I have been studying some of the popular scriptures and commentary regularly given by some preachers often associated with the prosperity gospel. I often think of these preachers as the dessert of Christianity. They may offer a smidgen of tasty truth, but if they are our entire Christian diet, then we'll grow fat and unhealthy. They usually don't offer the fullness of the truth of God or the fullness of what it means to be a Christian. There is often no milk or meat. The more I age, the more I see the damage some popular preachers have caused within the Church. There is a watering down of the faith; concepts meant for one aspect of the Christian life are applied to unrelated aspects of our earthly lives in an effort to make people believe that with God, all our desires will be met and met with abundance if we'll only think and speak the right faith-filled words. The true meat of the gospel ends up missing - our sin and guilt redeemed by Jesus' blood and sacrifice - and the slavery He requires while we're still on this earth. It's fine to believe that God wants us to be blessed as the Bible describes blessing, but it's getting to the point where salvation isn't a lifestyle of repentance and serving God, but it is instead a promised relationship with an almighty provider who wants nothing more than for us to name and claim the things we desire.
I will offer some scriptures and related teachings from popular pastors/preachers. These are passages I've heard first-hand or have found in ministry publications. I'll then discuss the Biblical truth of the scriptures used and the actual context as seen in the Bible. If the preachers are preaching truth, then their use of scripture should line up with the Biblical context from which the quotes are taken. How well do modern preachers do in adhering to the Biblical context of the scriptures they quote so often? Four examples are below.
"With God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). This phrase is used by many to exclaim that anything can happen with God. And while this is true, the context of the verse in Matthew is not applicable to the many uses it is given today. For example, consider the following quotes:
You know God can do what men can't do. It may look impossible to you, but it's not impossible with God. Jesus put it so simple, 'If you believe, all things are possible.' I believe I'm looking at believers and not doubters today. You know God can do supernatural things.
And in another lesson from the same Pastor, using the same scripture, we find:
Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matthew 19:26, NIV)
Too many times we limit God with our thinking. God puts big dreams in our hearts, but in our eyes they look impossible and too big to accomplish. Although we want to see our dreams come to pass, we end up focusing on the mountain of obstacles before us. Maybe you dream of starting a business but you don't know where to begin. Perhaps years of physical challenges have left you feeling like you'll never be healthy. You look at your situation and begin to wonder how, and if, God will ever bring your dreams to pass.
Be encouraged today that God can do the impossible. He can supernaturally make all of the dreams He's planted inside of you come to pass. What are you focusing on today? Your situation may seem impossible, but God sees it differently. See your dreams through eyes of faith the way God sees them fulfilled.
Make room in your thinking today for the dreams God has for you. If things look hopeless in the natural, put your confidence in the promises God gave you. Trust in Him to make all things possible for you. As you do, you'll begin to see your dreams come to pass in ways you never imagined.
What does Matthew 19:26 really say and what is the situation Jesus is describing? Matthew 19:23-30 (NKJV):
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”
So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
So here Jesus is talking to his disciples describing how difficult it is for those with wealth to be saved. He gives a description of either a camel trying to fit through a tiny door or a large rope going through a sewing needle (there seems to be debate on the exact reference intended at the original time of writing). Whatever the analogy, it astonished the disciples enough that they feared no one could be saved. It was to this fear - the fear that no man could be saved - that Jesus said with God all things are possible. The quote is about God's ability to find a way of salvation for man when it was impossible for man to secure his own salvation. What's extremely interesting is what comes next. Peter comments that they've left all to follow Jesus and asks what the disciples will have. Jesus says that they will be rewarded - even receive a hundredfold - and inherit eternal life - in the regeneration. The reward comes after this life. Yet so many teachers use this verse to teach us to believe for things now that simply aren't promised in the context of the passage. It is a misapplication of scripture that completely misses the true point of this scripture - God can make a way of salvation even for those who we would think can't be saved. This scripture should be applied to our praying for the salvation of others; instead, it is often used to encourage us that if we think and believe right, we can get what we want.
Another common verse used to describe the character of God and His desire that we prosper by our earthly definition is Psalm 35:27:
Let the Lord be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant."
As an example, consider this quote from a popular minister:
I love the scripture that says "God takes pleasure when his people prosper." Today, God is pleased when you are doing well. He's pleased when you are succeeding. He's pleased when you are whole and healthy and happy in Him. So know this, if you've got some things going wrong, that's not God. God wants to do good things for you. He wants to turn the tide of the battle in your life. He wants to put you on the road to success. God is for you, and if he be for you, who dare be against you, Amen. God is for you today.
In a published passage regarding the same scripture from Psalm 35, we find:
Let the Lord be magnified Who takes pleasure in the prosperity of His servant (Psalm 35:27).
Our God is a running-over God! He doesn’t want you to just have barely enough to meet your own needs, God wants you to be so blessed that when other people get around you, it overflows onto them! He wants you to be so blessed in your finances that not only can you pay your bills and accomplish your own dreams, but you can be a blessing to others. In the same way that a parent loves to see their children doing well and excelling, God wants you to do well and excel in every area. He takes pleasure in prospering you. But the key is that you have to make room for it in your thinking. You have to expect that He wants to bless you. Take a step of faith today toward the dreams that are in your heart. Begin to thank Him for His abundance in every area of your life. Declare that because you walk in obedience, God’s blessings are going to chase you down and overtake you! Don’t just settle for a “good enough” mentality, develop an overflow mentality, and you’ll see God’s hand of blessing in every area of your life!
What is Psalm 35:27Psalm 35:27 (ESV)
Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” really about? Psalm 35 must be considered as one. It is a singular psalm of David. In context, David's enemies were fighting against him and David seeks for God to step in on David's behalf. He asks that those who wish for evil and destruction to him be put to shame. He seeks vindication from the persecution he is enduring. He asks that those who rejoice over his calamity be put to shame. And finally, he asks that those who favor David's righteous cause shout for joy and say "Let the Lord be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant." The Hebrew word for prosperity here is shalowm (H7965 Strongs), which is a word meaning peace, safety and welfare - especially in the context of this psalm. This psalm is about God having pleasure in the peace and righteous justification of David (his servant - singular) in the face of his enemies and those who wish to see him fail. It is not about his prosperity in material things, or succeeding in business, etc. as is so often taught today. It's also not about David needing to make room for anything in his thinking or believing. It is not about David needing to have a certain confession or mentality. If applied correctly in our lives, we would use this psalm if we find ourselves in a situation where we are being persecuted for our faith, or lied about by others despite our being correct in the matter at hand. Anything more is inserting a context which is simply not found in the original text.
"If God be for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31Romans 8:31 (ESV)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . This verse is often used in similar context to the ones mentioned above. It is often used to show us that with God on our side, we can do and have anything we want, because God wants us to have all good things (as we see it).
You know, there's so many things trying to talk us into having a down year, but everytime you come out here, I want to talk you into having a great year. You gotta know that if God be for us, who dare be against us?"
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NIV)
Joshua chapter six tells the story about how the odds were stacked against Joshua and the people of Israel. They were standing at the massive walls of Jericho that many thought were impenetrable.
I’m sure as he was standing before the well-fortified walls and gates of the city, many around him didn’t think his future was too bright. But you see Joshua had something others overlooked; he had the promise of Almighty God. Joshua had faith because He knew God was on His side, and God had already determined the victory. Sure enough, just as God promised, the people marched around the city for six days, and on the seventh day, they shouted the victory and the walls came tumbling down!
Today, don’t look at the walls in your life; look at the promise of God. He is for you, and if God is for you, nothing can stand against you. Get a vision of victory and don’t let it go. Keep moving forward in faith and obedience knowing that when you do, the Most High God is on your side!
While the Joshua story is good, the application to the Romans 8 verse is again not adhering to the true context of the passage. This passage in Romans has nothing to do with being successful in any endeavor we attempt. It has nothing to do with our actions, thoughts, or desires at all. It only has to do with God being for us despite our being sinners who, even though saved, continue to mess up. In reading chapters 7 and 8, we see Paul describing that even as a saved person, he still struggles with sin and not doing what he wants and doing what he doesn't want. It's the struggle we all face, and despite this struggle, God is for us. In chapter 8 Paul makes it clear that our very life in these mortal bodies is because of God's spirit giving us life. All of creation is waiting for the final redemption, and during that time of wait things are not perfect. Verse 18 makes it clear that we still suffer, but oh... how meaningless that is compared to the glory that is one day coming. Others may see our imperfections that remain and judge us, but their judgement doesn't matter. Their being against us doesn't matter, for if God is for us (even knowing our condition), then who can be against us. God has been for us from before creation. As verse 35 says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" Then in verse 36 Paul quotes from the 44th Psalm - "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." And then verse 37 says, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Nothing in this world can separate us from God's love, because he is for us. This is a verse to pray when we find ourselves in the midst of persecution and slaughter, famine and distress, peril and sword. And it is clear from the context that if we find ourselves facing these things it won't matter, because if God be for us, who can be against us. It doesn't say that if God be for us all these sufferings will be taken away from us. It doesn't say that if God be for us we will have nice things. It doesn't say that if God be for us we'll never have famine or distress, persecution and slaughter. What is says is that these things won't matter, because we are of a future world and these sufferings are a part of this current world, and no matter how bad this current world treats us, nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ.
The next example is fairly significant. Here, the preacher starts with 2 Corinthians 4:18:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal
Every obstacle in your life is subject to change. It doesn’t matter what you may be facing, there is an answer in the unseen. The unseen is the spiritual realm where the promises of God exist. Your faith brings those unseen things into this natural realm. When you are fixed on something, you can’t be moved. There’s a determination that fuels your focus. When you fix your eyes on the unseen—the promises of God—your faith will not be moved by your circumstances and you’ll eventually see those promises come to pass. Make the decision today to fix your eyes and mind on the promises of God. Meditate on His promises until they become more real to you than the air you breath. Declare that His promises will come to pass in your life. Declare that you have His favor. Declare that you are more than a conqueror. Don’t allow fear and doubt to change what you are speaking over your life. As you continue to fix your spiritual eyes on the unseen promises of God, you will see those things come to pass in the natural and you will move forward into the abundant life the Lord has for you!
Before moving onto the actual context of 2 Corinthians 4:18, I have to say that the message attached to it via the paragraph above sounds like something spoken by many New Age teachers regarding using thought power and confession to make what we desire manifest in our lives (This is known as the "Law of Attraction" in New Age and Occult circles. The term first appeared in 1877 in writings by Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky). The verse in question has nothing to do with God's promises regarding our lives here on earth. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Reading at a minimum vs. 16-182 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. , it is abundantly clear that this verse reminds us to keep our eyes on what is to come after this life. Here, our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. Here, even if it seems severe, compared to what is coming we have light affliction, which is but for a moment, and that affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory! In our Christian walk, we are not to look at what's going on here; we are to pay no mind to the suffering we endure (many preachers claim we don't have to endure suffering if our faith, confession and beliefs are right); we are to keep our eyes focused on the unseen - what is coming, the very reward our current suffering is building up for us in Heaven. The glorious truth is that our affliction now is actually producing eternal glory beyond anything we can compare it to in this life. To try to use this verse to bring glory now actually negates the true and glorious meaning of the verse as written.
While the messages referenced above are all positive sounding and purport to speak to how much God loves us, they also speak to how God wants to provide a seemingly perfect earthly life for us if we believe, confess and think correctly. This way of thinking is not found in the Bible as it is described by so many preachers today. As noted in the four examples above, pastors commonly use great sounding verses from the Bible to support a great sounding "truth" that is not really related to the foundational scripture used to support the point. Sadly, most listen to the sound bite and never consider the context from which it came. I sometimes fear we are being destroyed for our lack of knowledge regarding what the Bible really says and that we are being lead away by the enticing "too good to be true" promises of so many preachers today. This leaves many to think they have accepted Christ only to turn away disappointed when their personal dreams aren't met. Christianity is about our sinfulness and God's deliverance when we could not find our own way out of our mire. Once saved, Christianity is about our sacrificing our remaining time here in service to him. Just as Jesus said "not my will, but yours," we are to do the same, and take up our cross and follow him, leading others to him. This only requires our obedience, and despite what many say today, it can actually be done in the midst of suffering, persecution, and at times lack, just as demonstrated by the first century Christians in the Bible. This does not mean that God will not provide for us - He will, but our definition of provision and the Biblical definition of provision are often quite diverse, one from the other.Joel Osteen