Deuteronomy 30 - "Prosperity Gospel?"
As promised today we’re going to walk through chapter 30 of Deuteronomy and consider our current issue of what is called the “prosperity gospel”. This chapter is the culmination of the theology of the Law and its role in the life of Israel. To be fair, this chapter isn’t about the prosperity gospel. But something we have to reckon with is the If-Then’s throughout this book. // These last couple chapters may have caused you to pause. If the Bible is God’s Word for us, then what are we to do with the promises of being a prosperous and rich nation? What are we to do with all these passages of promises to Israel that says they will be rich and not borrow?
Put simply, the “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants you to have your best life now. It teaches that the Good News is health, wealth, prosperity right now. What we need is simply more faith to “activate” God’s blessings. Many people have been damaged and are enslaved by this teaching. It promises a ticket out of poverty. A ticket out of sickness. A ticket out of pain. And yet…These are the very things promised to all those who follow Jesus! Rather, they are the very things that Jesus sometimes challenges us to do if we are truly his disciples! Sell all you have…
So what are we to do with all these promises of health, wealth, and prosperity? The dangerous thing about the prosperity gospel is that it uses Scripture. And so those who sell its wares have the appearance of godliness, but deny its true power. If you listen to these peddlers of prosperity, they quote passage after passage.
First problem: Equating the blessing of God with physical blessings. (Last week)
Second problem is that these passages are pulled out of their context. They take the promises to Israel and directly apply them to us. But as we saw last week as well, you have to follow every part of the Law for these promises…Even the unsavory parts.
They don’t understand that in Jesus, these promises find their fulfillment. They don’t realize that the gold chalice has been filled with the blood of the King. Jesus put what the world values to open shame on a bloody cross of humiliation. These worlds values are what Israel time and again began to put confidence in. In the next chapter of Deuteronomy, God says this: 20 For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.
The point of the prosperity given by God is to reveal the human heart. The tendency to trust in what we have or don’t have.
3rd Problem: A problem of priority.
The Lord wants to prosper his people because he loves them. But what the prosperity gospel subtly does is subvert the point of blessing. Imagine you give a very expensive ring to your wife at Christmas because you love her. Then imagine that for the rest of the day she goes to your room and just stares at the ring. She pets the ring. She hides the ring so no one will take it. So no one will see it. She stops talking to you because she’s too busy polishing it. The priority has been turned on its head. What was intended to communicate love to her, becomes the very thing standing in between you.
What is worse. God becomes a sugar daddy. That is, he becomes the means to the desired end. If you have enough faith, you’ll get that car or job or significant other. If you don’t doubt the Lord will shower blessings from heaven. If you keep knocking on the door, God will finally relent and give you what you really want.
But see, this is another form of works righteousness. That is, it’s another way of saying, “Work really hard to get what you really want.” Remember, the Law is gracious and good and a sign of God’s love. But like wealth and prosperity, we can exchange the glory of God for our obedience.
Deuteronomy 30.11-14 — Not works righteousness.
Last week we heard Paul quote from Deuteronomy to the church in Galatia and warn them not to rely on their obedience because everyone who relies on works to save them will remain under a curse. But Christ died on a tree to redeem us from relying on the works of the Law. The Christian Gospel is that Christ has obeyed perfectly because you have tried and you have failed to get what you really want and need. What is that? God himself!
4th problem: It isn’t prosperous enough.
A famous prosperity preacher today wrote this:
You might say, "God, I'm so lonely. Just bring somebody into my life. I don't care at this point, God, I'll take anybody." No, you may have settled, but God didn't settle. He's going to bring somebody into your life greater than you imagined. Somebody who honors Him. Somebody who loves you, who is fun, talented and good looking!”
The dreams that it sells are paltry and rusting and moth-eaten. The problem is that it settles for the seen, when what God is after is even greater than that husband or wife or Ferrari. Why did Christ redeem us from the curse in Galatians 3? So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The prosperity gospel uses this to say: “The blessing of Abraham is riches. He was a wealthy man, God wants you to be exceedingly wealthy!”
The blessing of Abraham to be fruitful and multiply and become a great nation and fill the earth. What I just read in our passage in Deuteronomy is quoted by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome. And how he interprets it helps us understand that the problem with the prosperity gospel isn’t that it dreams, it’s that its dreams are way too small. It stops far short of where God wants to take his people.
Romans 10.8 “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
What are these riches? Eternal life! An eternal inheritance. An eternal reward that you can’t wreck. That you can’t dent. That you can’t lose when the stock market crashes. That won’t rust or be stolen. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the humble for they shall inherit the earth.”
What is more, we get to be a part in that glory of God being revealed to all people everywhere. Paul was blessed to be shipwrecked and beaten and killed because he knew that, in Christ, he had already inherited the entire earth. Jesus and the glory of his work and his name had become to Paul his all in all.
But see in all our talk of where the prosperity gospel gets it wrong, we can subtly think that in us-them terminology. The fact of the matter is, we are all prone to serve wealth rather than God. To live our lives for comfort rather than do the hard things God is calling us to so that we can experience a truly expanded and abundant life.
A good way to evaluate whether we are given over to the prosperity gospel is to evaluate our prayer life. Do we pray? If we pray, what composes those prayers? Are they mostly asking for things or for deeper visions of God?
—And so we are confronted with this final paragraph.—
Deuteronomy 30.15-20 Choose the more good life.
The word for “prosperous” in v.5 can also be translated as “good”. “And he will make you more good than your fathers.” And you and I stand at the foot of God’s mountain and he says to you: Choose life.
Like the choice between Good and Evil in the Garden. Between Life and Death in the Garden. So we have the choice today and everyday to choose life. // Choose life in how you will respond to that critic or frustrating person. Choose life in how you will view your difficulties. Seeing them as God’s sharpening or softening you. Choose life.
And what is life?
What is this “more good” life? This just reward? It’s not a better looking spouse as he believes! Well, it could be easily glossed over if you’re not careful to read slowly and meditatively. Look at vv. 19-20: Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.