We hear a lot of preaching these days about the Prosperity Gospel. It seems that almost everyone is jumping on that bandwagon. You may have heard your own pastor say something that led you or others to believe that just because you are going to church on Sunday mornings, or even Wednesday nights, God is going to prosper you monetarily. Or maybe you just need to pray a little harder. But we really need to take a close look at that message.
There always lies within any message having to do with worldly things a danger that people can get distracted by the worldly things and take their eyes and their minds off the Word. Joshua 1:8 tells us to meditate on the Word day and night "so that you may be careful to do everything in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." If you are consumed by thoughts of something worldly, you probably aren't going to be able to meditate on the Word. God told us we will be prosperous IF we meditate on the Word.
Paul warned us, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3) Doesn't that sound like what has been happening the last few years? It appears that some of the most popular pastors are only preaching things that will not cause any of their parishioners to feel guilty, nothing which would convict them of their sins. And the Prosperity Gospel fits right in there because the Pastors are telling everyone that God wants to make them rich and happy.
Recently Bishop T.D. Jakes commented that now all the prayer requests his church is receiving are for new Cadillacs. He lamented the fact that they are not receiving requests with concern about loved ones. That is indicative of the reaction that one might expect when the focus of religious teaching is taken off of what God expects from us, or what we should be doing for others, and put on what God can do for us.
To me, much of what is said could be coming from Tony Robbins just as easily as from someone of the cloth. One thing I heard recently was that if you have not been "blessed" it's because you are simply not in the location God wants you to be. That could be the case, the operative word being "could." But what if you are in the place God wants you to be? What if God doesn't want you to be "rich" because He knows that you will not use the blessings to His glory but your own? What if God knows you are more of a blessing in your current state?
One thing the cheerleading approach I've seen can do is equate riches to joy or happiness. Just like in a motivational seminar, you will hear preachers working their parishioners up into a frenzy as they combine the messages of riches and happiness. The problem is that some might start equating riches to happiness. Some could easily combine these messages to mean that God wants you to be happily rich, so if you aren't rich, you aren't happy, or you have not been blessed. But riches do not equal happiness.
Where in the Bible does it tell us that God wants us all to be monetarily wealthy? Have that many of us forgotten that Jesus told us it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven? (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25) Jesus did not say that rich people can't go to heaven, but that it is much more difficult. The problem is that monetary riches can cause you to replace God with money as your god. My personal belief is that once you obtain riches, your focus can shift to retaining those riches.
This isn't a full condemnation of the Prosperity Gospel because I believe that God truly does want to prosper us. (Jeremiah 29:11) But prosperity does not mean monetary wealth, and God commanded us to keep His decrees and obey the law in order to receive prosperity. (Deuteronomy 5:32-33) Of course Deuteronomy isn't nearly as popular as Jeremiah, but they are both in the Old Testament. Even if you are a Dispensationalist (as I am to one degree or another) you have to admit that Jeremiah's generation probably had no more understanding of things than Moses' generation did. The message in Jeremiah is actually a reiteration of that in Deuteronomy.
The book of Job tells us about all the riches Job owned, but first it tells us that Job was blameless and upright, and that he feared God and shunned evil. Then it tells us that Job was "the greatest man among all the people of the east." I'm certain that is a reflection of Job's character, not his wealth. And don't forget that Job complained about evil people being "blessed" in his day. In chapter 10 Job said he would ask why God oppressed him while He smiled on the schemes of the wicked.
If it is possible to be both rich and upright, what is the problem with teaching about receiving wealth as a blessing from God? Nothing, unless we are creating stumbling blocks. Anything that takes or keeps your focus off God's ways is a stumbling block to you. The Prosperity Gospel can cause you to take your eyes off God if you start to focus on money instead.
Here's something you may not have considered. Anything you are chasing instead of God is a stumbling block to Jesus. "What!?" you say? That's right, it's a stumbling block to Jesus. He told us He came to divide the world, (Luke 12:51) but the division Jesus was speaking about wasn't between the rich and the poor, it was between believers and nonbelievers, just as He said we would be divided to the right and left on the day of accounting. (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus came to save the world (John 3:17), and we know that it's God's desire that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), so it would be Jesus' will that all come to Him for salvation.
If you are chasing wealth, however, you are not chasing Jesus. You're running in a different direction. If you are running away from Jesus, and Jesus is chasing after you (Matthew 18:12-14) then whatever you are chasing is a stumbling block in front of Jesus which is keeping Him from getting to you. And if you are saying to yourself right now that I've lost what few marbles I had left, mull over the following verse:
Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23)
Jesus told us that God will provide for all our needs, but it must be recognized that He told us to seek first the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />kingdom of God, THEN God would provide all our needs. (Matthew 6:33) So if you are seeking God with all your heart, your needs will be met. That means if it is God's will that you have riches because you need them to do God's work, He will provide you with riches. That leaves us with only our wants.
The wants are the things that can cause us to stray because when we pursue our wants (sans wanting to lead others to Jesus, of course) we quit pursuing the Lord. We need to please God, but we want to please men. We need to achieve humility, but we want to achieve success and glory. We need to pursue righteousness, but we want to pursue power or riches. If the world says something is what you need, or want, or deserve, it is probably the exact opposite of what God would want for you.
Here's something you can try. Think of having your needs being met as a blessing from God, because we certainly don't deserve blessings Jesus got what we deserve at Calvary. Think of everything else as gravy. Be joyful in Christ, and thankful for having your needs met, then you'll be thrilled with all the other blessings sent your way.
As you read the following passage, remember that Jesus told us this in reference to His second coming, meaning that these things will be happening in our current day.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:35-40)
Jesus told us that the poor would be with us always. (Mark 14:7) So if you believe that Jesus did not lie, you have to believe that God has no intention of making all of us rich. Think of it this way; If there was nobody in need, who would we have to serve? If there was nobody in need, to whom could we give food or clothing as an act of mercy and a display of our faith and love in Jesus? If there was no need, would anyone truly feel blessed by receiving a gift? We are blessed by God so we can be a blessing to others. If there was no need, we could not be that blessing. Why would Jesus teach us to take care of the poor if there would be no poor? He wouldn't. Instead, He told us there would always be people in need until His second coming, and we are to work to fulfill their needs.
Remember that God will provide for our needs if we are seeking Him, and that sometimes you are the vessel through which God provides. But that also means that sometimes others will be the vessel for your blessings. There has to be someone in need in order for others to fulfill that need. How could anyone be a blessing to you if you had no need? They couldn't. No, we will never all be monetarily rich, but that does not mean that God has forsaken us. It could mean that God chose us to be in need so that others could be a blessing to us.
If you are blessed to be a blessing to others, it also means someone in need is part of your blessings because you would not be blessed unless someone had a need. Ultimately, that means if you are in need, you are a blessing to others BECAUSE of your need. The greatest blessing we all have received is salvation. We have all been blessed beyond what we deserve. So don't worry about what you will eat, or what you will wear, or what you will drive for that matter. Concentrate on your Christian walk, and allow God to prosper you in the best way, the way that only He knows.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what your have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
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