This morning on The Bridge’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thebridgeHKC), Josey Yun sent a message about how ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has taken over a city where a Christian organization is serving. The message called all Christians to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being killed systematically by ISIS. With this message, I am reminded of the cost that many Christians are paying for following Jesus. I am reminded of the reality that anyone who desires to live a godly life will be persecuted. The news of ISIS slaughtering Christians was filling up my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, but now a new viral video of Victoria Osteen has been filling up my Facebook newsfeed. And when I watch this video juxtaposed with what is going on in Iraq, I can’t help but feel sick to my stomach.
If you haven’t watched this video, Victoria Osteen (wife of Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston) gives a message to their congregation (the largest congregation in America). She says that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves. “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . . So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
If you haven’t heard this message, this isn’t a new message. In theological terms, it is called the Prosperity Gospel. This message teaches that God promises to reward faith with health and wealth. Followers of the Prosperity Gospel pray for bigger homes, better health, and more money. And according to this gospel, God will bless you immeasurably if you will just have enough faith. You need to get rid of your “small-thinking” and start having “great expectations” with God. Whatever you want, whether it is wealth, health or prosperity, all you have to do is “name it” and you can “claim it” in Jesus’ name.
The Prosperity Gospel has become America’s Gospel. This message has drawn crowds to churches and sold millions of books. The Osteens are not the only ones peddling this trash. Some of the most popular preachers in America are preaching the Prosperity Gospel. Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar are just a few of the people who are a part of this movement. While Americans drink this Kool-Aid, I have a question to ask: does this message make any sense?
What about all those who are suffering in Iraq? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria? How does the Prosperity Gospel work for them? Can anyone look them in the eye and say that God’s plan for believers in this life is to make them happy with health, wealth and prosperity? Does this message make any sense?
What does this gospel say to Christians who just found out they have cancer? What does this gospel say to Christians who have just lost their job? What does this gospel say to Christians who are not living the American Dream? Do they simply need to have more faith? Should they just have bigger dreams? If God wants everybody to be happy with health and wealth, then why do so many Christians never experience this in their lifetime? Does this message make any sense?
The Prosperity Gospel doesn’t make any sense because it is a false gospel. The Prosperity Gospel is a cheap gospel because God is interested in something of greater value than your health and wealth. The Prosperity Gospel is a powerless gospel because this message does not give hope to Christians who suffer. Prosperity is not the answer to ISIS because it is not the gospel. The Prosperity Gospel might be popular in America because it lines up with our sinful desires for the American Dream, but this gospel does not translate to reality.
The true gospel is not a message about God making us happy with prosperity. The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy. The Prosperity Gospel promises happiness but the gospel of Jesus Christ promises joy.
What is the difference? Happiness depends on our circumstances. It is external. It is temporary. It is fickle. But joy is internal. It is a state of being. It is everlasting because it is based on God’s reality. It is based on the reality that Jesus Christ has rescued our souls from hell. It is based on the reality that Jesus Christ is the light of the world and whoever has him will never walk in darkness. It is based on the reality that Jesus has defeated sin and death and whoever is in him will one day be with him forever. Joy does not depend on this life because it looks forward to our life to come in heaven.
So the divide in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, or the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light. And those who follow Jesus will not be defeated by darkness because darkness does not have the final word. Jesus has the final word. Jesus is the final judge. He will execute justice. He is our hope and we can rejoice knowing that we are in his kingdom and not the kingdom of prosperity. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:10–12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
To all those who are suffering at the hands of ISIS, we pray that God will comfort you during this time. We pray that God will give you joy in the midst of suffering. We pray that you will remember that your hope is in the life to come and not in this life. And we rejoice knowing darkness will not win. We rejoice knowing that people like you, who have suffered for Christ’s sake, will inherit the kingdom of God. Thank you for showing us the power of the true gospel by following Jesus unto death. Thank you for showing us the beauty of the true gospel by willingly embracing Jesus above your life. Thank you for showing us that Jesus is more valuable than anything this world has to offer. I pray that Americans will one day embrace your gospel instead of the prosperity gospel because God is glorified in people like you.