The Prosperity Gospel

God’s Will is Prosperity, insists Gloria Copeland. “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000. . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” “Scripture clearly establishes how intensely God desires to display His goodness and His love toward man by pouring out His prosperity and abundance… If you’re a believer, you have a covenant right to prosperity. And not just prosperity but True Prosperity. Now, with Gloria’s detailed study, you can “… discover for yourself that God’s Will is Prosperity.”  And if following Gloria’s advice doesn’t maketime-prosperity-gospel you sufficiently wealthy, Amazon recommends, you also read her husband, Kenneth Copeland’s books, The Laws of Prosperity, and Prosperity, the Choice is Yours.

If the Copeland lifestyle is anything to go by, they are blessed indeed. A recent survey claims Copeland is the richest pastor in the world.[i] Their net worth is estimated at $760 million though he already claims to be a billionaire. Their 1,500-acre ministry campus near Fort Worth includes a church, a private airstrip, a hangar for the ministry’s $17 million jet aircraft, and a $6 million lakefront mansion. Maybe there is something in the prosperity gospel. Gloria quotes from Mark 10 where we meet a very religious and very prosperous young man who wants to follow Jesus. Lets read the story and see what it has to say about the prosperity gospel.

  1. The Ideal Candidate for Eternal Life: Good

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. (Mark 10:17-21)

What did he have going for him? Besides what we learn here, Matthew says he was young (Matthew 19:20) and Luke that he was a ruler (Luke 18:18).

  • He was Enthusiastic

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him…”  Running was not considered dignified.  But this young person didn’t care. He wanted to see Jesus so bad he ran. He was enthusiastic.

  • He was Humble

“…a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.”  He was a leader in the community. But he recognised he was in the presence of someone greater. He respected Jesus by kneeling. He was enthusiastic. He was humble.

  • He was Spiritual

“Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was concerned enough about his eternal destiny to ask Jesus. Enthusiastic, humble and spiritual.

  • He was Moral

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” He sincerely believed he had lived a good moral life since childhood. But something was missing. He knew there was more. He lacked assurance. He probably brought a smile to Jesus’ face.  Jesus “looked at him and loved him.” What a catch. He was young, enthusiastic, humble, wealthy and influential. Just the kind of person we want to attract to our church. Right? Certainly, the ideal candidate for eternal life: And yet…

  1. The Impossible Criteria for Eternal Life: Godliness

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:21-25)

The young man had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. But when Jesus tells him, he doesn’t respond with joy or enthusiasm. Instead, his face fell, and he turned away. Why? Because “he had great wealth”. It was all too much for him. True, he kept some of the commandments dealing with personal relationships. But he was not keeping the first and most important.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:3-5).

No one is more important than God.  Nothing is more important than doing God’s will. If only he had realised that Jesus had his best interests at heart –

that knowing God, and experiencing his blessings, now and in eternity, were more important than his temporary possessions – he would have gladly given them all away, as Jesus asked. No, he wasn’t keeping all of God’s laws.
He money had become his idol. Now I need to emphasize that scripture does not despise wealth derived from hard work or thrift. Far from it. Wealth can be a blessing from God. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10:4). Jesus insists,

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48).

It was not about how much wealth this person had but about what he was doing with it.  He was naive to think he was keeping God’s commandments. And foolish to think he could do anything to earn eternal life.  The Ideal Candidate for Eternal Life. The Impossible Criteria for Eternal Life.

  1. The Incredible Certainty about Eternal Life: Grace

“The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:26-27)

The disciples were stunned by what Jesus said. If a deeply religious and wealthy person will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God, how can anyone be saved? So they ask the question. And it’s the right question to ask. Not “what can I do to be saved” but “who then can be saved?” Jesus replies: “With man this is impossible”.  We all suffer from a congenital heart condition.

“For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you.”” (Mark 7:21-23).

Sin comes from within, from our hearts – and we all sin. If we are honest we have to admit we don’t love God with all our heart, with all our soul, mind and strength, all the time. We have a heart problem, and nothing we do can cure it.  This is why Jesus came. He came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Jesus came to rescue us from our sin, by taking the punishment we deserve. Jesus died to pay for sin, and rose from death to prove that sin was truly paid for. This is why Jesus says: “With man this is impossible”.

The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Nothing we do can cure our condition – only Jesus can. What is the answer to the disciples’ question? “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus had already answered it when some other people came to see Jesus.  They weren’t rich. They weren’t important. They weren’t even adults.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)

These children had nothing to offer Jesus. They were not important. Perhaps that’s why the disciples didn’t want their parents bothering Jesus. So listen to what Jesus says:

“…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these … anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

And Jesus took them in his arms. He put his hands on them, and he blessed them. Here is the answer to the rich person’s question about eternal life as well as the disciples’ question about salvation.

Only those who receive the kingdom of God like a child will enter it.  I can relate to that. As you may know successive vicars of Virginia Water have for many decades enjoyed courtesy membership of Wentworth. Under new management that is coming to an end 1st April. I cannot complain. But this week, I received an invoice from Wentworth. If we wish to continue to be members, the cost will be £17, 340.  And from 2017 we will need to add another £100,000 to that figure. We are thankful for the benefits of membership over the past 18 years, not least the use of the gym. But unlike membership of God’s kingdom, this one is coming to an end. One word summarises the Christian message. Grace. God’s free unmerited, unwarranted, unexpected, unconditional, undeserved, gift. And like a child, all we can do is receive it with empty hands. When ever I use my Wentworth membership card to gain access to the gym, it reminds me of what grace really means. Membership was granted on my arrival in Virginia Water so I know I had not earned it or deserved it. And over the years I certainly could never ever afford to pay for it. That is what grace is all about.

Jesus spoke a great deal about wealth and prosperity.

He spoke about where to find it and how to wisely invest it. The advice Jesus gave this rich young person was actually no different to what he had instructed others.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

Where is your heart this morning? Where is your treasure?  We have seen this morning this rich young person was indeed the ideal candidate for eternal life:
He was good. But we have also discovered the impossible criteria for eternal life: godliness. And when we were left despairing and totally bankrupt, we have realised,  wonder of wonders, the incredible certainty about eternal life:  It is all of grace.  At the heart of grace is the fact that it is totally undeserved.  I have done nothing to earn it. I will never deserve it.  I can never repay it.  Faith is simply saying ‘thank you’ and turning to God, in utter weakness, in total dependence and receiving the gift of forgiveness for the past, his Holy Spirit in the present and eternal life in the future. Living by grace is to find my identity,

my ultimate worth, my joy, my treasure, my prosperity, not in material possessions but in the love of God, who knows exactly what I am like and yet loves me all the same – unconditionally, unashamedly, unreservedly, eternally, all because of Jesus. Let’s thank him. Lets pray.