The Prosperity Gospel Part 3
Following Christ Brings Sacrifice for God's Glory
The true gospel brings glory to God. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. We were on our way to an eternity being separated from God in hell because of our sins. The Lord has made it possible, by the death, burial and resurrection of His Son for us to live eternally with Him.
The health, wealth and prosperity gospel, on the other hand, makes it all about us and our desires. It looks at how we can get God to fulfill, not only our needs but our greeds. However, what does Jesus say:
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Luke 9:23,24).
The cross is a symbol of death, death to self. A person who wishes to follow Christ will make Jesus and His Kingdom central and won't be looking out for how Christ can make him wealthy and prosperous. Indeed there are many even today who are literally facing death and persecution for Jesus Christ. These people aren't trying to get a huge bank account, a beautiful home and a three car garage. They are trying to survive to see another day. They know what it means to take up the cross.
I. Jesus Never Pursued Nor Taught Others to Pursue Wealth and Prosperity
The interesting thing is that if riches were something the followers of Christ are supposed to pursue, then Jesus would have done so Himself. Yet he didn't. Christ made a point of saying that He didn't even have any place to lay His head. And as we've seen, rather than telling us to pursue wealth, by faith or any other way, he warned against laying up treasures on earth. He even asked one particularly rich young ruler, who loved his wealth and obviously made it his god, to sell all that he had and distribute it to the poor, and follow Him. (Luke 18:18-27).
Our Lord said in that same passage that " it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25). None of what Jesus taught about wealth even remotely sounded like what the prosperity preachers are spouting today. And not only our Lord, but His Apostles also warned about the dangers of wealth.
II. Peter Never Pursued Nor Taught Others to Pursue Wealth and Prosperity
If you remember in Acts 3 when Peter and John were going to the temple, they met a blind beggar. The beggar asked for alms. Peter said: "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I have I give to you." He then healed the man in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. From this passage it is clear that although Peter didn't possess worldly wealth, he had something far greater to offer. He offered Jesus Christ.
Also, in his second epistle, far from teaching Christians to pursue wealth, rather Peter warned about false prophets. He said that: " in their greed, they will exploit you with false words" (II Peter 2:3). These are people whose motivation is not the love or truth, but rather the love of money. Once again there is nothing that remotely comes close to the teachings of the "name it and claim it" crowd.
And with regard to prosperity, Peter does not teach that those who live godly lives in this world will have what their heart desires, in luxury and health. He doesn't teach that more faith brings greater prosperity. Rather those who follow Christ will suffer persecution at the hands of the godless. And if they suffer for being a Christian, they shouldn't be ashamed but should glorify God (I Peter 4:16). Peter himself, lived this truth to the end. He was martyred for his faith.
III. Paul Never Pursued, Nor Taught Others to Pursue Wealth and Prosperity
Paul also was beaten, battered and ultimately martyred for his faith. And he taught that those who "live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Timothy 3:12). But what did he teach regarding wealth?
The Apostle taught by example, as well as by words. Even though he had the right to take a financial compensation for his efforts in preaching and teaching, many times he did not exercise that right because he didn't want those to whom he preached to think that he was doing it for money (I Corinthians 9:8-16).
Paul taught in Ephesians 5:5 that covetousness is idolatry. And he too warned of false teachers. He said that they are:
"men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things you man of God....." (I Timothy 6:6-11).
If we have a balanced view of Scripture, then we can easily see that the teachings of the prosperity preachers are wrong. God does not want to make us all rich. He wants to make us holy by conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. He may give great riches to some whom he has entrusted, in order for their wealth to be used for the furtherance of the Kingdom, but it appears obvious that this is not the norm.
Truthfully, we are not promised a wonderful, prosperous, and trouble free life on this earth, even though God, in His grace, has given an enjoyable life to many of us. Rather, in this world we are to take up our cross, and be willing to be persecuted, have our possessions seized, and even to die for Christ if need be.
Those who know Christ are promised a wonderful life in the next world, free from mourning, or crying or pain. And we are promised rewards for following Christ which He will give us on the judgement day. It is my prayer that none of us who claim the name of Jesus will get so wrapped up in this world with its riches and prosperity, that we forget about the riches that will not fade away, which are reserved in heaven for us. May we close our ears to the false hopes and empty promises of the prosperity gospel, and prepare ourselves for the blessed hope and the glorious return of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.