We are analyzing the Word of Faith movement, also known as name it and claim it or prosperity gospel, through three biblical perspectives. We have already seen what the Bible says about speech and faith. Finally, let’s look at:
In the first article, Jesus told us and modeled for us how to pray. We are to pray to God, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are to pray, “yet not what I will, but what You will.” What is my will? My untrained heart wants nothing but unlimited time, unlimited money, and unlimited health. The one who truly has the mind of Christ thinks more of others than of self.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.Philippians 2:3–5
If God was all about your prosperity and comfort, then why would there be so much teaching from Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets to endure hardship and suffer faithfully?
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.1 Peter 2:21–25
In context, Peter was speaking directly to Christian slaves who were being abused by their masters, but this passage also has a wider application to anyone in the faith today. When you suffer, and you ask why (which is a reasonable question to ask), sometimes the answer comes—at least partially—“because Jesus suffered, and you are to walk in His steps.”
The author of Hebrews says Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Perhaps, your question should change from why to, “What might God be teaching me?”
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…. Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.1 Peter 4:12–14, 19
Peter not only says that those who suffer must still put their faith in God. He also says that some people suffer according to the will of God. Jesus prayed for the cup to pass, but He also prayed for God’s will. And it was God’s will that He suffer for the salvation of others.
“Speaking over your life” is superstitious. It’s even attempted sorcery. In the first century, and even today, when witchcraft was and is performed, it’s an attempt to bend the spiritual realm (and even deities) to your will. However, with Christianity, we all submit ourselves to God’s will, which often calls for discomfort and suffering in order to accomplish the ultimate goal. Christian, do you believe God’s will (and not your own) is actually the ultimate good? Romans 5:1–6 and James 1:2–4, both teach the Christian that suffering in faith produces within the Christian necessary qualities.
Is God against prosperity? Certainly not. There were rich folks in the church in the New Testament. In the beginning of the book of Acts, these rich disciples were able to use their wealth to help Christians who didn’t have enough. Additionally the rich in the New Testament are given serious warnings—warnings that were often given by God’s apostles from prison cells—about not fixing their hopes on their riches. One rich guy was even instructed to sell everything and give to the poor. In one passage, John does pray for his audience to experience prosperity and health (see 3 John 2). But it’s certainly not in the way many rich preachers teach on today. If you’re wealthy, you have a responsibility. You also have warnings, like:
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. 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. 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 6:6–10
He continues a few verses later:
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
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15–17
The absolute joy of the Christian must not—cannot—be in the things of this world. The absolute joy and completion of the Christian is that Christ is magnified in our bodies, whether by prosperity or poverty, whether by health or sickness, whether by life or death. Paul said it well:
…with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.Philippians 1:20–21
Some folks are convinced, though, that it is never God’s will that a Christian suffer, especially when it comes to illness. Additionally, some teach that Jesus’ sacrifice was for our physical health. One person on social media recently prayed:
Father God, You said in Your word that by the stripes of Jesus, we are healed in Isaiah. So I pray and declare right now in the name of Jesus—from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet—that we are healed! So we declare your healing right now in the name of Jesus. Over every cell, every disease, all pain, all injuries, any viruses, or infections—in the name of Jesus—we declare we are healed.”
She also told her audience, “whenever you have symptoms, you could pray this prayer.” Was Jesus brutally tortured for us to avoid everything from the common cold to terminal cancer? I challenge anyone to read all of Isaiah 53 and still believe that. In a passage we’ve already touched on, Peter quotes Isaiah, saying:
who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.1 Peter 2:24
What is it that Jesus bore in His sacrifice? Our sins. Not our illnesses. Consider the signs, wonders, and miracles of Jesus and the apostles. They used God’s power to heal certain people on the spot from various illnesses and even death. Did this alleviate suffering? Absolutely. But what was the primary reason why God provided these miraculous works? Some sub-reasons included relief of suffering, to be sure. But the primary reason was to confirm the message and the messenger as having come from God. Nicodemus recognized that within Jesus (see John 3:2), and Mark tells us that after Jesus sent the apostles out with the message and miracles of the kingdom:
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.Mark 16:20
This is important to remember when reading through the gospel accounts and the book of Acts. When miracles were performed, there was always at least some result of people turning to the Lord. Once that was accomplished, then the primary purpose for miracles had also been accomplished. So what about those who already believed on the Lord? Were they healed of all illnesses? No. Here are just three examples:
- Paul spoke of Epaphroditus: ”For indeed he was sick almost unto death” (Philippians 2:25).
- Timothy had frequent stomach problems. Timothy spent much time with the apostle Paul who had miraculous healing power. Did Paul quote Isaiah 53 to Timothy? “By His stripes, you are healed!”? No. Paul gave Timothy the advice, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23).
- Paul later told Timothy, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:20).
If it is never God’s will that His children get sick, if Jesus’ sacrifice was to heal “every disease, all pain, all injuries, any viruses, or infections,” then:
- Why did these faithful and prayerful brothers get sick?
- Why didn’t Paul just miraculously heal them?
Likewise, if prosperity were truly a tenet of the gospel, why would the same inspired apostle say of “men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth… suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself” (1 Timothy 6:5)? If there is someone in your life who says that Jesus’ blood was shed so that you can avoid the common cold, if a preacher tries to convince you that being faithful to God will result in earthly treasure, here are your instructions:
- Withdraw yourself!
- Run away!
After commanding Timothy to withdraw from folks who speak this way, Paul gets into the Scripture we previously explored about being content with food and clothing and not desiring riches.
Although it is absolutely clear in the Scriptures that God has not promised untold health and wealth to the Christian, the retort is, what about this verse, and that verse? The tragedy is so many love to pick verses that seem to make their point. Do you actually read the Bible? Not verses. But entire passages? Complete books? I assure you that no one who has honestly read the entire Bible, or even just the Psalms or the New Testament has come away from it believing that God has untold health, wealth, and physical riches for His disciples in this life. One of the reasons why disciples yearn to spend eternity with God is because those things are promised in the new heavens and new earth (see Revelation 21:1–6).
A few years ago, I spent some time on a Pacific Island. I landed on the west side of the island, but I needed to meet my friends in the capital city on the east side, so I hopped on a bus for the four hour ride along the southern cost of the island. The bus took us through some town centers, as well as through some villages. In these villages, most of the houses were made out of rusty aluminum sheets that looked as though they had been picked up from the side of the road. Of course, the prosperity preachers would say these people must not be faithful, since they don’t have many physical blessings. Ask the people themselves, and they would ask in return what they were missing. The people were content and had beautiful lives. However, I also noticed on multiple occasions that looming above some of the villages were mansions on hills. After about the third time seeing something like this, I asked the person on the bus next to me, “Who lives in those mansions I see on the hills?” I expected her to mention local politicians. Instead, as if it were common knowledge and a way of life, she said, “The local preachers.” She explained to me how the preachers demand ten percent of all their villagers’ money, and in turn, they claim God’s blessings for the villages.
The folks who pad their preacher’s pockets and listen to the televangelists are usually quite sincere. They desire to please God. They expect great things from the Creator of the universe. So they fund men and women who they think represent the true gospel. As we discovered in the first lesson, just because the congregants are sincere does not mean they are guiltless.
The prosperity gospel is a false gospel. And it’s very sneaky. The most effective lies are the ones that are mingled with truth. If the only knowledge of the Bible you have is what you hear from the TV, from YouTube, or from the pulpit, you are in a dreadfully precarious position, and you’re likely to fall.
Have you ever been a part of a church that teaches the “Word of Faith”? You may have been taught that you or someone else are poor because you don’t have enough faith. You may have heard that a person’s cancer is a result of some hole in their theology. This is cruel, manipulative, and legalistic. The truth is, you and I will never be enough. Neither our theology, nor our faith alone will ever be strong enough to move mountains or heal cancer. But the true joy of Christianity is realizing this fact, and ultimately coming to a conclusion that Jesus can and Jesus is enough. You don’t need money or health to receive His acceptance, His love, His salvation, or His Spirit.