2-4-3 The Prosperity Gospel ?
Will A Man...?
By now, from all these examples, you must have got my point. They're
all the very opposite of the prosperity Gospel. I fear some will
feel I'm trying to be too tough on us, too ascetic. Really, I'm
not: I'm just trying to grapple, in all intellectual and Biblical
honesty, with both the Bible teaching on this theme and also our
present Christian experience. We are to love God more than the gifts
or rewards God offers or could give us. The challenge comes to each
of us, right between the eyes: Will a man serve God for
nought? There can be no escaping the import of it. Will
a man serve God for nought? Will you? Will I? Will we rise to the
level of Habakkuk? Will it be “enough” for us, that we the servants
experience something of the opposition of the Master; is that enough
for us? Or do we want some more personal benefit? Or will we ever
rise to the level of Moses or Job, to so love God that we will resign
all physical blessings, even life itself, regardless of
whether we will be in the Kingdom? Will we really grasp the oft-repeated
theme of John Thomas, that " God manifestation, not (personal)
human salvation" is the ultimate purpose of God? Could
we walk away rejected from the judgment, still loving God?
We should be able to, in our imaginations. For it is only the unworthy
who will be angry with God, calling His Son a hard and austere man
The principles we have discussed are far more wide reaching than
the issue of faithful brethren remaining poor in the things of this
world. Active brethren frequently complain that they feel unappreciated
by others, single brethren and sisters complain that they can't
find a partner and so they are going to seek one in the world. But
if a man serves God for nought, we won't expect the blessings of
marriage, of appreciation from our brethren...if we do
have these things, we'll see them as icing on the cake, sugar in
our tea. They're certainly not what the the prosperity Gospel makes
them out to be. If we have the spirit of serving God for nothing,
then we will really appreciate what physical blessings we do receive;
and we'll give true praise for them. There is a strong link between
this spirit of serving God for nothing, and living a life of heartfelt
gratitude and thanksgiving, with a spirit that easily copes with
theft, i.e. loss of blessings, material or otherwise.
Surely we've got down to something utterly fundamental. Will
a man serve God for nought? " My son, give me thine heart"
; " love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and
with all thy soul, and with all thy might"
. Time and again, Moses in his final hours used these words, as
he pleaded on that last day of his life for Israel to grasp the
nettle, to take on board the idea of loving God, of giving our all
(Dt. 6:5; 10:12; 11:13,22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6 ; an impressive seven-fold
emphasis). I can almost hear his voice cracking as he stressed the
word " all" . Having pleaded six times for them to love
God with all their soul and all their might, Moses
then makes the point that if they enter the Kingdom, there they
will be made by God to love Him then with all their soul
and might (Dt. 30:6). The logic is over-powering. In the Kingdom,
our very nature, every fibre of our being, will be bent towards
love of God. If this will be our eternal destiny, isn't it logical
that we at least aspire to it now? In that day, the prospect
of reward will not be before us. Love of God, joy in His Name,
will be our driving force. And therefore, Moses implies in that
last fine address, it should be the same now, in this brief moment
of preparation. Taking this idea on board involves more than making
a few practical New Year-type resolutions; more than mentally assenting
as we are exhorted " Let us strive the more earnestly,
brethren!" . All this is in some way just scratching around
on the surface of our natures, making a few cosmetic improvements.
Far, far too much of our Christian spirituality is little more than
this. And the prosperity Gospel is even worse. We must open our
hearts to the love of God, in both senses: His love for
us, and the loving of God which this should provoke (1).
If we can do this, we will be consumed, so consumed, that
the presence or absence of physical blessing is scarcely on our
The New Testament emphasis is on the great spiritual blessings
which we have already received; these are the blessings
we should have our eye on. The prosperity Gospel overlooks these
spiritual blessings. " What would ye that I should do for you?"
(Mk. 10:34-36) was surely said by the Lord with a gentle irony;
He had just been speaking of how He would die for them. James and
John evidently didn't appreciate the wonder, the blessing, the honour
of the fact that the Son of God would love them unto the end. All
they wanted was the human blessing, in this life, of being able
to tell their brethren that they would be the greatest
in the Kingdom. " What would ye that I should do for you"
- in addition to loving you unto the death, of loving you with a
love greater than that of anyone else? Their minds were
all too set on the present, the petty glory of here and now. But
when they actually beheld the cross (Lk. 23:49 suggests James also
did), they would have learnt their lesson. And so it was with Job.
Throughout the core of the book, he consistently addresses God as
'Shaddai', the fruitful one, the provider of blessing. But in the
prologue and epilogue, he calls God 'Yahweh'. It may be that He
came to know the wonder of God's Name to the extent that
he quit his perception of God as only the provider of material blessing.
The disciples were confused as to where Jesus was going and where
He was leading them. His response was that He was and is “the way”.
C.H. Dodd in The Interpretation Of John’s Gospel p. 412
suggests the meaning of Jn. 14:4,5 as: “You know the way [in that
I am the way], but you do not know where it leads”, and Thomas therefore
objects: “If we do not know the destination, how can we know the
way?”. The Lord’s response is that He is the way. That’s it. It’s
not so much the destination as the way there. The excellency of
knowing Christ demands of us to walk in His way, to know Him as
the life right now, to live His life, to be in His way. The way
is the goal; ‘You don’t need any further horizons than that, than
me, right now’. This is totally unappreciated by the prosperity
All this said, there's nothing wrong with being motivated by the
promised reward of the Kingdom; there is Biblical evidence to support
this view of the Kingdom. Likewise it is possible to discern an
element of human appeal in some Biblical statements. Thus the Spirit
encourages husbands to love their wives as themselves, because effectively
they are loving themselves if they do this (Eph. 5:29). Yet we are
also warned that a characteristic of the last days will be a selfish
loving of ourselves. Paul speaks of how he puts things
" in human terms" (Rom. 6:19 NIV); e.g. he suggests that
fear of the judgment alone ought to at least make us sit up and
take our spiritual life seriously (2 Cor. 5:11), even though the
tenor of Scripture elsewhere is that this shouldn't be our motivator.
And so the Kingdom is held out as a motivator to us. But
we must want to be there not just for our own self-fulfilment; we
must want to be there for the sake of glorifying God. Neither is
there anything wrong with asking God for physical blessings, for
pleading His promises. Habakkuk effectively does this in Hab. 1.
The Lord himself recommended the twelve to ask God daily for their
daily food, pleading His promises never to let the righteous go
hungry (Ps. 37:25; Jos. 1:5 cp. Heb. 13:5), as exemplified in the
way He daily provided for Israel in their wilderness years. God
assured Israel that as He had provided for them in the wilderness,
so He would continue to do so (Jos. 1:5); and that very assurance
is quoted to us (Heb. 13:5); therefore, Paul reasons, because
God will continue to provide for us as He did for Israel in the
wilderness, we should live without desire for material things. And
yet we shouldn't expect this blessing (or indeed, anything
at all), as the prosperity Gospel of today's preachers falsely argues.
On one level, we can quite rightly ask for material blessing, and
the Father is pleased that we should. But there is a higher level
we can live on, where requesting physical blessings doesn't figure
so largely. We can be like Caleb, who conquered Hebron (his part
in the Kingdom) for himself and then gave it to others (Josh. 14:12-14).
Many mature brethren realize that their prayers place decreasing
emphasis on requesting physical blessing from God; be it safe-keeping,
health etc. The joy, the honour, of knowing God, of having His word,
of the sure and blessed Hope of sharing the moral glory of His nature,
of seeing God, of having God Himself
wipe away all tears from our faces... these things, appreciating
them, meditating upon them, make the seeking and receipt
of any present physical blessing pale into insignificance. Thus
the prosperity Gospel of today's preachers becomes a non-Gospel
compared to the true good news. It was a hymnwriter of fine,
fine spiritual apprehension who penned these verses:
Lord, who Thyself hast bidden us to pray
For daily bread,
We ask Thee but for grace and strength this
Our path to tread.
Not for tomorrow, its uncharted road,
Shall be our prayer;
Sufficient for each day our daily load,
Thy daily care.
(1) Understanding "
the love of God" as the love we have for God opens up several
passages. The Jews didn't have the love of God inside them (Jn.
5:42); but this doesn't mean God didn't love them. They are
beloved for the father's sakes; as a Father always loves His wayward
son. But they didn't have love of God in their souls. Paul's prayer
that God would direct hearts " into the love of God" (2
Thess. 3:5) surely means that He would influence their consciousness
to be more filled with an upsurging love of God, rather than meaning
that God would bring them into a position where He loved their hearts.