On more than one occasion I have called out the Health and Wealth gospel and received the following response: “Even if what they are saying is wrong at least they are preaching the Gospel.”
My first response is that the majority of those preaching health and wealth are preaching life improvement not anything about repenting from sin and turning to Christ as Lord. So without that, they really aren’t preaching the Gospel.
My second response is that Jesus gives three other reasons why health and wealth doesn’t jive with the Gospel. Let’s take a look.
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 13:18-22 ESV
Health and Wealth misses the point of the Gospel.
In verse 19 Jesus says that when they don’t understand the Gospel the devil comes and plucks up that gospel seed before it produces anything. By not preaching about sin, repentance, hell, and the need to surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord; they are essentially guaranteeing that people are not going to understand the Gospel. Their gospel of life improvement seems pretty out of focus from the Gospel Jesus preached. Joel Osteen says “Have your best life now” but Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” -Matthew 16:24-26. Does it sound like Jesus and Joel are even teaching out of the same bible?
When people asked Jesus (Matthew 4:17), John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), or Peter (Acts 2:38) how to be saved they all replied “repent” and “believe” the Gospel. How will anyone repent if nobody tells them they are in sin or even need to? You can believe in Jesus but James says the demons do too (James 2:19) and they’re going to hell. The demons even acknowledged who Jesus was and begged for mercy (Mark 5:7). It’s not just believing in Jesus, it’s repenting and surrendering to Him as Lord (boss, master, king) of your life (Romans 10:9-10). That’s why Jesus and John both talked about the “kingdom” (God as your King) connected to their call to “repent” (Mt 4:17, 3:2). Leaving all this out guarantees people will miss the point and the real Gospel won’t bear any fruit. That’s a big reason Health and Wealth is no Gospel.
Health and Wealth produces a shallow faith that cannot withstand persecution.
In Matthew 13:5-6 Jesus explained how the seed landed on shallow rocky soil. Because there wasn’t much room for the roots to grow the seed decided to spend it’s energy growing up instead. So it looks like you have a fast growing really healthy flower at first. Then the sun hits it, and because it’s roots aren’t very deep, it dries out and dies. In verses 20-21, Jesus explains that this represents people who hear the gospel and are really excited at first. However, because they haven’t set their roots deep due to a shallow faith and a shallow environment, persecution comes and they fall away.
Think with me for a second. Let’s suppose you grew up in a church that rarely talked about persecution, sin, or repentance but instead preached that if you had enough faith that you would never get sick or be poor again. In fact, they taught that if you are sick, suffering, or poor that it’s because of your lack of faith. When persecution comes (like Jesus says in verse 21 and in Matthew 10:16-22), what will be your reaction when they flog and beat you (Matthew 10:17)? You will conclude one of two things based on what you were taught: I either don’t have enough faith or this stuff doesn’t work.
What about sickness? Yes, praying for people to be healed does work. However, only if it’s in the will of God. God willed for Paul to be sick to keep him humble and he prayed for God to heal him in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. God said no. If you were taught that sickness was from a lack of faith, would you react like Paul and boast about the power of God IN your sickness (2 Cor 10:9-10)? Or would you add to your sickness a miserable guilt trip feeling like a failure with too little faith?
I have actually seen someone get more depressed because she read “Best Life Now” and felt like a failure because as she tried to follow God things got harder. After I told her about how Jesus, the disciples, and the early church all endured persecution for following Christ she actually became happy. She was set free from a false guilt and experienced joy in Christ like never before! That’s the abundant life. Joy in Christ regardless of the situation. You won’t have that if you feed on a fluffy message light on the truths of the gospel. You will be overwhelmed in persecution, confused, and fall away because you are not rooted. That is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 13:20-21.
By emphasizing riches, Health and Wealth sets people up to be choked out by the World.
In verse 22, Jesus goes on to talk about the gospel seed that lands in the thorns. Jesus already explained those thorns choke the seed as it tries to grow and it dies (Matthew 13:7). Now what were the two thorns that choked the seed? The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (verse 22). What are two issues emphasized by the Health and Wealth prosperity gospel??? Having your best life in this world and WEALTH… If Jesus says that these two priorities are what choke out the Gospel from being fruitful, then are prosperity preachers doing you any favors by focusing on these two things?
If material blessing is the measure of your faith will you be willing to suffer persecution and poverty in a 3rd world country to tell others about Jesus? Are you going to sell all that you have to follow Jesus so you can have treasure in heaven if prosperity preachers are telling you the opposite? Let me answer that. Jesus told the rich young ruler to do exactly that because even though he kept almost all of the ten commandments he had one problem. He had made worldly wealth his idol, and Jesus was saying give it up for me (Luke 19:18-30). After the rich man walked away sad, Jesus said: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25). If Jesus says it’s harder to get into heaven when you’re wealthy then why should a preacher focus on that? That’s actually what the false preachers do, see 2 Peter 2:3, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and 1 Timothy 6:5.
It’s not just the Lord who has an issue with the thorn of focusing on wealth. Paul says that the people who focus on wealth, rather than being content in Christ, fall away from the faith and hurt themselves. Continuing a discussion on false prophets Paul makes the following comments in 1 Tim 6:5-10:
… and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
John gives us a similar warning about focusing too much on this life to the point where it kills our affection for Christ. We start worshiping creation rather than creator. Also known as idolatry. I can’t have my heart set on worldly things and love God at the same time (1 John 2:15-17):
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Churches that focus on these things are just a bed of thorns choking out the Gospel.
It’s pretty clear that people preaching and focusing on these things are preaching something contrary to the Gospel of Jesus, Paul, and John. Not that being rich is sinful. It’s not that God does not ever financially bless his people. I’ve personally seen God provide several hundred thousand dollars for our church out of nowhere this past year. I have seen Him provide personally for our adoption. After all, my favorite verse in the Bible is Matthew 6:33. All of those things are wonderful blessings from God. So that’s not the issue. The issue is our focus. Wealth is not the focus of my preaching or my life’s goals. God’s kingdom ruling in my heart is the focus (Matthew 6:33).
It’s the focus on wealth that strangles out the focus on delighting in and serving Christ above all else. The Gospel denies self (Matthew 16:24-26) and exalts Jesus Christ. Health and Wealth exalts ourselves and turns Christ into our personal genie. Preachers that focus on material blessing rather than the true Gospel are slowly killing and harming their congregation. They ARE false prophets. If you don’t believe me just ask Jesus, John, Peter, and Paul.