Somebody once said, and since I am doing this from memory I can't recall who it was, that the most impressive thing Satan ever did was to give certain people riches. Like all generalities this has some elemental truth attached to it. Just look at what riches and wealth do to some people. They become boastful, mean-spirited, arrogant, controlling, envious of those richer, greedy and would go to any length to protect what they have including murder if necessary. The greatest character changer in the world is the acquiring of riches and wealth especially of the unearned variety. It is important to remember that some of the richest people on earth are drug dealers, especially the drug lords, and they are so gratuitously violent they even scare themselves.
All of this came to mind as I read the news that a Mega-church leader has been arrested and charged with assaulting his 15 year old daughter. As I searched into his background for details I found some interesting information.
This Mega-church leader, as reported in an article in Yahoo by Kate Brumback of the Associated Press Sat, Jun 9, 2012 was described thus, "Along with Bishop Eddie Long, is one of the most prominent preachers based around Atlanta who have built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches. Ministers in this tradition often hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works."
What these Mega-church leaders are saying, and those who buy into such beliefs, is that God's blessing is about earthly riches and since I am rich and wealthy I am therefore blessed.
Think about this as a serious proposition and it makes your heart sink that any religious leader can offer to a spiritual congregation such glaring untruths. What makes it even more galling is that the abundant untruth does not prevent it from being accepted with all its toxic ramifications. It was very recently that a man name Bernard Madoff did something similar in the secular world and managed to convince so-called intelligent investors to buy into his treacherous scheme. We know what happened to Madoff's investors; many went broke and I understand that a few committed suicide. We also know what happened to the obsessed followers of Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple and their untimely deaths at his hands in Guyana.
In all these perverse situations there seems to be an indelible pattern; hare-brained foolishness created in America, massive hype based on mostly falsehood, recruitment of gullible participants, publishing of benefits both illusory and specious, ultimate reality check and finally disillusionment. It is almost certain that all those that believe in this prosperity gospel will become disenchanted because nothing on earth can be sustained permanently on a foundation of falsehood. Sooner or later the truth wins out. My greatest fear is for copy-cat churches elsewhere.
So why is this lust for riches and wealth so strong in some religious quarters? The reasons are many and here are a few.
The world's poor do not like being poor, and understandably so, for no one craves poverty. Poverty is not a state to which people aspire and everywhere poverty carries stigmas and tremendous, cruel disadvantages. Above all this people living in rancid poverty has shorter lives, most likely never reach their God-given potential and can easily be lured into reaching for a religious panacea to cure their ills. Another credible reason is the herd mentality and in spite of what some people say this has a tremendous effect on some people. Gold-rush fever in early America is just one example; a few got rich and the vast majority got poorer. Join my church or buy my books and I will make you rich is powerfully persuasive to some people. Another likely reason is a serious lack of faith and trust in God and hence the reliance on some pious notion or dubious scheme. Another plausible reason is that so many falsely equate escaping poverty with the acquiring of riches and wealth; this is a devilish delusion.
So why is this prosperity gospel wrong and why is it seriously misleading to equate God's blessing with riches and wealth?
First because the Bible clearly shows that God's blessing has nothing to do with riches and wealth and anyone quoting scripture to that effect is misusing scripture. Let us see some examples.
Those on whom God confers his blessing are blessed and here is how Jesus taught it in Matthew chapter 5: 2-12
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Note carefully that Jesus did not once conflate blessing with material things. Surely if there is anybody who knows about God's blessing and being blessed that person is Jesus.
The Old Testament clearly concurs with Jesus' definition of blessing and being blessed and here are some examples.
"Salvation belongs unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people." (Psalm 3:8)
"Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD." (Psalm 24:3-5)
"Blessings are upon the head of the just" (Proverbs 10:6)
The Bible is unmistakable; God's blessing is upon all his children regardless of their material possession and the New Testament affirms this. This is worthy of emphasis. You are BLESSED because of WHO YOU ARE and NOT BECAUSE OF YOUR MATERIAL POSSESSIONS.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3) Notice that Paul was saying this to all Ephesians believers in Christ that they were blessed and we know that many of them were poor.
It is a failure to understand and appreciate this powerful truth - that ALL believers in Christ are blessed - that lie at the heart of prosperity gospel and the assertion that riches and wealth indicate God's blessing.
There was never a single case in all history where it was said that God's blessing was bad and so had to be jettisoned. On the other hand there are many cases where riches and wealth proved to be morally and spiritually toxic and in one case Jesus replied to the rich young ruler like this, "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." (Matthew 19:21)
This rich young ruler had more love for his riches and wealth than for following Jesus and it is very touching what Jesus said in response, "...Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:23)
Think about this very carefully. Would God confer on you a blessing that in all likelihood would make it considerably more difficult for you to spend eternity with him?
You are poor when your material needs are not met and everyone should seek to escape poverty but remember this, "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." (I Timothy 6:8)
Riches and wealth are abundance far beyond our needs and the Bible warns, "if riches increase, set not your heart upon them." (Psalm 62:10) and again, "Then he said to the people, `Take care. Do not be greedy in any way to get more and more things. Even if a man has much more than he needs, it cannot give him life." (Luke 12:15 WE)
You are not blessed because you are rich neither are you cursed because you are poor. Riches and wealth indicate success in acquiring material things, while poverty signifies the opposite, and no matter what is said to the contrary these are the gospel truths. Every believer in Christ regardless of his economic status can say with mighty assurance, I AM BLESSED, and if he listens well he will probably hear his guardian angel say, AMEN.
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BASTARD: A STORY OF REDEMPTION (fiction)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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