealously guarding what he thought was his. God would give it to him, even if Abraham gave it away 100 times.”

Have you learned that lesson yet? Do you understand that if you do what is right and place God’s and others’ interests above your own, God will take responsibility for your well-being? Some of you here this morning, like Lot, think that the way to success is holding on tightly to what you have, but Abraham reminds us that the way to true success is holding everything—our possessions, our plans, our relationships—loosely.

I often think of Jim Elliot, the missionary killed by the Auca Indians, who wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining what he cannot lose.”

Full Passage: Genesis 13:1-18