“Learn to set spiritual riches over against temporal poverty. Balance all your present troubles with your spiritual privileges. Indeed if God has denied your soul the robe of righteousness to clothe it, the hidden manna to feed it, the heavenly mansion to receive it, you might well be pensive.”
John Flavel, Keeping the Heart. A Puritan’s View of how to Maintain Your love for God, Christian Heritage, 1999, ISBN: 1-85792-504-1, p. 88
How modern the concerns of seventeenth century man. He was concerned for clothes on his back, food in his stomach, and a roof over his head. These Gentile concerns (see Mat 6) are shown most vividly in contemporary British TV—cooking galore, makeover shows (whether looking good naked or clothes!), and DIY, house moving shows on every channel it seems, pretty much daily.
The trouble lies not in these temporal concerns, but when they become goals in life: to look good, to eat well, and to have an impressive house. “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Mat 6:25). Our problem is that we become anxious about these things, and we seek them. And in seeking them we no longer seek God first (cf Mat 6:33). Our home becomes our priority, not God’s kingdom, the place we will spend eternity if we have been born again. Our clothes become a priority, instead of Christ’s robe of righteousness, our garments of salvation.
But unlike some religions where the choice is either … or, the Bible presents a different scenario. We seek God first, we put him first, “and all these things will be added to you” (Mat 6:33). It is not particularly spiritual not to bother with food, clothes and shelter, either for ourselves or to provide for our families. What is unspiritual is to elevate these daily necessities to the level of God, which is what we do when we do not seek God first. If he is toppled from his position of authority in our lives we are merely doing what caused Satan’s fall. He wanted to be higher than God (see Is 14, Ezk 28), and it led to his downfall. If we seek to emulate him, we can expect no less. The fact is “God knows [we] need them all” (Mat 6:32).
Is our greater attention to food, clothes and shelter than to God not an assertion of our own independence from God. If we pray for daily bread, then we need not concern ourselves with it. If we truly depend on God, then what he provides ought to be sufficient. If we believe “my grace is sufficient for you” (2Co 12:9) then we dare not complain about the size of the portion on our plates, or the style of the clothes on our backs.
Such an attitude does not come naturally—it must be learned. Even spiritual giants like the Apostle Paul had to learn this; it does not come naturally.
“I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Php 4:12)
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Php 4:11)
“There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” (1Tm 6:6)
We must do as Flavel says and “learn to set spiritual riches over against temporal poverty.”