Monday, July 4, 2016

Deuteronomy 30:9-14 Prosperity Gospel? Yes and No

KEY TEXT: Deuteronomy 30:9-10 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

KEY THOT: I have problem with the “prosperity gospel” only when it suggests that prosperity is a necessary proof of divine favour and that the “good life” (affluent lifestyle) is the ultimate goal of Christianity. It is like saying that simple Christians living in the poor mountain regions of Myanmar, or rural villages in India, Indonesia or China are deficient of of divine favour because they are not enjoying the affluent lifestyle we city-dwellers enjoy (smartphones, branded goods, expensive holidays, fat bank accounts, condos, etc). Though simple in lifestyle, many of these believers are in fact enjoying a greater manifestations of divine grace and power than experienced by city-dwellers like us. (Incidentally, you don't need to be Christians to live the affluent lifestyle). When preachers preach prosperity as the goal and end-all of the gospel, then it’s a distortion of the truth and ignores spiritual reality elsewhere in the world. But, if prosperity is taught as a natural consequence of obeying God’s commands, then I have no problem with prosperity. 

In today’s reading, Moses has made it clear that the Lord will “make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land… if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in the Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (v.9-10). The reason is obvious: obedience to God’s commands will make us wise and help us become better workers, businessmen and leaders in the marketplace. Christians are often promoted because they demonstrate diligence and wisdom in their work and show genuine respect for their colleagues and customers. But it is wrong to make material success the sole motivation of faith. Prosperity should be the natural outcome of applying biblical wisdom to real life. Our only motivation for obedience is because we love God with all our heart, mind and soul--not love money.

Does the NT teach this prosperity principle? Listen to the Lord Jesus himself: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Also, for those who are generous in giving, there is a promise of divine “return on investment” in God’s kingdom: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). 

God wants us to succeed in every endeavor He has called us to do, provided we rely on His Word for wisdom. When we trust Him and obey His word, he guarantees our prosperity and success: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

The reason why Western-oriened Christians can read many of the above promises and miss the point is because they tend to read these promises through the lens of dualistic Greek worldview, instead of the holistic Hebrew worldview. The Greeks tend to de-emphasize the material world in favour of "spiritual" realities. But for the Hebrews, divine blessings encompass the material and the non-material. So when Scriptures says God will make us "prosperous" it means being rich in every way: "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11). 

But we must not confuse the abundant life with the affluent life. Jesus promises us abundant life: a life walking in presence and power of God. It's a life where we experience peace and harmony in our relationships--with God, with ourselves, with our spouses, our colleagues, our church-mates and with our neighbours. It an abundant life filled with doing good to others, especially to those of the house-hold of faith. It's not to be confused with the self-indulgent affluent lifestyle that is focused on ourselves but forget the poor and needy. The abundant life is also a joy-filled life where seeking God's kingdom and His righteousness for our society is top priority in our lives. 

But the bottomline is this: the abundant life is a life focused on the root of obedience not its fruit--and the root is "love him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 30:6). It is about loving God, not loving Money.

Father, thank You that You have promised to make us prosperous if we obey Your commands. Help us to love You by keeping Your Word so that we may also enjoy the fruit of our obedience through You. Amen.

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