Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Not About Prosperity, It's About Charity

Today I want to give an illustration on what I posted on yesterday.  There is a verse that prosperity preachers love to use, and for a long time it has given me trouble.  I knew it could not say what they said it was saying when testing it in the light of other Scripture, but there it was saying what I knew it could not be saying as plain as day.  God recently spoke to me about that verse, though, and showed me what His real meaning behind it was.  Here is the verse in question:
Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. " Mark 10:28-30 NKJV
This conversation occurred right after the rich young ruler left Jesus sad in that he did not want to give up all he had to follow Jesus.  Peter, still having his tendency to boast pats himself on the back in saying that they have given up all to follow Jesus.  Then Jesus makes a statement that troubled me for some time.  He said that anyone who has left all including his family and riches for His sake would receive a hundredfold.  Not only that, but He said they would receive it in this time, as in before they are in eternity.  Not only a hundredfold, but specifically a hundredfold of brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, and lands.  Yes, he did say lands.  It seems as though Jesus is promising financial prosperity in this life if you give all to follow Him.  Are the prosperity teachers right?  It would seem so if you take this verse on its face, but when you begin to scratch below the surface, its true meaning comes to light.

The first problem is in the text itself.  Lumped together with "lands" is also the increase of family members (including mothers and fathers and children).  Does God suddenly multiply our parents and make us super-fertile?  Does God create mothers and fathers in abundance for us?  That is, of course, not the case.  In the family of God, who are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children? 
And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You." But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."  Mark 3:32-35 NKJV
For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.  1 Corinthians 4:15 NKJV
When Jesus spoke of increasing our family members, He did not literally mean our parents would multiply or have more children.  Jesus also did not mean that we would suddenly have a hundredfold increase in our own children.  This increase was through the family of God.  Our mothers and fathers are those older examples in the faith who live as an example to us just as Paul asked the Corinthians to allow him to be an example to them.  They are also those who led us to the Lord.  Our children are those younger Christians we bring up in the Lord and those we lead to the Lord.  Our brothers and sisters is everyone else in Christ.  In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God.  Jesus referenced blood relations, and that is what we are.  We are blood-related through the blood of Jesus.  That bond is stronger and deeper than any familial blood relation here on earth.  Our family is increased a hundredfold (actually thousands upon thousands fold) in Christ. 

Now if all the other things that Jesus says increase a hundredfold when we give up all to follow Him, does not it make sense that "properties" are of that same example?  We do not become rich in and of ourselves, we become rich as everything we have should belong to the entire family of God.  That is how it was in the early church under the Apostles.
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:44-47 NKJV
The early church lived communally. Earthly possessions were meaningless to them because their hope was in the Lord and their treasure was in Heaven.  They lived so that none of their own ever was in want.  They took care of each other.  Everything they had belonged to everyone.  And through that, the words of Jesus are realized.  They did not win the lottery or come into a lot of money, they came into a family where everything belonged to everyone.  Your brother's house was your house and your house was your brother's.  This is also where people think that the early church was communistic.  Well, they are right, it was communistic.  It was not, however, a tyrannical forced godless government that we know as Communism, but a voluntary community under God.  Jesus did believe in social justice, in a sense, but that social justice was a matter of personal conviction and responsibility and not something to be forced by the government.  Jesus wants us to give, not us force government to steal from Peter to give to Paul.  The early church was an amazing example of that and my prayer is that we find that oneness again under God. 

And so from this we see that Mark 10:30 is not about prosperity, but about charity.  We do not gain a hundredfold in that God makes us rich unto ourselves.  We gain a hundredfold because we gain the family of God.  The reason why so many of us are in want today is because we are selfish with what the Lord has provided.  For someone who calls himself a man of God to have luxury cars, private jets, gated mansions, and expensive clothes while asking people to send him more money is an abomination.  The example from Jesus and the early church is that if that teacher is so blessed it is for him to share with others and not squander that blessing on his own pleasures.  If this were the early church and he were following the example of Christ, Benny Hinn's mansion would be just as much mine and yours as it is his and we would be able to drive OUR luxury cars or take a ride in OUR private jet as often as we wanted.  But that is not the case, the example of the prosperity preacher is for the poor to continue to give to the rich on the empty promise of prosperity through that sacrifice.  Is the example of Jesus for the poor to give to the rich?  Did Jesus tell the rich man to go collect even more money from the poor?  No, but sadly that is what a large part of the church has become.

We see Christianity through our American eyes and in that it is hard to us to understand what Mark 10:30 is really saying.  Some of us have lost family members because of our faith and some have even lost jobs.  For a large part of the world, Mark 10:30 is a reality we can not understand.  In most parts of the world today, coming to Christ means not only losing your job but being blacklisted so that you never find another one.  In most countries of the world, families will not just disown you but will utterly despise you.  In some places, your own family will seek to kill you for your faith.  Coming to Christ in so much of the world literally means giving up everything, many times including your safety and many other times even your life.  God does not rain gold and silver on those who gave up everything for the Lord, but He joins them into His family and they draw close to one another.  They take care of one another,relying on God to provide for them.

They have no choice, because they only have God and each other to rely on.  That is because being part of the family includes one more item in our lives that often gets overlooked when reading Mark 10:30.  Giving up all for Christ also comes with persecutions.  The early church and much of the church today faced and faces unimaginable persecutions.  The hatred of the church today is something you do not see when you live in a gated mansion, drive luxury cars with tinted windows, and fly in private jets.  They face hatred from former friends and family and the world responds to the love shown in Christ by preaching the Gospel with hatred and violence. 

In the end, it all comes back to Jesus.  We are called to love one another as Christ loved us.  Jesus did not love us by asking us to give our stuff TO him, but he asks us to give it up FOR him.  He does not need out stuff and in reality it just gets in the way.  Jesus also told us that the first part of following Him is to deny ourselves.  We give up ourselves for Him who gave up His life for us.  When we give up ourselves there is no selfish because there is no self.  We are selfless and in that we care not to hold onto our "stuff" for our own luxuries but to let it go to see that the needs of our brothers and sisters are met.  If you want our church or even yourself to have a hundredfold increase, it begins with giving up what you have.  But, no, we hold on to what we have with clenched fists sometimes letting some crumbs fall to the floor for other to glean while hoping that God will not only allow us to keep what we have, but hoping He will give us more.  That is not the example of God.  That is not the example of Jesus.  Set your heart on treasures in Heaven and what you thought was treasure on earth will be seen for the meaningless junk that it is.  If you want your hundredfold increase, you first have to let go of what you have, including your "self".  The blessed irony of God in all this is that as long as you desire it, you will never receive it because God knows you will squander it.  Once you give up your self and your desire for it, God knows you will use it for His glory and not your own luxuries. In other words, God will only give it to you if He knows you are willing to let it go.
"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. " Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

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