I am perplexed.
When visiting some close family members, several times over the past few years a certain kind couple--acquaintances--have dropped by for a visit. Their last visit has had me thinking.
These dear people are very nice and seem to love the Lord very much. During their visit they usually spend much time "speaking" words of prosperity to my close family members. They quote parts of verses that pertain to health, wealth, and other desirable blessings.
I wonder if I should be convicted and be more willing to share such verses with people in their daily struggles. I then wonder if this is another sample of the American version of Christianity--the "prosperity gospel."
I have been reading through the Gospel of Matthew lately and notice how much time Jesus spent healing the sick. He had so much compassion for those down and out, and I do see His desire to heal those in His path.
But then I notice in Matthew 14 when John the Baptist, Christ's own cousin and whom He heralded as "among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11), and who was imprisoned because of his faithful preaching of repentance, was beheaded at the whim of Herod's family.
John's faithfulness did not bring him wealth and health. It brought him death.
I think of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. What a mighty man of the Lord! He was chosen as one of the first seven to serve the widows in the early church, as he was a "man full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5). Later, he was described as a man "full of faith and power" (Acts 6:8). When falsely accused, Stephen delivered a powerful sermon to the religious Pharisees, but they being "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" (Acts 7:51), resisted the Holy Spirit. What happened next?
"But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 4:55-56).
Wow! Jesus is standing for Stephen! Surely, considering he is full of faith, power, and the Holy Spirit, he qualifies and meets the requirements of the prosperity gospel. Surely the Lord is standing to deliver to him the health and wealth many have now come to expect.
But, no. . . . .that is not how the story ends.
"And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:58-60).
Stephen's faithfulness did not bring him wealth and health. It brought him death.
I think of James,the brother of John, who was one of Jesus' first 12 disciples. James was very close to Christ, often described as one of the 3 in the inner circle. He was one of the 3 that Jesus took with him on the Mount when He was transfigured, seeing Moses and Elijah talk to Christ, and even hearing the very words of God spoken from Heaven. James was even one of the 3 whom the Lord took with him into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray on the night of His arrest. Yet, these privileges did not seem to come into play when "Herod the king stretched out his hand to harrass some from the church" (Acts 12:1).
James was killed with the sword.
James' faithfulness did not bring him wealth and health. It brought him death.
I think of Paul. Where would I begin? He shared with the church at Corinth the following testimony:
"From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness--" (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
Alas, one would think if anyone deserved the award of prosperity it would be Paul!
Nevertheless, Paul's faithfulness did not bring him heath and wealth. It brought him death.
I think of Peter and all the other faithful disciples. I think of the many unnamed Christians in the New Testament and the Old who were faithful yet suffered still.
"Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflected, tormented--of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews 11:36-37).
Example after example of those whose faithfulness did not bring health and wealth. It brought them death.
So why all this focus on "us?" Why is the focus always on what we want Christ to do for us? Why are most of the books in the Christian bookstores about "us?"
Where are those who will say to their friends and family and teach their children that this life is not about us!? We should be more about dying to self so that we can better glorify Him!
So what is the right response to people who are struggling? Is it words of prosperity, health, and wealth? Or are there other verses in the Scriptures that give us a bigger picture and should also be on our mind and on our tongues?
More next time. . . . . . .
In the Heart of our Home,