By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD
I was born in Appleton, MN, in 1953. We lived in Appleton, and on two farms, one of which was maybe 20 miles north of Appleton, right next to Drywood Lake. We lived on this farm longer than on the other one, and it is of this farm that I have the most memories. Fortunately, they are all good memories.
One of my memories of those years, now long ago, was of the times when Uncle Ivan and Aunt Hazel would come from California to visit relatives. I think they always came in the summer. They were nice people. But what I remember most about them is that, shortly after they would drive up to our farm house, Uncle Ivan would open the trunk of his fancy Cadillac and hand out treats to any kids present. The treats were not only candy, but also raisins. If memory serves me well, the raisins were in small, paper boxes, just like the ones some stores sell now.
This was Uncle Ivan’s way of befriending kids, and it worked well. But as I look back on those visits from Uncle Ivan and Aunt Hazel, I must admit that I was more interested in the treats he handed out than in him as a person. But, then, that is to be expected from a young child.
I tell this story to make this point: Some people never grow up. Many teenage boys and grown men only like their girlfriends for the “treats” they get from them. They don’t really care about the person who gives the “treats.” That is why they easily move on from one “treat giver” to another. And isn’t this true of many others who have learned how get handouts from others, whether it is from their relatives, friends, churches in their communities, welfare agencies of one kind and another, and local, state, and federal governments?
But the worst abuse of all is the abuse of God himself. This is due to what is known as “the prosperity Gospel,” which teaches that God wants all his children to be healthy and wealthy, with an emphasis on being wealthy. This false Gospel (false because it is not the Gospel found in the Bible) makes God to be the Divine Uncle Ivan who opens the trunk and hands out treats to anyone who wants them. Of course, the God of the Bible is omniscient, so he knows what motivates a person to seek his blessings. He is also holy, and doesn’t promise to give his blessings to anyone who simply looks to him for a handout.
But isn’t that exactly what the preachers of the prosperity Gospel promote? They want a god (notice I wrote “god” not “God”) who wants to make them happy by giving them multi-million dollar homes, very expensive cars, and, of course, multi-million dollar private jets that will enable them to fly around the world to promote their “ministries.” What they hope most folks don’t know is that their expensive lifestyles are often paid for by donors who can hardly pay their own bills. But these donors often donate because they have been led to believe that by doing so, the Divine Uncle Ivan will open his trunk and make them rich, too. Therefore, greed motivates the preachers of this false Gospel and those who have fallen for it.
Now, consider this: if we want to shut down the prosperity Gospel, all we have to do is convince people that the Bible’s God, the only true God, is not interested in making everyone rich. What he is interested in is people who will love him and worship him for who he is, not for the “treats” he has in the trunk. And the way to convince people of this fact about God is to get them to read God’s Book, the Bible, and to compare its teachings with the prosperity Gospel. If they do so with open minds and open hearts, they will see the prosperity Gospel to be the false and harmful thing that it is. A good place to read about this in the Bible is chapters 5, 6, & 7 of the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. Once those chapters have been carefully read, one can move on to other parts of the Bible that speak about the danger and deceptiveness of seeking wealth and other forms of prosperity. An example is 1 Timothy, chapters 5 & 6.
The Bible does not teach there is something inherently wrong with wealth and prosperity. But it does teach that these things can easily sidetrack us from more important things in life, especially a relationship with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who do we love and worship? The Divine Uncle Ivan, or the Bible’s God?