Is This the Time? Mark 9:30-9:37
Time magazine recently had a cover story that was entitled, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” The header said, “A growing number of Protestant evangelicals raise a joyful Yes!”
The article opens with the story of George Adams, a man from Ohio who had lost his factory job. His reaction to the job loss was to change churches, but just not any church or another church in the community. He moved with his wife and four young boys to Texas where he could be a part of a large church which meets in a former stadium in Houston.
He had heard the pastor say on television: “I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to enjoy our lives.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that. In fact, I believe it — I just don’t think those are God’s priorities for our lives.
But to listen to some media preachers you would think that this is at the top of God’s will for all his children. George Adams was convinced, and he moved his family so they could be in a church that believed and taught this kind of prosperity for believers.
He said, “I”m dreaming big — because all of heaven is dreaming big.” The article states that many Christians like Adams, influenced by the Prosperity gospel, are asking, “Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?” But how is it that they do not remember that Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The article quotes many other high profile television preachers. One woman preacher says, “Who would want something where you’re miserable, broke and ugly and you have to muddle through until you get to heaven?” Again, it is an alluring message. Obviously, people don’t want something where they are miserable, broke and ugly. But what if you are ugly and there’s not much you do about it? Are you less of a Christian?
What if you are broke, does that mean you lack faith and are not following the teachings of the Bible? Are you a spiritual failure if you are trapped in a miserable situation? And what do we do with the words of Jesus when he says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Somehow that does not sound like prosperity to me. At the very least, it sounds difficult.
I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with having money and possessions, even if you have lots of it. And if God has blessed you in that way, that is wonderful. It is just that it is not the goal of life. Something else is.
I thoroughly enjoy the blessings of life, and I have far more than I need. I think that God has made a good world and it pleases him when we enjoy the world he has made. I would not want to make anyone feel guilty for having good things in this world.
The point is, is this the message of the Gospel? Is this the goal of Christians? If you can be successful, go for it. But your first priority, as a child of God, is doing God’s will, faithfully following him — even if that means sacrifice on your part.
Would there be any missionaries, or people ministering to the poor in our inner cities, if they were looking for wealth and success according to the world’s definition of success?
It is a good thing that Jesus did not believe in a prosperity gospel and preach that God always wants you to be happy and successful, because if he did we would not have a Savior. He would never have chosen the way of suffering, or gone the way of the cross. He did not have life easy.
He said to those who wanted to follow him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). How different is this from those who preach that we are simply to believe God “for that new house — that new car”? How does that fit in with making our first priority “denying ourselves and taking up the cross.”
In the Scripture today, we read about Jesus saying to the disciples: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Then the Scripture says, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” I’m sure they did not want to understand what he was saying. They didn’t want to hear it, so they didn’t ask him about it. What was their immediate response? They began to argue among themselves. And what were they arguing about? They were arguing about who was the greatest among them. They were wrapped up in a contest of pride. They each wanted to be first, the blessed, the foremost.
A Pastor went to Summer Camp and Bill Ury, the speaker of the evening, made a remarkable observation. He said, “I’ve been studying the gospels, and I cannot find one instance of the disciples asking each other, ‘How have you been doing? Is there anything you need? Is there any way I can serve you or help you?’ With the exception of Andrew bringing Peter to Christ, I cannot find one place where the disciples brought anyone to Jesus.
There are places where they pushed people away, as when people were bringing children to Jesus, but never do they bring people to Jesus saying, ‘Here is someone who needs help.’ They only think of themselves, and there is conflict among them about who is really the greatest.” I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it is a profound observation.
But it is not far from the church today where we believe that this is OUR church. We have been members of this church for years, we give and we do this and that, so we deserve to have our way. Never any concern for people outside the church who are desperately in need of what Jesus has to give. Most church members across America will never invite someone else to church. And even though we are not a church that preaches the prosperity gospel, we secretly believe that God owes us something because we have been faithful at attending church and have given our money.
Some television preachers have had the gall to actually say that if you give God $1,000 (meaning their ministry), he will give you $10,000 — a kind of spiritual quid pro quo. People are told that a mysterious check from an unexpected source will come their way. This theory is variously called Health and Wealth, Word of Faith, Name it and Claim It, or Prosperity Gospel, or as some have dubbed it, Prosperity Lite. The secular writer of the Time magazine article astutely observes about these ministries: “Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement.”
How different is the teaching of Jesus. He told stories like this one: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
Ben Witherington teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary, he says, “We need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health — it is a disease of our American culture; it is not a solution or answer to life’s problems.” The Time article states that it is “treating God as a celestial ATM” And it quotes a Baptist theologian who said, “God becomes a means to an end, not the end in himself.”
Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life, gives a bitter observation when he says, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”
Warren, who gives away millions of dollars to the people of Africa, knows what he is talking about. What does this kind of teaching mean to countless of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are starving, or suffering for the sake of the Gospel? This was not the teaching of Jesus, for he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
Far from telling us to pursue wealth, Jesus warned that it’s pursuit can pose a serious danger that can destroy us spiritually. Ron Sider says, “They have neglected the texts about the danger of riches. Prosperity Gospel Lite is one of the most powerful forms of neglect of the poor.” What do we do with the words of Jesus who warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The Bible says, “For the love of money is a root of all evil.
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The book of Hebrews says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). What is being preached as prosperity, the Bible calls greed and materialism.
So what is to be the goal of life for the Christian? Jesus put it simply when he said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-33).
When Solomon first became King, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5). Out of all that he could have asked for, Solomon said, “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:9). And God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1 Kings 3:11-12).
Shouldn’t this be our prayer? Shouldn’t we ask for a wise and discerning heart that is able to distinguish between right and wrong? Should we be asking for the death of our enemies or personal wealth? Are there not more important things for the people of God? Though there is not anything wrong in having this world’s goods, is our goal to be successful, and to have material prosperity? Is not our primary goal to be seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Should not our goal be service to others and living a life of purpose? Are we to live only for ourselves? Hasn’t God placed us here to make a difference in the world? Are we to be self-centered or God-centered? Are we to be rich in things or rich toward God?
Jesus did say, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). But how is it that we have interpreted that only in the material sense? Have we so little appetite for the things of God that we do not see them as more valuable than all the material wealth in this world?
In the book of 2 Kings, the prophet Elisha had a servant named Gehazi. Naaman, the commander of Syria’s army had come to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. He was healed after immersing himself in the Jordan river, and after his healing he offered money and clothing to Elisha, but Elisha refused them. But, unknown to Elisha, his servant Gehazi, ran after Naaman and asked for a gift. He was given a great deal of silver and costly clothing, and went home and hid them.
But when he returned, Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? (2 Kings 5:26).
Elisha, a man of God, refused the money, but Gehazi thought Elisha was foolish and went after it. As a result, he not only received Naaman’s money, but his leprosy as well. His greed became a disease. The same question comes to us: Is this the time for us to seek wealth?
Some of you are familiar with the television show Deal, or No Deal. It consists of 26 cases, each containing a different amount of money. The contestants don’t know the sum of money in each case, and they try to pick the one with the greatest amount of money. They open the cases, one by one, which reveal the amount inside. At certain intervals, the contestant receives an offer from the bank. The contestant must then decide whether to take the deal from the bank, or to continue opening cases. They must choose to gamble on getting more money, to lose money, or to hold on to what they have already. The stakes go up or down as the game progresses. Family members try to get them to take the deal or try for more, as the host continues to press the question: “Deal, or no Deal?”
The enemy of our soul does much the same thing. He holds before us the temporary things of this life, and asks us to pursue these things as ends in themselves rather than pursue the things of God. And the choice is before us all. Are we going to base our lives on pursuing the temporary wealth of this world, or are we going to invest our lives in the unseen things that are of eternal value? The Bible says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Deal, or no deal?