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The Problem With Prosperity Preaching 1 (p)

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Church Offerings

The Problem with Prosperity Preaching 1 (p)

       I have had just about all that I can take of prosperity preaching, particularly as it relates to church offerings!  Why?  Because it is around church offerings that a great deal of erroneous, manipulative, and even sinful teaching and gimmicks revolve.

For about 20 years prosperity preachers have been preaching the “name it and claim it,” “stab it and grab it,” “call it and haul it,” brand of blessings and Christianity.  Yet, I don’t think God wants us to poor and raggedy either!

Name and Claim It! Versus Poor and Raggedy

However, the “poverty is spiritual” position has seemed to almost die out, while the preaching of prosperity is rising in correspondence to the approximately 880 mega churches in America (7/27/2006).  Evangelical megachurches—defined as those that attract at least 2,000 weekly worshippers—have shot up to 880 from 50 in 1980, figures John N. Vaughan, founder of the research group “Church Growth Today,” in Bolivar, Missouri.  By way of contrast, there are approximately 400,000 churches in America.

       These mega churches have the budgets and expertise to dominate the religious programming on TV.  These mega churches and their TV pastors are having a tremendous impact upon the religious landscape of America.  I haven’t drunk any hatorade, because we are very close to megachurch statistics.  However, should megachurch pastors determine our theology concerning prosperity and money?  On the other hand, how do we interpret the fact that one out of seven verses, in the Gospels, addresses the subject of money?

       Well, I want to preach on the topic of church offerings, by exegeting 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.  However, to do this, I need to first deal with the religious landscape and its impact upon our understanding of the Word of God.

(So, let’s begin this four message series by dealing with “The Problem With Prosperity Preaching.”)

       According to a lot of the prosperity preachers, God wants every believer to be wealthy.  However, a number of New Testament verses are being viewed ethnocentrically and then applied out of context to our modern situation.  Therefore, let me begin this series with a piece of information that should shock us and properly ground us in the context of the New Testament:  What we are looking at, in the New Testament, is a peasant society.

A “peasant society” is a set of villages socially bound up with preindustrial cities in which the overwhelming portion of the population lives in villages and makes a living from the land!

       Peasants owned and farmed their own land and lived at a bare subsistence level.”[1]  The word “subsistence” according to Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary means

“the condition of managing to stay alive, especially when there is barely enough food or money for survival.”[2]

Now, this is very difficult for American people to understand, because

·        There was no middleclass in the Bible and that’s we have become accustomed to dealing with.

·        There was no movement from one class to another, which is a part of the American dream.

·        There were really four classes of people:  the ruling elite, the service class to the political elite, a service class to the village, and the peasants.

Ø     However, 90% of the people who populate the pages of the people are toiling farmers who live at subsistence level!

(How did this subsistence level impact their food supply?)

       Anthropologists estimate that we need about 2,500-2,800 calories per day to meet basic needs.

       Anthropologists estimate that people in the Bible got 1,800-2,400 calories per day, primarily obtained from grain.

      Up to one-fourth of the calories came from alcohol.

      If we subtract the one-fourth of the calories that came from alcohol the Israelites would have 1,350 to 1,800 calories a day, which came mostly from grain.

      In addition, the larger the family—and these tended to be larger families—the less food each of them would have.  So, you can divide this number by the number of people in the family!

       Furthermore, seed for planting and feed for livestock could amount to a substantial portion of the annual produce, perhaps a quarter to a third.  So, subtract another 450 to 600 calories.

       If this wasn’t bad enough, “A farm cannot produce everything needed for subsistence.  Some produce, therefore, had to be reserved for acquiring equipment, utensils, or food the family did not produce.”[3]  This too must be subtracted from the grain that was available!

       Now, we have not mentioned Temple sacrifices for annual feasts!  “Recent estimates for Roman Palestine, including a variety of both civil and religious taxes, put the figure at 35-40%.”[4]

       In 1993, an attempt to estimate how much produces was available for living suggest that in good years peasant families may have had as much as 10-20% of annual produce available for meeting subsistence needs.  If you were a tenant farmer, you would have far less,”[5] because you didn’t own the land.

(Finally,)

·        There was no money, as we think about it.

“In the rural village money transactions were rare.  The usual course was bartering something of mutual value or something else, and then only with someone who was known by the family and trusted (like family).”[6]  Money was primarily used for taxes!

Therefore, even though one out of seven verses in the Gospels is about money, those verses are not about money as we think about it!

       So, our interpretation of what the writers of the New Testament meant by money and prosperity must be viewed through this context!

       An important question that I have never heard raise concerning this subject is, “Why?”  “Why were most of the Israelites in the New Testament peasants?”  The answer is an astounding revelation that is simple to God, but profound to me:  the Israelites had rebelled against God and enemies were occupying their territory!

       Consequently, this is not what God wanted for His people!  So, what did God want for His people!  I believe the best place to find that answer, in the New Testament, is in the Sermon on the Mount, i.e. Matthew the 5th through 7th chapters, because that is where Jesus preaches on the culture of the Kingdom!

       One of the major words that comes up there is “blessed,” which literally means happy.  Therefore, God wants us to live a Kingdom life that will result in our happiness!

·        This is much more about the inside than the outside.

·        This is much more about character than characteristics.

·        This is much more about living for the Kingdom than living for the culture.

·        This is much more about what has you than what you have.

Living this kind of life is good, whether you are rich or poor.  So, it doesn’t seem that God is ultimately interested in whether we are rich or poor, but whether we are living for the Kingdom, no matter what our financial status.  Paul touches on this in

Philippians 4:11-12 (NASB), “11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

·        We should neither enshrine poverty, nor bedevil richness!

·        We should not be consumed with poverty or richness, but rather with Kingdom living!

What is interesting to me is that I rarely hear prosperity preachers dealing with texts like:

1 Timothy 6:3-10 (NASB), “3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

These verses are not so much about richness and money as they are being consumed with being rich and loving money more than one should!  I happen to believe that God wants us to have enough and be prosperous enough to depend upon Him, to be content with what we have, to serve Him, and to facilitate His Kingdom!

       Therefore, this means that all of the people in the Bible are poor or have just enough.  Right?  Well, not necessarily!  Even though the New Testament doesn’t seem to deal with many people who are rich, in the Old Testament God blesses kings and some of His people with riches!

       One of the first books of the Bible, chronologically, is believed to be Job, and God prospered Job to be one of the richest men of his time.  During Job’s time, riches were measured in terms of livestock.  The Bible says of Job in

Job 1:3 (NASB), “His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.”

Job 1:2-3 (NLT), “He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, and five hundred female donkeys, and he employed many servants.  He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area” (bold type added).

       The book of Genesis is also a very early book of the Bible and there we find that Abraham and Lot were prosperous.  The Bible reads in

Genesis 13:5-6 (NASB), “5 Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together.”

Additionally, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau ended up pretty prosperous!

Please note that Joseph was second in command to Pharaoh and that probably entailed some pretty nice perks!


I’m sure you’re aware of King David and King Solomon, although you may not have thought about the fact that they were two of the riches kings of their times!  The Bible says in

2 Chronicles 1:14-17 (NASB), “14 Solomon amassed chariots and horsemen.  He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and he stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem. 15 The king made silver and gold as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as plentiful as sycamores in the lowland. 16 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue; the king’s traders procured them from Kue for a price. 17 They imported chariots from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver apiece and horses for 150 apiece, and by the same means they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram.”

So, it seems that many of the people who people the pages of the Old Testament are abundantly prosperous and even rich; and that through the agency of God!

(So, we have the overwhelming majority of people who populate the pages of the New Testament being peasants and a number of people who populate the pages of the Old Testament being abundantly prosperous.  Now, what do we do with this?  What is the biblical truth about God and prosperity?)

       After looking at the subject of money in the entire Bible, I believe God wants to bless us, but is ultimately concerned with our hearts.  In fact, because we live in America, whether we understand it or not or acknowledge it or not, we are already blessed!  Tell somebody, “I’m blessed!”

We are the ones who determine how we use God’s blessings!

·        God will work with us, if we are poor and want to stay poor;

·        God will work with us, if we are rich or we want to be rich;

As long as we give Him our hearts!

(Now, how do we apply this truth to the culture of America?)

       Well, first we need to understand that God has not sanctified any specific culture!  Cultures have their strengths and their weaknesses.  What we need to do is understand the culture in which the Bible was written; so that we may find the original truth that God was transmitting to the people of that culture.  Then we can take that truth and apply it to our culture and time!


       The culture of America is one of abundance and conspicuous consumption!  The word “conspicuous” means “easily visible” or “attracting attention”.  Most of us here will earn one million dollars in our lifetime, and many of us will earn much more.  God is not that concerned with whether we earn a million dollars, but what we do with it!  In the book of Job, the fourth speaker, Elihu gives similar truth.  Now it is tricky quoting the book of Job, because of its perspectives.  Nevertheless, I agree with this part of Elihu’s perspective of God.  He says in about God in

Job 34:19 (NLT), “19 He doesn’t care how great a person may be, and he doesn’t pay any more attention to the rich than to the poor. He made them all.”

God wants to bless us and we can have riches, but God doesn’t want riches to have us!

       Rich people get rich because they obey the principles of prosperity that are built into the universe that God has created.  These principles work for the wicked or the righteous.  Whether you are wicked or righteous, if you obey the principles of prosperity they will work for you.

Of course they work better for those who heed the first principle of the universe:  obey God!

       Again, Elihu states,

Job 36:11 (NLT), “11 If they listen and obey God, then they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives.  All their years will be pleasant.”

Of course there are some exceptions to this rule, but the principle is generally true.

       In fact, I believe it is a sin to live in this country, have all of this opportunity to accumulate wealth and not make as much money as we can to use for the Kingdom!  Being poor does not make us more holy and being rich does not make us corrupt!  We are poor because of the money scripts that have been programmed into our brains by our homes of origin.  Likewise, being rich does not create anything in us.  Rather, being rich only reveals what we really are in our hearts!  If we are evil and we are rich, we have the resources to be really evil!  If we are compassionate and we are rich, we have the resources to be really compassionate!  The writer of the Ecclesiastes, who was burned out, wrote in

Ecclesiastes 10:19 (NLT), “19 A party gives laughter, and wine gives happiness, and money gives everything!”

So, money is important, but certainly not all important!  Money gives “everything,” but it cannot give intangibles!

       To summarize, God wants to bless us with the prosperity of abundant life, which includes material blessings.  It’s up to us how we handle these blessings!

       With this background, we’ll move forward next time and study 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.

(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)

Invitation

Call to Discipleship


----

[1] John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning:  A Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 137.

[2] Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

[3] John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning:  A Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 138.

[4] John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning:  A Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 138.

[5] John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning:  A Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 138.

[6] Jerome H. Neyrey, The Social World of Luke-Acts, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1991, p. 155.

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