Turning Blessings into Curses

Honey

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it” (Proverbs 25:16).

In the Bible, honey is often used to symbolize God’s great blessings for man. When God told Moses of His plan to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land of Canaan, He emphasized the goodness of the land by describing it as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Yet as the wise man pointed out in the verse above, that same blessing can be turned into something with a negative impact on us.

It is possible to take the good things with which God blesses us and turn them into something bad for us. This can be done by misuse, abuse, or excess. In this article, I would like to notice a few examples of how this can be done with certain blessings.

Food

Food is necessary for our survival. It is a daily need, so Jesus instructed us to pray for “our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Through God’s providence, this continues to be available. Paul said He “gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17; cf. Genesis 8:22). However, even with God’s natural providence, hunger still exists (cf. Luke 16:21; Matthew 26:11). Therefore, we must always be thankful for the food we have as a blessing from God (1 Timothy 4:3-4).

However, this blessing can be abused or used in excess to our detriment. We may immediately think of gluttony. The wise man warned, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat” (Proverbs 23:20). Gluttony seems like it is not often discussed among brethren, but is certainly something to be avoided.*

Food can also cause trouble when we value it over our brethren. This can be done when the food causes offense and leads a brother into sin. Paul warned the Romans about this: “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14:15-16). In another letter, he wrote, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13). If partaking of certain foods causes a brother to get caught up in a sin like idolatry – which is what those passages are about – then we must give up those foods for the sake of our brother.

This can also be a problem when we value food over our spiritual condition. Jesus told a parable of a rich land owner who neglected the welfare of his soul. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry’” (Luke 12:19). This was not just about food, but his attitude was such that he valued the things of this life over the eternal fate of his soul. The food was still a blessing, but he used it as a distraction from what he should have been doing in faithfully serving the Lord.

Money

Because of the prevalence of sinful attitudes about money, some believe that money must be inherently wrong. However, the wise man indicated that “money is the answer to everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). In other words, it is a valuable resource that we can use to our advantage if we handle it wisely. Timothy was to remind the rich that their wealth was a blessing from God (1 Timothy 6:17) – a blessing that could be used to provide for one’s own (1 Timothy 5:8), help others (Ephesians 4:28), and give to the church (1 Corinthians 16:2).

However, this blessing can certainly be misused and abused. Paul warned, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). His point was not that having money was wrong, but desiring it. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation…some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). When we desire wealth over everything else, it becomes our idol – covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5) – and we are guilty of sin.

It is possible to value wealth over heaven and even God Himself. Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Right after this He explained, “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

Some people will do almost anything to get money – lie, cheat, steal, etc. Jude warned about those who “for pay…have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jude 11). Sadly, many will abandon God and disobey His word when there is a large enough financial incentive for them to do so. But what good does that do? Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Money can be a useful tool that we receive as a blessing from God, but we must not allow it to distract us from spiritual things.

Jobs

Typically when one has money, it is the result of work. The wise man said, “In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). God expects His people to be hardworking: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Paul set an example for the brethren in Thessalonica through “labor and hardship…working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). We are to do our “work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23). There are blessings that come from such work – we can avoid being in need (1 Thessalonians 4:12) and have a clear conscience (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Working also allows us to be in a position to help others – the needy (Ephesians 4:28), our children (2 Corinthians 12:14), and even our grandchildren (Proverbs 13:22).

Yet our jobs or labor can cause trouble if misused or done in excess. Parental responsibilities should not be neglected due to work. Fathers are to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Mothers are to be “workers at home” (Titus 2:4-5). These responsibilities must not be abandoned for the sake of secular employment.

In the same way, spiritual responsibilities must not be forsaken because of work. The Hebrew writer warned about “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). We have already noticed the rich land owner who neglected the state of his soul for the sake of his work (Luke 12:17-19). Work must be done, but not to the neglect of our spiritual obligations.

That being said, it is not wrong for a Christian to work over forty hours a week. Our culture has been conditioned to think of a forty-hour workweek as being “full-time” employment with the result that some Christians have come to believe that if someone works more than forty hours they must be worldly-minded in their priorities. However, nowhere in the Bible is a number of hours stipulated as to how much a Christian can or should work. In fact, Jesus used a parable of the laborers in the vineyard to illustrate a point about the kingdom in which He described a typical twelve-hour workday (Matthew 20:1-8). Since the Jews rested on the Sabbath day, that would mean their typical work-week would have been over 70 hours! It is not the number of hours – either 40 or 70 – that is right or wrong, it is whether or not one is hardworking, meeting his obligations, and not neglecting his other responsibilities.

Marriage

The wise man wrote, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God pointed out in the beginning, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), so He created woman and then established the institution of marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage is an even greater blessing when both spouses follow God’s will for marriage – the wife submits to the husband and the husband sacrificially loves his wife (Ephesians 5:22, 25; cf. 1 Peter 3:1-2, 7). This relationship also provides a way for men and women to fulfill natural desires and avoid sin (1 Corinthians 7:2). The Hebrew writer said, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

Yet a marriage can be filled with problems when one or both spouses are not following God’s will. Despite the fact that marriage is a blessing, the wise man pointed out that it can have its hardships: “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Proverbs 25:24). Of course, this would apply to the man as well. When either spouse is prone to stir up strife in the home, it makes life unpleasant.

In marriage, there is also a temptation to put a spouse’s desires or approval ahead of God’s. Paul described this reality: “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33). When one has a godly spouse, there will at least be marital obligations that must be met. When one has a worldly-minded spouse, there will inevitably be conflict between God’s will and the spouse’s will.

Furthermore, being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14, KJV) hinders our walk with God. That verse is not talking about marriage exclusively, but the principle certainly applies. It is much more difficult to faithfully serve the Lord when we have those who are close to us (including a spouse) influencing us in a negative way to be unfaithful to Him.

Family

Just as marriage is a blessing, the family that comes from that marriage is also a blessing: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Ideally, family provides a place for wholesome instruction (Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). It is a set of relationships where we receive support an encouragement (cf. Proverbs 31:12, 28-29). Family is also the first line of support when we face hardships (1 Timothy 5:3-4, 16).

However, it is possible for family to be a source of trouble and conflict. When there is hatred in the home, it causes trouble for everyone. The wise man wrote, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17). He also said, “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25).

Also, when family is placed over the Lord, we cannot please Him. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34-37). When family members do not follow the Lord and are intolerant of our decision to do so, the result will be grief and hardship for us.

When family influences us to sin, the relationship must change. As we noted before, Paul wrote, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). We must positively influence them, not allow them to negatively influence us. Of course, in the case of marriage, this does not justify divorce or desertion (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 16; 1 Peter 3:1). However, in the case of other family relationships, we may need to remove ourselves from them or limit our interactions with certain ones – at least until attitudes change.

Church

There are many different “kinds” of churches. For our purposes here, we are discussing those who make up the Lord’s church – in particular, local churches like the “churches of Christ” with whom the apostle Paul was associated (Romans 16:16). In the local church, we are part of a group of Christians who can “encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13) and “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are part of a body through which we can work together in the Lord’s work (Ephesians 4:16). We also have others who can help keep us accountable as we “judge those who are within the church” (1 Corinthians 5:12) to help keep sin from getting a foothold in a congregation. This can help keep us from sin or help get us to repent if we have sinned (Hebrews 3:12-13; Galatians 6:1).

However, if a local church is not what the Lord wants it to be, it can have a negative impact on us. This happens when sin is tolerated by the congregation. This was the situation in Corinth. Within the church, there was “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). Rather than mourning the situation and dealing with it appropriately, they had “become arrogant” and tolerated the sin (1 Corinthians 5:2). When this happens, the sin acts as “leaven” (1 Corinthians 5:6). As it is tolerated, it tends to spread.

Similarly, we will have trouble in the local church when error is accepted. John warned that anyone who “does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 John 9). In other words, they lose their fellowship with God. He then issued a warning to others who may not hold the same error, but get themselves in trouble by tolerating it: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in [is partaker of, KJV] his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11). By extending fellowship to false teachers, we lose our fellowship with God. The church in Pergamum accepted those who “hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans,” so the Lord called upon them to “repent” (Revelation 2:15-16)

This can also happen when there is division in the local church. After Paul explained the importance of unity to the brethren in Corinth – “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” – he rebuked them for the “quarrels” that existed among them as they were each claiming allegiance to different men (1 Corinthians 1:10-12). This is not what the Lord wants of His church! When members of a local congregation are in such a divided state, they “come together not for the better but for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17). How sad it is for the local church, made up of Christians, to be in such a condition that they are worse off for assembling with one another! That is what division will do.

Conclusion

God has blessed us with so many good things in this life. We should always be thankful and strive to be good stewards of these blessings. At the same time, we must not allow the devil to use these things to turn us away from the Lord. Even blessings like marriage, family, and the local church can be corrupted and lead us to sin. In everything, let us recognize the great blessings God has given and use them properly.

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* Check out this sermon outline on the topic of gluttony: The Sin of Gluttony


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Comments

  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    All good points that every person should think about.