The Prosperity Gospel and the Life God Despises

When we read the prophetic books of the Old Testament, we see God condemning the sins of his people. And in that condemnation, God doesn’t just give generalities about why his judgment is coming apart from repentance.  He gives very specific examples about the lifestyle of Israel that has brought about the need for his judgment.  Essentially, God describes the kind of life he despises.  In Amos, 3 we see three such examples.

1. Self-Indulgence

Amos 3:15 he says, ‘I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end,” declares the Lord.’  The summer house and the winter house is a reference to the amassing of property in Israel.  This, of course, was a sin in Israel since the law God had given them provided instructions for land to be held by the same family.  Nevertheless, many were clever and manipulated the law to do it anyway.  But God was not impressed.  In chapter 4, God’s rebuke is scathing:  “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!” (4:1).  By calling these women of Israel cows of Bashan, he is saying they are well-fed, fat, and lazy, rather than lean and tough like a good cow ought to be.  All of their sin is epitomized in their calling out to their husbands, ‘Bring more wine!’  In fact, in chapter six God says they drink their wine out of bowls. That’s never a good sign. In all of this, God is trying to say that much of Israel has become self-indulgent.  They are gluttonous, obeying their appetites for luxury and wealth more than God. And those appetites for all manner of things come at the expense of the poor and the needy.

2. Social Oppression

Amos 3:9 says, “Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria, and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed in her midst.’”  The mention of the oppressed is something Amos makes clear elsewhere in that book: that the self-indulgent wealth and luxury of Israel came at the price of the oppressing their countrymen.  Those summer homes were built by people who weren’t paid well.  The ivory was collected at the expense of people who barely had enough to live on.  Amos never condemns having wealth, but rather how it was gained—through injustice toward the poor (Amos 4:1) and fraudulent business practices (5:7, 11, 12; 8:4–6).   So while they had more than enough, people outside their doors and in their cities were starving.  D. A. Carson tells about one of his high school history teachers who had been furloughed home because of an injury toward the end of World War II.  He had seen many of his buddies killed; and others were still in action. He was riding a bus in a Canadian city, and he heard an obviously wealthy and ostentatious woman in the seat in front of him talking to her companion. Her husband was making a lot of money in arms production. She confided to her seatmate: “I hope this war doesn’t end soon. We’ve never had it so good.” He comments, “That is the ugly face of complacency.”[1]  And that is the very picture we’re given here of the wealthy in Israel.  They’ve made their fortunes by oppressing the poor and needy and they care nothing about them or larger social problems of Israel.  They have their wealth, their comfort, their security, and so they just sick back and yell, “bring me more wine!”  This is what made their devotion to God meaningless.

3. Corrupt Religion

Then in Amos 3:13-14, the prophet says, ‘“Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord God, the God of hosts, “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground’” (3:13-14).  In some ways, this is what made the whole scene despicable in God’s eyes.  Here were people living in open sin and rebellion against the covenant law God had given to govern life in Israel.  And in the midst of this sin, they would go and offer a sacrifice and think that would make it all better.   They weren’t worshipping the Lord as much as they were trying to pay him off.  ‘Yeah, yeah, do what you want, then just give the offering—punch the spiritual time card and it will all be okay’ was their mentality. But the Lord is not a God to be trifled with.  He says to Israel, “The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks” (4:2).  Just as a fisherman drags the flopping fish out of the water with hooks and line, so these hypocrites would be dragged out of the land in judgment for their sin. Moreover the corruptness of their religion was seen in their greater concerned with wealth over worship. In chapter 8 we read about the people saying things like, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale” (8:5). Maybe if God were speaking today, he might quote some of us who say, ‘When will this service be over so that I can eat lunch and get to work?  When can I escape all this talking with people so I can get ahead with a few hours at the office this afternoon?  Shouldn’t I skip out on the evening service so I can study more, get my grades up, and keep my college scholarship?’ The result is God saying, ‘Your worship is unacceptable.’  Why? Because that kind of worship  doesn’t come from the heart.  This was the problem with the worship of Cain all the way back in Genesis 4.  It didn’t matter that he was offering vegetables; it wasn’t acceptable because it did not flow from a heart of love and faith toward God. (cf Isaiah 5:21-24).

One Application

This is the kind of life God despises in his people.  Now, while there are many broad applications we can make, can I offer one?  I think the Western Church has made a serious misstep in not coming to the aid of the Global Church in the face of the Prosperity Gospel.  Today, this false gospel is ravaging places like South America and Africa.  As a false gospel, it will condemn those who hear and believe (Gal 1:6-9).  We have millions of men and women desiring Christ yet enslaved to a message that robs Christ of his saving glory in favor of a twisted message that makes him the errand boy for the hollow treasure of physical health and wealth in this life. We’ve engaged in the sin of self-indulgence as we’ve hoarded resources, producing bigger buildings and larger ministries with cushy positions while we failed to put resources toward an apostolic rescue mission (Gal 2:11-21; Col 2:8-15). We’ve looked on as false prophets have, in the name of Christ, oppressed and fleeced people in desperate need.  We’ve failed to remember one of the greatest commandments, even the  fruit of God’s Spirit within us: to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:36-40; Gal 5:22).

I’ve been thrilled that ministries like 9 Marks, The Gospel Coalition, and others have been taking this more seriously in recent years.  I love the move to get good gospel-centered resources in the hands of the global church.  But when we look at the amount we invest in keeping ourselves and our ministries here comfortable and prosperous, aren’t we failing to love brothers and sisters in Christ and those who believed themselves to be so?  Considering how massive and pervasive the prosperity gospel ministries are, should we not exercise as much effort to counter them with a pure, life-giving message of God’s free grace in Christ?

As you read this, you may be wondering, ‘Is he saying wealth is bad?’  No.  Is he saying ‘Churches shouldn’t have large buildings?’  No.  And ‘no’ to many related questions.  What I’m saying is this: it is so very easy to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ but work so very hard to build our own.  I fear that this will be this generation’s blind spot as was racial equality was for a previous generation. And I have to wonder: in light of the severity of the problem, the ease of sending people and resources today, and our professed love for the gospel, shouldn’t this be of front line importance to us today?


                [1]  D. A. Carson, For the Love of God blog, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/2011/11/17/1-chronicles-9-10-hebrews-12-amos-6-luke-139-80-2/

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