When Is Wealth Damaging to Christian Living and Teaching?

And What Did Jesus Say?

From a more general view pertaining to criticisms of the so-called prosperity preachers it seems to me that too much has been made of the lifestyle of some of those their critics have accused of teaching a non-Scriptural theology. Because of the relative nature of riches, money or wealth, what one person may see as representing wealth another may consider normal living. For example compare the senior Pastor of a large church in a high-income neighborhood, who makes $14,000 a month with another in a much lower-income community who makes $4000 a month. Let’s say both salaries are somewhat above the average for their respective neighborhoods. Does the higher-paid Pastor belong to the greedy group Paul warns about (1 Timothy 6:9) and the lower-paid Pastor does not? Do both or neither? What should the message be (from 1 Timothy 6:6-10) to both Pastors? For example, to the one: renounce so much money and to the other: be content with what you have? Without any evidence of fraud on the part of either Pastor would it be a false Gospel to say to both: accept what you have; it is God’s Will for you? Who knows “better”, to assert it is not God’s Will for what pastors receive as pay from their “congregation” but ultimately from the Lord? The criticism cannot be that it is wrong to ask God for anything you want. Nor can it be claimed that the problem is in making people believe that they can and should ask God to fulfill their desires. Requests to our Father do not have to indicate a spirit of discontent or any other unhealthy desire attached to them. In comparing the lifestyles of the two Pastors in the example above, of course it should not be surprising if they have different lifestyles.

I agree completely with everything Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6-10; but I recognize that these verses are based on the preceding ones, especially starting from: “These are the things you are to teach and insist on.” (vs. 2b). Paul started laying out these teaching points for Timothy way back from chapter 1 where he urged Timothy to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” (vs.3) It seems to me that these people who preach contrary to “… the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching…” (6:3), among other disruptive qualities cause problems among people with corrupt thinking“… who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (1 Tim 6:5), I have never heard Joyce Meyers or Joel Osteen, the two I watched most often on TV for a couple of years, preach against any of what Paul listed under the heading of sound teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-6:2a).

It seems to me that it is in contrast to the behavior of the people described in the previous verses (vss. 2b-5) that Paul bases his further point. That is, those who do not agree with the Godly teaching stated above do not recognize that “… godliness with contentment is great gain.” Indeed to be content is a virtue. I did not miss the important point that Paul seems to be making about wealth amongst Christians and that is: the dangers of making being wealthy the goal of being a Christian. In other words, it is wrong to use the Christian faith as a route to getting wealthy. Again I’ve never heard the named preachers say so or endorse that view. There’s a difference between believing that God can and does bless with material prosperity versus believing that the road to wealth is all that Christianity stands for. The former belief is reflected in the quote, which presented the central teaching of the so-called prosperity gospel I cheekily described as the “opening salvo”; the latter belief I never heard from the criticized preachers to whom I have listened.

One cannot deny the fact of life that we all need money, though not all of us want it for the same reasons. It is easy to recognize that a person may want money for reasons not due to a love for it or for making it the priority of life in place of Christ – for example some may want or value money for the joy it allows a breadwinner to feel seeing their dependent family enjoying life; others because finances could make it possible to launch or continue an ambitious charity or evangelical program. In both cases the believers will place their faith and gratitude on the Father for allowing the achievement of their objectives. As such the reasoning cannot be seen as sound that Paul condemns the wanting of wealth for any reason at all and as dangerous or harmful to the Christian faith. Clearly, it is the significance one places on it, which leads to warped thinking (particularly by people who are already inclined to be corrupt) that Paul seems to warn against. He advises that rather than making money the goal of life, Christians should “… put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). I have no reason to believe that “everything for our enjoyment” excludes money.

Jesus’ Teaching about being wealthy as well as the usual content of His preaching is important in this conversation. I think I can safely say Jesus did not state: “It is impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God…” Now if some believe this is His point, to which of the two hypothetical Pastors above would the Lord’s words apply in that case – the one with the higher income (because of its size) or the lower income Pastor who is above average in a poorer district? Jesus told a wealthy man to go sell all he had and give to the poor and then come follow Him. Is this Jesus’ requirement of every Christian? If so interpreted, I have yet to see the Pastors who have sold all they had and given to the poor – not even as an example to the prosperity preachers they criticize. Again, I think this teaching appears to be directed at those like that man who trust wealth more than they do Christ. Only God by His Sovereign Will can cause such a person to end up in Heaven. Christ knew, as only Christ could know (even better than the man himself) what was the main obstacle to totally giving his life to Him. It’s not about wanting to keep or not keep the wealth you have; it is what that wealth represents to you that is the issue of Christian importance. The takeaway from both Jesus and Paul is: Only love and obedience to God through Christ should rule our lives and nothing else. All other things must be made secondary. Seeing or presenting our God as generous and capable of meeting our specific needs is not sinful.

I came across this quotation on Pastor Rick Henderson’s Blog:

“… During this time, I remember reading something from Joel Osteen. He and his wife claimed by faith a new house that they wanted… As I walked through the neighborhood, looking at all the homes, I wanted so badly for what Joel is teaching to be true. I don’t know if you can understand how desperately I wanted it to be true… I knew that my exhaustion and desperation made me emotionally vulnerable to this false Gospel…”

I see no “false Gospel” in any of the ideas reported of Osteen in this quote from Pastor Henderson. Is he saying that wanting something badly and praying for it believing God can give it to you is a “false Gospel”? Is he really saying Osteen misled him into desperately wanting a house he could not afford – as educated, well read and discerning as the pastor describes himself to be?

Indeed the whole world is the “congregation” of the TV and radio evangelists so their income will reflect that huge audience and if they so choose their lifestyle will show the income from it. I would be quite impressed if Pastor Henderson returns money to the poorer people who contribute to his church and launches his own worldwide TV/radio Ministry from which he will ban contributions or payment from poor countries for material he sells. On that note I notice the book written by Hank Hanegraaff (another strong critic of Osteen) advertised on his video I watched. I wonder if he would like to know how badly I would like my book advertized on TV but can’t afford it. I think Pastor Henderson will agree that Hank Hanegraaff has some explaining to do.

What did Jesus usually preach about? The Gospel writer, Mark, summarized Jesus’ message thus: “…Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (1:14-15). It is interesting what’s included under the banner of this Good News: Jesus consistently talked about God’s Kingdom, His relationship of love and obedience to the Father and love for us. He also comforted and reassured us about life’s stressors, taught about loving one another and criticized the religious leaders especially about their hypocrisy. He also denounced their self-serving interpretation of Scripture and deliberate blindness to God’s New Revelation in Jesus Himself. Of course our Lord can criticize the hypocrisy of people because He knows the facts and these are undeniable. Generally Jesus’ Messages were full of hope and explain about the very best that God has reserved for us – a life of unparalleled joy with Him in Heaven that starts right here in our world. What is the preoccupation of many of today’s Christian leaders and preachers? I leave individual Christians to answer this question based on the messages they receive from their various pulpits.

Jesus also said things His disciples are to do after He leaves. One of these is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which has been done down through the ages. Another is to celebrate the action of the woman who poured expensive oil on Him. In my experience over the years, I can count on fewer than ten fingers the number of times I’ve heard dedicated reference made to her in the Messages in many churches I have attended since my adolescent years.

If people are attracted to the style called “Prosperity Preaching” it must do something for them. Jesus was never short of crowds! In fact it was His growing popularity that forced the hand of His opponents to move quickly to execute HIm (though unwittingly contributing to God’s Plan). If those who claim to be preaching the truth about Jesus do not attract crowds they need to look more carefully at what their message content usually consists of versus Jesus’ Good News Message. When people are not only attracted but also once under the influence of that church’s Pastor(s), decide to stay on because they feel  “at home”, calls to mind Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, when He prayed “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (17:13). One of Jesus’ criteria for the success of His Ministry is that He did not lose any of His disciples. I wonder if Pastors who criticize as “Prosperity Preaching” (on the grounds of the choice of biblical content in sermons), believe at all in the responsibility to keep believers instead of lose them.

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