Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I never promised you a rose garden (part 2)
The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 1:12-22
The theme verse of 2 Corinthians, it seems to us, is 2 Corinthians 12:10b:
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Now let's return this jewel to its setting:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Yesterday, we briefly defined "the prosperity gospel." Its proponents teach that the Bible promises health and wealth to faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
To which Stand in the Rain must respectfully reply,
I beg your pardon…
Yesterday's article could have been sub-titled "Chronicles of Catastrophe." In it, we listed verse after verse from 2 Corinthians which conveyed the events of the Apostle Paul's travels, trials, travails, and tribulation. Here is just a sampling of words and phrases from those verses:
Hard pressed, suffering, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, wasting away, without sleep or food, disgraced, insulted, punished, saddened, beaten, jailed, mobbed, overworked, cold, naked, hungry, thirsty;
In danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
You get the picture; it's painful to read such a list, let alone live it!
Those are the experiences of a paragon of the faith, the greatest missionary Christianity has seen this side of Jesus Christ.
Note that health, wealth, and prosperity didn't find their way into the mix.
Paul was getting rich, but his Financial Advisor encouraged him to pursue an other-worldly investment strategy:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
He was succeeding beyond his wildest dreams (1), but not in ways that could be seen by the naked, natural eye.
His financial advisor was also a prophet, the greatest the world has ever known. Here's what he'd foretold concerning his followers' futures:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Which Paul, looking back over his life, confirmed in the last letter he would ever write:
All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Those who seek to follow Jesus Christ must never measure success in the ways that the rest of the world does. Our promises are spiritual blessings:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
These blessings often look quite different--even the opposite of--material, worldly success. So says James:
Consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. (James 1:2-3)
And so says Peter, who reiterates what Jesus said about the riches we are depositing in heaven:
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God's power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time. Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:3-7)
The Word of God, through the mouths of Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul, tells us to expect trouble as we follow Jesus through a "garden" that more closely resembles Gethsemane than Eden.
But rest assured, as you face the troubles that our Savior and the saints of old have faced, that the interest on your heavenly investments is compounding! --
The first came before him, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.' And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' (Luke 19:16-17)
The reason we face these trials is not to test our faith, but to prove it. The race we run proves we are champions:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
The battles we fight prove we are conquerors:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)
To hear the man on the TV tell it, it sounds like "health, wealth, prosperity." To hear the men in the Bible tell it, it sounds like "run, fight, glory."
Somebody isn't telling the complete truth. But I have a feeling that the prosperity gospel is making somebody rich, if you know what I mean.
(1) see Ephesians 3:20