Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9)
Let’s take a quiz. You see a businessman who is enjoying a high degree of worldly success. He has the beautiful home, the nice car, the big bank account, and all the rest of it. What is your first thought about the source of his success? Or, you see a woman who rises to the top of her profession. She gets the job title, the large salary, the spacious office, and all the power and influence that goes with the rank. What is your first thought about the source of her success? Or, you see a coach whose teams win game after game. This fellow is beloved by a fanatical fan base, respected by his peers, and can seemingly do no wrong. What is your first thought about the source of his success? Or, you see a church that has the highest attendance in town, huge offerings, and a bulletin full of programs. Again, what is your first thought about the source of that success?
Going way back into history, it has been human nature to equate worldly success with God’s blessing and a lack of worldly success with God’s cursing. The story of Job is one of the oldest in the Bible. It is generally believed that Job lived sometime during the time of the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Job was the wealthiest man in all the East. He was also a man who feared God, shunned evil, and was blameless in the eyes of God. But when God allowed Satan to attempt to break Job of his devotion to God, Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health. That’s when Job’s three friends enter the story. Their names are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. And what do they immediately assume about Job’s situation? They assume that God has stopped blessing Job and started cursing him because Job has somehow sinned.
Eliphaz says, “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the blast of God they perish. And by the breath of His anger they are consumed” (Job 4:7-9). Translation: “Job, the innocent aren’t the ones who get cut off. Therefore, surely you’ve plowed iniquity and sown trouble. That’s why all this has befallen you. God has blasted you for your sins.”
Bildad says, “Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice?…If you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake for you and prosper your rightful dwelling place…Behold, God will not cast away the blameless, nor will He uphold the evildoers” (Job 8:3,6,20). Translation: “Job, God doesn’t make mistakes in His justice. If you were pure and upright, all this wouldn’t have happened to you. The fact that all this has happened to you is proof positive that you are an evildoer.”
Zophar says, “For you have said, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in your eyes.’ But oh, that God would speak and open His lips against you…Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves…For He knows deceitful men. He sees wickedness also” (Job 11:4,5,6,11). Translation: “Job, you can proclaim your innocence all you want but you’ll never fool God. He knows how deceitful and wicked you really are. As a matter of fact, you’re lucky that He hasn’t judged you even worse for daring to say that you are innocent.”
And it isn’t just in Old Testament times that we find this wrong mindset on display. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus talks about two events that had recently rocked the Jews. First, Pontius Pilate had ordered the killing of some Jews from Galilee, evidently while they had been in Jerusalem at the temple bringing their sacrifices. Jesus asks, “Do you suppose these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” Second, He references a tower in Siloam that had recently fallen and killed eighteen people in the process. He asks of those eighteen, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” The point of both questions is: Just because something awful has happened to someone, don’t assume it happened as a way of God “getting them ” for their wickedness.
You see, such reasoning starts from a wrong premise and ends up at a wrong conclusion:
“God only lets bad things happen to bad people. Something bad happened to you. You must be bad.”
And the flip side of the coin is just as wrong:
“God only lets good things happen to good people. Something good happened to you. You must be good.”
These assessments are far too simplistic for not only life but also the God of the Bible. The categories simply don’t divide that cleanly and evenly. Does God sometimes pour out His blessings upon His devout followers? Yes. Just ask Abraham. And does God sometimes pour out His judgment upon the wicked? You bet. Just ask Sodom and Gomorrah. But does He sometimes allow bad things to happen to “good” people? Yes. Just ask John the Baptist.
Even harder to understand, does He sometimes allow good things to happen to “bad” people? Absolutely. Just ask any brutal dictator who oppresses his own people, has them put to death by the thousands, and yet still lives to a ripe old age in the lap of luxury. Cuba’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro, who died at the age of 90, leaps to mind. Does anybody want to stand up and say that his wealth, power, and long life were the result of God’s blessing upon his life?
This brings us back full circle to our text passage. When Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, Jesus didn’t say, “Hold on there, those aren’t yours to give.” To the contrary, in other passages, Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, John 16:11). Likewise, the apostle Paul calls Satan “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
And so, if Satan has the world’s “good stuff” at his fingertips and is looking around for someone upon which to bestow them, who do you think he’s going to choose? Will it be the devout Christian who is making a marked difference for God in the world? No. It will, instead, be the person whose efforts are pleasing to Satan and who is furthering Satan’s work in the world.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that everybody who is experiencing success the way the world views success is getting it from Satan. That’s another one of those inaccurate blanket statements about good/bad, blessing/cursing that can’t be supported from either life or the Bible. What I’m saying is that a lot of people who are experiencing such success ARE getting it from Satan. And it takes a high degree of spiritual discernment to figure out where blessings are coming from and who is truly living a life pleasing to the Lord. May we be up to that challenge.