Friday, November 17, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity gospel movement is making headlines in America. It even has caused Time Magazine to write an article documenting the movement’s claims. The article from September 18, 2006 was titled, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” As I was listening to secular radio around the time of the article, broadcasters were making fun of the “Christians” supporting this movement. They said, “Don’t they remember when Jesus said that it is easier to go through the eye of a needle then to enter to the kingdom of God?” Another broadcaster said, “There is one word to describe Christians as such: Republican!” As Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and the whole Word Faith Movement promote their prosperity gospel, the world kicks back and makes fun of so called “Christians” that are promoting this movement. Even the world seems to possess more of the natural knowledge of God, since it recognizes the need to give money rather then grow in “abundance.”

The prosperity movement’s claims are that God desires His people to be wealthy. Christians who trust God will become rich. If you are not trusting that God will make you rich then you will not become rich. And if you are not rich and you are a Christian then you are not growing in favor with God. Joyce Meyer said:

"Why would He (God) want all of His people poverty stricken while all of the people that aren't living for God have everything?" Meyer said. "I think it's old religious thinking, and I believe the devil uses it to keep people from wanting to serve God."

The Scriptures that the movement points to are: “Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Tragically, they do not even read the verse in its context. Paul’s full thought is: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Here we can see that the context is speaking of spiritual riches not material riches. Jesus never was materially rich. On the other hand, He was spiritually rich, yet He went to the cross and became poor so that we might have eternal life. The whole context of the passage is not about attaining material abundance, but giving money. Paul writes:

“For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will” (2 Cor. 8:2-3).

Here Paul testifies to the generosity of the Corinthians. The prosperity movement ignores the context of this passage and falls into the trap of preaching a false gospel. It is not even logical to conclude that homeless Jesus became poor so that His followers might become millionaires and live the “abundant” life.

Another passage the movement points to is: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).

So since John here prays for Christians to be in good health the conclusion is that God wants us to be materially rich? When if God decides not give a person good health? When if God decides to allow you to get crucified upside down under the reign of Nero like Peter? Or have your body stabbed through with a sword like Thomas? Or what if God allows you to get stoned until you die like Stephen?

An early Christian document dating from the 2nd century gives this description of Christians:

“They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign….Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven….They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things” (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus).

Jackie Alnor of the Christian Sentinel wrote after listening to a Joel Osteen sermon: “He testified about how he had been pulled over a couple of times for speeding but when the officer saw his last name was Osteen, no ticket was issued. He said the same can happen for every Christian who wakes up declaring they have God’s favor. By following this method Osteen says he has been able to get the best parking spot in a crowded parking lot, a first class seat on a crowded airplane with no boarding pass, and priority seating at restaurants.”

This doesn’t sound like the description Jesus gave us: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Jesus says that the world will hate us because of our desire to serve Him. He does not say that cops, ticket-officers, flight attendants, and hostesses will love us.

What Do the Scriptures Teach?

Jesus taught: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24; cf Luke 16:13). This passage is so clear there is no reason to expound upon it.

When Jesus sent the Apostles out on a mission trip he said: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Luke 9:3). He did not tell them to take an “abundant” amount of material with them. Jesus told them not to take any money so that they would be fully dependent on their Lord (Luke 22:35-36).

Jesus said: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).

Jesus calls on us to give our possessions to poor people. He calls on us to have no other gods before Him, to trust in Him alone, and in doing so we will have treasure in heaven. The prosperity movement is causing people to seek after material that perishes, instead of spiritual food that endures to eternal life.

The Apostle Paul said: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10) and the writer of Hebrews said: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

God’s desire for us is that we worship Him alone with all our heart, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We find favor before Him by his grace alone, and not by our own worthiness or wealth. We are not called to labor for fruit that perishes, but for the fruits of the Spirit which are: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). If God gives us money then we will be content with that. If we are not wealthy this has nothing to do with how holy we are. If we have faith, hope, and love, then we have all things. Money is simply a gift from God, which He calls us to be good stewards of. But one cannot worship the Giver and the gift or one will fall into idolatry. Christians are called to worship the Giver alone, and His gift to us is eternal life.

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