The "More Abundant Life"

Common Proof Texts
Why is There Suffering?
Origins of Health and Wealth Gospel
God's Promises


In the ministry I was involved with, verses such as John 10:10 and III John 2 were often quoted as the basis for having a "more abundant life." These verses (and others) are still the central "proof texts" for a movement which is not limited to that ministry, but is quite widespread throughout Christianity. This movement focuses heavily on the abundance and blessings of God. The biggest key is faith or believing. It is said that God's primary will for you is to have the absolute best of everything that life has to offer, and if you do not have it, then it is not God who is at fault, it is because you do not have enough faith. This movement is known by various names. We called it the "more abundant life" after John 10:10, but it is also referred to as the "health and wealth Gospel," the "Word of Faith" movement, or sometimes "Name it and Claim it." This last comes from the idea that when you pray, you boldly "name and claim" what is rightfully yours because of God's promises. I myself used to sing a song, to the tune of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," that went, "You can get anything you want, just believe for it when you pray."

While I do not deny that God answers prayers in mighty ways, the problem with this kind of thinking is that it tends to take the focus off God and puts it on our believing (faith). It also takes the focus off a relationship with God, and focuses on what we can "get" from Him. The result tends to be a cocky, arrogant attitude, instead of the humbleness with which we should approach God. It belittles God, looking at Him as little more than a "sugar daddy," or worse, a vending machine that dispenses blessings when you just pull the lever. God does promise us blessings, but they are not to be the primary focus of our relationship with Him, at the expense of genuine love and worship.

In addition, while there are certain blessings promised in the Bible, the majority of them are in the context of the Age to Come, and not this present evil age. The Psalms talk about how in this life the wicked receive many blessings while the righteous suffer. This is not limited to "the previous administration" either. Paul described great suffering and distress (II Corinthians 1:8; 6:4-5; 11:22-29). He had learned both to have abundance and to suffer lack. Did he suffer lack because he was at a "low point in his believing?" He described enduring many, many hardships for the sake of the Gospel. If hardships in one's life were an indication of not believing God, Paul must have had serious unbelief in his life.

Many Christians who hold to this notion of health and wealth believe that since believing is action, you have to make some kind of effort to demonstrate your faith, and trust God to bless you for it. While believing does need to be expressed by actions (as James writes about in his epistle) the actions are to be in obedience to God and Christ, not just doing whatever it takes to get the desired results and expecting God to bless it. The Scriptures teach that the pursuit of riches is foolish (Proverbs 23:4-5; 28:20-22; I Timothy 6:7-10) and that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned us to beware of covetousness (Luke 12:15) and Paul equated covetousness with idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Some have even said that it is a sin for any believer to be poor, because they are not believing God. What then of Paul? "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Philippians 4:11-12). Some have also said that it is a sin for any believer to be sick. What then of Trophimus in II Timothy 4:20 or Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:24-30? For that matter, every believer in the first century church died. Was it because of their lack of believing?

During this present evil age, we live in a fallen world, with imperfect flesh. We are plagued by sin and degradation. We are surrounded by people who reject God and persecute those who believe in Him. Disease and all manner of suffering fill this world, making some people wonder how God could allow such things. I used to think that if people just "believed more" the world would be a better place. But the Bible teaches that it will not get better but worse before the Lord returns. Only with the return of Christ and his reign on earth will the world be restored to the perfection God originally intended for it. The "big picture" is the coming reign of God's anointed King over a restored earth. All will be perfect in that Kingdom, and there will then be no more sickness or death, no more sorrow or crying. There will be no more war, no more crime, no more evil. In the meantime, those who believe have a taste of what is to come, in the midst of this otherwise fallen world. At times God may even choose to heal someone, but it is temporary at best, since they will still die unless the Lord returns.

Perhaps the most hurtful aspect of the health and wealth gospel is that whenever a person was experiencing hard times, they were told that it was their own fault, and if they "just had more faith" God would deliver them. Not only did this put more emphasis on one's "believing" than on God's power to deliver, but it added condemnation and a sense of failure to the already hurting person, and if they didn't "get it together" they were looked down on as being "inferior believers" instead of being viewed with compassion. We discussed what Living by Faith actually means, in the article by that name.

One could argue the pros and cons of such a belief system from a "logic" point of view. God is love and light, so how could He desire anything but goodness and blessings for His children? And if someone is not manifesting such blessings, it certainly isn't God's fault so it must be theirs. The Bible doesn't teach this, though. I would like to examine the "proof texts" of this movement, and then consider what the Bible says about suffering, and what some of God's promises are for this life and the next.

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Common Proof Texts

Possibly the most widely quoted, yet misunderstood verse of the movement is John 10:10.

John 10:
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
[see NASB]

First of all, the verse was, and to an extent still is, often misquoted. We used to say that Jesus came so that we could have "a more than abundant life." Wording it this way makes it sound more like health and wealth. But the verse actually says that he came that we might have life, and have it (i.e. life) more abundantly. Having "life more abundantly" is not the same as having "a more than abundant life" which implies having abundant blessings in life, including material.

The fact is there is nothing in this verse that automatically implies material abundance. The word for "more abundantly" is perissos which means "more" or "beyond measure" which is describing the life that he came to give us. But do we have more abundant life when we have wealth? Jesus said that a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (Luke 12:15). Besides, the whole context of this passage in John is about Jesus being the shepherd and the sheep hearing his voice, as well as Jesus being the door to the fold. He is talking about having access to God. The whole mindset of abundance referring to health and wealth in this life is simply not the point of the passage. Again, I do not deny that God can and does give us blessings, but to focus on blessings in this life rather than on life in the Age to Come is to miss the whole point of what Jesus taught.

Much of the focus of the ministry with which I was involved was teaching people how to have a "more abundant life." The promise of God's blessings is often what attracts people to such groups, as it is a more popular sounding message. We were taught that prosperity and health were God's will "above all," based on the third epistle of John.

III John
2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
[see NASB]

This verse is another that is often misunderstood and misused. Because it says "Beloved, I wish above all things..." it is concluded that prosperity and health are God's primary will for us. But can it be that God is more concerned with physical prosperity and health than He is with our spiritual life? Perhaps a closer look is warranted.

First of all, the word "wish" is the Greek word euchomai which is elsewhere translated "wish" or "pray". It is used in verses like Acts 27:29 where the shipwrecked men "cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day" and Romans 9:3 where Paul says, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren..." In II Corinthians 13:7 Paul says, "I pray to God that ye do no evil" and a few verses later (verse 9) he says, "this also we wish, even your perfection." Is this the kind of "believing prayer" that gets "guaranteed results," or is it expressing a wish or desire?

Secondly, the word translated "above" in the phrase "above all things" is peri which is most often translated "of," "for," "concerning," or "about." The ASV renders this verse, "Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." The NASB has, "I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health." The Douay version has it "concerning all things..." Clearly it is not saying that prosperity and health are desired above all things. Furthermore, most scholars understand this verse as being a standard salutation from John to "the well beloved Gaius," not that it is God's unquestionable will for all people.

Thirdly, what does it mean to "prosper" and "be in good health" anyway? The word for "prosper" is euodoo, from a compound of eu (well, well done, good) and hodos (way, wayside, journey, highway). Thus it means (according to Strong's Concordance) "to help on the road, i.e. (passively) succeed in reaching; figuratively, to succeed in business affairs:—(have a) prosper(-ous journey)." The word only occurs three times. In one occurrence it is translated "prosperous journey" (Romans 1:10). In another it is translated "prospered" (I Corinthians 16:2). The third occurrence is here in III John 2. So it can refer figuratively to financial prosperity or literally to a successful journey. The context must determine the meaning.

The phrase "be in health" is one word in Greek, hugiaino, from hugies (whole, sound). Strong's defines it as "to have sound health, i.e. be well (in body); figuratively, to be uncorrupt (true in doctrine):—be in health, (be safe and) sound, (be) whole(-some)." It occurs 12 times in the New Testament. Three of them refer to literal physical wholeness, while nine times it refers to "sound doctrine," "wholesome words," or "sound in the faith." So it is more often used to refer to whole or sound doctrine or words, but can also be used to refer to physical health. As with "prosper," the context must determine its meaning.

Let's look, then, at the context of the verse.

III John
1 The elder unto the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
3 For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;
6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:
7 Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
[see NASB]

Clearly the point of the letter from John is not about physical health and prosperity. It is about walking in the truth. This is the context of John's desire for Gaius, and verse 2 must be understood in that context.

Now, am I saying it is not God's will for people to prosper financially and be in good physical health? Definitely not. But this verse cannot be used to substantiate the notion that God wishes it "above all things." God is more interested in the spiritual health of His children, and has also promised that perfect health and wealth and eternal blessings await those who believe, in the Age to Come.

Isaiah 53 contains another passage of scripture that is often used to prove that physical health is of primary concern.

Isaiah 53:
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
[see NASB]

The explanation that I was taught is as follows: In verse 3, “sorrows” is the Hebrew word makob which means "pain," and “grief” is choli which means "sickness, weakness or pain." In verse 4, it says he has borne (nasa, lifted up, carried away) our griefs (choli) and carried (cabal) our sorrows (makob).”  And in verse 5, it says that he was wounded and bruised for us, "...and with his stripes we are healed."  Part of this verse is referred to in I Peter 2:24: " whose stripes ye were healed," putting it in the past tense. By this it was said that because of Christ's suffering and death, healing and physical wholeness is rightfully ours to claim.

However, there are a few problems with this view.  For one thing, makob can refer to physical, mental or spiritual grief and suffering. For example, in Job 33:19 it is translated “pain,” while in Ecclesiastes 1:18 it is translated “sorrow.”  It is used both ways, not exclusively of physical pain. That explains why it is translated sorrow, grief, or pain (most often "sorrow").

The word choli does mean sickness, though.  However, "by his stripes we are healed" (verse 5) is in an interesting context. “He was wounded (chalal, pierced) for our transgressions (pasha, revolt, rebellion), he was bruised (daka, broken, bruised, crushed) for our iniquities (avon, perverseness, from root "to be bent"), the chastisement (musar, instruction, correction, chastening) of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed (rapha).”  It is speaking here of our rebellion and perverseness rather than sickness and pain, and he bore our chastening for us.

The word rapha (healed) can refer to physical or spiritual healing (Psalm 60:2; Isaiah 57:18-19; Jeremiah 3:22) or even to repairing an altar (I Kings 18:30). The corresponding Greek word, iaomai, is used the same way, as either physical or spiritual healing. In Matthew 13:15 it refers to spiritual healing. The context determines the proper interpretation.

If the context of verse 5 is referring to our transgressions and iniquities, and it says that our chastening or correction was on him, it can be concluded that "by his stripes we are healed" is referring primarily to spiritual healing more than physical. Since verses 3 and 4 mention spiritual grief and sorrow as well as sickness, verse 5 cannot be interpreted as referring primarily to physical healing. Verse 6, in fact, is clearly referring to spiritual healing when it says we’ve all gone astray, turned to our own ways, and all our iniquity is laid on him.  And these are the words quoted in I Peter 2.

I Peter 2:
24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
[see NASB]

Note that verses 3 and 4 of Isaiah 53 (referring to sorrow and grief, above) are not quoted in this passage. In fact verse 24 is referring to bearing our sins in his body, so that being dead to sin we can live righteously. It is in that context that it quotes "by whose stripes you were healed." It is primarily speaking of spiritual healing, not physical.

This is not to say that God never heals. It is just that these verses cannot be used to prove that physical healing is God's primary concern. These verses are commonly used to prove that physical healing is our right to claim because of Christ's sacrifice, but they do not actually say that.

Matthew 8 quotes Isaiah 53 as well, and in a way that is thought to prove that physical healing is of central importance.

Matthew 8:
16 When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:
17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
[see NASB]

This quote from Isaiah does say that Jesus took our infirmities and sicknesses, and it is quoted in the context of healing the sick. But does this say that physical healing is always guaranteed because of Christ's redemptive work? It can't be saying that, because it took place before he completed his redemptive sacrifice. It is more his Messianic authority than his redemptive work that the miracles of healing were demonstrating. Jesus said that when he cast out demons, the Kingdom of God had come upon them (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20), and when the disciples healed people, they were instructed to say, "The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9-11). When such healing and deliverance were done either by the Lord or the disciples, it was as a foretaste of the complete healing and deliverance that is promised for the future Kingdom (see In Anticipation). As mentioned before, if it meant that every believer should have perfect health at all times, then it would contradict other Scriptures that describe believers being sick and dying.

Another verse sometimes misinterpreted is I Corinthians 8:9, which says, "for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." But the context of this verse shows that it is not talking about material riches.

II Corinthians 8:
7 Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.
8 I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.
9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
[see NASB]

There are several verses that were often referred to as "blank checks" because they said that whatever we ask in prayer and believe for, we receive. These include Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; and I John 3:22; 5:14-15. While Jesus did say "whatsoever you ask" it obviously does not include what is asked for out of greed or selfishness (James 4:2-3). The point was often made, and is valid, that if I asked for a million dollars, even if I "believed" for it, I shouldn't expect to receive that. The above verses indicate that we are to ask in Jesus' name, and according to God's will.

Paul refers to us as ambassadors for Christ in II Corinthians 5:20. It has often been suggested that because we are ambassadors we should have the best of everything because we represent Christ. But that would be reading into it. The verse does not say that, and in fact many passages of Scripture describe how we are to take on the role of servants, and how we will suffer and be ill treated in this life by those who reject God and His Word. There is and will continue to be suffering in this world until the return of Christ.

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Why Is There Suffering?

In considering this subject, it must be understood why sickness, poverty, and suffering exist in the first place. It was not God's will originally, and because of man's sin, death entered the world (Romans 5:12-21; I Corinthians 15:21-22). Also because of man's sin, the ground was cursed.

Genesis 3:
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
[see NASB]

For this reason, the whole creation groans (Romans 8:19-22), waiting for the time when the earth will be restored. In the meantime, the results of being in a fallen world are all around us. God has a solution, though. Psalm 107:20 says, "He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions." This is sometimes interpreted as saying that if we believe the Word, we are guaranteed healing of all afflictions and diseases. But the context of this verse shows that spiritual healing of sin is the primary meaning.

Psalm 107:
17 Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.
18 Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.
19 Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses.
20 He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.
21 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
22 And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
[see NASB]

It is because of transgressions and iniquities that the fools spoken of are afflicted. God's solution is that He sent His Word and healed them. It is spiritual healing that is primarily referred to here, although physical healing can come as a result. When Jesus opened his teaching ministry by quoting from Isaiah, he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19). The Word heals the heart, frees the captive, and gives sight to the blind. From the context, you can see that this is more than healing from physical blindness, although Jesus did literally heal physical blindness at times. Again, those instances were foretastes of the complete deliverance that is coming. Meanwhile, we may sometimes have physical afflictions that are the result of sin in our lives, and by receiving God's healing of the heart one may receive physical deliverance as a result in such cases.

However, not all sickness and suffering are because of an individual's sin. Jesus told his listeners that certain tragedies which had happened were not because of anyone's sins, but that unless people repent, all will perish (Luke 13:1-5). The spiritual healing that comes from accepting Christ and believing the Gospel may sometimes result in physical healing and deliverance, but not always. When it does not happen, does that mean we are not believing sufficiently? Suffering and tragedy are simply part of this life, while we are in this fallen world, which is controlled by the god of this world, who is Satan (II Corinthians 4:4). To say that a person is not trusting God because they are sick or suffering lack in some area, is unfairly judgmental. There are many other reasons why physical deliverance might not occur, besides lack of faith. And sometimes it just isn't God's time.

Job was perfect and upright according to the first verse of the book of Job, and he feared God and shunned evil. Yet he endured great suffering, until God finally delivered him in the end. The book of Job tells us that it was Satan who directly caused the attacks on Job, yet the first two chapters describe how God allows him to do it. Job 3:25 says, "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me." But this verse does not say that it was his fear that caused it to come upon him, as I was taught. That would be reading into it. The attacks were from the devil, but God allowed it because He is ultimately in control.

There is very little mention of the devil in the Old Testament. The Hebrew mindset was that God was sovereign over all, and many times they spoke of God actively doing things when in actuality He allowed them to happen. A clear example is in I Kings 22:20-23. The spirit says, "I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets," and God says "Go forth and do so."  Literally He allows it, but the next verse says, "...the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets." This way of speaking keeps God, who is sovereign over all, in the forefront of their minds.

Having said that, I will point out that this can be taken too far. I do not believe that Satan caused the flood in Genesis. God emphasized, "And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh.." (Genesis 6:17). And other specific acts of God's judgment, I believe were God acting directly. There can be a tendency to blame the devil for everything bad that happens, and assume that God wants us to overcome it, if we just have enough faith. We give the devil far too much credit. He can't do anything unless God allows it. God is sovereign over all, and limits the activities of the devil.

The idea that God might have a reason for something bad happening is usually ridiculed by those who hold to the health and wealth gospel. They tend to quote things like I John 1:5, "...God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." But this is a rather subjective definition of what is light and what is darkness. There are numerous instances in which something bad was done, but God used it as a blessing. In Genesis, Joseph's brothers meant to cause him harm, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20) and used it as a way to have Joseph in a position to preserve Israel's family in Egypt. David wrote in Psalm 119:71, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." There is some disagreement as to whether God actively caused these things to happen, or merely allowed them and then turned them into blessings. But in the final analysis it doesn't matter, because whichever way you look at it, God was in control.

There is also disagreement as to whether God still works this way today. Especially in dispensational thinking, it is thought that attributing everything to God whether good or bad was mainly an Old Testament custom. But even in the New Testament we read of God's chastening, which means to discipline as a father would a child.

Hebrews 12:
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
[see NASB]

Paul spoke of being given a "thorn in the flesh" in II Corinthians 12:7. While it is true that he called it "the messenger of Satan," whose will was it ultimately accomplishing? Was it Satan who did not want Paul to be exalted above measure? Satan would have been more than happy for Paul to be lifted up with pride - that's what Satan himself did (I Timothy 3:6). It was God who was in control, it was God whom Paul asked to remove the affliction, it was God who said His grace was sufficient, and it was God who wanted Paul to avoid being lifted up with pride.  And ultimately, it was God who delivered him out of all of his persecutions and afflictions (II Timothy 3:10-11)

God is in control and there is nothing that happens in this world that is not either directly caused, or allowed to happen, by God. God will sometimes allow adversity in our lives for a time for various reasons. He may be allowing it in order to demonstrate His power and glory when He does finally deliver us. Jesus said that no one's sin was the cause of the man born blind, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (John 9:1-4). God may also be allowing you to go through difficult times because He is concerned with developing Christian character and preparing you for the coming Kingdom. There can be valuable life lessons learned by going through hard times, not least of which is learning to trust God in the midst of negative circumstances. Sometimes He will humble us and allow us to have need so that we don't forget that it is God and not ourselves that meets our needs. He warned the children of Israel about this in Deuteronomy 8. And sometimes there may even be reasons we do not understand. But He promises complete and total deliverance, even if it does not come until the resurrection.

The description of the Old Testament examples of faith in Hebrews 11 includes references to some who did not get deliverance in their lifetimes. I was taught that it was saying some of them didn't believe to get delivered, because verse 35 says, "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance." But if that were the case why would they be listed among these examples of faith? Verse 39 says, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise." They didn't receive the promise in their lifetimes, but were confident that God would keep His promises, even if it meant raising them from the dead. They held fast to the same promise of blessings that was given to Abraham, who also did not receive it in his lifetime.

In such cases God is still in control, and can use a negative circumstance as a learning experience for us. Many times it takes going through such times to learn to really trust God and not our own abilities. And there are some times when the example of a believer maintaining his faith in the face of hardship can be an inspiration to others. I was also taught that those who were martyred for their faith in the first century had gotten to the point where they just could not believe for deliverance. But I have realized in recent years what the example of their martyrdom has meant.

The preaching of the Christian faith has the resurrection as its central proof. Since I was not there, I did not see the empty tomb or the risen Christ. But there were eyewitnesses who have written their accounts. Some skeptics have suggested that the disciples fabricated the whole story, but this would go against basic human nature. A person might fabricate a hoax to further his cause, up to a point. But no one would go to their death maintaining it was true, if they knew it to be a lie. They were convinced because they saw the empty tomb and the risen Christ, and the fact that they chose to die rather than deny it gives their witness that much more credibility. And it's not as if they lost, since God will raise them from the dead at the resurrection when Christ returns. Then all His promises will be completely fulfilled.

Having said all this, the bottom line is that God will keep His promises, either in this life or in the Kingdom to come. The timing is entirely His prerogative. There is an idea among adherents to the health and wealth gospel that we have the right to claim or "demand" healing and deliverance from God because He promised it. It is said that we "demand" it the way you would demand payment when cashing a check. It is rightfully ours, they say, and all we do is claim it. However, asking in prayer is not used this way in the Bible.

A number of Greek words are translated "ask," such as aiteo, erotao, eperotao, and punthanomai. Greek words for "pray" include deomai, euchomai, proseuchomai, parakaleo, and also erotao (which is also translated "ask"). They have the sense of, and are translated as, "ask," "enquire," "desire," "beg," or "beseech." (The English word "claim" does not appear in the KJV). The only words in this group ever translated "demand" are eperotao and punthanomai. The former is only so translated twice, and is used of asking people for information. In its many other occurrences it is most often translated "ask" and not used in the sense of "demand." The other word, punthanomai, is only translated "demand" twice (also used of asking for information), and is elsewhere translated "ask" or "enquire." It only occurs 12 times, and is never used to describe anyone demanding something of God. The language of "claiming" or "demanding" what is already ours is not found in the Bible. God wants us to humbly ask Him for things, not demand them of Him.

God wants us to learn to trust Him in everything. Jesus taught us to pray "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). I was once taught that the Lord's Prayer was not addressed to us, because it was for a different administration. It could not be addressed to us, it was said, because in the Church Epistles, we are told that He has already given us everything, so we shouldn't ask for what we already have. They would cite Ephesians 1:3 as proof, but that verse says that God "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." It is not talking about material blessings. If we were not supposed to ask for anything material, but just "claim" it because He already gave it to us, why does it say in Philippians 4:6 that we are to "Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." It is more important to God that we learn to trust Him day by day, than that we have everything we want or need.

When Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" he asked God to take it away, but God said, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9). The Bible does not tell us what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. It may have been people, as I was taught, since that phrase is used several places referring to people that hindered God's people. However, it is not impossible that Paul was actually referring to some physical infirmity.  Back then we mocked those who would cite Galatians 4:15, where it says that if possible they would gladly have plucked out their eyes and given them to Paul.  However the preceding verses said, "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus."  Whatever Paul’s infirmity in the flesh was, the point is that God did not take it away, because He wanted Paul to see that His strength is perfected in our human weakness.

Being "more than a conqueror" does not mean "conquering every situation," for Romans 8 says we are more than conquerors in all those things. In the midst of negative circumstances, we are not defeated because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Romans 8:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[see NASB]

Notice it says, "neither death nor life." This is not just hyperbole (exaggeration). There is nothing that could happen to us that will separate us from God's love if we continue to look to Him. Even if we die, we are still going to be with Him for all eternity, after the resurrection. So we may be tempted to give up or be defeated, but God's power enables us to persevere, especially knowing what lies ahead. This is how we are more than conquerors.

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Origins of the Health and Wealth Gospel

Having looked at the Scriptures regarding this subject and realizing that they do not support the popular "name it and claim it" mindset, one begins to wonder where these ideas came from. Truth is truth no matter who speaks it, and the mere fact that someone says it does not make it true or false. However, I have found it enlightening to discover the roots of this way of thinking, and it is worth mentioning.

The "Word-Faith" movement, also known as "Positive Confession" largely originated with the writings of E. W. Kenyon (1867-1948), and became a major movement in more recent years under the teaching ministry of Kenneth Hagin. The following is from a profile of the movement, done by the Watchman Fellowship which you can see in its entirety here.

Born in 1860, E. W. Kenyon is generally recognized as the founding father of the modern Word-Faith Movement. Beginning as a Methodist, he became quite ecumenical, associating with the Baptists. Some of his work even resulted in the founding of a few Primitive Baptist Churches. Late in life, Kenyon moved into Pentecostalism. At the same time, he combined elements of the metaphysical cults, such as Christian Science, New Thought theology, and Unity School of Christianity (D.R. McConnell, A Different Gospel, pp. 31-35). "The doctrines of correct thinking and believing accompanied by positive confession, with the result of calling a sickness a symptom (denial of reality supported by a Gnostic dualism) are not found in Christian writings until after New Thought and its offspring had begun to develop them. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to state that the doctrine originated and developed in these cults, and was later absorbed by Christians in their quest to develop a healing ministry" (H. Terris Neuman, An Analysis of the Sources of the Charismatic Teaching of Positive Confession, p. 43).
Though obviously not the movement's originator, some have also called Kenneth Hagin the "grand-daddy of the faith teachers" (Sherry Andrews, "Kenneth Hagin: Keeping the Faith," Charisma, October 1981, p. 24). In a survey of readers of Charisma (a major Charismatic magazine) concerning those ministers that influence them the most, Kenneth Hagin was 3rd, ranked behind only TV evangelist Pat Robertson, and the heir apparent to the Word-Faith movement throne, Kenneth Copeland (Kenneth Hagin, Jr., Charisma, "Trend Toward the Faith Movement," August 1985, pp. 67-70).

Hagin claims that " is the plan of our Father God in His great love and His great mercy that no believer should ever be sick, that every believer should live his life full span down here on earth and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus" (Hagin, Seven Things You Should Know About Divine Healing, p. 21).

Books such as Laws of Prosperity by Kenneth Copeland, The Tongue - A Creative Force and Releasing the Ability of God by Charles Capps, all deal with the supposed inherent power of words. We supposedly determine our destiny by the words we confess, and the spiritual laws we operate. It is a common saying in the movement that God spoke things into being with His Word, so therefore when Christians speak God's word, they speak things into being as well, if they have faith. The following description from another Watchman page describes the beliefs that are involved in this movement, and presents an accurate contrast, apart from the claim of Jesus being “God incarnate.”

God himself is said to have created the world and to do all that he does by speaking words of faith. Man's creation in God's image is commonly understood to mean that human beings are "little gods" capable of speaking creative words of faith. The fall of Adam into sin is interpreted as having transformed Adam (and all unredeemed people) into Satan's nature and as having transferred Adam's godhood or dominion on earth to Satan. Jesus is believed to have become man in order to restore human beings to godhood as renewed "incarnations" of God. He is said to have done this by dying spiritually as well as physically on the cross, suffering in hell, and then while in hell becoming the first person to be "born again," before finally being raised from the dead. Those who believe in Jesus are supposedly empowered to speak words of faith again, especially in order to obtain bodily health and financial prosperity (both of which are supposedly guaranteed as present possessions in the Atonement). In contrast, traditional Christian theology teaches that God and God alone can bring about whatever he chooses; that man was created to reflect God's character and to implement his will, not to be little gods; that man is fallen but not Satanic in nature; that God is still in control of this world; that Jesus Christ alone is God incarnate; that Jesus died physically, not spiritually, to redeem us; that Jesus therefore was not born again; and that health and prosperity are promised to believers in the future resurrection. In the meantime God heals and prospers people providentially and miraculously when and as he sees fit. Most of the followers of the Word-Faith teachers are Pentecostals and other evangelical Christians.

I quote these sources because I had heard these names mentioned (especially Kenyon) and had no idea what they believed in. While some of these claims, such as believers being "little gods," may not have been part of the doctrine of the ministry I was in, many of them clearly had a major influence on what was taught. This is particularly true about the "power of words." The so-called "Law of Believing" was said to be a law that works "for saint and sinner alike." It was said to be a principle, with little to no involvement from God. Phrases like "confession of belief yields receipt of confession" and "the power of believing" were common. I also heard many a believer speak of "having symptoms" and that the disease was "a lie of the adversary."

Another influential source of these teachings was Albert Cliffe, author of Let Go and Let God. What I learned as "the Law of Believing" Cliffe had called "the law of cause and effect." Ideas about positive and negative believing, and the importance of the right confession, which I was taught were Biblical concepts, were propounded in Cliffe's books. Many such ideas stemmed from metaphysical and "New Thought" sources, rather than the Bible. In fact, Cliffe spoke openly of being a spiritist and a medium, and wrote, "Many of the subjects I have given in my Bible class have been dictated to me by my loved ones long since passed on" (Let Go and Let God, p. 157).

In addition, many of the "positive thinking" catchphrases that are popular with motivational seminar speakers were adapted to a Christian motif. "If your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it." "We don't have problems, just opportunities." "Beware of hardening of the attitudes, and stinkin' thinkin'." All these "positive affirmations" sound wonderful, but they are not from the Bible. Only God has the power to speak things into being with His Word. We are expected to believe His Word, but not so that we can bring things to pass.

Believing, as discussed in Living By Faith, is simply having trust and confidence that what you are told is true. Believing God is not so much about believing "for" things, but rather believing His Words, especially as spoken by His Messiah. To believe His words, we must know what He has said. But believing is not a power in and of itself that can bring things to pass. God's Word has and will come to pass because it is God's Word, whether or not we believe it. But we are given the opportunity to participate in His plans, with the provision that we believe the Gospel, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah whom the Gospel proclaims.

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God's Promises

Since we are supposed to believe God's promises, we must be aware of what they are. God does promise blessings, even in this life, but they must be kept in balance with what He has told us about this life and the next. The key is recognizing that we have an inheritance coming to us. Jesus told a parable (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19) about a landowner who built up his estate, and then went to a far country. The husbandmen beat and killed first the servants and then the landowner's son, thinking to take his inheritance. The religious leaders to whom he was speaking recognized that he spoke it against them. Jesus said that the landowner would destroy the husbandmen and give the inheritance to others. He then declares, "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes" which is a quote from Psalm 118:22-23.

Jesus said that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). When he speaks of the Son of Man coming in glory and separating the sheep from the goats, to the sheep he says, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). We read in the article about The Promises To Abraham that he never received his inheritance while he was alive, but stands to receive it when he is resurrected (Acts 7:5; Hebrews 11:8). Paul was sent to preach to the Gentiles, "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). He said that God "is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32), and he wrote that the inheritance is by promise and not by the law (Galatians 3:18). The magnificent inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his descendents is now available to anyone who believes. Ephesians mentions our inheritance no less than three times in the first chapter, as well as a warning in chapter 5. (Similar warnings are found in I Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; and Galatians 5:21.)

Ephesians 1:
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will...
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints...
Ephesians 5:
5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
[see NASB]

God has "made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12) and we know that "of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance" (Colossians 3:24). Jesus inherited a better name than the angels (Hebrews 1:4) and because of the New Covenant that he instituted, we get to receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15). The glory of this inheritance is what keeps us going in the midst of the trials and temptations of this life, according to Peter.

I Peter 1:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
[see NASB]

The New Testament epistles tell us that while we wait for the glory of our inheritance, we will experience difficult times. It will not always be a "walk of victory." Paul exhorted the disciples to continue in the faith, and said "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It is not because suffering makes us worthy, it is simply that in this evil age, there will be tribulation before we get to our inheritance. Jesus said the same thing. "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Philippians 1:29 says, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." This world is under the devil's influence, so that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Yet in the midst of tribulation such that he despaired even of life, Paul wrote of God's comfort.

II Corinthians 1:
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
[see NASB]

Paul knew that no matter how bad a situation was, the worst that could happen was that he might die. But God can even raise the dead if necessary. Paul was stoned and left for dead in Acts 14:19-20, but the disciples gathered around him and he rose up and came into the city. Some commentators believe he actually died and was raised from the dead, but the text does not state this explicitly. But whether he was raised from the dead or just restored to wholeness after being stoned, it was still God's power that delivered him. There is no situation that God cannot deliver us from. Even if we do die, God has promised to raise us from the dead at the return of Christ.

When it seems like life is upside down, and the unrighteous have it better than those who trust God, we must be reminded that the wicked are only enjoying what they have temporarily. They will not have it forever. The psalmist Asaph wrote of this beautifully in Psalm 73. Also, in Psalm 93, we are assured that "...the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance" (verse 14). Those who are rich but godless will be judged in due time (Psalm 37:1-40; 49:16-20).

There are some promises that are primarily referring to the future, but have been misunderstood as applying to the present life. One of the most common is the often quoted, "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). While it is good to thank God for every day that we draw breath, that is not actually what this verse is referring to. Notice the context.

Psalm 118:
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD:
20 This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23 This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
[see NASB]

The corner stone which the builders rejected is a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah, which we saw above was quoted in the context of the parable of the landowner and the wicked husbandmen. It has to do with the coming Kingdom and the Day of the Lord. Also, in the same context is a verse that says, "I shall not die, but live" (verse 17). I have heard this verse used to encourage people who were very ill, and when they died, it made others wonder about the validity of this verse. But obviously God cannot make this promise to every individual, for all will die unless the Lord returns. The context is talking about trusting God to deliver, and in many cases He will do so miraculously, but even if he doesn't in this life, there is still everlasting life in the coming Kingdom, in "the day that the Lord hath made."

Another verse that is usually thought of as referring to the present life is Daniel 11:32, "...the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits." This is not a promise of what we shall do in this life, however. The context of the chapter is a prophecy concerning the end times, just before the return of Christ. This is not to say that God does not strengthen us now, but that is not what this verse is referring to.

The whole creation "is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God," according to Romans 8:19. Verse 24 of that same chapter says we are "saved by hope." It is in this context that we read the following verses.

Romans 8:
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
[see NASB]

Verse 32 is another that is frequently used to justify a "name it and claim it" attitude. But the context, as we saw, is about the hope of the sons of God, and all creation being restored to its original glory. It is not a promise to give us "all things" in this life. It is with this knowledge of our ultimate destiny that God comforts us in times of trouble.

Isaiah 35:
3 Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
[see NASB]

When the Lord returns, there will be great healing and deliverance such as has never been seen. And in the meantime, there can be foretastes of the Kingdom's power, at God's discretion. Many of the Psalms, among other passages, describe the abundance that God promises in the future paradise. Here is just a small sampling.

Psalm 65:
9 Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.
10 Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.
11 Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.
12 They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.
13 The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.
Psalm 69:
33 For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.
34 Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein.
35 For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession.
36 The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein.
Psalm 72:
12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
13 He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
16 There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
Psalm 85:
9 Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.
[see NASB]

Psalm 103 is a wonderful psalm of praise for all of God's blessings. But when it says "He healeth all thy diseases" can it be referring to all diseases in this life? If it were, then how could there have been believers who were sick and even died, as we have seen in the New Testament and ever since? God could obviously not promise to heal all diseases in this life, but when the earth is restored to its original perfect state, then all disease will be eliminated.

In the meantime, God brings us through all our trials. "Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Psalm 66:12). There is no good thing that He will withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). If it seems like He is withholding something, it may be just a matter of timing, and so we must wait upon the Lord.

Psalm 123:
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.
Isaiah 40:
31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
[see NASB]

God does indeed give us many abundant blessings. But it is always at His discretion, by His grace. We should never have the attitude of "I deserve this" even if we think we deserve it because of what Christ accomplished. And in the midst of this life, we must remember that we will not have all the blessings that He has promised for the future. But no matter how difficult this life may be, Paul wrote, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Mark 10:
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
[see NASB]

Jesus promised that if we put him and the Gospel ahead of all else, we will have blessings now (but with persecutions), and eternal life in the age to come. This is why we are exhorted to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and everything we need shall be added to us (Matthew 6:33). That is how we have life and have it more abundantly.

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Mark Clarke