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, we will be in health as a by-product of our relationship with God.

 

Praying Confidently to God

Praying Hands on BibleIn 1 John 5:14-15, we read: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (KJV) This passage contains one of the great “secrets” to answered prayer. But the sad reality today is that there are many so-called Christians who lack confidence in prayer. And one of the reasons they lack confidence in prayer is because they lack confidence in God!

But why is this the case? Why would people lack confidence in God? Well, you can’t have confidence in someone you don’t trust! And you can’t trust or have faith in someone you don’t know! And you can’t know someone without having a relationship with them! And you can’t have a relationship with them if you have no communication or interaction with them! Simply put, many people lack confidence in prayer because they lack confidence in God! And they lack confidence in God because, contrary to the doctrinal creeds they espouse; they have no real personal relationship with God.

But God is “knowable” and God desires to have a personal relationship with all of us! We can “know” God through His word because that is the how God reveals Himself to us. Just as we can know any person through their word; we can know God through His word! Now the text we cited states that if we ask anything according to God’s will, God hears us! How can we know what we ask is according to His will? By reading His word! His word reveals His will!

Now, the prime prerequisite to confidence in prayer is that we have a proper relationship with God! Contrary to popular belief, God doesn’t hear every prayer a sinner prays! The only prayer God hears from a sinner is the prayer of repentance! Until we repent of our sins and turn to God for forgiveness and salvation, we have no basis for a relationship with God! In fact, even after we are in right relationship with God, God still doesn’t hear our prayers if we are out of sorts with Him because of unconfessed sins, or out of sorts with one another because of strife or un-forgiveness! So you see, prayer is not just the matter of a “magical chant!” There are certain preconditions that must be met and maintained! But once the prerequisites are met and maintain, we can have confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers!

One last word about having confidence in God in regard to prayer: Prayer should never be a last resort; it should always be a first response! Prayer is communion and communication with God! Prayer is not simply a means of giving God a “shopping list” of the things you want! How would you feel if you had a friend and the only time you heard from them was when they needed you or wanted you to do something for them? No! Prayer is not an emergency measure, to be used only in case of emergencies; it is the normal everyday means of maintaining a healthy relationship with God. Real prayer is not just us talking to God, but also allowing God to speak to us! When a real prayer-relationship with God is the normal everyday routine, we can have the confidence the biblical writer wrote about! We can have confidence that whatever we ask according to His will, He hears and will grant us the petitions we ask of Him!

 

 

The Miracles of Jesus

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;”

John 20:30 ESV

miracles of jesusAccording to writer of the Gospel of John, the record of the miracles of Jesus we have in the Bible is really just a sample of all the miracles Jesus performed! There were many miracles performed by him that were not recorded. However, of the recorded miracles of Jesus as they are presented in the Bible, there is an obvious pattern of principles. For one thing, Jesus didn’t perform miracles just to be performing miracles. All of the miracles he performed were deliberate and purposeful.

We can gain some insight into his purpose in performing miracles by taking note of the terms the Greek New Testament uses to describe them. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Greek word used to denote the miracles of Jesus was “dunamis.” This word is commonly defined by Greek scholars as “mighty works.” Usually, the miracles perform by Jesus recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were for the purpose of demonstrating, illustrating, and verifying the power and presence of the Kingdom of God.

In John’s Gospel, there was a different Greek word used to denote the miracles. John used the word; “semeion.” This word is usually translated as; “signs.” In the Gospel of John, the miracles Jesus performed were signs or proofs that he was indeed the Son of God! They were proofs to authenticate his ministry and his claims of being who he said he was.

I also find it interesting that Jesus DID NOT HEAL EVERYBODY he came in contact with! In John 5, Jesus encountered many sick people at the pool of Bethesda, but he only healed one man, who is lying in the back in the corner! In the New Testament writings, the miracles healings of Jesus were performed according to God’s will, the person’s faith, and the Master’s purpose. It is also interesting that Jesus usually went to where the sick people were! His healings were not restricted to a certain place and time. Perhaps many of the modern-day-faith-healers would really prove the power of God if they would quit insisting people come to their church with an offering to be healed, but rather go to the hospitals where the sick people are!

Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I don’t believe in healing, because I do! However, I believe that ultimately, the determining factor is not our faith or our offering, but rather God’s providential will. Yes! God does have a miracle with our name on it! It is called: Salvation! The greatest miracle of all is the miracle of new life in Christ Jesus! Does God perform miracles today! You can bet your life on it! Just look at me: I AM A MIRACLE OF GOD!

The Message of Jesus

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 King James Version

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17 New International Version

“From that time onward Jesus began to preach this message: Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come close to realization.”

Matthew 4:17 MacDonald Idiomatic Translation

kingdom at hand

It would seem from reading the accounts of Jesus in the Gospel narratives that Jesus really only preached one message: The Kingdom of God! He talked about the Kingdom of God, he preached about the Kingdom of God, most of his parables were illustrations to show what the Kingdom of God was like! Yet, it has been until only very recent that modern Christianity has paid much attention to the Kingdom of God.

What was Jesus talking about when he referred to the Kingdom of God? Well, there has been much ink spilled attempting to answer that question, but one thing can be certain; most of the time Jesus was NOT talking about a place called Heaven! When he taught his disciples to pray, he didn’t teach them to pray that they would “go” to the Kingdom; he taught them to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” So apparently, in that instance at least, Jesus was not talking about a place, but rather a state of being or situation. Perhaps a hint of what he meant is found in the next statement that is in the appositive position: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In the mind of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is present or realized whenever and wherever God’s will is being done on earth in the same manner that it is done in Heaven. Well, how is God’s will done in Heaven? It is done perfectly! It is done without any resistance from any other will! It is done completely! So apparently, the realization of the Kingdom of God is connected to the will of God.

In doing some research on the subject, I discovered the term “kingdom of heaven/God” as it is used in the Synoptic Gospels by Jesus, does not refer primarily to a place (although sometimes it does). Most of the time, Jesus was NOT talking about “going to Heaven!” Note this entry from the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon of the New Testament: “It is generally a serious mistake to translate the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ as referring to a particular area in which God rules. The meaning of this phrase in the NT involves not a particular place or special period of time but the fact of ruling. An expression such as ‘to enter the kingdom of God’ thus does not refer to ‘going to heaven’ but should be understood as ‘accepting God’s rule’ or ‘welcoming God to rule over.” Wow! Do you see that? We’ve been preaching, teaching, sweating and snorting, trying to prepare people to “go to the Kingdom” and all the while, the primary message of Jesus was and is about the Kingdom coming to us!

Now in order for us to properly process this, we must do what Jesus said in the text, we must repent! However, we must also understand that in the text, the word “repent” doesn’t mean what we have traditionally thought it to mean! In this text, the word “repent” means “to change one’s mind, or to change the way you think.” We must quit thinking of the Kingdom of God as only being a place called Heaven that we will inhabit one day in the future. The Kingdom of God is “now and later!” It is present and not yet! It is a place, but it is also a state of being! It is God’s country where the streets are paved with gold, but it is also God’s rule and authority in our lives right now!

I shall be posting a series of messages to investigate this further, but I want to end this post with this observation. For many years, it seemed to me that the Old Testament and the New Testament were two different stories until I got some understanding about the Kingdom of God. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation is really just a story about a kingdom lost and a kingdom re-gained! The message of Jesus was and is, “I’ve got good news for you! What Adam lost is now regained! The Kingdom of God is at hand!’