Messy church: Prosperity gospel

I Corinthians 4:8-12

One of the problems besetting modern believers is frustration. If only we were more like the first-century church! In comparison with today, the church we read about in the Acts of the Apostles seems dynamic, successful, and bursting with supernatural power.

Of course, there are some who claim that this is all down to our defeatist attitude and lack of faith. This is the “health, wealth and prosperity” gospel: even today, we can enjoy perfection and complete deliverance. Perfect health, successful marriages, unlimited wealth, victory over sin – it’s all yours right here, right now! Name it, claim it, because Christ has secured it!

The details may be slightly different, but such inappropriate triumphalism has been around for as long as the church, and is actually just as damaging as the pessimism it despises. There was a lot of it in Corinth, where the believers were smugly convinced that they were so spiritually ‘advanced’ and successful that they didn’t need Paul’s help or instruction any more. “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!” (verse 8)

If the Corinthians had already ‘arrived’, how was it that Paul and the other apostles were so far behind them? He was a travelling missionary with little in the way of material possessions and nothing in the way of material security. He shared fully in Christ’s rejection and hardships: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58) Paul’s ’reward’ for his Christian service was not honour and prosperity but suffering and ridicule. He was obliged to endure false accusations and even physical assaults, unable to defend his honour by complaining or retaliating (verses 11,12). His apostolic ‘privilege’ was to be one of the prime targets for the hatred and abuse of the unbelieving world – like a captive at the tail end of a Roman general’s victory parade, deemed unfit to live and doomed to some humiliating form of execution (verse 9). There is nothing glamorous about genuine Christian ministry.

The truth is that the Cross is not just a past event; it must be the Christian’s everyday experience. Right here, right now, we are meant to be crucifying our pride and self-reliance – not pursuing our worldly desires for prosperity and success. Weakness and failure may be frustrating, but they may be the price we have to pay for remaining humble.

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