In 3 John 1:2, we read:
…I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
This simple greeting from John to Gaius has become the heart of a modern movement known as the health and wealth gospel. Prosperity preachers make much more of it than he intended, twisting his words to give undue focus on carnal things rather than spiritual.
One “name it and claim it” speaker has affirmed,
“God created every one of us to be successful. Before the foundation of the world, He laid out an exact plan for our lives. And in this plan He has moments of favor that will come across our path. These moments are not ordinary. They are destiny-altering moments.”1
The same writer tells us,
“It’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty.”2
I’m not suggesting God wants us to fail or starve to death or anything like that, but long life, good health and financial abundance are not promised to believers as these false teachers suggest. The message of the Bible is about the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, not physical health and wealth.
Among the verses hijacked to support this prosperity doctrine is Romans 8:28. It reads:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
It is a great promise! No matter how bad things look, if we love God, if we are the called, if we are focused on His purpose for our lives, then He will work everything out in our favour. But what does Paul mean by this? What does he mean by good? Some seem to think it means all our desires, preferences, pleasures, comfort, and wants will be showered upon us. As appealing as that may be, it is a misuse and abuse of what Paul wrote.
We need to look at the context of Romans 8:28. We’re going to go larger than the usual 15 verses we have emphasized in our series. In fact, we’re going to look at the entire chapter.
v 1-13—our walk
Those who are in Christ must walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. We are called to live according to the law of the Spirit, the gospel, not according to the carnal desires that we might have. The health & wealth gospel is about fleshly desires. It’s appeal is to the carnal mind. Notice:
…the carnal mind is enmity against God… (8:7)
Those who walk according to the Spirit are led by the Spirit (v 14), and are adopted as children of God. As we follow His word and focus on the spiritual, not the carnal, His Spirit is able to bear witness with our spirit that we belong to Him.
Surely if we are children of God, who is Creator of all things, He’ll bless us with whatever our hearts desire, right? We are heirs of God (v 17), yet the focus is not on physical things that will perish, but on eternity. We will be glorified with Christ AFTER we have suffered with Him. Prosperity preachers don’t talk about suffering—it’s not a popular message.
v 18-30—while we wait
In this life, we are going to suffer. Paul wrote,
…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
The glory that awaits us is so great that the sufferings of this life for the Lord will seem as nothing (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Paul gives a beautiful description in this section of our text of the anticipation of God’s people being received into heaven. Not only do we eagerly await it, but the whole creation is pictured as waiting for us to realize the hope of God’s people, heaven. It is not about good things in this life, but “the adoption, the redemption of our body” in eternity.
v 31-39—victory in Jesus
The “name it and claim it” folks are focused on physical blessings. As a child of God, I should be swimming in prosperity, right? Look at the types of things Paul said would come to the children of God:
…tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword (8:35)
If we serve Christ faithfully, some people will be against us (v 31), they will accuse us (v 33), and condemn us (v 34). How does this play out in life? Many in the first century were put to death in their service to Christ. How does that fit into the health & wealth doctrine? It doesn’t!
The Lord will work all things out for our good; not our physical good, but our spiritual good. The context of Romans 8:28 calls for spiritual living, a willingness to suffer for the faith, and in the end, victory with the Lord in heaven (v 17, 37).
1 Joel Osteen, It’s Your Time
2 Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now