Proverbs 15:6 ESV
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The common line of modern church thought is that the promises of the Old Testament in regards to prosperity in this present life were for that time and not this. Or it’s the prosperity gospel, where God dispenses prosperity in return for worship, a divine gumball machine in the sky. Some, more thoughtful, press beyond the superficiality of ‘the promises were for then and not now’, remembering that the only part of the Bible explicitly made obsolescent by His coming is the ceremonial law. Another position appeals to these, one Calvin at least uttered some support of (though I have not enough knowledge of his position to be certain I understand it fully). This position holds that the promises of present prosperity for the righteous are but shadows of what is to come: the future joy of the church resurrected. They’re right, but they don’t have everything.
Needless to say, prosperity and riches and treasures of this world are not the universal lot of the Christian. Christians have throughout history been hungry and poor; they have been tortured and slain. The Covenanters of Scotland were reduced by around eighteen thousand over the course of the reigns of the final two Stuart kings. They refused the king’s presumption to rule the church, and therefore many suffered in hiding and in flight, living in the wilderness and hunted by men like Claverhouse, by men who tortured men, women, and children with glee. We must not, therefore, blindly assert that the promises of present prosperity are magical formula guaranteeing a cushy life in return for righteousness, not when the Old Testament itself often testifies to the contrary (Ps. 73).
The other path, though, of spiritualizing the promises entirely, is not open to us either. What indication is given to us that they suddenly lack material weight? The promise of the land of Israel, of course, is not ours; we are not Israel, and Israel lost that blessing in its rejection of Christ. Yet this proverb speaks to us just as much as to its first audience. We must therefore consider what it means for us. What treasure is in the house of the righteous?
The treasure of the righteous has three parts, and here I must acknowledge that the application of the promises to spiritual life has much truth in it, for the first two parts are of the spirit. First, the Christian has the great treasure promised to him in the resurrection and in heaven. Christ directed us to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20); by unavoidable inference, we must trust that we do indeed have a treasure in heaven, an eternal reward (John 3:15). The greatest part of this treasure is the gift of His eternal and manifested immanence (Rev. 22:5).
The second part of our treasure is the treasure of salvation, of righteousness, of His word, of His Spirit, of His sacraments, and of the body of the church. This treasure may be in this world, but it is hardly of it. He saves us, taking our sin in uniting us with His death and giving us His record of perfection in uniting us to His resurrection, which is our spiritual baptism (Rom. 6:1-4). He does not, though, leave us there, regenerate, justified, and adopted. God is to His people a father (Is. 64:8), and as a father He raises us in righteousness, giving us hearts of flesh which can truly do good (Ez. 11:19, 36:26), making His Word our delight (Psalm 119:14), disciplining us when we turn from Him (Heb. 12:5-7). This is a treasure beyond compare save in its culmination, which is that treasure in heaven, to which it leads our heart (Matt. 6:21).
This treasure is not stopped here, though. He cultivates in us His image by means of His word, His Spirit, His sacraments, and the body of His people which is the church. The Holy Scriptures are to us a treasure without compare, the gift of which is so much that even the greatest of the Old Testament saints stand our lesser in blessing (Luke 7:28), the gift which we so often spurn but which nevertheless shows us the path to eternal life (John 3:16). More, He has given us His Spirit to guide us in understanding and applying it (John 16:13), to give us strength, to bear us up in trouble. Another treasure too he grants us: the communion of the saints, with the two sacraments of the covenant. To some in greater measure than others is the communion physically given, but even the most lonely Christian stands amidst an army of brothers and sisters, martyrs and faithful and those who sinned so terribly that all the world called them lost, but whom He calls ‘child by My covenant’. To us is given amidst this congregation the two sacraments of the New Covenant, baptism (which is the echo of that spiritual baptism, a declaration of trust in His covenant) and communion, the remembrance of His great work, the signs and seals of our salvation.
So I’ve spent a lot of time to agree with the people I said I was going to disagree with, and here’s where I stop doing that. The third part of this verse’s import does not lie in the spiritual realm alone. The promise of God is clear: righteousness begets good things upon the righteous. In our fallen world, these good things are very often spiritual; the world, after all, cannot stem those blessings save in appearance. Yet the pattern holds for the physical as well as the spiritual. He is not the God of the spirit only but also of the flesh, sovereign even over the evilest of all men and angels (Rom. 9:17; Job 1:6-12). By righteousness does come that which is good in this life, for good cannot come from evil.
The righteous man will be diligent, careful, prudent, and wise; he will be blessed of God for this (Ecclesiastes 11:1; Is. 62:9-10). The world is His, and He gives good things to His people (Matt. 7:7-11). The history of the earth stands as proof to this in three respects. First, was it from the broken virtue or the (God-restrained) vice of man did his worldly blessings comes? Alexander the Great ruled the world not because he was a lustful drunkard but because he used his gifts of intellect with diligence. We see the basis of this in Scripture, which says that all the blessings of nature are from God (Matthew 5:45-46); it would be rank absurdity to declare that He rewarded the vice of these men. No, all that wicked men gain they have gained by use of the virtues they refuse to acknowledge His hand in.
Second, we can see the prosperity which He grants to the righteous in the great arc of history. Was it from a land of Christians or of pagans that the greatest growth of wealth and human ease grew? Our Western civilization is not, it is true, unpolluted. Even before it started going full clown-town, we had plenty of pagan and Roman and Greek and plain stupid mixed in, an admixture which enabled the recent degradation. But it is the lands where Christ’s name was most preached that experienced the (nearly) unprecedented growth of prosperity which started in Europe after the fall of Rome, which burst forth with new vigor in the Reformation, which spread to America, which even now secularism seeks to trample into nothingness while wearing its pilfered skin.
Third, we know that virtue is met with good and not ill, know that even on an individual scale virtue and not vice is the bringer of worthwhile treasure, however tempting vice’s ‘rich quick’ schemes may be. In pursuit of the true treasure which is in heaven, it may please God that His people accumulate some measure of treasure upon earth. It is, in fact, a growth from the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28; we in this life are still called to take dominion over the treasures of this earth, though we may only do so if our eyes remain fixed upon the treasure which is in heaven, upon Him.
God does promise to His people treasure beyond their imagination, treasure which is the desert of His Son, whose merit our robe is (Is. 61:10). This treasure is not of earth but of heaven, and so far we are right in disdaining the world. Yet He calls us on this earth also to be wise stewards. Not all wise stewards are successful by earthly measures. Many a Christian has been struck down or robbed or tormented till the life fled for refuge to God’s throne. He does, however, bless His people with even worldly success as is good for them (and remember, the moral danger of wealth is not less than the moral danger of poverty, merely shinier and less disreputable). All this success pales, in truth, before the final treasure, which is to be in His presence and employed in His praise forever.
Written by Colson Potter
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.