The Cart Before the Horse

Have you ever heard of the proverbial expression that speaks of putting the cart before the horse? To put the cart before the horse is to have things out of order. It is the failure to put first things first! It is the act of trying to pull what should be pulling! To literally put the cart before the horse is an act that will only breed frustration and failure; for the cart has no power of its own! The cart cannot even pull itself! Therefore, the idea of putting the cart before the horse is absurd indeed!

Nevertheless, that is how many people are living today! They are living their lives, filled with frustration and failure because they are pursuing riches, fame, wealth, and prosperity, not realizing or understanding that those things are not ‘horses’ but rather, they are ‘carts.’ In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Now, just prior to this statement, Jesus had emphasized the point that if God takes care of and has made provisions for the lesser (the birds and the plants) things of creation, how much more will God take care of and make provisions for the greatest of His creation: humanity?

Let’s take a moment to analyze the text. In this section of the discourse, the KJV translation has Jesus discouraging the idea of “taking thought” in verses 27, 28, 31 and 34. The Greek word behind the translation has the connotation of worry, anxiety, or being anxious. Therefore, Jesus was not saying; don’t even think about those things, but rather he was saying; don’t be anxious, worried, or filled with anxiety about them! Isn’t it ironic that this is the very thing that most people are doing today? Doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are getting rich because of people immobilized by anxiety, depression, diseases, and psychological disorders that can all be traced back to the fact that they are constantly worried and anxious about what they are going to eat, drink, and wear!

In verse 32, Jesus says: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” The reference to the ‘gentiles’ was a reference to people who were outside of the covenant that God had with His people. In other words, Jesus was saying to his followers: “When you constantly worry and are anxious about these things; you are acting like people who are strangers to the covenant! You are acting like people who are heathens! You are acting like people who don’t know God! You are acting like orphans who don’t have a father to take care of them!” In view of that statement, it is interesting to note that much of what is being heard in some church-circles these days is really just worldly talk in religious dress! People in the world are anxiously pursuing wealth and riches while many people in the church are ‘faithfully’ (I say this with tongue in cheek!) pursuing Divine favor and prosperity! But Jesus said to his followers in this text: “If you are anxious and worried about your survival; you are acting like unbelievers!” 

Then he said, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now, here’s an interesting point: Jesus said that your heavenly Father knows that you need them all, but he didn’t say you should ask your heavenly Father for them! Instead he said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The ‘but’ served as a contrasting conjunction. Jesus was saying that instead of anxiously pursuing the things that the people who don’t know God pursue, his followers were to pursue or seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He was saying that the believer should seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with the same intensity that people who don’t know God seek food, shelter, and clothing! 

Seeking or pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness should be the believer or the follower of Jesus’ first and far-most priority! Now, Jesus was not talking about seeking to get the Heaven! The term; ‘Kingdom of God’ in the context of the passage is not a reference to Heaven, but rather it is a reference to the authority, rule, and reign of God in a person’s life! It is a reference to the government of God. The term ‘righteousness’ refers to the state of a person being as he ought to be, in right-standing. Jesus was saying that our first and far-most priority should be to seek, that is, find and experience the rule and authority of God; the government of God in our lives and to be in right-standing with that government or authority. We’ve made it so ‘religious’ but actually, Jesus is talking about government! To be ‘righteous’ is to be in right-standing with the Kingdom (Government) of God. To be ‘righteous’ with the government of the United States, means to pay taxes and obey the law of the land. Therefore, Jesus said, our main pursuit and priority should be to seek the rule and authority of God in our lives and to seek to be in a state of right-standing with that rule and authority. When we do that, ‘all these things will be added.’ All what things? The things that the people who don’t know God are seeking and pursuing! 

Now this is where we have really placed the cart before the horse! Jesus said that if we would seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all the things needful for life would be added unto us! According to the Bible, all the things that many people in the world today are seeking and pursuing, should actually be seeking and pursuing them! Instead of us seeking and chasing after blessings; blessings should be seeking and chasing after us! Deuteronomy 28:1-2, Moses said to the people: “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (ESV) Do you see that? He told them that if they faithfully obeyed the voice of the LORD (If they sought the Kingdom of God first) and were careful to do all his commandments (sought to be in right-standing; His righteousness) …. then all those blessings would come. . . and overtake them! If the blessings were to come upon and overtake them, it would not be because they were pursuing the blessings, but rather because the blessings were pursuing them! We’ve got it all wrong! We’re putting the cart before the horse, because what most of us are chasing is supposed to be chasing us!

Another case in point is found in Psalm 23:6, where David said: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV) We normally think of the word ‘follow’ in this verse as a passive shadowing or tagging along. But the Hebrew word for follow; ‘radaph,’ in this text is an aggressive word! It means; to be behind, to follow after, pursue, chase, persecute, run after. This is not a picture of goodness and mercy following after David all the days of his life like innocent little puppies wagging their tails. No! This is a picture of goodness and mercy, pursuing and chasing after David like two ferocious dogs trying to catch their prey! Again! We are not supposed to be chasing after the blessings; the blessings are supposed to be chasing after us!

So then, it is because we are out of order, it is because we have placed the cart before the horse, that our lives are filled with frustrations, anxieties, worries. For just as the cart was designed to be behind and pulled by the horse and not in front of the horse, so were the necessities and the abundance of life designed to be added unto us as we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first and far-most in our lives.

Does the Bible Say It’s God’s Will That We Prosper?

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riches“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”  3 John 1:2 KJV

Unless you have been living under a rock or have been otherwise deaf to the religious rhetoric that is abundant in many church circles today, you have heard some preacher or some other person say that it is God’s will that we (believers) prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper. The person who said this derived their conclusion from 3 John 1:2. But was that the original intended message of this verse? Is that a correct application of the principle of the verse? Does this verse really teach that it is God’s will that every believer prospers and be in health?

Well first of all, the first thing that we must consider in seeking the truth of this text and any biblical text is context. Note that this text is actually a greeting. John was not trying to relate a deep theological insight or blessing to Gaius, John was simply saying: “Hello!” According to the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (BECNT), “Some form of remembrance (common in Paul’s Letters) or a health wish was common after the opening lines of secular letters of the era, but 3 John “gives the best and only clear example” of such an opening in a NT epistle (R. Brown 1982: 790). Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 292 (ca. AD 25) records Theon writing to Tyrannos, “Before all else you have my good wishes for unbroken health and prosperity.” A second-century letter states, “Before all else I pray you are in good health” (for both examples, see Elwell and Yarbrough 1998: 194). Given the brief life spans and marginal medical care of antiquity, this would always be a point well taken.” [Yarbrough, R. W. (2008). 1–3 John (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.] So, what many today have interpreted as a major statement of God’s will for our prosperity and health was actually just a common greeting!

Not only that, but let’s look at the context again! The “beloved” in the text is not every believer today nor was it every believer at the time of the writing! It was a term of endearment specifically for Gaius, the recipient of the letter. Furthermore, the “I” in the text was not a reference to the Lord, but rather it referred to author of the letter; the Apostle John. So, to be biblically correct, it is wrong to use this text to say that it is God’s will that we prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper! According to the text, it wasn’t God’s will for us, it was the Apostle John’s wish for Gaius! John wasn’t really saying anything “deep!” He was just saying our equivalent to: “Hey, I hope you are doing OK and I wish you good health!” It wasn’t a deep theological statement; it was just a common conventional greeting of that day and time!

Now how did we get from a common greeting to one person to a deep theological principle for all believers? Again, the BECNT offers some insight: “Landrus (2002) explores the history of interpretation of this verse. From various angles going back at least to Tertullian, interpreters always tended to stress John’s concern for Gaius’s overall welfare and especially his spiritual well-being. But beginning with Oral Roberts in 1947, 3 John 2 has been interpreted by some to say “something truly different” (Landrus 2002: 81). Followed by Kenneth Hagin and others, Roberts takes “the greeting of Third John … to secure the promise of physical, financial and spiritual prosperity for all believers” (Landrus 2002: 82). While it is possible to mount a defense of this approach (as Roberts 2002: 96–97 attempts; but see McConnell 1988), if Jesus came proclaiming a gospel of material prosperity, it is otherwise absent from the Johannine corpus. For that reason, and particularly in the current era of persecution of Christians on such a wide and ferocious scale going back to the early twentieth century, most careful “interpreters could not … responsibly encourage anyone today to anchor an exposition of God’s intent for his people to prosper on 3 Jn 2” (Roberts 2002: 96). This is of course not to deny that it is within God’s ability, and frequently his will, to bless his people materially in all kinds of ways.” [Yarbrough, R. W. (2008). 1–3 John (p. 367). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.] Is it God’s will that every believer prospers and be in health? It may very well be, but my contention is that assertion cannot be honestly made based on this text! In fact, it is a dangerous practice to base any assertion or principle on just “one” text in the Bible! If it’s an intended universal principle or practice, it will usually be found in more than just one text!

What does God want for us in regard to prosperity and health? Well, when we look at the whole of scripture, we discover that prosperity and the blessings of God were really just by-products! According to the dictionary, a by-product is something that is produced during the production of something else. It is something that happens as a result of something else. It is something produced in addition to the principal product. It is a secondary result. Typically, you don’t cut wood for the purpose of getting sawdust! You cut wood to have material to build something and sawdust is produced as a by-product of cutting the wood! Well, in the same manner prosperity, success, health, and other blessings are just by-products! Abraham was blessed by God because he was obedient and faithful. In Joshua 1, we discover that God told Joshua that his prosperity and success would be the results of his obedience! The Lord made Solomon rich, not because he asked for riches, but rather because he asked for wisdom! Wisdom was the real prize and his wealth or prosperity was just the by-product! Jesus said we are to seek first the Kingdom (rule, authority) of God and all the things needed would be added! Nowhere in scripture do we find the Lord advocating that we make blessings, riches, or prosperity our main goal or pursuit! In fact, the Bible teaches that the pursuit of those things is detrimental! (See 1 Timothy 6:8-11) In the Bible, God didn’t bless or prosper people because they ask or sought to be blessed or prospered. God blessed and prospered them because of their obedience and faithfulness! Is it God’s will that we prosper and be in good health? That is not the “real” pertinent question we should be asking. The question we should be asking is: Is it God’s will that we be faithful and obedient? When we are, God will bless and prosper as God sees fit in God’s own time! But we shouldn’t pursue the blessings, they are just sawdust. They are just the by-products of faithfulness and obedience! In fact, It is has never been God’s will that we pursue blessings and prosperity, but rather it has always been God’s will that blessings and prosperity pursue us! Deuteronomy 28:1-2 says: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” In Psalms 23:6, David says: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” In the Hebrew text, the word for “follow” is not a passive word for a puppy-dog following it’s master, but rather it’s active word for a ferocious beasts tracking and pursuing it’s prey! In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus said: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This modern-day prosperity preaching has really gotten it twisted by making a side dish the main dish! It has made what God intended to be an appetizer the main meal! It is putting people in bondage because it is making people work for (pursue) what should be working (pursuing) them!

Is it God’s will that we prosper? I believe it is! I just don’t think it is the teaching to this verse! I  don’t think the Bible teaches we should pursue prosperity for prosperity’s sake! I’m a “meat and gravy” kind of guy, so let me put it this way: I don’t cook meat just to get gravy, but I appreciate the gravy as a by-product of cooking the meat! Instead of pursuing prosperity, if we pursue the God who prospers, we will be blessed, we will prosper (as God sees fit), we will be in health (as God sees fit and as we live healthy life-styles) as a by-product of our relationship with God.

 

The Rest of the Story!

Paul HarveyFrom May 1976 until the early part of 2009, American radio broadcaster and commentator Paul Harvey was on the air with a popular commentary called: “The Rest of the Story.” During these segments, Harvey would talk about various topics of public interest laced with true-life stories. He was famous for his use of the dramatic pause and other speaking techniques to get his point across. Harvey would never finish the complete story in the first half of the broadcast. Usually he would introduce the topic or story during the first part of the program, but would delay the conclusion of the story until after a commercial break. When the commercial was over, he would begin the conclusion with the words: “And now. . . the rest of the story!”

Well, there are many who are preaching and teaching the Gospel today without telling the whole story! They tell the first segment or the appealing part without telling all or the rest of the story! For instance, if you listen to many who exclusively  preach/teach prosperity and/or the “word of faith” messages, you might note the extensive use of Hebrews 11 as a proof-text. That chapter in the Bible has been called the “Great Hall of Faith!” In it, we read about Enoch, who, because of his faith and because he walked with God, was translated so that he did not see death! We read about the great heroes and she-roes of faith such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab! However, usually when this text is preached, the preacher/teacher will climax and stop with Hebrews 11:32-35a. But why conclude at 35a when 35b and following tell the rest of the story?

Hebrews 11:35b begins by reporting: “And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection.” The rest of the chapter relates what happened to others who suffered cruel mockings, beatings, imprisonments, being sawed in two, and having no certain dwelling place, wandering around in deserts and caves! Whew! You’re not going to get many members or have a good offering if you preach that! But that is the rest of the story! The people at the end of the chapter were just as faithful as those at the beginning because the Bible says (verse 39): “And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.”

That’s the rest of story! No matter how faithful we are or how much faith we have, true biblical faith does not guarantee the earthly success and victory many would like to think it does! All the faith in the world will not prevent death from eventually knocking on our door! Yes! Through the grace of God, we may be healed today, but we are still going to die sometime tomorrow! King Hezekiah was sick unto death. But he prayed to the Lord and the Lord healed him of his sickness! But the rest of the story says that it was not an indefinite extension; it was only for 15 more years, after that, Hezekiah died!

We do the Gospel and the Kingdom of God a disservice when we preach and teach only the appealing parts of the story! We must be honest and tell people the rest of the story! There is tremendous blessing in being a Christian, but the rest of the story is that the blessing comes with trouble and persecution! Being a Christian does not exempt one from trouble and distress! However, being a Christian does enable one to have access to the Source the world does not have! The rest of the story is the Lord’s promise to be with us through it all! Jesus said in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  And that, my friend, is the rest of the story. . . Good Day!

Already Blessed!

It seems as if there is a tremendous over-whelming preoccupation with blessings and being blessed in the American church world today! It is reflected in the songs, sermons, sayings, and teachings. Everybody and their Momma want to be blessed! We hear it in sermon topics such as: “Seven Steps to God’s Prosperity.” Songs and sayings such as: “When Praises Go Up; Blessings Come Down!” (You can read my take on that in my post: The Crazy Things We Say in Church!), and it is heard in the prayer requests of countless people seeking “blessings and breakthroughs!” But what does the Bible say about the idea of being blessed and seeking to be blessed?

Well according to the Bible, those who are “in Christ” are already blessed! Paul wrote in Ephesian 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (ESV) Note that the tense is past tense! Paul did not say that we “would” be blessed; he said we have been blessed! The words “has” and “blessed” are past tense forms in the English and is parsed as an aorist, active participle in the Greek. Note also that Paul said “every” or “all” spiritual blessing. If those in Christ already have “every” or “all” then what is left for them to have? Now, I hear you! You are probably saying at this point: “But Paul was talking about “spiritual” blessings, not material or physical ones!” But is it not true that everything “material or physical” is produced by the spiritual? Let me show you what I’m talking about: The house you live in is a material or physical product of the spiritual. That house first existed in the mind of the architect. When it was in the mind of the architect, it was in “spiritual” form. It was then transferred from the (spiritual) mind of the architect to a blue-print plan. The builders then built the house based on the blueprint which was produced from the mind (spirit) of the architect. So, actually your house is a spiritual blessing because there is nothing that is now physical that did not first exist in the spirit! Everything that is physical or material is a product of the spiritual. It is the spiritual that produces the material or physical and the material or physical cannot be produced except by the spiritual! So when Paul said that we have been blessed with all or every spiritual blessing, he was saying that everything we will need; we already have!

Now, the Bible says that a thing should be established out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. We just heard from Paul, now let’s listen to Peter. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”(ESV) The KJV puts it this way: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” Do you see that? The text says that we have already been given all (every) things that pertain (have to do with) life and godliness through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

The problem today is not that we need to be blessed: The problem today is, we don’t know how to access the blessings we already have! The Bible says: My people perish for the lack of knowledge! Oh how true! Oh what needless pains we bear; all because we do not know! We don’t know how to access the blessings we already have because we are ignorant of the principles of covenant and the laws of faith. The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “In the Bible, the focus of blessing was not on the content, but rather the relationship. The primary factor of blessing is the statement of relationship between parties. God blesses with a benefit on the basis of the relationship. The blessing makes known the positive relationship between the parties, whether a single individual (Gen. 12:1-3) or a group (Deut. 7:14-16).” In other words, blessings are the results of a covenant-relationship with God. The Lord has blessed and continues to bless based on his covenant. Therefore, contrary to what many are preaching, teaching, singing and saying today: There is no direct correlation between praises going up and blessings coming down! Aside from the biblical truth that praise is product of blessings and not the other way around (We don’t praise God to be blessed; we praise God because we are blessed!), the fact that we have already been blessed means that God doesn’t need to “send it down!” He doesn’t need to give us what we already have! Jesus said in Mark 11:24 that the key to having what we ask for in prayer is to believe that we have received it when we pray.  So even though we already have it, we need faith to manifest it.

Did you know that in the Bible, there is not even one legitimate suggestion that we should even be pursuing blessings? (The prayer of Jabez, in my opinion, has been erroneously interpreted and made into a principle) In fact, the Bible says that blessings should actually be pursuing us! Deut. 28:1-2 says: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” (KJV) The key to being blessed is being obedient! Did you read the text? It said that if we are careful to be obedient that blessings would come on us and overtake us! The picture is that of one being chased and overtaken by blessings! David said in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (KJV) What many English readers don’t realize is that the Hebrew word that is translated as “follow” in that verse actually means: “to pursue, to follow after, to chase, to run after.” This is not a picture of goodness (blessings and benefits) and mercy (God’s covenant love and kindness) just passively tagging along, following after David; but rather it is a picture of goodness and mercy actively and persistently chasing after David (like a dog chasing a cat) all the days of his life!

And then finally, it would do us well to heed to the words of Jesus: “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Mat 6:30-33 NLT) When we seek God! When we seek the Kingdom of God; God’s rule and righteousness (God’s way of doing things), all the things we need will be manifested in our lives!

I am grieved today because much of what we are hearing in the church today is really just worldly materialism wrapped in a thin Christian veneer! It is actually the same message that Wall St., is preaching! It is the pursuit of money and fame! James gives us the reason for the frustration that many are experiencing in their pursue of blessings today:  “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong– you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” (James 4:2-8 NLT)