For some Christians, following Jesus brings suffering and struggle. For others being a believer means an easy life. But which way is it MEANT to be?
Christ has died. Christ has defeated sin and the devil. Christ has risen. Christ has defeated death and given the gift of eternal life to all believers. Christ has ascended on high and is exalted King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
So is the life of Christians meant to be doom and gloom and suffering and persecution? Or is the life of the believer mean to be filled with victory and blessings? How is it mean to be?
The fastest growing religion in the continent of Africa is not Islam. But nor is it Christianity. The fastest growing religion in Africa is a variation of Pentecostalism which is as dangerous as it is unbiblical. It is what is known as the “prosperity gospel.” It is the mistaken and wrong teaching that if you are a Christian God will always give you health, wealth and success, just as long as you have enough faith. The prosperity gospel.
In a survey in 2006, participants were asked whether they believed God would “grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. When asked if religious faith was “very important to economic success,” about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was.
Cars in many African cities display disturbing bumper stickers like “Unstoppable Achiever,” “With Jesus I Will Always Win,” and “Your Success Is Determined by Your Faith,”
Health, wealth and success – the prosperity gospel. Spreading all over Africa but with its roots in USA. You will have heard some of their slogans. “Say it; do it; receive it; tell it.” “Name it and claim it” “Healing in the atonement”. “You believe you receive”. “What I confess, I possess” . This “prosperity gospel”. became mainstream in USA from the writings of Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. It was spread by televangelists like Jim Bakke’s PTL club, and Pat Roberston’s “Law of reciprocity” – you give to God and he’ll give back to you”, and perhaps best known to us, Benny Hinn. Worrying to me, if you don’t know what I am talking about you will hear this kind of teaching on Premier Christian Radio from Matthew Ashimolowo of Kingsway International Christian Centre in London, “Name it and claim it!”
Christians of all types and times have relied on God’s material provision. But the kind of blessings that prosperity gospel preachers often promise are very different. An expectation of abundant wealth, runaway professional success, and unassailable physical and emotional health, all so that Christians can fund Christian work and prove to the watching world that Christ exists — the lies of the prosperity gospel!
But what is wrong with Christians expecting God to bless them? Aside from the fact that the blessings being promised are NOT the blessings God promises to Christian believers? Very often the prosperity gospel takes Old Testament promises about the blessings which the nation of Israel was going to enjoy when they took possession of the promised land, and applies those promises out of context to the lives of individual Christians. But more than that,
1. Promises of health wealth and success encourage people to come to God for what they get from him – to seek the gifts instead of the Giver.
2. When the blessings don’t come as the evangelist has promised, many folk then fall away from faith, or just as bad, are overwhelmed by guilt that they have “failed” to have enough faith.
3. Prosperity gospel teachers preach that to know God’s blessing, you have to give generously and even sacrificially to God. Which means giving to the preacher! So some of these peddlers of the prosperity gospel become incredibly rich. They fly in their own private planes and live in the most luxurious hotels to conduct crusades in some of the poorest cities of Africa. At the expense of impoverished Christians who have not got enough to live on! So the prosperity gospel allows church leaders to exploit and manipulate their members.
I say that the promises that disciples will enjoy health wealth and success are not Biblical. So what does the Bible actually teach about these things?
Health and Healing
The prosperity gospel teaches that physical healing was included in Christ’s atonement, and therefore is available here and now to everyone who believes. Isaiah 53:5: “By his stripes we are healed.” They also point to Jesus’ healings, especially Matthew 8:17, which says that he healed the sick so that “it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet, ‘He Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses’.”
Most do not openly advocate dispensing with medical treatment, although some have claimed to be strong enough in faith that they no longer need medicine. Some teach do that sickness is just an attempt by Satan to rob believers of their divine right to total health.
We thought about this question last week – does God promise complete physical healing from every sickness to every Christian? If you missed that sermon it is online on the blog. I believe in the God who heals. I have seen healing miracles and experienced miraculous healing from God. But I have also prayed for healing for people and they have not been healed – sometimes they have died. And I know that the Bible does NOT promise healing for every Christian every time. Sometimes we are healed – sometimes according to God’s eternal purposes we are not. The doctrine that says you will always be healed as long as you have enough faith is not Biblical. Think of the apostle Paul
2 Corinthinas 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
weaknesses, insults hardships, persecutions, difficulties.No health wealth and success there! But what about wealth and success?
Wealth and prosperity
Scriptural justification for the Prosperity Gospel often begins with (Deuteronomy 8:18) “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (New American Standard Bible)
The prosperity gospel teaches that financial prosperity and wealth was also included in the Atonement. This is based on an interpretation of the words of the Apostle Paul: “Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). I think the case is very clear that Paul was speaking of spiritual riches, rather than material prosperity
Kenneth Copeland pointed to 3 John 2 “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth”. Copeland posits that “as the seeds of prosperity are planted in your mind, in your will and in your emotions…they eventually produce a great financial harvest.”
Some verses of scripture taken out of context seem to promise wealth. But others taken in context warn on the dangers of greed! Paul warned Timothy about “constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain…. 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, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:5, 9-11.)
Paul said covetousness is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5) and forbade the Ephesians to be partakers with anyone who brought a message of immorality or covetousness (Ephesians 5:6-7). Far from stressing the importance of wealth, the Bible warns against pursuing it. Believers, especially leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:3), are to be free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). Love of money leads to all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned, “Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the Word Faith’s gospel’s emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The irreconcilable contradiction between prosperity teaching gospel and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and riches.”
Success and prosperity
We read Psalm 91 earlier:-
Psalm 91 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge— 10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
It might seem from Psalm 91 that God promises protection and blessing. How do false teachers suggest we get to enjoy this success?
Although they are not exactly the same thing, the prosperity gospel overlaps a great deal with the “word of faith” movement, where a central element of faith is “confession”. The doctrine is often labelled “Positive Confession”. Making a positive confession (by reciting a promise of Scripture, for example) has the power to cause things to happen. “Name it and claim it”. “What I confess, I possess”. Proverbs 18:21: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and they that love them will eat the fruit thereof”, also Numbers 14:28 “… the Lord says, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do”
“Positive confession.” teaches that words have creative power. Word of Faith teachers claim that “What you say .. determines everything that happens to you.” Your confessions, especially the favours you demand of God, must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer. Thus God’s ability to bless us supposedly hangs on our faith. James 4:13-16 clearly contradicts this teaching, “Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.”
In Word of Faith, the believer is told to use God. The truth of biblical Christianity is just the opposite, God uses the believer. Word Faith or prosperity theology sees the Holy Spirit as a power to put to use for whatever the believer wills. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person who enables the believer to do God’s will. The word of faith movement closely resembles some of the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accommodating to false teachers who propagated such heresy. They identified them as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them.
In our evening sermons we have been looking at the Temptations Jesus faced in the Wilderness – the testing of God’s Son. The temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to believe that being Son of God means never being hungry or thirsty or uncomfortable. The temptation for Jesus to claim the promises of Psalm 91 and jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple so that the angels would lift Him up – the temptation to believe that the Son of God would always be kept safe from any harm. The devil’s offer to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendour – if only Jesus would take the devil’s short cut and worship him. The Temptations of Jesus have shown us that being the Son of God did not guarantee comfort or safety or an easy route to riches and glory – and the same is true for all of us who follow Jesus. The Bible simply does not promise health wealth or success. The Prosperity Gospel is one of the devil’s great deceptions. Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
Health and wealth and success are NOT part of the package of the Christian gospel! Those who come to Christ expecting Him to keep them healthy and make them rich and prosperous will be very disappointed! Those who focus on earthly treasures and receiving a blessing may get a lot of stuff, but they will not experience fullness of life. In the end, they will rot in their stuff. Those who seek only gifts will miss out on knowing the Giver. On the other hand, those who know Christ are rich beyond measure–rich in salvation, forgiveness, joy, peace, and glory, rich in their relationship with the Living God. That is the true prosperity which the true gospel promises to all believers!