Listen to any prosperity gospel preacher and implicit in their teaching, couched in holy-sounding words, is the message that God doesn’t want you sick, poor or unhappy. He can make you healthy, prosperous and giddily happy if you follow their teachings, along with regular and generous contributions to said ministry.
In other words, do God’s will, as the ministry defines, and God will do yours. The seductive appeal of the “health and wealth” gospel is without question. Four out of ten Protestant churchgoers accept its doctrine, according to Christianity Today.
But wasn’t that the serpent’s promise in the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit? “When you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” (Genesis 3: 5)
It’s no surprise that the prosperity gospel has its roots in a human-centric philosophical tradition called “New Thought” or the “Mind Cure.” Early adherants like Ralph Walso Emerson and William James believed in the “divinity” of the individual and one’s ability to control one’s circumstances through the power of the mind.
The message is clear in these man-centered gospels and philosophies: God – or whatever one calls the ultimate power in the universe – can be on call to do your service, if you do the right things.
Who Do You Serve?
Servanthood and service are themes that run throughout the Bible. There are 767 references to the word “servant” in the NIV, according to BibleGateway, over 600 in the Old Testament and 157 in the New Testament.
Among those in the New Testament, Matthew contains more than one fourth of the references – 43 in total – and Luke is not far behind, with 39.
It’s a dominant theme throughout Matthew, from the well-known parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-25) to the equally important parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
The gospel is filled with Jesus’ messages of how we are called to be “good and faithful” servants. And Jesus’ ministry and death on the cross provides a living example of what servanthood looks like.
Nowhere in it are we allowed to put ourselves or our wills first, but always last: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
God Is Master Who We Are Called to Serve
On one level, Matthew tells us how we are to serve our earthly masters. It’s a message particularly relevant to this time as our society’s masters – the elite ruling class – are commanding us to serve their goals which stand diametrically opposed to our faith.
And at its deepest level, Matthew reveals through the words of Jesus how we are to serve our ultimate master, God:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
Our first duty is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. He is the master and we, His servants. Because He is our loving master, our creator and our heavenly Father, we are to trust wholly in Him and that He cares for us in all things and at all times:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7-9-11)
Of course, recognizing any master above and beyond the self is anathema in culture today. Satan has been using this trick with success since the beginning of time.
The deceiver’s lie – serve yourself, live “your truth” and be free from traditions (i.e. religion) that constrain your self-desire –permeates the culture, in everything we read, hear, see and are taught in schools.
We observe the results all around us. More than one in ten Americans take anti-depressive drugs. After illnesses (cancer, heart disease and others) and accidents, suicide is the nation’s leading cause of death. The culture is broken with murder rates at an all-time high, rising 25% from 2019 to 2020. And some 20 million Americans over the age of 12 suffer from a substance abuse disorder. And sadly believers, though they may have greater immunity, can suffer from these afflictions too.
But the statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. How many more people live in a steady state of quiet desperation?
People are not happier, more fulfilled or made content by following the culture’s “Me-first” agenda. Quite the opposite.
The joy and peace we all seek cannot be found anywhere else but by putting God first and loving Him wholly.
And Serve Others
Then we are called to serve others – doing good to all men (and women). God puts people, all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances, into our lives to serve His purpose. “As we have opportunity,” we are to do good to them and for them.
I believe the greatest good we can do for them is to share our love of God and how He has redeemed us, but the circumstances of our meeting may not lend itself to such a discussion.
Yet in every interaction, we can exemplify the love of God, through the example of Jesus, powered by the Holy Spirit living within us. Our example of doing good to all people is the most powerful testimony of God’s good to non-believers.
But it can be hard, as the culture turns more contentious – political left against right; business and governmental interests aligned against the individual’s; science used as a weapon rather than to enlighten; the powerful elite ruling over the common man and woman.
We are not to answer like with like, to spar and fight and protest. We are to follow Jesus’ example: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:39) And Luke takes it even further, “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” (Luke 6:29)
There is no question that this is a challenge, as our emotions, which are so easily tempted by the evil one, argue forcefully against it. Our reward will come not only in heaven, but it will be realized in full here on earth through the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
That is what every person is searching for – believer and non-believer – and only by doing the will of God, not that of our earthly masters or even worse, following our self-desire, will it be found.