You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ's authority, knowing that God is watching us. -- 2Corinthians 2: 17 (NLT)
We live in a world that celebrates wealth and temporal fortune. We sell the notion that all you need is a dollar and a dream in order to be happy. I can understand why the world buys into this great lie from Satan. He offers so little else to the world it is no wonder that the thought of millions of dollars lures so many to chase the wind as the Bible says. The sad thing is when the things that the world falls for so easily infect the modern church. When we fail to see the difference between the world and church you can rest assured Satan is laughing. With each passing day into these end times, he is laughing more and more. That is not to say there is not a remnant of believers who seek only the truth and wish to bring the uncompromised Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world before it is too late. The problem is that the majority of modern American Christianity has fallen prey to so many hucksters and the leaven of compromise that it becomes increasingly difficult to truly see Christ anymore.
The dictionary defines a huckster as an aggressive peddler. Someone who sells you something in a manner that reveals them to be a cheap mercenary. The true problem however is not just that these snake oil salesmen exist but that there is a growing audience for their wares. The Joel Osteen's of the world exist because so many people demand it. Before people start wondering about naming names -- the Bible is clear:
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. -- Ephesians 5: 10-11 (NLT)
Do we carefully determine what pleases the Lord anymore? Or do we try and convince ourselves that what we desire is what God wants for our lives? That is the sales pitch of the prosperity preacher. You can take one verse that says that Jesus came to give us the abundant life and ignore the rest of Scripture and sell people the notion that God wants everyone to be rich. But only if that is what people want to hear. God saved us from spiritual poverty beloved, not fiscal poverty. Did any of the early followers of Christ strike you as being rich? The early church model had everyone sharing what they owned with each other so that no one was in need. In the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead not because they made a profit from the sale of a piece of property they owned but because they coveted the wealth and lied to the Holy Spirit. The rich young ruler went away sad because his wealth was more important to him than his relationship with God. Scripture cannot be any clearer when it comes to material wealth. Immediately following the rich ruler walking away from God, here are the Words of Christ:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I'll say it again--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!" -- Matthew 19: 23-24 (NLT)
We all know these verses but what might be more interesting for us today to examine is the exchange that occurs right after these verses. The disciples were astounded and openly wondered who then would be able to get into heaven, indicating that the Satanic lure of wealth has been around for a very long time. Jesus replies that with God -- anything is possible. Here is Peter's response:
Then Peter said to him, "We've given up everything to follow you. What will we get?" -- Matthew 19: 27 (NLT)
What will we get? I've given up my lucrative fishing business and my life of sin -- what do I get? I've given up my Saturday night clubbing and promiscuous relationships -- what do I get? I've given up the hold that pornography and lust had on me -- what do I get? Still chasing prosperity instead of recognizing how prosperous Christ had already made us. But Jesus answers:
Jesus replied, "I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. -- Matthew 19: 28-30 (NLT)
Read these verses very carefully beloved because the secret of true prosperity lies within them. Everything that Jesus lists here is not gained in this temporal life. All of the benefits, all of the prosperity is eternal in nature. Remember, the Bible says that we are but sojourners and pilgrims in this world. We are merely passing through on the way to the eternal life with our Lord and Savior. What will we get in this temporal life? We already received it! He already saved us from it! The very things we sometimes think we "gave up" for Christ are the very things that were killing us and keeping us separated from God to begin with! It comes down to what we value. The prosperity preacher exists because too many believers value the things of this world; which Jesus has already warned us about:
"Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. -- Luke 12: 33-34 (NLT)
What is it that we desire in our hearts today? Where is our treasure? Please, this is not a call for a vow of poverty amongst the children of God. God doesn't want us to be poor any more than He wants us to be rich. He wants us to not consider it compared to the eternal fortune He has already provided for us. He wants us to be rich in our spiritual life. He wants us to value the things of God over the things of this world. Money is a means to an end, not a controlling force. But the church gets it so wrong these days. It is not just the obvious hucksters anymore beloved. There is an over-emphasis these days on money and giving in many mainstream churches that is going largely unnoticed. This is a by-product of the secular theories of church growth that are infiltrating churches across this country. Instead of relying on God to provide the increase in the body, leaders are taking upon themselves to cast visions that have not come from God and then chastise the congregation when the finances are not matching the vision. Hear me very well -- when the vision is from God then He will provide the resources. What I love about the Word of God is it has every answer we need for every situation. The key verse today provides three things we need to be aware of when we evaluate who it is that we are following and what it is that we are listening to. The Bereans in the Book of Acts were considered more noble because they actively searched the Scriptures to make sure what Paul was teaching was accurate. We have grown lazy in Christianity to assume that if it is said from the pulpit then it must be accurate. There is entirely too much pastor worship and church worship going on where there is only supposed to be God worship. Let us reflect to the key verses.
The first thing we need to watch for is that the Word of God is preached with sincerity. The dictionary defines sincerity as " freedom from deceit, hypocrisy, or duplicity ." Deceitfulness speaks to the motive for the preaching. I have heard sermons based entirely upon the motive to generate a large offering. The points may have been Biblical and well thought out but the motivation was deceitful. If you read between the lines of a sermon and see anything other than Jesus Christ, that should be a red flag. Here is Paul explaining what preaching is:
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you--unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. -- 1Corinthians 15: 1-4 (NLT)
This is not about self help, motivation, earthly prosperity, or figuring out how to live your best life now. Every message should find itself back at the foot of Calvary's cross. That is a sincere message. That is the Gospel. More than that though a sincere message must be free from hypocrisy and duplicity, which are closely related. There needs to be a coherent singular thread from week to week. The Gospel that is preached also needs to be lived. If you preach about kindness and you are unkind -- what is the real message? If you preach that people who disagree with you need to leave and then preach the following week on the 99 and 1, what message is being sent? If you preach on the purity of the church while allowing all forms of secularism into it, what message is being sent? The church finds itself lacking so much in power when it comes across as being hypocritical or duplicitous.
The second thing we need to watch for is that the preaching is delivered with the authority of Christ. That may sound vague but what I always boil it down to is to examine if the sermon is something Jesus Himself would have said or done. A personal example might help illustrate. I remember seeing a typical prosperity huckster come to my church one Friday evening. In preparing for the offering he told a story of visiting another church the previous week where God told him he was to pray for people who could "sow" $200 or more into his ministry. He said that just as he was to start praying for the people who had fallen for this, a little old lady came to the front without the requisite money but promised to come in during the week and pay if she could "get in on" this prayer. The story concludes that he included the little old lady and she came in that week and had some kind of financial windfall and paid five times as much. There is so much wrong with this story I didn't know where to begin but let's start with the notion that God instructed him to only pray for people who had more than $200. God is not a respecter of person and certainly not of money. Absurd claim number two is that despite disobeying God and praying for someone who did not fit the criteria, God blessed his disobedience anyway. Only in America, hallelujah.
The overarching point is this -- there is no Scriptural authority for any of this. He was not speaking on behalf of God because his nonsense does not line up with God's Word. THAT is what Paul means by preaching the Word with Christ's authority. Realize too that it is not always this obvious. The most dangerous heresies are the ones that start with just a little leaven. I have heard the Christianism to eat the meat and spit out the bones but I really think that breeds lazy Christians who eventually will not realize they are choking to death on rotten bones. If the bone is rotten, I do not trust the meat. When you throw away the authority of Christ in any portion of your preaching -- you tossed it all away. Because if you are willing to sell out Christ so easily on one point, why wouldn't I think you would on other points as well?
The last consideration is possibly the most important one. Paul said that he preached "knowing that God is watching us." WOW. How many pastors give that impression? I know how many should -- all of them. How can someone knowingly defraud the people of God for monetary gain? They do not fear the Lord! How can someone preach and support outright heresies? They do not fear the Lord! I remember watching a Paul Washer sermon once where he addressed this in such a way that I will never forget it. For those who do not know Paul Washer, he is a fire and brimstone, sin and repentance, no nonsense preacher who spent decades in the jungle as a missionary, spreading the Gospel. In this particular sermon he was talking about if God forbid, somewhere in the future he ever walked away from the faith and grew cold, and colder and colder. He said if that happened he would have to seriously consider that the whole thing -- his entire ministry life, missionary life and personal salvation -- had been a work of the flesh! What does the Bible say?
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. -- Philippians 2: 12-13 (NIV)
This is even more important for leaders and those who bring the Gospel because to whom much has been given much is required. Where is the fear and trembling today? Where is the humility before God? That is what Paul is talking about in the key verses. Do not fall for the Satanic lure of prosperity preaching; whether it be the obvious hucksters or the subtle leaven. The preaching we follow needs to be free from deceitfulness, hypocrisy and duplicity. It needs to be sincere. But sincerity is not enough beloved. As my pastor likes to say, you can be sincere and sincerely wrong. It needs to be brought with the authority of Christ. All of it needs to line up with the Word of God -- our final authority or else discard it. We do not want to wake up one day choking on bones we thought were meat or heaven forbid be caught standing before Christ saying "Lord Lord." Lastly, along with sincerity and authority there must be a reverent fear that accompanies the preaching of God's Word. I am always amazed when I see people divining the Word of Truth when they are not called to do so. Or when preachers want to present only one portion of the Gospel. There is blood on the line:
"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. -- Acts 20: 25-27 (NLT)
These are Paul's farewell words to the leaders of the Ephesian Church. I am innocent of your blood because I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. That is what is at stake beloved. Forget the hucksters. Be watchful for the leaven. True prosperity lies in the eternal, not the temporal. Make sure who you are following, is truly following Christ.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 7, 2012