Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Bible are They Reading?

One of the most pernicious heretical teachings that have infected the Church is the prosperity gospel. It distorts the Gospel of God into a crass self-centered message that turns God into a type of cosmic butler whose primary concern is the comfort and success of the believer. It is a shame that most of this cancer originates in our country and that it is infecting the world with a godless hedonism veiled in the clothes of the Gospel. This evening I came across the following quote from well known prosperity peddler Kenneth Copeland:

“Here's some good news: When the Word says we are to be partakers of Christ's suffering, it means we are to enter into the victory Jesus bore for us on the cross. The only suffering we encounter in sharing His victory is spiritual. That's what the Word is talking about when it says we are to be partakers of Christ's suffering. In other words, the only suffering for a believer is the spiritual discomfort brought by resisting the pressures of the flesh, not a physical or mental suffering. Jesus has already borne for us all the suffering in the natural and mental realms.” (emphasis mine)

This is such a distortion of the Gospel message on so many levels that it would be impossible to respond thoroughly in a blog post. I can, however, point out a couple of very simple and direct passages from scripture that stand in such stark contrast to this view of God and the suffering of believers that I think the point will be sufficiently made.

First, anyone who is at all familiar with the life of apostle Paul will recognize that he endured much physical suffering in his ministry. Consider his own words in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)

Notice that not only did he suffer much but he also connects his suffering with his identity as a servant of Christ. It also isn’t as though God would have preferred that Paul would have avoided these sufferings. In fact, as the conversion of Paul is recorded in Acts chapter 9 God explains to Ananias (who he was sending to Saul) God Himself says about Paul “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul is not alone. Peter also explains to the believers in his first letter that their suffering is glorifying to God in this remarkable passage:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
(1 Peter 2:18-21 ESV)

Notice that Peter (just like Paul) is talking about physical suffering even saying that it is a glorifying thing for them to be beaten unjustly if they suffer with Christ likeness. There are so many passages like these that clearly demonstrate that suffering in the bible isn’t just a metaphor and that to take up ones cross is intended to be a literal commitment. If there remains any question that God’s primary concern is not the unending comfort of believers while in this life I would like to consider for a moment the implications of the following passage from the book of Revelation:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
(Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)

This has to be one of the most amazing passages in all of the scripture. Here we have a vision of Heaven and the saints who had been murdered for their faith are crying out to the Lord “how long?” They are waiting in anticipation of the day when their sacrifice will be avenged. The response of the Lord in this passage is amazing, particularly in light of the kind of picture that teachers like Copeland paint. The Lord tells them to rest a little longer because there are others who must still be killed! These saints were called to martyrdom and these events are part of the unfolding sovereign plan of God.

I don’t intend to ignore the fact that we have great promises in Christ. Indeed we are promised that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. This “all things” includes our own suffering and possibly even our death. This is difficult and I don’t expect those who are outside of the faith to understand it but for those in Christ we must understand that Christ is far more valuable than anything else… even our own lives.

When people like Copeland push God aside in order to put us at the center of the universe it is very dangerous because we all have the temptation to want to believe it is true. Our depravity is such that we find such a worldview enticing. It gives us a sense of value without having to sacrifice or question our own priorities. I pray that there would be a revival among people in this country where our comfortable Christianity is challenged and we begin to deal with the reality of what our brothers and sisters around the world face daily. A good first step would be to turn off TBN and to open our bibles.


  1. You mean to tell me the Lord won't by me a Mercedes Benz?

  2. At least not until your friends are driving Porsches