THE GOSPEL OF HEALTH AND WEALTH
2 Corinthians 11:24-28
In the above passage, the apostle Paul said, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 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 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-- besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep anxiety for all the churches.” The bitter life-experiences depicted in this reading happened to one of the most devout and faithful Christians ever to live on the earth. In addition to being a faithful Christian he was also an apostle of Christ, but this did not shield him from the difficult and painful experiences of life.
Paul's experience contradicts a very popular message which is being proclaimed from books, the pulpit and on television today. It is the gospel of health and wealth. This message in the world today is the number one crowd-attracter, people-pleaser, and religious fraud. Television evangelists of all kinds are shouting to their audience, “God loves you, and He wills for you to enjoy perfect health and wants you to be wealthy. After all, the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God. Would an earthly millionaire make his own children eat poor food, wear shabby clothes, and ride in broken-down cars? Of course not! Neither will your heavenly Father give you anything but the very best. What is the desire of your heart? All you have to do is name it; claim it by faith, and it is yours. Your heavenly Father has promised it; it's right here in the Bible.” Of course, you must show good faith by sending a financial gift to this preacher or buy his book which tells you how to get wealth from God. That is the gospel of health and wealth, not the gospel of Christ.
This is not the message of Christ or the apostles of Christ or the writers of the New Testament. You will not find such a promise in the New Testament. The autobiography of Paul, as recorded in the above passage of scripture contradicts the gospel of health and wealth, for Paul did not have either one. Paul knew more about God's will than all modern-day preachers. If the gospel of health and wealth is true, why didn't Paul cash in on this promise? He didn't have enough money to buy himself a coat to keep him warm in the prison at Rome.(2 Timothy 4:13). The gospel of health and wealth is a perverted gospel, and the danger of it is that it makes false promises which, in turn, lead to unscriptural desires for material
prosperity and to false hopes for perfect physical health. There is such a thing as a heavenly people and a heavenly kingdom on the earth, but there is no such thing as a heaven on earth. God loves us too much to give us everything we wish.
What then are the prospects for prosperity which belong to the Christian? Is there a promise of guaranteed prosperity for the Christian in the New Covenant? Health and wealth preachers say, “Yes.” They refer us to 3 John 2 which says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” Admittedly, in this passage John speaks of prosperity: money-wise, health-wise, and soul-wise. Health and wealth preachers misinterpret this passage to mean a universal promise, but this is to read something into this text which is not there. John was expressing no more than a wish, and it is a beautiful wish that we can express to all people. It is somewhat like the beautiful greeting Californians give to one another when they say, “Have a nice day.” But this is not a promise that everyone will have a nice day. John wished for Gaius a material prosperity equal to his soul prosperity which was great. Well-wishing is most becoming to Christians.
Again prosperity teachers refer us to John 10:10 where Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jesus was speaking of a higher spiritual life from God and not material affluence. He was speaking of the character, dignity, and happpiness associated with the Christian way of life. Perhaps the greatest evil of this modern gospel of wealth is its compete reversal of biblical values. Wealth is not the Christian's goal. It is not sinful to be poor. Christians are not to set a high priority on the well-advertised creature comforts that 21st century America makes possible. Jesus said, “A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses”(Luke 12:15). We learn from the Lord Jesus that the abundance of material possessions is not the measure of our true success. What most Americans call success is in God's eyes their downfall. Wealth and prestige is not God's great goal for us; our goal is goodness. Christians must not expect to drive the most expensive cars, wear fur coats from Neiman Marcus, live in a suburban mansion, and vacation each year in the Bahamas. These things are not wrong, but we must not make them into life's goals or special signs of God's approval.
Under the New Covenant, it is God's will that the right to prosperity belongs equally to everyone: the believer and unbeliever; the saved and lost. The blessing of prosperity has been incorporated into the natural laws, and the degree of prosperity to which we attain depends on 3
how we use and apply these laws. If you want prosperity, choose carefully your livelihood and choose it as early in life as possible. Train our mind; educate yourself, and prepare yourself for some skill or service to your fellow man. If you don't, you are asking for hard times, whether you are a Christian or not a Christian. Don't quit school; if you do you will most likely live to regret it. Work hard, apply yourself and be diligent. We live in a difficult world. Prosperity depends much on individual initiative, and that is why the gospel does not guarantee prosperity to the Christian. However, the religion of Christ is an aid to prosperity because it teaches us to be honest, diligent, hard-working, and it ministers to health of body and soul.
Let us now turn to the other side of this subject and consider the gospel of health which is being proclaimed throughout the world. Health preachers, faith-healers and miracle workers are enjoying a success and popularity that is most alarming in our generation. No one disputes that a morally conscientious person, who recognizes that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, generally has better health because he takes care of himself physically. However, the religion of Christ makes no promise of guaranteed health to the Christian.
The healing and health preachers of our day take genuine promises of scripture entirely out of their context to give people false hopes of recovery from sickness. John 14:13 is an example. Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in my name, that will I do.” The healers say, “Right there it is in the Bible. If you are sick pray to be healed, for Jesus said that whatever you ask in my name I will do it. Now this statement of Jesus is not a universal, unconditional promise. Jesus made this promise to the apostles, and it referred primarily to miraculous power which would be given them to overcome all manner of obstacles. When Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name,” it does not mean merely to repeat a formula. Rather, it meant to make requests on his authority. Paul prayed three times requesting to be healed of a terrible physical affliction, but the Lord refused to heal him because it was not the will of Christ that he be healed (2 Corinthians 12:8). It is only when we know that we are asking for what God wills that his promise holds. That is why in a parallel passage that makes the same promise, John reveals an important condition to all prayer. I John 5:14 says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of him.” To take a promise out of its context is to force scripture to say what it does not say, and this turns God's promises into false claims that will only delude the gullible.
When people believe the health preachers who claim that John 14:13 is a universal promise with no conditions, the result can be disastrous. When these people pray to be healed and do not receive their requests, they may feel their faith is entirely destroyed and question the truthfulness of God. In anger they may rebel against God and feel that God has deceived them. Few people are harder to reach than those whose relationship with God has been twisted out of shape by the false gospel of health and wealth.
In saying these things, let me remind you that during the miraculous period of church history( 33 A.D.-100 A.D.), many people did receive the recovery of their health by miraculous healing( James 5:14,15). Jesus, the apostles, and some Christians(with charizmatic gifts) healed the sick by supernatural power. However, this was a temporary phenomenon to help prove the authenticity of the Christian religion and help establish this religion in an unbelieving and persecuting world. The New Testament reveals that miracles ceased at the close of the first century, at the death of the apostles who conferred miraculous gifts by the laying on of their hands.
(Acts 8:18; I Corinthians 13:8). The New Testament reveals that miracles ceased at the close of the first century, and church history recognizes that they were not practiced in the early second century. All of the miraculous gifts that once existed in every congregation of the Churches of Christ passed away and ceased forever when the New Testament was completed because their purpose had been fulfilled. They are no longer needed. Believe the miracles that are recorded in the Bible, but don't believe the pseudo-miracles you see on television.
Finally, although the day of miracles is over, the day of God's providential activity is still here and available to Christians. Christians should distinguish between God's miraculous working and his providential working. If we do not know the difference, we often make the mistake of calling something a miracle. when, in fact, it was God's providence. God's healing activity has been incorporated into the natural laws. God does not have to work miracles to help us. God's providence is his watch-care over the universe and his superintendence of the natural laws. The Bible says, “In God we live, move and have our being.” God can answer our prayers without working miracles. He made the natural laws, and he can use them in any way he pleases.
For example, suppose that I become seriously ill, and the doctors have given up all hope for me. However, I pray to God and ask him to
spare my life, if it be in accordance with His will, and Christians pray for me to the same effect. Let us suppose to the surprise of my doctors and
friends I recover and my life is spared for a time. Such good fortune would not be a miracle but should be considered providential, if indeed God did intervene in answer to prayer and spared my life. Now this could not be called miraculous but providential. By the goodness of God, many people often come near to death but recover without asking for God's help. The natural laws, doctors, and medicine often save lives. If God does intervene and help us in answer to prayer,, we can personally believe that he intervened, but we cannot prove it. Any providential help we receive from God is done behind the scenes. When God does something providentially in answer to prayer, there is no visible evidence to allow one to know that God worked supernaturally in our behalf. We can only believe that God answered our prayer, or aided the surgeon, but we cannot know for sure or prove that God intervened. That is the difference between miracles and providence. God has always been and is still providentially active, whenever he sees fit.
It is God's will that we pray for others who are sick and pray when we are sick, but it is also God's will that we use the very best medical care within our means to bring about the cure of the sick. Most of God's healing today is through his natural laws. Paul instructed Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach's sake and frequent infirmities(I Timothy 5:23). I think that statement teaches much on the subject of praying for the sick. The truth is quite evident that God expects Christians to use the very best medical knowledge and care within their means to get well, as well as offering special prayers for the sick's recovery. Before we ask God to heal us, let us visit the doctor first, and do all we can to bring about our recovery by the known laws of healing that God has provided. And let us always remember, “It is appointed to man once to die, ” and when that time comes no power in heaven or earth will save us from the common end of man.