27 October 2005

The First Evidence of a Prosperity Gospel

Matthew 4:5-6 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Ah the devil is good at quoting Scripture isn’t he? As I read over Satan’s proof text last week, I was tempted to make this a carte blanche promise for my life. Tempted? Isn’t all Scripture God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16)? Aren’t all promises yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20)? Yes, but all Scripture is subject to “squaring” with the rest of Scripture. Our hearts must be careful not to cling to one promise and ignore another.

This is indeed a powerful temptation. How else do we explain Satan’s use of it? One can hardly underestimate the significance of Matthew Chapter 4. Here lies the ultimate struggle for the entire universe. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh emptied of His omnipotence (Philippians 2), battles Satan on the field of character, not outright strength. The stakes are high and the weapons are fierce. Quite simply, the ICBM that Satan looses is a call to believe that no harm will befall God’s beloved in this life. Isn’t that what the passage says?

These are the “good” verses aren’t they? If God loves me, shouldn’t I be blessed in this life? (And, by the way, please let me define “blessing.”)

The problem is that life just doesn’t allow for bad hermeneutics. Sooner or later you realize bad things happen to those God loves, indeed very bad things. Our first reaction is that of the Apostles in John 9, to determine the deficiency in the individual that is preventing the “blessing” of God. They need more faith. There is some sin. It’s the same old story. Religion answers this question. Religion gives us the ability to quantify the incalculable, namely faith. The equations are varied but all similar in nature...


faith + God = Blessing

When Blessing = 0, and assuming God is unchanging, then:

faith < FAITH

Therefore to find FAITH:

Faithful church attendance + faithful bible reading + ½ faithful tithing = FAITH


Religious epiphany A + Religious ceremony B = FAITH


Religious action A – Sin A<>Z = FAITH

Really it is all so simple. Now that this FAITH is quantifiable, I set myself to achieving and, more importantly, indebting God because, if I have FAITH, I am God’s child and I deserve Blessing.

Now this half-truth is revealing its payload. Satan’s weapon is creating in me entitlement. God simply owes me. What good news (gospel)! I bet that will sell.

Matthew’s 4th chapter is a glorious and divine revelation because here Satan’s M.O. is uncovered and our defense is revealed. Christ handles the half-truth with the whole truth. He relies on the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Matthew 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 here which refers to Israel’s testing at Massah (Exodus 17). How did they “test” God? They complained, more specifically they carried a sense of entitlement. They simply felt that, after all this desert living, God owed them some water. They had a “faith” that was impure – believing God was there and that He was to serve them. The idolatry of self tests God.

God owes us nothing. This is the balancing truth missed by the prosperity gospel. We cannot understand God being for us if we don’t first understand this. Whatever we receive is a grace. What’s more, our desires for material blessings negate the satisfying greatness of the Giver. The psalmist sees this clearly in Psalm 95:

Psalm 95 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

Let me attempt a simple paraphrase: “The LORD is a great God and enjoyable. Let us not commit the same sin as our fathers at Massah, when they looked past this Glorious God to the little thing they felt He owed them. If we do, we will suffer greatly - separated from rest in Him.”

James cautions us with these words:

James 4:1-5 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions* are at war within you?* 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 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. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

We can ask wrongly for anything and our motives are the only test for our asking. What do you want most? Satan knew that idolatrous desires could be spiritualized. Indeed, he sees power in this mental trickery. Our only defense here is a sword (Ephesians 6:17) and a heart whose true motives have been revealed (Psalm 139:23-24).

What is our hope in this life? Jesus give us a clue:

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

It begins when we redefine blessing.

Romans 8:28-39 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,* for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be* against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.* 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Blessing = Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Mitch,

    This is by far one of my favorite posts. I know I fall prey time & time again to redefining in my mind what a "blessing" is- a definition NOT grounded in truth. It's been great to read this post everytime I'm tempted to feel dissatisfied in our current situation. Thank you for sharing!

    Even when things aren't going our way, such as freezing our toes off because of the lack of insulation, months of diligent job searching with no results, or yearning once again for the efficiency of a dryer, Ash & I are are blessed beyond measure. Jesus dwells with us. Amen.

    He's been taking care of us here. Hope He's doing the same for your family in the Fort. Say hi to your wife for me!

    ~Star Cook