The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 10: Woe to Them! Cain, Balaam, and Korah.
Previously: The Rebellion of Korah
Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 11 HCSB)
Is the rebel spirit alive today?
False teachers in the 21stcentury have much in common with Cain, Balaam, and Korah. They redefine God’s work of salvation, peddle prophecy for profits, and exalt themselves above the authorities Christ has ordained for His church. While many examples could be cited, let’s consider proponents of today’s Word of Faith movement – a vast and varied brand of apostate Christianity that shamelessly follows in the footsteps of ancient Israel’s unholy triumvirate.
The central teaching of the Word of Faith movement – also known as the prosperity gospel and the health and wealth gospel – is that God wills our prosperity and health; therefore, to be a Christian in poverty or sickness is to be outside the will of God.
Take note of the following Word of Faith teachings and see if you can trace them to the way of Cain (self-centered religion), the error of Balaam (a gospel of greed), or the rebellion of Korah (mutiny against divinely appointed authorities):
Human beings are little gods. Human nature consists of body, soul, and spirit, but the spirit is the real person made in God’s image; therefore, human beings are exact duplicates of God, or little gods. Our problem is that we allow our bodies and souls to control our lives rather than our own divine spirits.
God is like us. He is a God that possesses faith. He created the world by faith and accomplishes His will by believing things in His heart and speaking words of faith, thereby bringing things into existence. We may do the same.
Jesus came to restore our godhood. When Adam fell, he forfeited his status as the god of this world by obeying Satan, who in turn gained legal dominion over this world and passed Satan’s nature of death, along with sickness and poverty, down to the rest of humanity. Jesus came to create a new race of humans who, like Jesus, would be God incarnate.
Jesus went to hell. In dying spiritually on the cross, Jesus took on Satan’s nature and went to hell, where He was “born again,” rising from the dead with God’s nature. In hell, not on the cross, Jesus secured our salvation. This paved the way for us to be born again and exhibit God’s nature in our lives.
Faith is believing we have whatever we say. Faith is speaking to things and circumstances – like check books and illnesses – and commanding them to do as we say. This is the basis of positive and negative confession, the idea that what we believe and say, whether good or bad, comes to pass.
Our divine birthright is financial prosperity and good health. Since we are divine spirits created and redeemed to rule our circumstances by speaking words of faith, we are to obtain health and wealth. Believers need not accept sickness or poverty into our lives.
What’s wrong with today’s prosperity preachers?
The champions of today’s Word of Faith movement boast of special holy anointing. They base doctrines on alleged dreams and visions, exalt themselves, and pursue fleshly desires. Briefly, here are five errors of the Word of Faith movement:
(1) It abuses the Bible. Specifically, promoters of the Word of Faith movement commit three common errors of biblical interpretation:
- First, they ignore the context. Take 3 John 2, a commonly claimed passage in support of Christian prosperity: “Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” This verse must be read as part of the full narrative, and the full narrative must be considered in light of the intended audience, and in comparison with the rest of Scripture. John’s words are a common greeting used in first-century letters and therefore should not be taken as a promise of health and wealth, either in the first century or today. We must bear in mind that the Bible was written to certain people at specific times. That doesn’t mean the Scriptures are less authoritative or less relevant today. It simply means we cannot disregard the historical setting of each book. The primary audience was never intended to be 21stcentury Americans.
- Second, they rely on extra-biblical experiences to establish their interpretations of Scripture. It is not uncommon to hear prosperity preachers say God spoke to them in an audible voice, or appeared to them in dreams and visions. This is not to deny that the Lord uses dreams and visions to speak to people today, but it’s not the norm. Further, we must lay all experiences against the yardstick of Scripture. The canon is closed, and we must take pains not to add to or take away from God’s Word. As a caution, Mormonism is based largely on the alleged visions of Joseph Smith. These visions led to false doctrines concerning the nature of God, the finished work of Jesus on the cross, and the ultimate destiny of human beings.
- Third, they begin with doctrine rather than with the Bible. Based on dreams, visions, prophecies, and other subjective experiences, they formulate new teachings that tickle the ear rather than lead to godliness (2 Tim. 4:3). Many counterfeit forms of Christianity begin this way. Charles Taze Russell, who established a Bible study that morphed into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses), rejected the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the doctrine of an eternal hell because he found them unreasonable. The end result is a worldwide organization that follows the teachings of the Watch Tower rather than the truth of God’s Word.
(2) It is man-centered rather than God-centered. Some Word of Faith leaders go so far as to describe God as having a body similar to that of man, and conversely describe humans as “little gods.” We are exact duplicates of God, say several prosperity preachers. This deifies people and demotes God to a subservient role in which He waits for us to grant Him permission to work in the world.
(3) It promotes a false theology of giving. God’s gifts to us – for example, His creation, grace, mercy, and eternal life – are unmerited; they cannot be bought, bartered, or inherited. The Word of Faith movement, however, pursues a quid pro quoapproach to stewardship. In other words, if Christians say and do certain things, God is honor-bound to grant their wishes.
(4) It oppresses the poor and the sick. Since prosperity preachers insist that our words of faith create wealth and healing, a lack of these blessings is due to an absence of faith. People in poverty, for example, are there by their own doing, while people who are disabled, ill, or riddled with cancer are failing to appropriate the faith that would make them well.
(5) It denies the cost of discipleship. Jesus is an itinerant teacher who places little value on an earthly home, warning those who seek to follow Him that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20b). He further tells His followers that those who cling to possessions fail to be kingdom-minded: “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, 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” (Matt. 19:23-24).
The disciples react in amazement. Peter responds to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?” (Matt. 19:27). Jesus assures the apostles that when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, they also will sit on twelve thrones. He further promises that “everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:28-29).
Our Lord makes no promises of prosperity and comfort in this life. Those who claim that “100 times more” means a hundred-fold increase of material blessings on earth are guilty of taking the Savior’s words out of context and twisting them to enlarge their own tents.
If the health and wealth gospel is true, the apostles are miserable failures. According to biblical accounts, tradition, and church history, it’s likely that all of the apostles suffer martyrs’ deaths with the exception of John, who is boiled in oil and, after surviving the ordeal, is exiled to Patmos. This is hardly a rousing endorsement of the prosperity gospel.
Finally, the Bible tells us that all true followers of Jesus are to expect hardship – not wealth, health, and leisure – as a result of their faith. Writing about his “persecutions and sufferings” at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, Paul warns, “In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Paul writes to the Philippians that his goal is “to know Him and the power of His resurrection andthe fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10 – emphasis added).
After being stoned, dragged outside the city of Lystra, and left for dead, Paul returns to the city, strengthening the hearts of the disciples and “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22).
Writing to believers in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Peter reminds his readers to expect suffering for the sake of Christ: “Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16).
Other passages of Scripture could be cited, but the point is this: Even a casual reader of the New Testament finds that suffering, persecution, and poverty are far more prevalent among believers than riches and comfort.
This is not to say wealth is evil; it is, in fact, morally neutral. However, the desire for riches is a snare that leads many believers down a path of destruction, as Paul notes: “For the love of moneyis a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim. 6:10 – emphasis added).
What should be our attitude toward wealth and health?
So, how should Christians respond to the prosperity gospel and its false teachings about money and comfort?
We should be content with what we have. Paul experiences many hardships in his ministry – beatings, being left for dead, shipwreck, hunger, cold, imprisonment, and much more. Yet he writes that he has “learned” to be content (see Phil 4:11-12). Further, he reminds Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).
We should be indifferent toward wealth. Prosperity is neither good nor evil. But our attitude toward it reveals a great deal about us (see 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19). Agur’s request of the Lord in Prov. 30:8b-9 expresses a proper attitude toward worldly gain: “Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God.”
Jesus specifically warns us against laying up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19-21), and reminds us that we cannot be slaves to both God and money (Matt. 6:24).
We should see poverty and sickness in light of the Fall. Sin and its consequences affect all people. Our mortal bodies are subject to the ravages of the curse. We get sick, contract diseases, suffer injuries, grow old, and ultimately die. Poverty may afflict us if we are slothful, disadvantaged, or oppressed. Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man tells us that the wicked sometimes prosper and the righteous sometimes suffer, but in the end God, who sees the heart, sets everything right (Luke 16:19-31).
It is important to note that God entrusts every human being with an ability to make choices for which we experience consequences. Oftentimes, these choices reflect an eternal perspective (see, for example, Matt. 19:16-22; Luke 12:16-21). We also should remember that God sometimes uses sickness and death as acts of divine discipline (see Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:27-32).
Signs, wonders, and miracles accompany Paul’s ministry (Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12). Yet neither he nor his associates experience health at all times. “And neveris their sickness attributed to a lack of faith, nor their recovery to great faith,” writes Gordon. D. Fee.
For example, Epaphroditus falls ill and nearly dies, yet “God had mercy on him” (Phil. 2:27). Paul leaves Trophimus sick in Melitus (2 Tim. 4:20). When Timothy suffers frequent stomach ailments, Paul does not tell the young pastor to claim healing but to “use a little wine” (1 Tim. 5:23).
We should look ahead. For Christians, a day is coming when God wipes every tear from our eyes. Death exists no longer. Grief, crying, and pain are gone “because the previous things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
A day of health and prosperity is coming for all who call upon the Lord. As adopted children of God and joint-heirs with Jesus, we are to dwell in the heavenly city that knows nothing of darkness or doom. The Father and the Lamb light the New Jerusalem with Their presence, and nothing profane ever enters it.
While faithful saints on this side of heaven may endure torture, mocking, scourging, bonds, imprisonment, stoning, death by the saw and sword, destitution, affliction, mistreatment, sheepskins for clothing, living in caves and holes in the ground, they are “approved through their faith,” and in heaven one day they walk the streets of gold (see Heb. 11:35-40; Revelation 21-22).
We should understand that God deals harshly with false teachers. Like Cain, Balaam, Korah, and first-century false teachers, peddlers of the prosperity gospel will give an account before God one day for the degree to which they fleeced the flock.
Jesus tells His disciples, “Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48b). No doubt the Word of Faith hawkers are gifted communicators with worldwide platforms to proclaim the gospel. Unfortunately, they misuse their gifts and abuse the Word of God, keeping many from the kingdom, and driving believers away in despair because they lack the “faith” to see their dreams come true.
Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites” and tells them, “You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in…. Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt. 23:13, 33). In a similar manner, today’s prosperity preachers prevent their followers from entering the kingdom by proclaiming “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves. “You’ll recognize them by their fruit,” He says; that is, their unbiblical doctrine exposes their true nature. Jesus describes their day of reckoning: “On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matt. 7:15-22).
The apostle Peter writes, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
It’s not too late for false teachers to repent. Meanwhile, faithful teachers are urged to remain true to the Lord. Peter exhorts elders of the Dispersion to “shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Next: Can Apostates Be Christians?