Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Prosperity and Adversity, Health and wholeness: A response to the Prosperity Gospel

I am very happy to introduce Rincy Cherian, a dear friend and brother, who has written today's guest blogpost.


Rincy has been involved in full-time ministry from 2001 serving as an Associate Pastor for many years at Life Fellowship, Trivandrum. With the primary calling of an Evangelist and Teacher, he travels across the country ministering at Youth Camps, Leadership Training Programs, Evangelistic Outreaches, Church Renewal Meetings, and Equipping programmes for new Believers.

He is blessed with a wonderful wife in Subha who is also a passionate lover of the Lord.





PROSPERITY AND ADVERSITY

A child of God has experiences of both prosperity as well as adversity.  The apostle Paul describes his life experience for us.  "I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty.  I know how to face situations where I am well-fed and having plenty, or in hunger and in want" (Philippians 4:12 paraphrase).  When we join with Paul and declare that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", we must remember that the biblical context is primarily about being able to handle both plenty and poverty (Philippians 4:13).

Exciting mountain-top incidents and difficult wilderness experiences, favourable circumstances and unfavourable situations, abundance and lack are both guaranteed to come.  When we follow the Lord, there will be experiences of 'green pastures and still waters', and also instances of passing through 'the valley of the shadow of death' (Psalm 23:2-4).  God is a God of the mountains and valleys, enabling us to be overcomers whatever the circumstances (1 Kings 20:28).  We must learn to enjoy times of blessing as well as endure seasons of hardship (1 Timothy 6:17; Hebrews 12:5-11).  We should neither become proud when we are blessed nor discouraged when facing trials- we must keep our head in all situations (Deuteronomy 8:10-18; 2 Timothy 4:5).

It is wrong to focus on only one of these truths.  God has the right to 'give' and 'take away' (Job 1:21-22).  Jesus was born in poverty but was buried in a rich man's tomb. Hebrews chapter 11 strikes a healthy balance regarding the life of faith (vs 13-16, 32-38). By faith people "received" as well as "offered".  By faith they "prospered" as well as "suffered".

There were 'rich' and 'poor' people- both in Israel of the Old Testament and in the early church.

The rich believers of the New Testament church  were "neither condemned nor commended" for being wealthy; instead, they were given clear instructions regarding what do with their material abundance (1 Timothy 6:17-19; Romans 15:27; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

Similarly, poor believers were not treated as being “under a curse”.  Jesus spoke highly of the "poor widow" and did not feel she was under spiritual bondage (Mark 12:42-44).  Paul took the initiative to raise monetary support for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem- and was not looking at ministering some kind of spiritual deliverance (Romans 15:26).  The extremely poor believers in Macedonia were considered as an exemplary example to all the other churches for "out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity" (2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV).  Above all, we have the apostles themselves who were poor and without material comforts (1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 6:10).

It may especially be noted that being rich is not to be assumed as a sign of spiritual maturity.  Jesus looked at the church at Laodicea and told them that they were materially prosperous but spiritually poor (Revelation 3:17).  James talks about God choosing the "materially poor" to be "rich in faith" (James 2:5).

We are also warned against the dangers of trying to become rich.  Paul says that people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires  that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9).  He says that godliness with contentment is great gain and calls on believers to be content with having food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6,8).  He further states how the pursuit of money can become an obsession which leads to all kinds of evil- "some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).

Overall, what believers should recognise is that both prosperity and adversity have a purpose. When we have abundance, the purpose is to 'make us a blessing' and 'increase our giving' (2 Corinthians 8:13-14; 9:11; 1 Timothy 6:18).  And when we face adversity, God is trying to 'mould our character' and 'perfect our faith' (Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 12:7-11; James 1:2-4).  So both must be joyfully accepted and cheerfully faced!  

HEALTH AND WHOLENESS

Throughout the Scriptures, we find numerous statements and incidents revealing God to be our Healer.  He never created a world of suffering and does not delight in the pain of any person.  Ultimately, we will inherit a world free from everything that is wrong and evil.

Having said this, it does not mean that God would never allow sickness in our lives or that He will always heal us. Such beliefs are contrary to Scriptural teachings and examples.  For instance, God sometimes disciplines His people with sickness so they may come into a right relationship with Him.  King Asa of Judah started his reign in a godly way but later backslid.  The Lord afflicted him with a sickness to cause him to repent (2 Chronicles 16:12). The church at Corinth had people who were sick and some who even died as part of God's disciplining hand (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Ofcourse, all sickness is not an expression of God's judgment but it would be wrong to assume that He never acts in this way!

God may also allow sickness and other trials to test our love and commitment to Him- the classic example being Job.

Again, God may allow a person to remain sick to show His strength and glory through that weak person.  There is a striking question which God Himself asks Moses, when Moses complains that God has not healed him of his stammering problem before sending him to deliver the people of Israel from Egypt.  "Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  Who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (Exodus 4:11-12).

We also see that God may allow His people to die of a sickness without healing them. The prophet Elisha was mighty in power and worked unusual miracles.  But he died of a sickness (2 Kings 13:14).

Paul's description of his fellow worker's healing shows that while he expected healing to take place, he didn't believe healing was always guaranteed.  This is what he writes. "Epaphroditus was ill and almost died.  But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow" (Philippians 2:27).

A fundamental truth we have to grasp if we are to understand why there are strikingly different experiences or results from person to person is concerning the purpose of God for each individual.  The purpose of God is unique to everyone.  This is why we see Jesus not visiting John the Baptist in prison and thus allowing him to be beheaded while He visited the house of Lazarus and raised him from the dead even after 4 days.  This is why we see God not intervening in the life of the apostle James who is executed by Herod while He intervenes supernaturally to have Peter released from the grasp of the same Herod (Acts 12).  This is why Stephen is stoned to death but Paul survives after a similar stoning experience (Acts 7:58-59; 14:19-20).

Another vital aspect to take note of is that the Kingdom of God has a 'present' and 'future' dimension. We live in an age where the Kingdom of God has been 'inaugurated' but still needs to be 'consummated'! This means that while Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross is complete and perfect, its blessings are experienced over different periods of time, the culmination of which will be at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, for instance, salvation has various phases. None of us are fully saved yet. We 'have been' saved from the penalty of sin, 'are being' saved from the power of sin, and 'will be' saved from the presence of sin (John 5:24; Titus 2:14; 1 John 3:2; Romans 13:11).

Similarly, although we can experience healing from our sicknesses today, the blessing of a perfectly healthy body free from all physical limitations and defects will be received only at the return of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:52-54; Philippians 3:20-21; Revelation 21:3-4). This is why even people who have been healed or raised from the dead still experience death later.  This is true both in the days of Jesus as well as today.

Again, we can experience total freedom from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13-14) but the effects of the curse which originated on the day of the Fall still awaits its full-fledged removal (Genesis 3:16-19; Revelation 22:3).  The “old order” is still to pass away (Revelation 21:4).  Death is still to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).  Creation, which is presently subject to decay, is still to be liberated from its bondage and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21).  Till the return of Christ, we who "have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the full redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).

7 comments:

  1. Thanks Pradeep, appreciate Rincy's effort in putting this blog, well written, thorough in supporting the strong statements made. Bless you brother!

    Here's my first doubt,

    1. Deut 29:9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do.

    My query for discussion is " as I understand here, the heart of the matter what the Lord says is - I want you to choose blessing and not a curse" and I do understand that the this is also when His children turn to Idols! But the Heart of the father is that His children may Prosper in all things". So can sickness be a prosperity?

    I met a medical student recently and the query was "HOW can such a LOVING GOD allow suffering to little children? we make up these because sometimes our prayers don't seem to work" . As a parent I wouldn't want to afflict my child with deathly disease to teach him/her a lesson/discipline. I don't understand this! may be you could throw some light on this! Thanks.

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    1. Hi Rajan, this is Rincy. Thank you for your comments. Let me try to clarify your doubts.

      Sickness is definitely not something that is good in itself. But it can be used by God to bring about good in our lives and in this way, it can be a blessing. Just like God used what Joseph’s brothers meant for harm in his life to bring about good in every way (Genesis 50:20), He does the same with sickness as well. The Psalmist says, “It was good for me to be afflicted so I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

      Will God inflict sickness on His people? We have seen a few biblical examples above (King Asa, the believers at Corinth) that show how God does allow sickness sometimes for the “eternal good” of people. Sometimes we are stubborn, hard-hearted or rebellious which hinders God’s purpose from being accomplished in our lives. At such times, God wields the rod of affliction.

      Now, God does not find “delight” or “enjoyment” in using this rod. He is a God who does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11); how much less in the suffering of His children. Also, Jesus is seen weeping over the people of Jerusalem because of their continued resistance towards Him and the painful consequences they would face soon (Luke 19:41-44).

      What we need to understand is that God does not desire that anyone should perish and in order to enable us to repent, He will use whatever means- even “painful means”- to bring us to Him. To consider one more example, we see in the Book of Revelation God’s angels unleashing “terrible plagues” on the earth. And it clearly says that it is done so that people would repent (Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:10-11).

      The example of the children requires a two-fold understanding. On one side, it is true that our unbelief and doubt can hinder the miracle working power of God from being released. It happened in Jesus’ own hometown, where Jesus desired to do many miracles but was prevented by the unbelief of the people (Mark 6:5-6). Similarly, the disciples of Jesus could not deliver a demon-possessed boy due to their unbelief (Matthew 17:14-20). So there is definitely a need to search our hearts in the presence of God to make sure that we can receive the miracles of the Lord as well as have the rivers of living water to flow out from within us without hindrance.

      At the same time, there are people (including children) who were prayed over and did not get healed. Sometimes God did not choose to heal showing Himself mighty instead in the midst of their physical weaknesses (like we have seen in the case of Moses). Jonie Eareckson Tada and Nick Vujicic are two contemporary examples of very well-known people with severe deformities who sought the Lord for healing but didn’t get it and have shown through their lives that no matter what the situation, God’s love is unfailing and His grace is sufficient.

      Finally, let me confidently declare that God did not create a world of pain or suffering in the beginning and that there is a new heaven and earth He has stored for us which will also be free from every kind of bitter experience. In the meantime, “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day; and our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

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    2. God's heart is certainly for our welfare and not calamity. But as loving and wise Father, He aims for our eternal welfare rather than a temporary relief. The promise in the new covenant is the divine nature (2Pet.1:4), in other words, the character of Jesus. We partake of this new nature not as gift dropping from heaven on us but as we submit to God in the different situations of life (Rom.8:13). Life on earth is affected by the consequences of sin, ours, those of others and also the corrupting effect on all created things. Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble (Jn.16:33), and Paul noted that it would be through much trouble that we would enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

      You would notice, on the other hand, in the old covenant, the blessings were earthly as well as the consequences of disobeying God. But that was only a preparatory stage for the new covenant. Now the focus is on inward prosperity. What was pictured in the OT as physical prosperity has now got to be translated into its higher level, spiritual prosperity. The experience of Jesus, the apostles and godly people through church history corroborates this.

      Just as a human father would discipline his child in order to train him, God also sometimes disciplines us so that we may share His holiness (Heb.12:9,10). In serious cases, it may even be through sickness (1Cor.11:29,30). His heart longs that we may prosper in the eternal sense.

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