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 (Mt. 25:24).
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 agenda.
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 Gospel.
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 day
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.