We have all seen preachers on the television making great boasts about how God wants to bless us and all we need is to have enough faith and that we will get whatever we want. I have personally heard them say on numerous occasions that God wants you to be happy, healthy and live a good long life.
The problem with this is that there are people out there who do not have homes, or are severely handicapped, for example, yet are Christians. Are we really supposed to believe that these people just cannot measure up in having faith? Are we supposed to believe that someone with cancer just does not have enough faith to get well?
For starters, the Bible clearly paints the picture that we have the privilege of asking God for things, but this does not, by any case, mean that everything we ask for will be granted to us… Nor does it teach that God owes us health and wealth, let alone promises it.
I think that prosperity gospel preachers have it wrong, but there is something that I must point out. I see a particular pattern throughout the whole Bible, which talks about blessing and even cursing.
Consider Deuteronomy 28. There are two subtitles in that chapter in most Bible translations, and they all point to the same things: Blessings for obedience and cursing for disobedience. A little farther on in Deuteronomy chapter 30, beginning at verse eleven, we see God reasoning with His people:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A question arises in my mind: would he change this pattern for everyone else, or does He continue this pattern for all people, generally speaking?
I find that the Bible is replete with this kind of blessing-language which ultimately confuses prosperity theologians. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” He is searching for those who have integrity… those who are blameless toward Him.
If I failed in a relationship somehow, it is my integrity that would not let me “just let it go.” I would have to do something about the cracks that formed in the foundation. My conscience won’t let my integrity have a weak foundation. If I did something I knew was wrong and that it hurt my wife, for instance, I would tell her about it. After confessing to God and then her about it and asking for forgiveness, my integrity remains intact and solid.
The Bible says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It also says in Psalm 66:18 that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” We see the nature of our disobedience and moral failures here and how they put a distance between us and God, but those who “Draw near to God, He will draw near to them” (James 4:7-8). This is a very similar message to what 2 Chronicles 16:9 teaches.
Does this teach that God wants us to be healthy and rich? Definitely not. Does it mean we will be healthy and rich if we draw near to God? Maybe? But not necessarily. This repeating idea in the Bible, that God does indeed bless His people, even proves itself when the Kings of the Old Testament had their hearts after God. This is where prosperity gospel preachers are way off. They teach that people will be blessed if all they have to do is believe that they will be blessed. There are several problems with this.
It Teaches the Wrong Message of Hope
It assumes that people place hope in what they receive, not in who they should follow. Prosperity gospel preachers are manipulating the system. They are banking on people who want a break in life, and when these people gain a sense of hope, they put stock in the one wrong source of hope. Namely, the words of the prosperity theologian. The prosperity theologian knows how to make people want stuff, rather than a relationship. The prosperity theologian knows how to arouse the desire of people to seek after their own benefit, whether this is a benefit of health, marriage, or a new car. But seriously, shouldn’t people be more concerned with Jesus? Paul prays for the Ephesians in chapter 3:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).
Notice how Paul doesn’t really care that they all get healed, or that they all get new houses or that they all become kings and queens. He is concerned with what is going on in their inner being. Paul is saying that Christ should be dwelling there. Not some love for being healthier, or a desire for a new car. The prosperity theologians are teaching their people to be idolaters. James chapter 3 teaches that not many of us ought to become teachers because we are held at a higher judgment. If this does not instill fear into anyone who does teach, then they are not taking their position seriously.
It is Just Plain Bad Theology
When preachers tell their people that “God will bless you, He told me so” and it never happens, these people live their whole lives questioning Jesus. This is a similar idea to the one above, but from a different angle. The whole issue is that their hope is not in someone, but something. Hope other than in Jesus will always result in disappointment. This is what our hope is. We have no hope apart from Jesus.
Teaching that people will be blessed if all they have to do is believe it is like a whole other religion all together. Think about it. Christianity is the only religion that absolutely does not allow for hope in oneself, and all other religions teach that people have to hope in themselves. Look at Buddhism for instance. They teach that following the Noble Eight-fold Path will release one from being attached to things and people, but in order to become unattached, they must find it within themselves in order to be released from this horrible prison of attachment and suffering!
Christianity is different from all other religions because it is the one that says “You can’t do it… You need a savior to take your place of punishment.” This is why our hope is in Jesus. He took our place on the cross!
God does want to Bless us, but His Main Concern is that We Obey Him
“…We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
God wants to bless us. Because if He blesses us, that means we are near to Him, which is what He wants. Why do we have so many questions in theology? Because He wants us to seek Him. He wants us to search Him. Sure, He causes the sun to shine on everyone and the rain to fall on the evil and the good and evil people sometimes receive special blessing (I think this points to what C. S. Lewis called “Wooing”), but when our hearts are blameless toward Him, when we obey His word, we can expect to see His hand working in our lives.
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).
Our motivation should not be to merely receive blessing, because then idolatry kind of comes into question. Our motivation should be to want to please God, not because we have to earn His favor, but in fact, the opposite. Because we have the grace of God—His undeserved favor—because we are saved through Him, we should want to please Him… Grace compels godliness (see Titus 2:11-12). The more we realize what it is that He has done for us, the more we will want to please Him.
To Beat a Dead Horse…
Jesus teaches in John 15:5-10:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (emphasis mine).
It is laid out quite simply… There is nothing about believing that you will receive something that will give you something for which you are hoping or wishing. Let’s get our priorities right as children of God.
“If you love me, obey my commandments” –John 14:15
Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus