Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Root of All Evil and The Doctrine of Prosperity

This week we talked about the problems of the prosperity gospel.  Today I want to talk about the root of this evil that has been infiltrating our church for some time. The desire for earthly riches is steeped in the love of money and covetousness.  This two evils work hand-in-hand to produce what we have been talking about all week.  Today's study will begin in 1 Timothy.
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8 NKJV
I often wonder how the prosperity preachers harmonize passages such as this into their fallen theology.  The fact is that you can not.  We are told that if we have food and clothing we should be content.  Note it does not even include a house, and especially not two multimillion dollar homes as some preachers have.  If God cares for our basic needs, we should be content with that, plain and simple.  Paul goes on to explain why.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  1 Timothy 6:9 NKJV
Note that Paul is addressing Christians who desire to be rich.  How is it that Christians fall into harmful lusts that drown men in destruction and perdition?  The answer is the one force in the universe that can stop God's work in your life, that being your "self."  Desiring beyond your needs is a result of not denying yourself.  That is the first step of discipleship and without taking that step you can not submit to God nor can you follow Jesus.  If you are still under "self"-rule, you are ruled by your own lusts.  Those who are content with God has given them are only able to do so because they have denied themselves.  It is those Christians who know that the grace of God is sufficient for them. 
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  It is a saying we all know very well.  If you desire to be prosperous, you love money.  You can not argue around that.  If you did not love it, why would you want it?  If you claim you do not want it, why do you hold onto so much of it?  If money is something one does not desire, that person should have no problem giving all away except for what he needs to get by.  The desire to be prosperous is the root of all kinds of evil.  Teachers like Joseph Prince and Creflo Dollar teach those who have tickling ears enough to listen that they should desire money.  Do you realize what is being taught?  The gospel of prosperity is rooted in evil and leads to greed and despair.  How does it live to despair?  It leads to despair because if you should become prosperous (whether by God or through unscrupulous actions) you learn that you never ever have enough.  Money never satisfies and the more we have the more we think we want or need and more we are afraid to lose.  It also leads to despair because most of those tens of thousands who diligently send their money into their false teacher of choice never achieve any kind of prosperity.  It is the carrot on the end of stick they will never get to.  They are coddled and encouraged week after week to believe on a blessing that God never promised and is never forthcoming.  People walk away from the faith for two reasons.  The first is because they are prosperous and believe they no longer need God or even want Him as they lavish in the pleasures of the world   The second is because they become disillusioned in the Gospel that never gives them the falsely promised prosperity. 

Now we see here that the love of money is the root of all evil, but even that love is rooted in something else.  It begins with never really denying yourself, but the heart of the matter is covetousness.  The Bible is clear on covetousness. 
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's. Exodus 20:17 NKJV
The desire for prosperity is steeped in covetousness.  Some may argue that you do not want your neighbor's things, you just want your own.  That is a nice try, but that only means you are not willing to steal.  Considering prosperity is taught as an entitlement, those who desire it usually do not even want to have to work for it.  They want what their neighbor has and they expect God to just drop it in their laps.  That is a side note, let us get back to covetousness.  The desire for prosperity is by definition an act of covetousness because prosperity is a relative term.  In other words, prosperity is a measure of comparison between your wealth and that of another person or group of people.  If you are reading this on a computer in a home with electricity, heat, and air conditioning, and while snacking on any kind of food you are already more prosperous than most of the world.  But that is not what we want, we want prosperity compared to the wealthy.  Our standard for prosperity is not an African peasant, an upper middle class American, or even a millionaire.  No, we want Bill Gates prosperity.  Our measure is to be prosperous relative to everyone.  We have no appreciation for the relative prosperity we have, we want what others have.  There is always going to be people with more wealth and so the desire for even more prosperity will never go away.  Whether it be the new decked out car, the large house, a vacation house, a television larger than yourself, or anything else beyond our means or needs that we desire is covetousness.  Covetousness works hand-in-hand with love of money producing the fruit of greed and unrighteousness and life ruled by our own lusts and not by the will of God. 

Let us get back to Timothy.
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NKJV
The man of God is called to flee the desire to be rich.  He is called to flee the love of money and all the evil it brings.  He is called to flee covetousness.  Instead, as a man or woman of God, we are called to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.  Again note the contrast.  You can not pursue money and still pursue those things.  They are not inclusive of one another.  Paul makes the point that we either seek after riches leading to unrighteousness or seek after God leading to righteousness.  Jesus tells us why it can not be both, that is must be one or the other.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  Matthew 6:24 NKJV
You can not serve God and money.  Perhaps you think that desiring money is the desire for money to serve you and not for you to serve money.  In other words, you perhaps claim that you will serve God and money will serve you.  Again, nice try, but the very fact that you are desiring after money shows that you are already under its wicked control. 

Lest you think that Paul was only making a suggestion to seek after godly things and not after money:
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.  1 Timothy 6:12-16 NKJV
Paul was very serious about all he just said.  God was very serious about what He just spoke through Paul.  That is how dangerous seeking after prosperity is to our lives in Christ.  It can turn us away from the faith and ruin our witness to others.  It has already brought forth much damage to the lives of many Christians who did not heed this warning and it has also tarnished the name of Christ to the point where these so-called preachers have become a parody of all that is wrong with the church.  Heed Paul's warning, follow God's command, do not seek after riches.
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NKJV
Paul now turns his attention to those who are rich already.  Some people are wealthy and Christian.  Considering the dangers of riches, Paul gives a specific command to them.  They are not to trust in those riches they have (which is evidenced in how easily they part with them in order to help those in need).  Furthermore, they are called to be rich in good works and generous with what the Lord has blessed them with.  Remember yesterday we learned that generosity is not a matter of how much you give but in how much you hold back.  This generosity while reducing their wealth on earth builds their store of eternal treasures in heaven.  They are called to let go of their trust and pleasure in earthly riches in exchange for the richness of God and the joy He provides. 
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.  1 Timothy 6:20-21 NKJV
Interesting that Paul closes his letter with this warning to Timothy right after giving him the warnings and commandments regarding wealth.  Even then Paul was dealing with those who promote the gospel of greed.  Even now, their teaching is full of contradictions and idle babblings that they call knowledge.  If you have ever studied their teachings, it is full of Scripture taken way out of context, convenient "prophesies" that justify everything they say, and contradict themselves time and again.  They have strayed from the path setting off after their own desires dragging their followers on the path to apostasy. 

And here we conclude this week's study of the prosperity gospel.  It is plain to see that this teaching is laden with error and apostasy and leads its followers on a path to unrighteousness or even to abandoning the faith.  It is a selfish and greedy theology that has no place in the body of Christ. The doctrine begins with the error of not only a failure to deny ourselves, but even to amplify ourselves and our own desires.  Those self-fueled desires lead to covetousness and a love for wealth and symbols of prosperity and ultimately turn our hearts away from God.  Be content with what God has provided you.  Learn the joy of His grace being sufficient for you.  Rejoice in the eternal treasures waiting for you in Heaven.  Give up the striving for unrighteous mammon and strive for godliness and eternal riches promised to us in glory by our Heavenly Father.  If you want that peace that passes all understanding and a contentment in this life as we await the next then praise God for what you do have and not complain for what you do not have.   And what do you have?  You have eternal life in Heaven.  You have Jesus Christ, who will never leave you for forsake you.  You have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  You have eternal treasures awaiting your arrival.  You have God has your Father.  You have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you.  What else can you possibly need?
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."  Hebrerws 13:5 NKJV

1 comment:

  1. A good series, aptly summed up:

    "It is a selfish and greedy theology that has no place in the body of Christ. The doctrine begins with the error of not only a failure to deny ourselves, but even to amplify ourselves and our own desires. Those self-fueled desires lead to covetousness and a love for wealth and symbols of prosperity and ultimately turn our hearts away from God. Be content with what God has provided you. Learn the joy of His grace being sufficient for you."

    Keep the good word coming...