If we listen to the “big preachers,” the “popular ministries” or the “accepted by the scholars” modern day preaching, we get the idea that every dedicated, “sold out for God” Christian will be a financial and personal success. It seems the only thing standing between us and God’s abundant blessings is our lack of faith. If only we would really mean business with God He would pour out more blessings than we could imagine; poverty would vanish, illness would disappear and everyone would “live happily ever after.”
There is no doubt that this kind of teaching appeals to our flesh. Who does not want success, financial security, good health and a wonderful family? I thank God that in our country poor people can become rich and failures can become successful. Let me add here that I do not believe the poor are poor because the rich are rich. Most of the wealthiest people I have met have been hard working people; this is always the case if their wealth was earned and not inherited or won by lottery. To better one’s way of life is great. Isn’t that the American dream? In fact, those things are available in America whether one is a Christian or an atheist. How many of the Fortune’s Five Hundred are really born again Christians? Take the Top Ten in any secular field and non-Christians will far outnumber real Christians. We live in a nation where success is available due to our form of government. This condition does not exist in socialistic and communistic countries. It does not exist where the “caste system” is dominant.
I have read that every day in this world 50,000 children die due to poverty. Are they sinful? Are they faithless? These are children less than five years of age. Are not faithful witnesses for Christ killed every day in countries that forbid Christianity? What about those who literally give their lives for their testimony for Christ? It is only in free countries that they can proclaim the gospel of health, wealth and happiness. Most of the mega preachers are confined between Los Angeles and New York. In most of the major cities in the world you can’t find a “mega preacher.” Of the largest twenty-five (25) cities in the world, only three are in the United States. You see, there is a great big old world out there that refutes the popular “self-improvement” sermons. The Bible is a “world” Book. Whatever is true in Dallas is true in Delhi, India. Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) will save a soul whether they are in Tulsa or Tokyo.
Let me give you an example about taking God’s promises out of context. In Matthew 6:25-33 (part of the Sermon on the Mount) Christ is teaching about His kingdom to come. Most of us only claim v. 33:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
We have taken “all these things” to mean anything we want. The context specifies “all these things” as food, drink and clothing (vs. 25, 31) especially to Jews (v. 32.) This verse is only promising what “street people” (bums) in America seek. This promise doesn’t even include housing! One of two things occur when people use Matthew 6:33 as a “catch-all” blessing; they did not read the context or they are deceiving the listeners.
Throughout God’s word health, wealth and happiness have not been the normal existence of God’s people. The one word that has accompanied those who were dedicated to the cause of Jesus Christ is “suffering.” Before I pursue this thought let me be quick to add that suffering does not have any merit if it is not because of Jesus Christ. I have suffered for my pride, my selfishness and my lack of dedication to Christ. Neither am I putting any spiritual value on poverty, illness or lack of success. In America, a free enterprise country, these things could be a sign of laziness. What I do want to emphasize is God’s plan in the life of a person…can it be evaluated by success or failure?
Saul of Tarsus was a success. His credentials are listed in Philippians 3:4-6. Have you ever thought about what God told Ananias about Paul’s future?
“For I will shew him how great things he must SUFFER for my name's sake.” Acts 9:16 (caps mine)
The apostle Paul was probably the best Christian who ever lived. Compare Paul’s lifestyle in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and 2 Corinthians 11:21-30 with the TV and mega church celebrities who have built their fortunes making false promises to the people.
The disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name (Acts 5:41.) In Romans 8:17-18, Paul spoke of the rewards of suffering with Christ.
Paul associated suffering with preaching the cross of Christ (Galatians 5:11.) This might give us a clue about today’s preaching. The cross is not preached. The cross is associated with one’s denial of self (Luke 9:23.) Ninety percent of the preaching today is how one can improve their lifestyle, their career and personal relationships. Hell has been air-conditioned and soul winning is passé. The cross has been skipped and men go straight to the crown.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Philippians 1:29
Did Paul just say that suffering was a gift from Christ and accompanied our belief? Maybe we need to change that in our next new version of the Bible:
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to succeed for his sake.”
2 Timothy 3:12 says that everyone who lives godly in Christ Jesus “shall suffer persecution.” This might give us a good barometer on our degree of godliness. While God’s people on much foreign soil are beaten and killed for their faith, are not allowed a Bible or a church; they must literally hide in fear because of their belief. While we in America, at the worst, are sneered at and ridiculed. Other than our pride, our faith hasn’t cost us much.
Peter spoke of Christian suffering (1 Peter 4:16,) dispelling the claim that if you will just start living for God your problems will be solved. Three verses later Peter said that suffering can be “according to the will of God.” (v. 19.)
Notice that we provided all this scripture and information on suffering and never once mentioned Job.
I cannot close without telling you that there are some good things that God promises to those who dedicate themselves wholly to Him. There is a peace “which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7.) There is joy that is “unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8,) though you have nothing to enjoy. There is a contentment that cannot be surpassed (Philippians 4:11.) We have far more to gain by serving Jesus Christ than we could ever possibly lose.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Keep Looking Up!