We’re all acquainted with the sorrow and difficulties that life has for us. Everywhere we turn we see real people who are broken and hurting. Maybe someone has just lost their job, or another has lost a family member to a terrible disease or accident. Perhaps others are dealing with infertility or on the brink of divorce. I couldn’t begin to list all of the terrible things that everyday people have to cope with. Nobody gets a pass on hard times. Sometimes God’s benevolence is even brought to question. Why would God let me struggle to pay my bills when I faithfully tithe every week? I’ve been praying to God about something very important to me; why won’t He intervene in my desperate situation? The list goes on and on.
Anytime we talk about suffering and the Christian life, we immediately turn our attention to the book of Job. Job’s life was going as perfectly as anyone could ask for. He loved God, and he had been tremendously blessed by God. Job had God’s favor and God’s blessings on his life and he was doing extremely well. Then, out of the blue, disaster strikes Job’s life. We all know about the terrible things that Job endured, such as the loss of his children, terrible disease, and losing all his possessions.
Job was just like most people in that he was guilty of thinking that God works through some sort of retribution theology, and that God will always repay good for good and evil for evil. Job’s friend Eliphaz demonstrates this view in Job 4:8 when he says, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” You see, the problem is that Eliphaz was basing his theology on his personal experiences. He begins by saying, “As I have seen.” The problem with saying, “As I have seen,” is that we really haven’t “seen” all that much. God has not given us his eternality or his aseity. We are but a vapor in the wind. Our lives are fully dependent on God’s sovereignty, yet we think it is okay to put God’s righteous judgment on trial based on our brief personal experiences? To use an illustration that Paul himself used, “Can the clay say to the potter, why have you made me this way?” Or in this case, “Why have you chosen this path for me?”
Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” You see, God doesn’t always work in ways that would fit our definition of fairness. God works in ways that he knows are good for his people, not necessarily easiest. The hard truth of the matter is that God can do as he pleases. The comfort we get from that is in knowing that God is faithful. God is Holy, and God is worthy to be trusted.
In Romans 8:28 Paul says this, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul then gives a discourse about God eternally knowing us before the foundation of the world. He continues by saying, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those who he justified he also glorified.”
Paul, in this golden chain of redemption, demonstrates how God, being rich in mercy, has predestined, effectually called, justified, and glorified those who are in Christ Jesus. Notice all of these verbs are in the past tense. Even though Paul is speaking of a future glorification of the believer, he says that those whom God has justified he has also glorified. Our future glorification is not something that ebbs and flows in time. It’s not justified one day and unjustified the next. The future glorification of the believer is perfectly secure in the hands of Almighty God. It is not because we are good or because we helped to secure our glory in any way, but because God chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:4) and the Almighty will not fail. Let us not forget Jesus in John 6:39 declares that he will lose none that the father has given him.
The prosperity that God gives is not just in perseverance, but also in sanctification. Sometimes we are concerned about God prospering our wallet when he is more concerned about prospering our character and our heart. Just as in Genesis 50:20 when Joseph stood before his brother who had sold him into slavery some years before. Joseph had a clear understanding of God’s sovereignty when he tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
So that’s it… Prosperity gospel presented in a nutshell. It may not be the prospering that some would like, or that the modern church has presented, such as money and happiness. That sort of health and wealth prosperity gospel is not something the Bible promises. In fact, the New Testament all but guarantees that the life of a believer will be a continuous battle with suffering. In Romans 5:3-4 Paul says “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given us.”
As Americans, we may never be forced to give our life for the gospel. However, we will suffer for the sake of Christ. In our suffering we may go bankrupt. Tomorrow we may be diagnosed with cancer; but our utmost comfort comes in knowing that we will not be lost by the good shepherd; not today, not tomorrow, not ever. This is the true prosperity gospel, that God works for the greater good of the believer, and that sometimes is the unseen greater good. In every ounce of suffering and every moment where we feel confused with God’s plan, we can rest assured that he is going before us working all things for the good of those who love him. Every sickness, every persecution, and every trial that we face is producing endurance and character so that at the right time we may be glorified with Christ, and that sounds prosperous to me!