One lesson that stands out for me in the three parables Jesus told in Luke chapter 15 is that not only does God want us to come back to Him He also does things to not miss gaining a believer back. “Back” to the relationship He intended before the Fall. Is the contemptuously styled, “prosperity preaching” God’s way of “trekking miles”, “sweeping the whole house” or “constantly looking out the window” to win back otherwise lost children? Is this what the Pharisees were missing about Jesus’ approach to evangelism: There is no prescription for gaining souls for God. In all three examples the seekers had a strong genuine desire to get back what was lost. Isn’t that what ultimately counts? And does the target of the search matter? Isn’t the “find” always valuable, whether made in Africa, North America, Asia or Europe? Shouldn’t the main motive of all evangelistic effort be directed at getting lips that would never have sincerely acknowledged this, to shout: “Praise the Lord!” and mean It? And no matter how it is achieved, as long as non-fraudulently, does it not give glory to God?
And we are not to miss the father’s declaration:
“… ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. ” (Luke 15:31).
My point here is that our Heavenly Father continually provides adequately out of His inexhaustible bounty for us believers who are going to be with Him forever. The behavior of others in no way denies us anything He has ordained. If so, what would incite the anger, jealousy or contempt of the critics who are unhappy about what they derisively call prosperity gospel? I hope none of the critics represents the older brother who can’t find a way to accuse God of unfairness in giving, in their view, as much success if not more, to this greedy irresponsible group as He does to them and so redirect their anger at the so-called prosperity preachers. For it is clear that the older brother was angry and jealous of the father’s unquestioning benevolence towards his brother. Correspondingly, it seems this was the same issue the Pharisees had who were criticizing Jesus:
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1-2, NLT)
I discovered that the word for “complain” (in Greek, diagoggýzō) suggest that they were constantly harping on their objection. They had to know, although they tended to deny this that it was God who was giving Jesus success in His preaching; but they could not complain against God. Instead they made Jesus the target of their jealous anger. Here the type of recipients of the Good News Message was their concern, although they also had problems with the Message itself. For Jesus exposure to the Message, which will enable acceptance, is what matters.
He tells us God has a party and rejoices with his angels when a sinner (old or new) comes home to Him – He doesn’t even care about hearing the repentance (the son was interrupted before he finished his prepared confession); just knowing the return home is sincere is enough to fill His heart with great joy. What if the prosperity gospel is indeed one of the Holy Spirit’s Tactics to get souls to commit to Him? Later, no doubt as needed, these individuals will become subject to the Potter’s shaping; but they have to come through that prosperity-seeking door in the first place. Even before that Work is done however, filled with love and compassion, He re-instates us fully to the official status of esteemed sonship, complete with robe, ring and sandals. Before we accepted Christ we were all dead but Christ has given us Life; and in our previous state of blindness we were all lost. Jesus came to illuminate the world of each believer so that we may “come to our senses” and find the Way Home back to our Father’s loving care. Two repeated themes in the story, seem to underscore the father’s preoccupation, namely: 1. “… was dead and has now returned to life; lost now found“ and 2. Celebrate. Therefore it seems God’s focus is mainly on getting His children back, rather than on how this is done, as long as sincerely.
If it’s not a stretch, in some ways the three parables are “prosperity”-based. Even with ninety-nine sheep people will go after one that’s lost and even with ten coins the woman worked hard to find one lost coin. I see this angle because Jesus was referencing an experience with which His listeners were familiar. With God the motive is always agape love; but with humans it could be sentimental or financial. In the parable of the son, the distinction is much clearer between the Father’s need and his sons’. All the way through both sons were apparently motivated by what they could get out of their father whether “monetary” gain or in kind. Their attitude did not seem to concern the father; he dearly loved them both. In every situation God, our Father cares most about the lost being found. This is the service we are called to perform for Him; and we should do it with gladness because we too love Him. We do it because our Father expects it of us not out of a sense of prescribed duty, don’t we? And when others offend us because they do not appear to be doing the task of bringing people to Christ “the right way” the story of the lost son tells us God prefers forgiveness over self-righteousness. Finally in each of the three parables friends are invited to come alongside to rejoice with the people who found what was lost. This may represent our part, namely to celebrate with our Lord whenever we learn of the return home of a new or old believer to enlarge our family. Do you disagree? Instead it seems that some judge and condemn what they see as false preaching, some even going outside the theme of their message to criticize. I think their error is in not accepting that as long as the Message is biblical, whether partially or fully doctrinal it is still the Holy Spirit speaking.
My judgment of the problem in the critical commentary against the so-called prosperity preachers raises the issue of the minimum or essential requirement for evangelical preaching. In that regard critics need to be clear about the specific unchristian element in what they label: prosperity gospel. Their criticisms seem to beg a critical question, namely: What constitutes a necessary Biblical Message. Is the message from the condemned preaching viewed as: You will receive only prosperity as a Christian? Or is it: As a Christian you are entitled to ask God for material prosperity and expect Him to answer that prayer? The reasoning in this article is from the standpoint of the latter. There are many Bible passages that the so-called prosperity preachers need to deny if they were preaching that ‘only prosperity comes to Christians’. So if they are not being accused of preaching that in Christianity look only for prosperity then what is the specific crime? Is it as I have read and heard that they do not generally talk about suffering? Indeed Jesus says:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
And Peter explains that suffering is an important, even necessary part of the Christian’s life:
“… if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Pet 2:20b-21)
One truth about Christian life is not that we should see God’s intention directed at making us suffer. Suffering is only one outcome of living life on this planet that everyone goes through; except for the Christian it tests, purges and matures our faith. In the non-Christian’s life suffering matures not faith but resilience. Christian faith is not centered on pain and suffering as its defining attribute. It pivots on God’s love for us. He does not want us to suffer; we just have to. Our God is not masochistic! So with respect to material gifts I think it is correct to believe that His Natural Inclination is to want to give us good gifts as Jesus tells us:
“… If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?“ (Matthew 7:11)
The best possible Gift we can receive is Himself, as the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13); but of course that does not mean wealth and happiness are off limits. Our Lord has unlimited goods, services and resources available to those who want Jesus in their life. In the Old Testament God speaks as follows about believers:
“… They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts–the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil, and the healthy flocks and herds. Their life will be like a watered garden, and all their sorrows will be gone.” (Jeremiah 31:12).
Talk about material prosperity! Because a person has to be suffering from a sense of lack or scarcity in order to want a better financial or material life these criticized preachers have to deny the existence of insufficiency in the current life of Christians and Seekers to whom they preach. In short because our Christian life will have suffering does not mean it is wrong for Christians to expect their Loving God to bless them with material prosperity and other good things in this present life. If this is not wrong, why is it wrong to preach about it?
If their main objection isn’t only about what’s necessary to preach do the critics see these preachers as violating the minimum, necessary criterion for sermons? These critics themselves have not spelled the elements of this requirement out either. In the Book of Romans Paul described what a person must do to become a Christian. He said:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9)
We may see Paul’s “prescription” as a necessary minimum to expect from a Christian. Therefore it becomes the inviolable criterion for the Christian preacher’s Message. This however does not seem to be the essential element that’s missing in the so-called prosperity gospel. Interestingly in the same passage just quoted Paul goes on to say about Christians and Jews “… They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him” (verse 12). So it appears that even in connection with the absolute minimum for a believer, our Lord’s willingness to respond favorably to our requests is an important factor. On this basic requirement for our Salvation hang all the extensions of our faith, including all the Teachings of Jesus. Herein lies the room for the choices of separate Messages that churches, doctrinal stances and Christian movements have promulgated through the ages causing the divisions in the Church, which are around today.
Now it is time to learn to accept the “special emphases”, which I referred to as “extensions”, that some choose to put on the broader Gospel, which others do not. Indeed, as attracted Christians will experience, preaching that “In Christ All Will Be Well” does not mean one is exempt from hardships. There can be great suffering in the midst of prosperity! Times of prosperity and good favor are great. God wants them for us and we should ask Him for them. It is in accepting times of adversity however that we demonstrate the genuineness of our faith in Christ’s power over our rough circumstances. Nonetheless suffering does not define the basis to become a Christian nor does it constitute the main message of the Gospel of God.