Summary: A sermon about greed, materialism and the Prosperity Gospel.
Time magazine’s cover story this month 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.