Reverend Ike, the New York televangelist popular during the 1950s, was never shy about his desire for prosperity. "I love money and money loves me." He would often have his congregation visualize the reality they wanted from God. "Close your eyes and see green. Money up to your armpits, a room full of money and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool." Most Christians would quickly recognize and reject this kind of marriage between the goodness of God and the temptation of Mammon. However, the insidious seeds of the prosperity gospel that Reverend Ike helped sow still bear rotten fruit in the church today.
The problem with those who promote the prosperity gospel is not that they want too much but that they settle for too little.
TRUE PROSPERITY FLOWS FROM A GREATER PURPOSE
"God wants you to be happy," we hear. "Ask God for anything, and He will give it to you if you really believe in your heart." "Sickness and suffering are not a part of God's plan." This is a theology born not of the Bible but of the prosperity of post-war 1950s and 1960s America. A pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps religion, which looks more like the kingdom of man than the Kingdom of God.
But we find a different story in the Bible. The author of Hebrews gives us a glimpse of this different story in his "Hall of Faith" of chapter 11. We see it clearly in the life of Moses:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Moses, who, as the son of Pharaoh, was swimming in rooms of money, turned his back on worldly prosperity to pursue the purposes of God. He rejected comfort for the cause of the Lord. He gave up Pharaoh's golden crown for Christ's grisly cross. In the same way, God calls us through His Word to reject the gold-fever of this world for a greater purpose—to know and follow Jesus.
THE GOLD THAT HAS US
Possessing gold is not the same as embracing the prosperity gospel. Rather, the danger we face is not so much the gold we have but the gold that has us. Whoever or whatever is competing against the Lord Jesus Christ for your full affection is your gold. What is gold to you might not be gold to me, and what is gold to me might not be gold to you. God does not call two of us to do the same thing. But He does call us all to decide—our gold or our God.
Whatever comes between you and obedience to the Lord is a sin. That is why God's Word commends Moses for giving up the world's gold for God's glory. He gave up everything and anything that stood in the way of perfect obedience.
I grieve deeply in my heart at the way the prosperity proponents talk about faith. They actually make greed into a virtue. Have faith to be rich. Have faith to be pampered. Have faith to be healthy. Have faith to get whatever you want in life. This is a fake faith. According to the Word of God, faith is the willingness to let God rule supreme in everything. Faith says, "Have thine own way, Lord." Faith says, "I am willing to give up my gold for God's glory any time."This is what Moses did. He left Pharaoh's palace for forty years to tend sheep in Midian. It was during this time God retrained Moses on the meaning of prosperity, faithfulness, and purpose. He was preparing Moses to long for the reward that only comes from God: the prosperity of a purposeful life, the blessing of being in God's will, the freedom of fellowship with God.
CHOOSING AN ETERNAL TREASURE
The problem with those who promote the prosperity gospel is not that they want too much but that they settle for too little. Jesus reminds us that the treasure we lay up on earth is exposed to the destructive power of moth and rust and thieves. But the treasure we lay up in heaven is a safe investment (see Matthew 6:19-20). The short-term satisfaction of a pool full of money could never compare to the security of an eternal reward. Moses decided that instead of spending his life collecting sand in a sieve, he would pursue a reward he could not lose.
Moses did not have to wait until death to experience the treasure of God's glory. He walked with God. He spoke with Him face to face. He knew God and was known by God. Here we are, almost 3,500 years later, talking about a man born to a slave woman in Egypt: Moses, the man of faith.
But, of course, there is a greater example of trading gold for God's glory: Jesus, the Son of God, for whom and through whom all the world, the galaxies, the universe were created. He gave up all the splendor of heaven, emptying Himself to glorify His Father. Born into poverty, He was a man who worked with His hands. He wandered from town to town without a place to lay His head. He laid down His very life on the cross in obedience to the Father. All to secure for His Father the incomparable treasure of a holy people—children of God from every tribe and tongue and nation, redeemed from their sin and eternally testifying to the immeasurable grace and love of God Almighty.
Like Moses, we must choose. Will we set our hearts on the treasures of this world or the glory of eternity spent with Jesus Christ? There is certainly no comparison.