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Recognising the “different Jesus” of the prosperity gospel

Renew/ God's truths
The prosperity gospel claims that faith and obedience to God will bring earthly blessings and physical healing. God’s Word promises us every spiritual blessing through the Holy Spirit, but it also tells us that we will suffer and be persecuted for following Jesus. Jesus tells all His disciples to consider it a blessing to be hated, cursed, rejected and persecuted for His name’s sake, just like He has suffered for ours. Is this the Jesus we follow or have we fallen for a “different gospel”?

 

Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…

Luke 6:22 ESV  “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NLT  But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

The Jesus of the Bible

God the Father, who sent His own Son to die for our sins, is all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, compassionate and trustworthy. 

Psalm 147:5 ESV  Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

Psalm 103:8 ESV  The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

When Jesus came to earth to fulfill His Heavenly Father’s mission, He did many things that were all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, compassionate and trustworthy – but also unconventional and at times, very uncomfortable.

  • Jesus was homeless during His years of ministry | Luke 9:58 ESV  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
  • He suffered rejection, pain, and suffering | Isaiah 53:3 NIV He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
  • Jesus was hated by religious teachers and unbelievers | John 15:18 ESV  “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
  • His actions and teachings sometimes deeply offended people | Matthew 15:12 ESV  Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
  • Jesus told His followers to love Him so much that every other relationship paled in comparison | Luke 14:26 NLT “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison–your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.
  • He told His followers to sell all their possession to follow Him | Luke 12:32-33 ESV  “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
  • He told His followers to “leap for joy” when they were rejected and hated on His account | Luke 6:22-23 ESV “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
  • He sent His followers out without material backing, except for the Holy Spirit | Luke 9:1-3 ESV One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.
  • He rebuked and disciplined His followers when needed | Luke 9:54-56 ESV  And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. 

The Jesus of the Bible calls us to give up everything of this world to follow Him. We are to focus on the heavenly prize of being with Him for eternity – where there are no more tears and pain – rather than build earthly riches or reputations which are perishable.

Philippians 3:14 NLT  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Revelation 21:3-4 ESV  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Matthew 6:19-21 ESV  “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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus has said that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The worries of this life and the lure of wealth can choke out God’s truths from our hearts. When we get caught up with chasing promises of pleasure, popularity, prosperity, and peace, we can end up losing our souls forever.

Matthew 19:23 ESV  And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 13:22 ESV  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Mark 8:36-37 ESV  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? 

Large flocks of people followed Jesus during His ministry on earth. Many eventually left Him because they became offended by His teachings. They also complained about Him. Such “followers” were satisfied to be fed by Him and witness His miracles – but not to follow Him all the way. In the end, they betrayed Him.

John 6:26-27,30  NLT Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do?

John 6:60-61,64,66 ESV  Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? .. some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) …At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.

Spotting some signs of the prosperity gospel

The “Jesus” presented in the prosperity gospel is said to offer us everything we need to live an abundant lifestyle on earth. It misleads us into desiring to have the “best version of ourselves” and the best lifestyles, rather than to be the meek, humble, materially-free and despised disciples that Jesus calls us to become.

Teachings from the prosperity gospel sound true because they are based on Bible verses such as the following. When we look closely at the context of these verses, we see that they refer to asking God for wisdom in relationships, pouring out love, focusing on God’s plans despite suffering in exile, and giving financially to support God’s Kingdom. It is not about us, it is about loving God and loving others – the two greatest commandments that God has given us.

James 4:2 ESV  … You do not have, because you do not ask.

Luke 6:38 ESV  give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 

Philippians 4:19 ESV  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Here are some other subtle misconceptions.

1. “God wants you to become the best version of you.”

God wants to transform us to become more and more like Him. For this to happen, we need to become less and less so that God becomes larger and larger in our lives. Becoming the best version of ourselves, however, is simply building our own self-image. This can make us into our own idols.

John 3:30 ESV He must increase, but I must decrease.”

2. “God will bless all your plans as long as your heart is in the right place.”

Through the Holy Spirit, all followers of Jesus have access to the Source of pure and perfect Wisdom, God Himself. God tells us that all human plans are futile when we don’t follow Him – even if we believe our hearts are in the right place or our plans sound good to our own ears. God’s disappointment with such an attitude in Isaiah 30:1 is particularly sobering; He says that we “add sin to sin” when we carry out our own intentions and expect Him to agree to them. 

1 Corinthians 3:19-20 ESV  For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

Psalm 94:11 NIV The LORD knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.

Isaiah 30:1 ESV  “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin;

3. “God wants to heal every sickness and physical ailment.”

Anyone who believes in Jesus will be empowered to heal the sick. The apostle Paul is a prime example of this. He healed numerous people miraculously and was even unharmed by a poisonous snake bite.

Mark 16:17-18 ESV  And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Acts 28:3,5 NLT  As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed.

At the same time, he personally suffered serious sicknesses and left Trophimus, a long time missionary co-worker sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Paul also noted that Timothy, a young man he referred to as his own child in Christ, was frequently unwell (1 Timothy 5:23). Evidently, prayer alone does not remove sickness. 

Galatians 4:13 NLT  Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News.

The Bible states that God does not respond to prayers when we continue to hold on to sin (John 9:31), refuse to forgive others (Mark 11:25), ask with the wrong motives (James 4:3) or are proud and self-entitled (James 4:6); just to name a few examples. Sometimes, sickness is simply an opportunity to bring God glory, as shown by the example of the blind man whom Jesus healed and said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).

John 9:31 ESV  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.

Mark 11:25 ESV  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” 

James 4:3 NLT  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

James 4:6 ESV  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 

John 9:1-3 ESV  As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

To say that God will heal every sickness when we pray, without examining God’s intent and the condition of our hearts, is evidently not the full picture. Bodily healing without spiritual healing is of little eternal value.

4. “God will reward you when you give financially.”

The prosperity gospel often uses Malachi 3:8-10 to tell people that God reward them for giving financially to their churches or various ministries.

Malachi 3:8-10 ESV  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

While it is important to support God’s Kingdom work through financial tithing, we cannot hold God hostage to “paying us back with interest”. We are not His moneylenders. Nor is tithing limited to giving to our home church. The apostle Paul was funded by other churches when he served in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 11:8 NLT  I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost.

Let us not be misled to think that God is interested in 10% of our wallets. He calls us to present our entire selves as living sacrifices. He loves a cheerful giver who tithes with a pure heart that loves Him and desires to extend His Kingdom work. These are what Jesus has called “the more important things.” He blesses us financially so we can serve others and bless the poor. 

Romans 12:1 ESV  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

2 Corinthians 9:7-9 ESV  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Luke 11:42 NLT  “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

5. “You are called to greatness.”

The world will teach us to seek greatness in different aspects of our lives. This is not the way of Christ, who said that to be great in His eyes, we must first surrender the grip we have on our own lives and humbly serve others.

Matthew 20:26-28 NIV  whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

6. “Jesus came to relieve us of our suffering.” 

The Bible reminds us that we can expect a “fiery trial” and still rejoice, as we share in the same type of sufferings that Jesus endured.

1 Peter 4:12- 16 ESV  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 

Also, see Testing for deceitful spirits in churches

The cost of truly following Jesus

The prosperity gospel subtly encourages its followers to covet earthly wealth and health. Yet this is not the abundance that God calls us to. In fact, the Bible has strong words for followers who go along with the world; that we will become enemies of God.

Luke 12:15 ESV  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

James 4:4 ESV  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Here are some things we can expect as we follow the Jesus of the Bible.

  • Expect to become like a servantJohn 13:14-16 NLT  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.
  • Expect to mature in Christ and teach others to do the same | Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
  • Expect to be mocked for desiring to live a godly life 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
  • Expect to be persecuted and hated for following Jesus Luke 21:17 ESV  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
  • Expect sharp divisions with unbelieving family and friends Luke 12:51-53 ESV  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
  • Expect to love and bless our enemies Matthew 5:44-46 ESV  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
  • Expect to rejoice in suffering Romans 5:3 ESV  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

Most of these expectations are not pleasant to hear nor to endure. Yet this is the gospel that brings eternal salvation and intimacy with God. Jesus promises abundance in terms of the priceless and eternal peace, joy, peace and hope that comes from Him, not necessarily the temporary riches and reputations that will only exist during our limited lifespans on this dying planet.

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

May we follow the Jesus of the Bible – and not be tempted to be offended by His teachings or to betray Him. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us through His cruel crucifixion. Surely, the price we pay will never be as high as His.

Luke 14:25-30 NLT  A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

 

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