Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gospel of Selfishness

There are some people I know who from time to time post Joseph Prince's message to Facebook.  These are just little daily "inspiration" sort of blurbs.  I click on them from time to time if I am in the mood to get angry and yesterday was no disappointment.  There were three little blurbs yesterday.  One was about how as Christians we will be above everyone else and below no one.  He used the illustration of someone who was once a failing salesman, but turned things around (of course after listening to Joseph Prince) and became the second-best salesman in the company.  Of course, being second place still means that he is not above everyone, but I guess Joseph Prince thinks that when it comes to God's word, close is good enough.  There was another message regarding healing and about how we all have some great power in all of us that God wants us to release into the world.  Never mind the New Age connotations of such a theology, but I digress.  He says that we can release this power by praying in tongues.  He uses the example of a healing happening under such circumstances.  Of course, never in the Bible are we told to pray in tongues to heal someone nor is that ever recorded as happening.  Anyway, my goal here is not to nit pick various points of heresy in his theology, but to speak on the health and prosperity theology in general.  When reading yesterday, all I could think was how utterly selfish the Gospel of Health and Prosperity is. 
Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's [well-being]. 1 Corinthians 10:24 NKJV
This is but one example, the Bible is filled with the example of selflessness.  Jesus died for us to give us eternal life and that comes with many promises.  Those promises, though, are not meant to be squandered on our own benefit but on the benefit of others.  Today I want to go through a few of those promises and show how God gives us these gifts as a witness to the world. 

First of all, God promises us peace.  In fact, it is a peace that is beyond understanding.  This peace is a comfort in this cold hard world that we all live in.  We are not given this peace, though, only for our own sakes. This peace is premised on the fact our time in this world will end into a glorious eternity.  We have peace because no matter what happens, we have the promise of eternal life in a place where there is nothing but joy.  This peace offers us great comfort in this world, but to what end? 
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NKJV
We see here that God gives us great peace and comfort, but the purpose is not for our own sakes alone but to share that comfort with others going through adversity. 

Another thing brought up in the selfish gospel is prosperity.  First let me say that God never promised to make all of us wealthy.  In fact, not many Christians are wealthy.  If wealth were a promise of God to Christians, then why are none of the richest men in the world practicing faithful Christians?  However, God has chosen to make some wealthy.  Once again, we must ask for what purpose.
For if there is first a willing mind, [it is] accepted according to what one has, [and] not according to what he does not have. For [I do] not [mean] that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, [that] now at this time your abundance [may supply] their lack, that their abundance also may [supply] your lack--that there may be equality. As it is written, "He who [gathered] much had nothing left over, and he who [gathered] little had no lack." 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 NKJV
This passage is even better understood in the context of another passage.
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.  Matthew 6:19-20 NKJV
The point is that, first of all, wealth should never be our desire.  We should not seek after wealth.  If God should choose to make us wealthy, that excess is not for our own use, but for the service of God in giving that excess to those who lack.  We should never amass a fortune.  If you are wealthy and other Christians are poor that you can help, then there is a problem.  You are being disobedient with the excess God is giving to you.  I posted about this recently, that those who take care of the poor will never lack but those who ignore the poor will be cursed.  I am not saying you will lose your salvation, but understand that if you have an amassed fortune that you are holding onto, you are being disobedient to God. 

The Gospel of Selfishness also promises success. They say it is promised that God will make you successful in all that you do.  The example given is Joseph in the Bible whom God prospered in everything he did.  We can not take the experience of one person and create a promise based on that experience.  God made Joseph successful.  God did not make everyone successful.  God never tells us to be successful, He tells us to be obedient.  God judges our success on eternal gain, not in being a good salesman.  Furthermore, if God does give anyone success, it is not for our own personal glory.  Here is what the Bible says.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NKJV
You see, any success given to you is only to give glory to God.  God is not going to give this success to someone who will take pride in what accomplishments God gives them.  The way to success is not to pray for greatness, but to humble yourself before the Lord.  It is the one who humbles himself whom God will elevate. 

And, finally, the Gospel of Selfishness also promises health.  They go so far as to say that sickness is merely an illusion.  When your stomach is sick or your nose is runny, that is not an illness at all, but merely Satan's trick.  They make the false claim that we were all healed physically by the stripes of Jesus in this life and so sickness should never be part of the Christian experience.  Of course, they ignore Paul telling Timothy to take some wine for his stomach.  They also ignore the instructions given on what to do with a Christian who is sick.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  James 5:14-15 NKJV
Many think that this verse proves their point.  That point being that Jesus promises to heal our sickness.  Here is the problem with their logic. First of all, it denies reality.  Many great men of God have died of illnesses.  Many great men of God had colds, stomach viruses, and other such illnesses.  Furthermore, where does one limit infirmities covered by Jesus? Can I still sprain my ankle?  Can I eat McDonald's every day and never have heart disease?  If the cross handles illness the way it handles sin (as they claim it does), we would be invincible.  You see, no matter what sin I commit as a Christian, that sin is forgiven.  I can not step into and out of grace based on my behavior.  If that were not the case, we would all be in trouble!  The same way, if healing is covered just as much of the cross as forgiveness, we would be healed of all our illnesses before they even happen.  To even get sick would be the same as becoming unforgiven.  Just as I can not commit a sin and be unforgiven, I should not be able to jump off the roof of my house and break my leg.  Just as I can not live a life that constantly has sin it to slowly build up that sin debt and ultimately lose forgiveness,  I should not be able to eat cheeseburgers everyday and slowly build up blood clots in my arteries and succumb to heart disease.  Furthermore, the fact that James gives instructions on what to do with a Christian who is sick implies that Christians can get sick.  Why would God give instructions on how to handle a situation that is impossible to even happen?  And, finally, we see that it is the "prayer of faith" that will lead to healing.  That is a point of some debate,  but considering that phrase is especially used here I have to believe it was for a reason.  In the greater context, the healing may not be physical but spiritual.  What I mean is that it never says the prayer of faith will "heal" the sick, but "save" the sick and that God will raise him up.  This does not limit the healing to physical but also to the heart to accept with grace whatever God's plan may be through that illness. 

So why, then, does God allow sickness?  Again we see the answer in Scripture.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NKJV
We see from the example of Paul that our infirmities are a means to glorify God.  They are also a means to keep us humble.  There are other places in Scripture where sickness is used as a means of chastisement.  And so sometimes we are sick to glorify God through a miraculous healing.  Sometimes we are sick to go through that illness wherever it may take us with the grace of God as a witness and a comfort to others who may be suffering.  Sometimes we are a sick as the result of our own sin.  Sin has consequences, and I believe the physical ailments often associated with sin are planned that way as a way of natural chastisement for sinful behavior.  The fact is that there are many purposes behind allowing Christians to suffer illness with the witness of a miraculous healing only being one of them.

Teachers like Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen teach a very encouraging message.  They teach that we should be living the good life now.  They teach that we should be living like spoiled kids of the King.  They teach health, wealth, success, peace, and being loved by all.  That is such an amazing and tempting message that I can certainly understand why it is so attractive to so many people.  The problem is that it is wrong.  As encouraging and as uplifting as it sounds, it is simply not true. They are lies that are designed to enrich the one who preaches them.  I am sure some of these teachers may honestly believe what they are saying, but that only means they are not following the Holy Spirit but after their own flesh.  They teach a message that tickles the flesh while forsaking the spirit.  Their doctrine is the sweetest of candy, but just like the real kind of candy, a steady diet of their doctrine will only lead to sickness.  As time goes on and that money does not come in and you continue to get sick like everyone else, you begin to question your own faith.  When other people do not like you or you are not as successful as you are taught you should be, you begin to compromise your values forsaking the means to accomplish the ends you believe you are entitled to.  I urge you, if you are caught up in this junk, get out and get into the solid nourishment of the Word of God.  You may not have riches on earth, but you will live in the joy of the heavenly treasures to come.  You may get sick, but you will face that illness with the grace of God knowing that even sickness will end when you enter eternal life.  You may not have success now, but you will rule and reign with Christ in the world to come.  You may not be loved by man, but those men you do reach will be your brothers eternally.  If you live for yourself you will never be satisfied, but if you deny yourself and live for others, God promises that you will never want.  That is a promise you can count on.
Blessed [are] the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.  Matthew 5:5 NKJV

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