This morning we discussed the doctrinal foundations of the popular prosperity gospel. There are many religious teachers who espouse that God wants every believer to be financially wealthy. In fact, as we saw this morning they teach that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross provides for material success, as well as spiritual salvation. As we said this morning, this is another gospel. It is based on a misinterpretation of several Bible passages. Moreover, it runs antithetical to the very principles that Jesus taught and to the experience of His church.
I. Prosperity Preaching and Faith: One inherent problem with the prosperity gospel is its misunderstanding of faith. “It’s a matter of your faith. You got one-dollar faith, and you ask for a ten thousand-dollar item, it ain’t gonna work. It won’t work. Jesus said, “According to your faith”, not “according to His will, if He can work it into His busy schedule.” He said, “according to your faith be it unto you.” Now I may want a Rolls Royce and don’t have but bicycle faith. Guess what I’m gonna get? A bicycle” (Frederick K.C. Price, “Praise the Lord” broadcast on TBN, 21 September 1990)
A. Biblically faith is the trust in Christ evidenced by obedience to God’s will. Faith is my response to the revelation of God’s word (faith comes by hearing the word of God – Rom. 10:17) The prosperity preachers redefine faith as a spiritual force that even God uses to accomplish his purposes.
1. Faith as a Force: In his book, The Laws of Prosperity, Kenneth Copeland wrote that “faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function. . . . There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” Faith is viewed as the source of God’s power, available to us through the use of words. “Faith is a force just like electricity or gravity” (Copeland), and it is the substance out of which God creates whatever is (Capps). God uses faith, and so may we in exactly the same way in order to produce the same results through obedience to the same “laws of faith” (Capps) that God applied in creation. “We have all the capabilities of God. We have His faith” (Copeland).
2. Faith’s force is released by speaking words: “Words are the most powerful thing in the universe” because they “are containers” that “carry faith or fear and they produce after their kind” (Capps). God operates by these very same laws. “God had faith in His own words … God had faith in His faith, because He spoke words of faith and they came to pass. “Creative power was in God’s mouth. It is in your mouth also” (Capps). According to this teaching Christians can create their own destiny (wealth and health) by speaking the “words of faith”. Joel Osteen says…If we say it long enough eventually we`re going to reap a harvest. We`re going to get exactly what we`re saying.
3. The faith of prosperity preaching is man-centered, not God-centered. The power of faith is in faith itself, rather than in God, who we are called to have faith in.
4. Those who are destitute or suffering are by implication viewed as living outside the will of God. How does this fit with the record of scripture?
II. Prosperity Preaching and the Teaching of the N.T. The N.T. says much about suffering. There is not a single N.T. passage that teaches a direct relationship between personal suffering or poverty and a lack of faith. Conversely, there is not a single scripture that connects wealth or prosperity directly to spiritual strength or maturity. In fact, the scriptures point us in the other direction.
A. The appeal of prosperity preaching is deceitful. It contradicts the appeal of the true gospel. When Jesus called people to Himself, he called them to renounce themselves and all of their possessions. Luke 14:33 – 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Jesus warns against the effort to lay up treasures on earth. That is, he tells us to be givers, not keepers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The appeal of material gain is incongruous with the motivation of the gospel.
1. Jesus upbraided the Galilean crowd for seeking Him for material reasons: John 6:26-27 – 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Jesus was not suggesting that HE would ot bless them (even physically) as His disciples. But the true motivation and benefit of being a disciple is spiritual (bread of life).
2. When the prosperity preachers encourage giving, their appeal is askew. The driving force behind this emphasis on giving is what teacher Robert Tilton referred to as the “Law of Compensation.”
a. This law is supposedly based on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:30 – “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sister or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life”. (this promise focuses on the spiritual family that once inherits as a Christian)
b. According to this law, Christians should give because God will give back more in return. This will lead to prosperity (for whom?). Gloria Copeland – “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000;… in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” Whereas Jesus taught His disciples to “give, hoping for nothing in return,” prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return.
c. All the prosperity teachers use a particular fear tactic to establish their rule for giving — if you don’t give, God will curse you. They denounce the use of faith words to secure personal wealth for selfish reasons, insisting that it will only work if the believer gives for unselfish purposes; such as contributing to the ministry of the prosperity preacher.
B. The appeal of prosperity preaching is also spiritually deadly. Material wealth is not a morally positive circumstance. It cannot even be classified as morally neutral. Mark 10:23-27 – 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” 27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” Encouraging people to seek and amass wealth is not helping them get to heaven. It is making it more difficult. Contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, wealth is not usually a blessing. It is usually a curse.
1. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 – 6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. It is not sinful to make a lot of money; But it is sinful to want a lot of money.
a. Jesus that the deceitfulness of riches can choke out the word of God. (Luke 8:14) Why would we want to encourage people to pursue the very thing that Jesus warns will choke us to death?
2. Prosperity preaching destroys true contentment, and robs the Christian of the peace that the true Gospel can provide. There are many faithful believers who live modestly and will never have more than the basic necessities of life. Yet they are content to have what they have. The prosperity teachers ridicule such and say that they only have that little because they don’t trust God for more; the fact of their contentment (which is highly regarded by God) is looked upon as a lack of faith. And they are chastised because they haven’t got the faith to get more so they can give more.
a. Hebrews 13:5-6 – 5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say:”The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” A lack of contentment evidences a lack of faith. The prosperity preachers teach just the opposite. We are called upon to petition God for more, as evidence of our stronger faith.
III. The Prosperity Gospel and the Christian Experience: One of the most glaring faults with the prosperity gospel is its inability to reconcile with the lives of the faithful. It God wills that all His people be financially successful, then why has that not happened? Is material success and good health the fruit of living a faithful life, or have the faithful suffered loss? (relevant question for them at this time – have some explaining to do)
A. 2 Cor 4:5-12 – For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Cast Down but Unconquered 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. God allowed His people to suffer in order to bring the glory to Him, not us. Those who preach prosperity do not fit this picture. They can only envision God receiving glory through physical wealth or pleasure. (God’s children should go first class).
B. 2 Cor 12:7-10 – And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Was Paul’s faith weak? Did he misinterpret God’s “no” answer?
IV. The Prosperity Gospel and the Cross: What is the paradigm of the Christian life? It is the cross of Christ. What Jesus experienced, we are called to experience. Material wealth and well-being are incidental to the bigger picture of spirituality and salvation.
A. Luke 9:23 – 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Jesus was crucified for us and we are called to die with him (Romans 6) Peter says we should not live any longer serving the lusts of the flesh, but the will of God (1 Pet.4:2)
1. The Christian has died to self, died to everything we want, died to the world, and died to the flesh. We are called not to seek our own happiness but to seek the glory of God by giving ourselves to God and for others. The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it focuses on “getting our wants.” The cross gospel focuses on “giving our selves.”
B. What distinguishes the Christian from the world? Jesus calls it being the salt of the earth and the light of the world in Matthew 5 – “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. What makes us the salt of the earth and the light of the world?
1. It is not wealth. The desire for wealth and the pursuit of wealth tastes and looks just like the world. It does not offer the world anything different from what it already believes in. The great tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it. In this, the world simply sees a reflection of itself.
2. The context of Jesus’ words define this light and salt: “Matthew 5:11-14 – 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
3. The world will not be drawn (taste the salt or see the light) in our quest for material wealth or good health. It will be influenced by our suffering in behalf of Christ and others, all the while rejoicing and being content with what God gives. This is inexplicable on human terms, and must lead people to consider God. It is a supernatural message.
Conclusion: As we mentioned this morning, God is a giving God. There is no doubt that He wills to bless His people above all the people of the earth. But His thoughts are above our thoughts. True faith demands that we place our trust in Him and allow Him to choose. We cannot demand what we want Him to do and then call that faith.
- How can I know what He wants to give? He has given us the words of His Spirit. It is God’s will that you be a Christian. The appeal of the gospel is not wealth or good health, but the immeasurable love expressed on Calvary. Will you come?