To Prosperity Preachers: Teach Them to Go
A fundamental change happened with the coming of Christ into the world. Until that time, God had focused his redemptive work on Israel with occasional works among the nations. Paul said, “In past generations [God] allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). He called them “times of ignorance.” “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Now the focus has shifted from Israel to the nations. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Israel] and given to a people producing its fruits [followers of the Messiah]” (Matthew 21:43). A hardening has come upon Israel until the full number of the nations comes in (Romans 11:25).
One of the main differences between these two eras is that in the Old Testament, God glorified himself largely by blessing Israel so that the nations could see and know that the Lord is God. “May [the Lord] maintain the cause of . . . his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:59-60). Israel was not yet sent on a “Great Commission” to gather the nations; rather, she was glorified so that the nations would see her greatness and come to her.
So when Solomon built the temple of the Lord it was spectacularly lavish with overlaid gold.
The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar. And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold. (1 Kings 6:20-22)
And when he furnished it, the gold was again just as abundant.
So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; and the sockets of gold, for the doors of the innermost part of the house. (1 Kings 7:48-50)
It took Solomon seven years to build the house of the Lord. Then he took thirteen years to build his own house (1 Kings 6:38-7:1). It too was lavish with gold and costly stones (1 Kings 7, 10).
Then, when all was built, the point of this opulence is seen in 1 Kings 10 as the queen of Sheba, representing the Gentile nations, comes to see the glory of the house of God and of Solomon. When she saw it, “there was no more breath in her” (1 Kings 10:5). She said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king” (1 Kings 10:9).
In other words, the pattern in the Old Testament is a come-see religion. There is a geographic center of the people of God. There is a physical temple, an earthly king, a political regime, an ethnic identity, an army to fight God’s earthly battles, and a band of priests to make animal sacrifices for sins.
With the coming of Christ all of this changed. There is no geographic center for Christianity (John 4:20-24); Jesus has replaced the temple, the priests, and the sacrifices (John 2:19; Hebrews 9:25-26); there is no Christian political regime because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); and we do not fight earthly battles with chariots and horses or bombs and bullets, but spiritual ones with the word and the Spirit (Ephesians 6:12-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
All of this supports the great change in mission. The New Testament does not present a come-see religion, but a go-tell religion. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20).
The implications of this are huge for the way we live and the way we think about money and lifestyle. One of the main implications is that we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) on the earth. We do not use this world as though it were our primary home. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
This leads to a wartime lifestyle. That means we don’t amass wealth to show the world how rich our God can make us. We work hard and seek a wartime austerity for the cause of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. We maximize giving to the war effort, not comforts at home. We raise our children with a view to helping them embrace the suffering that it will cost to finish the mission.
So if a prosperity preacher asks me about all the promises of wealth for faithful people in the Old Testament, my response is: Read your New Testament carefully and see if you see the same emphasis. You won’t find it. And the reason is that things have dramatically changed.
“We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Why? Because the call to Christ is a call to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). The emphasis of the New Testament is not riches to lure us in to sin, but sacrifice to carry us out.
One providential confirmation that God intended this distinction between a come-see orientation in the Old Testament and a go-tell orientation in the New Testament is the difference between the language of the Old Testament and the language of the New. Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, was shared by no other peoples of the ancient world. It was unique to Israel. This is an astonishing contrast with Greek, the language of the New Testament, which was the trade language of the Roman world. So the very languages of the Old and New Testaments signal the difference in mission. Hebrew was not well-suited for missions to the ancient world. Greek was ideally suited for missions to the Roman world.
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