“Prosperity Gospel” Deuteronomy 7:12-26 April 11, 2010
SI: Deuteronomy has been called the Romans of the Old Testament.
That’s because it’s a book about God’s grace
and the life of faith and obedience we give to God in response to his grace.
It’s also called the Romans of the Old Testament because it is a very doctrinal book.
Many of the great doctrines the Apostle Paul expounds in Romans
are presented in Deuteronomy as well.
This morning look at a teaching that is found throughout the Bible that is
terribly misunderstood and misused in many branches of the church today.
We need to understand this doctrine and re-claim it.
INTRO: We have a family friend who tells the story of a church he once visited.
It was the practice of this church for people to write down prayer requests,
and in the Sunday morning service the pastor would pull out a few at random
and read them aloud and pray for those people.
And while he was praying, he would often get what he said were messages
from the Lord about the person. He would pass those messages on.
On this particular Sunday when our friend was there, one of the prayer requests
the pastor read was from a man who said that his car was wrecked and he had
no money, no transportation, and he wanted prayer that he would get a car.
So the pastor started praying, and then, in the middle of the prayer he stopped:
“Yes, Lord,” he said. “What’s that, Lord?”
“What do you want us to do?” “OK. I understand, Lord.”
Then he turned to the congregation and said:
“The Lord says that we are supposed to take up a collection and buy this
brother a car.” So they sang some songs while the ushers passed the plates.
And they counted the money right there and announced the total.
It was enough to buy the man a good used car.
Everybody started clapping and shouting out praises.
Suddenly the pastor gestured for everybody to be quiet:
“What, Lord?” “Are you sure, Lord?”
“Yes, Lord, yes. Now I understand clearly, Lord.”
He turned to the congregation again and said:
“The Lord says he wants his children to be prosperous.
He doesn’t want this brother driving a used car, wants him driving a new Cadillac.
And our friend said they passed the plates—
and this time there was enough money for a brand new Cadillac!
I’m sure you’re all familiar with that kind of teaching.
It’s called the “prosperity gospel.” It’s the teaching that the Lord wants
all Christians to drive Cadillacs and to be healthy and wealthy.
It’s not just the theology of a few TV preachers, it’s widespread in the American
church and it’s being exported around the world.
It’s popular in many churches in the developing world.
Prosperity teaching says: Imagine the life you want.
The job you want, the standard of living you want, whatever you want.
God wants you to have that. That’s the life he wants for you.
The reason you don’t have it is your negative thinking and lack of faith.
So you have to name what you want, and claim it in faith and get it.
If you asked the prosperity Gospel preachers how they justified their teaching
they would say—It’s in the Bible.
God himself makes incredible promises of prosperity and we just believe
those promises, and claim them, and take the Lord at his word.
Just look at these promises in Deuteronomy 7.
God says that if you walk faithfully and obediently before him,
he will make your lives rich and happy in every way.
You will enjoy good health, you won’t suffer the diseases.
No one will be childless, your farms will prosper, your wealth will increase,
and your enemies will suffer ruin. God says it, we believe it.
And Deuteronomy 7 isn’t the only place. There are many places in Scripture
where the Lord makes these extravagant promises of prosperity.
You can find these promises in the New Testament as well as the Old.
We read one earlier. The words of Christ himself in Mark 10.
He says: You leave home or brothers or sisters or children or land for me,
you will receive back 100 times as much in this present age.
Sell a piece of land, give the proceeds to support the Lord’s work,
and you’ll get 100 pieces of land from him in return.
The prosperity gospel preachers are wrong.
They make shallow, materialistic Christians who don’t understand suffering.
But what do we do with these promises of prosperity that run throughout the Bible?
Do we let the name it, claim it crowd have them?
No. We have to claim the prosperity promises for ourselves.
We have to believe them completely and build our lives on them.
But we must do so, understanding exactly what is being promised.
If you know what prosperity really means, and make that your desire,
then you will become a strong and content Christian.
So let’s look at the prosperity promises more carefully, in context of Scripture,
and see what they mean for our lives.
We’ll do so under three points. I’ll give them to you as we go.
MP#1 Prosperity is a general outcome of faith and obedience.
When people give their hearts to Jesus and are careful to obey all his commands—
when Christians do that—as a general rule, they are prosperous in the ways
mentioned here in Deuteronomy 7.
This is a big theme of the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs contrasts two ways of life and two outcomes.
There is the way of the fool and the way of the wise.
Who is the wise man according to Proverbs? He’s the man who fears the Lord.
As you read through Proverbs and it describes the wise man who fears the Lord.
As a young man he listens to his parents. He respects authority.
He chooses his friends and companions carefully.
He rises early and does not eat the bread of idleness.
He is moderate in his eating and drinking.
He saves money and is generous to the poor.
He speaks when he should speak and guards his tongue at other times.
He marries a woman he is erotically attracted to, and who is also
a woman of good character and he’s faithful to her.
He impresses on his children the importance of walking with the Lord.
And what’s the general outcome of a life like that?
Fruitfulness, prosperity—in the very ways mentioned in Deuteronomy 7.
In relationships, in business, in health.
When a man or woman, by God’s grace, comes to trust the Lord,
and commits himself or herself to following the Bible, and being honest,
hard-working, kind and generous, and when he sees his life as being rich
with opportunity because he’s living under the eye of his heavenly Father—
Such people, as a general rule, do well in this world and enjoy prosperity.
This has been demonstrated over and over in history.
The English Puritans embraced the way of life and ethics taught in Scripture
because they loved the Lord. That way of life led to great prosperity.
They didn’t set out to become wealthy and powerful.
They simply aspired to love the Lord and serve him faithfully.
And as they did, prosperity followed and in a generation they became a
political and religious force in 17th century England.
I’ve read that in Chiapas, Mexico, southern Mexico, you can find neighboring
villages and one will be prosperous with intact families and hard-working
people, and the other will be sunk in poverty and drunkenness and abuse.
And you wonder, how could these villages be so different?
These people are the same ethnically, same socially, same educationally.
Many of them are even related to each other.
Yet one village is happy and prosperous, and the other is not.
And the story behind this is fascinating.
There is a history of persecution in Chiapas.
In many cases, when people become Christians, they are run out of their
villages, and their property stolen. So these Christians with absolutely
nothing, destitute, have come together and started their own villages.
And they worship the Lord, and love their families, and don’t get drunk,
and they work and give generously—and what happens?
They are blessed with prosperity—they become healthier and wealthier
than their neighbors who kicked them out.
So what do we make of the promises of prosperity in the Bible?
As extravagant as they sound, in a general sense, they are true.
The lives of those who love the Lord and walk in his ways
are generally better than those who do not.
That’s not the whole story. There’s much more that needs to be said.
There are very important qualifications that the Bible itself makes,
and we’ll get to those qualifications in the next point.
But these are promises you can stand on as a general rule of life.
And the Lord gives them to you for your encouragement and motivation.
He wants you to live a wise, faithful life and enjoy prosperity that comes from it.
That’s completely different from the Prosperity Gospel preachers.
You imagine the life you want, claim it in faith, and God has to give it to you.
It’s completely backwards and it’s ugly.
No. The real prosperity message is: Love the Lord. Fear God.
Love his commandments. Live a life to please him.
Show your gratitude for the cross.
Don’t fantasize and idolize material possessions. Worship the Lord.
And there will be a blessed outcome of that way of life.
Now let’s go a little deeper.
MP#2 Prosperity is the enjoyment of spiritual blessings in Christ.
The challenge of reading these promises in Deuteronomy 7 or Mark 10
is that the Bible also gives many examples of godly people who don’t enjoy
material prosperity in this life. In fact, they experience the opposite.
Sometimes there are believers like Job who go through a time of great tribulation.
They suffer the loss of many things, even though they’ve done nothing wrong.
And there are often faithful Christians who live their whole lives in poverty,
and who suffer trials of many kinds. There are poor Christians who stay poor.
Do you remember our study of the seven churches of Revelation a few years ago?
The church that gets the highest praise from Christ for their faithfulness
is the Smyrna church. It was a church full of poor people.
And they were being slandered, attacked, put in prison.
And after the Lord Jesus praises them for their faithfulness he says—
stand firm, be faithful, more trouble is coming.
How do you square that with the promises of prosperity in the Bible.
So does the Bible contradict itself? Not at all.
Because the Bible also makes clear that prosperity is the enjoyment of spiritual
blessings in Christ. And that prosperity can be enjoyed, even in financial poverty.
Often the spiritual blessings we have with Christ Jesus in the heavenly
realms are represented by the symbols of physical prosperity.
When we read in Deuteronomy 7 about wine and oil being blessings from the Lord,
we are reminded of how many times the Bible uses wine and oil, milk and honey
as symbols of joy that comes from knowing God and knowing you are forgiven.
When Job remembers the happy days he says:
“Oh for the days when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when my path
was drenched with cream, and the rock poured out streams of olive oil.”
He is not speaking of actual oil. Olive oil doesn’t come out of a rock.
He’s using oil as a figure of fullness of life with God.
One of the best examples is found in Psalm 73.
This psalm is all about this very problem we’re considering.
The Psalm writer begins by confessing that his faith has been seriously shaken
when he took notice that unbelieving people were doing better than he was.
It began to bother him that in a world supposedly under God’s control, the Lord’s
own people weren’t doing as well as the people ignored God and his commands.
The more he thought about this, the more he stared at the health and wealth
of the wicked, the more envious he became, and the more he started doubting.
In fact, by his own admission, it got so bad that he almost abandoned his faith.
And then what happened? It’s really quite dramatic and ordinary at the same time.
He went to the Lord’s house one Sabbath day as was his custom.
And that day, in church, the Lord met him.
And whether it was the hymns sung or the sermon preached, the Lord spoke:
You can’t judge a man’s condition by his present circumstances in the world.
You have to take into account his future and the judgment of God.
The man who has health and wealth but is ignorant to the fact that one day very
soon it will all be taken away and he will face the wrath of God—
that is the most miserable man in the world.
But the man who knows that he is loved by God, whatever his circumstances in the
world might be at the moment—whether he has a lot or a little—
that is the happiest man in the world.
Do you remember how the Psalm ends? When this man remembers that God’s love
is a greater blessing than anything else he says:
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
What does that mean? My portion forever. It’s a word used in the OT to refer
to an Israelites inheritance, his property in the Promised Land.
So this man is saying: I would rather have the Lord than land.
I would rather have God’s love in my heart than earthly wealthy.
And if the Lord is my inheritance and my wealth,
then I have no reason to envy anyone, no matter how rich and successful
he might be as the world measures those things.
Let me ask you: What’s your portion?
Do you really know how valuable the treasures are that you have in Christ?
Forgiveness of your sins and peace of conscience.
Is there anything greater than that? Would you trade that for anything?
Eternal life and a reason for living.
Would you trade that for a million dollars? Of course not.
Our lives are going to be over so soon. Going to blink and will be old,
and on our death beds. Prosperity we will cherish are blessings in Christ.
MP#3 Prosperity is the extravagant life in the world to come.
Remember where the Israelites were standing as Moses spoke these words.
They were on the brink of the Promised Land.
They were about to walk out of the desert, and cross the Jordan River into
a land filled with farms and vineyards and cities that would be theirs.
What’s that a picture of? What’s the Promised Land a picture of?
It’s an enacted prophecy of the life of the world to come.
The heavenly country. The new heavens and new earth.
When you die and your soul goes to heaven, that’s just temporary.
As happy and peaceful as heaven is, you won’t be there
forever as a glorified spirit. God’s plan for us is more than heaven.
His plan is to redeem the earth and make all things new.
The world will be re-born as it was at the beginning, only better.
Trees will sing. Mountains will dance.
Harvests will be continuous, new wine will abound.
The Bible describes it in glorious language. And who will live there? We will.
We will be raised with glorified bodies like Christ—
and with hearts and souls made perfect, we will enjoy the prosperity
of life in that new creation.
We live in a fallen world. And yet think of all the wonderful things we still
enjoy, think of the goodness and richness that is still present in the world.
How much more that will be when the curse of sin is removed and the earth
is filled with glorified and perfected people. It will be magnificent.
And the picture of the new creation is not another Garden of Eden—
it’s Canaan, it’s the Promised Land—a land of vineyards and farms and cities.
In other words, it’s the earth as it should be under the stewardship and
creativity of mankind. Dominion-bearers as God intended at the first.
Abraham understood this when God told him that his descendants would
inherit the land one day. He knew that the prosperity of the land of Canaan
was just going to be a foretaste of heaven.
Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham was looking forward to a city with foundations,
whose architect and builder is God. And true believers have always understood
this and looked forward to the prosperity of the world to come.
The Old Testament saints understood this. They knew that the material prosperity
of the Promised Land was just a pointer to something better.
And that’s how we need to train our thinking.
Harry Blamires put it this way:
It is in fragmentary glimpses that the joys of the kingdom are flashed before our faces on our earthly pilgrimage. We all have our stores of memories that keep their power to blind us with the dazzle of the wonder and beauty they revealed.
(In this life, we have little glimpses of the joys of heaven. Things that were so good, that we never forget them. Now he mentions some of his own.)
When you first took a hand that is now cold in the grave—when you first looked into eyes that imprinted their gaze forever on your mind—when you first caught sight of that remote village nestling in the elbow of a valley, all white and green in the sun—when you first saw your wife with your baby in her arms—when a lyric of Byron’s first throbbed through your brain school days—when (you first heard a Beethoven symphony), flooding waves of emotion.
We all have our store of such particular memories. If we wanted a single adjective to characterize what was common to them all, we should say quite naturally, ‘It was heavenly.’ To say ‘It was heavenly’ of any experience is to imply that you have been briefly lifted above the humdrum level of experience proper to earthly life and given a glimpse, or rather a taste, of life at a level of wonder and delight which is proper to heaven.”
Well I have my own list of such foretastes of heaven.
The singing at the Pensacola Youth Crusade which my youth group attended every
summer. 300 high school students packing the old sanctuary of MacIlwaine
Presbyterian, and singing hymns so loudly, that I couldn’t hear my own voice.
Seeing a hard, unbelieving man who was dying of cancer, suddenly break when
I read the 23rd Psalm. And weep. And cry out to God to save him.
The most beautiful picnic of my life, summer of 97, with Allison and the girls,
in a meadow outside Aspen, under the Maroon Bell peaks. Girls picked flowers.
Eating a shrimp boil in Houma, Louisiana cooked by Allison’s Uncle Mike
as only a Cajun can cook. Thinking that I had never seen such a big pile of
shrimp and thinking that I was going to try to eat it.
Four years ago, when Christ Covenant gave us a trip to NYC for our 10th
anniversary, sitting on the second row of Redeemer Presbyterian Church,
and listening to my favorite preacher open the Word of God.
And so many precious experiences with my children, and with Allison.
And on and on my list goes; and yours, my brothers and sisters, would be like it,
but different. And this is the point. With all of these “heavenly” moments in our
lives, those times when prosperity overwhelms us, there is a glimmer of a greater
life—the singing, the clarity, the beauty, the feasting. And then they are gone.
But in the heavenly kingdom and in the life to come,
those moments will not be any longer the anticipation of something else,
they will be life itself.
All the best that life has ever been in this world,
is what heaven will like always for the children of God.
Call to mind your heavenly moments and then try to roll them up into one
and think of what life will be like and what prosperity must be like
for people whose life is like that all the time and without fail.
This is what God is promising us.
Prosperity as a general outcome of obedience.
Prosperity as enjoyment of spiritual blessings in Christ.
Prosperity as the extravagant life of the world to come.
How do you respond to these promises? Do you believe them?
Do you believe the Lord delights to bless his children who seek to honor him?
Do you believe he will reward those who diligently seek him?
If you do, then nothing can be more important in life than to give yourself
completely to him, and love him, and obey him and love his commandments,
and serve him with your time, and money, and effort,
and make every sacrifice for his kingdom.
When the great Scottish missionary William Burns passed away in China,
his belongings were shipped home to Scotland in a single box.
His relatives opened it and found two shirts, one pair of pants, his Bible,
another book, and a Chinese flag. Not much to show for a lifetime.
And yet he was rich in homes and lands and children. Great numbers owed
their very souls to him, humanly speaking, and he was loved and honored
by God’s people. He would not doubt have said, there is no greater prosperity
than that which comes from following the Lord.
Let’s claim these promises for ourselves, and live by them.