The (Prosperity?) Gospel

There are many manmade adaptations of the true Biblical gospel, and some of them are quite popular today. Among these false gospels is one, often referred to as the “prosperity gospel,” which basically teaches that if you follow Jesus, He will bless you with financial, social, and physical wellbeing. The idea is that if you will follow God the way He wants, He will give you all of the earthly blessings you desire.

This prosperity gospel is completely incompatible with scripture itself. Many have spoken out against it in no uncertain terms, insisting that in fact life often becomes harder, rather than easier, when we follow Jesus.

In some sense there is truth to the idea that following Jesus makes life harder. Look at the life of Paul as a prime example. He was a promising Jewish Pharisee with a bright future as a leader of the people, yet when he gave his life to Jesus, he traded all of that for a life full of beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and all manner of hardship.

But let us make sure that we do not overreact to the prosperity gospel so extremely that we insist that following Christ is worse than it actually is! Paul, even after all he went through, stated plainly that he was happy about his decision to follow Jesus. In the ways that mattered most, following Jesus still made his life better, not worse.

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3)

I would argue that the quality of Paul’s life did not go down, but rather it went up as a result of his dedication to Christ. He may have given up a lot, but he would do it all again in a heartbeat, for what he has gained is something of “surpassing value.”

Did not Jesus Himself say “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”?

Maybe there is some truth in the prosperity gospel after all… Not because God will make our way prosperous from a worldly standpoint in terms of material health or wealth, but because God will indeed teach us to prosper in our souls.

In his third epistle, John stated: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

In 2 Corinthians Paul said: “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Will following God make you physically healthy and materially wealthy? It might. Or it might not. But what we do know, is that following God is the pathway to a prospering soul, full of the fruits of the Spirit.

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
Than a fattened calf with hatred.”
(Proverbs 15:16-17)

Jesus did not Promise to Make Us Comfortable

There is much about the Christian life that makes it rewarding.

We receive riches:
Paul told the Corinthians that they had “become rich” and had “become kings” because of what Christ had done for them (1 Corinthians 4:8).
The Romans were told that God is “abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).
The gentiles in Ephesus were told of “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
The Philippians were told that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

We receive abundant life:
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

We receive salvation:
Peter told his readers that they were “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

We receive more than we give up:
Jesus told his followers, “there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

But there are some things that we are not guaranteed, even as God’s children.

We are not guaranteed that life will be comfortable. Rather, we can expect:
Various trials.” (James 1:2)
Many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22)
Tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “peril,” and “sword.” (Romans 8:35)
The hatred of the world. (Mark 13:13)
Insults, persecutions, and all kinds of false accusations. (Matthew 5:11)
Unjust suffering. (1 Peter 2:19)
Thorns in the flesh. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
The fiery darts of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)
Imprisonment. (Revelation 2:10)

By an accident of history and geography, we live in a land where the physical persecution of Christians is exceptionally rare. But this does not mean that the Christian life will be comfortable for us.

He has given us great riches in Christ. He has given us an opportunity for new and abundant life. He has offered us salvation. He has given us more than we could ever give back.

But He has not promised to make us “comfortable.” Will we not step out of our comfort zones, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the needy, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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