Authentic Christian teaching will always be in harmony with the scriptures, reflecting the truth of the Holy Spirit. However, false teaching will either contradict or manipulate the scriptures to support their own ends. These deceptions and misconceptions about Christianity lead people away from the truth.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.Romans 16:17-18
God rewards our obedience with blessings and punishes disobedience with suffering.
The “health and wealth” gospel preaches that God want to bless us with anything we ask for if our faith is strong enough. As proof, these pastors attain significant personal wealth as a result of their great faith. Most televangelists and pastors of mega-churches are living lives of great extravagance- living in mansions, flying in personal jets, and driving expensive cars. They promise all this can be yours too if you follow my teaching and build your faith. They even use a variety of Bible verses to support their claims.
- Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:10
- The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it. Proverbs 10:22
- And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:22
- Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24
These false religious leaders prey upon the human desire for wealth and possessions by preaching a transactional relationship between us and God. Through a demonstration of faith (money given to the church), God will pour down similar blessings upon us. Taking scripture out of context makes it is easy to manipulate and can be very misleading. These verses were meant to demonstrate what God can do when he acts through us to his glory. They aren’t promises of physical wealth and prosperity. We can identify this as false teaching by comparing it to the numerous warnings from Jesus about the dangers of money and possessions.
- It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25
- No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13
- And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
- For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:26
Scripture was not meant to be applied blindly to every circumstance. Instead, God’s wisdom enlightens those seeking the truth to understand its intended life applications. Understanding scripture begins with knowing the full context, not just one isolated verse. An apparent contradiction of scripture should serve as a clear warning that the teaching is not from God.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,2 Timothy 3:16
Scripture is written through the Holy Spirit, which means there is complete harmony within its’ entirety without contradiction. The more familiar you are with God’s word the less likely you will be deceived by a perceived contradiction. Even Satan attempted to use scripture to deceive Jesus.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’Matthew 4:5-7
Aside from promises they can’t fulfill, false religion is also known for preaching fear of God’s wrath. This strategy allows the religious leader to wield greater power and demand greater obedience from their congregation. Followers may be threatened into submission by threats of suffering, removal from the church, or even damnation. This destructive misuse of scripture damages the perception of who God is to us. By portraying God as being angry and vengeful, followers are fearful to communicate directly with God, looking for an intermediary to placate him on their behalf. This prevents the development of a personal relationship and turns the power over to another sinful human being. Instead of turning to God for forgiveness when they sin, they want to run away and hide from God in fear.
Since punishment requires blame, this teaching also implies that we should blame those who are suffering. If suffering is a result of God’s judgement and punishment than you must have dione something to deserve it. This viewpoint hinders our compassion towards others. But Jesus makes it clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:3
Jesus did not come to fulfill our earthly desires, because his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). This is one of the reasons he was so unpopular. People of that time wanted Messiah to be a conquering King who would free them from their Roman oppressors. When he came as a humble servant he challenged their expectations. This is the consistency of God:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9
God does bless those who obediently follow Jesus and walk in faith. It’s just not in the way we expect. When our eyes are fixed on the here and now we expect our blessings to be tangible. We think that wealth and prosperity with make us happy. We think that healing and freedom from suffering is how God shows his approval, but God sees the bigger picture. He subverts our expectations by separating what we want from what we need. Wealth and prosperity may fulfill our earthly desires, but it is a perishable source of happiness. With prosperity we forget our reliance on God and grow in our selfishness. We become self-satisfied and complacent. The more we possess, the harder it is to give it up. That makes it impossible for us to follow Jesus and do God’s will because it requires self-sacrifice.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.Romans 8:7
In this way, financial prosperity can become a curse because it forces us to choose our allegiance. More often than not these “blessings” separate us from God. Instead, the blessings we receive from God are far greater than those offered by the world.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17
Jesus offers us grace, redemption, and freedom from our sin. The Father generously provides us with gifts that no amount of money can buy. Hope during the hardest times. Peace in the chaos. Joy despite our sadness. Love when we feel unlovable. Compassion in our suffering. Strength in our weakness. Wisdom in our confusion. All of these gifts serve to draw us nearer to God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…Galatians 5:22-23
Just as wealth and prosperity aren’t necessarily a blessing, suffering is not necessarily a curse. Suffering can serve many purposes. Although not enjoyable, these are the greatest opportunities for personal growth. We may suffer as a consequence of our decisions or we may suffer the consequences of the choices of someone else. We may suffer for unknown reasons or we may even suffer for doing what is right.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.John 15:18-20
Suffering is not to be equated with wrongdoing, because Jesus experienced suffering and was even crucified. What we have in Jesus is hope in our suffering. We can be confident that God has a plan and will take these difficult moments and use them for good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
In this way, we should be thankful for times of suffering. God uses the moments to grow our foundation and to refine our character. We may not see it at the time, but looking back we may find that our suffering was actually a blessing or an answer to prayer.