Pep Talks and the Prosperity Gospel
by Michael L. Brown
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ike many of you, I’ve been a student of the Word for decades, and I’ve gone through the New Testament over and over again. So here’s a simple challenge to my fellow lovers of the Word: Please show me this pep-talk message anywhere in the Scriptures. Please show it to me in the words of Jesus or Paul or John or Peter or James or Jude. Please show it to me in the words of Moses or the prophets or the Psalms or Proverbs. Please show it to me in the Word of God.

Do I find promises of abundant provision in the Bible? I sure do. Do I find encouragement in the Scriptures? Day and night. Do I find comfort and hope and inspiration? Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Do I find life and blessing and joy? Yes, yes, and yes!

But I also find stern warnings and strong exhortations and sobering examples, and I find serious calls for repentance and reformation, with severe consequences for noncompliance. This is found from Genesis to Revelation, and there is no way under the sun that anyone could preach a pep-talk gospel while preaching through the entire Bible. Not a chance. There’s no way anyone could do it while preaching through just the New Testament or the Gospels or the letters of Paul, let alone preaching through the Book of Revelation. Simply stated, there is no such thing as a Biblically based pep-talk gospel.

It is very possible that some pep-talk preachers are motivated by love and want to help those who are downtrodden and discouraged. But true love tells the truth, and at some point we have to tell people the rest of the story; namely, that God is a holy and jealous God, He requires all we have, and one day we will give an account to Him. We must tell them Jesus is our Lord and Master, and He calls us to take up our own cross and follow Him. We must teach them about mercy and judgment, about the kindness and severity of God, about heaven and hell. We must help them to understand what sin is in God’s sight and how, through the blood of Jesus, we have the full and complete antidote to sin.

This is more than just a motivational pep talk. As Paul urged the Gentile believers in Rome, “Consider the goodness and severity of God—severity toward those who fell, but goodness toward you, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).*

 

The “Success in Life” Gospel

carrot and stick

If you listen to some preachers today, the goal of the Gospel can be summed up in one word: success. And you can measure your spirituality by your outward success in life. How much money do you make every week? How far have you climbed on the social ladder? How big is your wardrobe? How expensive is your car? How much fame do you have? That is how spiritual you are!

I wonder how Paul would have measured up to this. As he wrote to the Corinthians:

We give no offense in anything, that our service may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as servants of God: in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distress, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, and in hunger; by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by genuine love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and look, we live; as punished, but not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; and as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:3–10).

 

Was Paul missing something? Did he not have enough faith? Or is it possible he was far more successful than the vast majority of people who ever walked this planet, including kings and presidents and celebrities and generals—and I mean truly successful?

In the early 1980s, I heard a story about a Chinese Christian leader who had been tortured for his faith, then was released from prison and made his way to America. He was attending a conference featuring some well-known preachers when a pastor came up to him and rebuked him for his lack of faith—because he was wearing a shabby suit. Can you imagine this? This American pastor was so carnally minded that he thought this spiritual giant from China, a man who endured torture for the Gospel without denying Jesus, was lacking in faith because he wasn’t wearing a flashy outfit.

Back in the 1990s I was so grieved by this kind of mentality that I wrote a sarcastic poem titled “Whither Persecution?” Here it is, also printed in a book for the first time:

Whither Persecution?

Persecuted saints? Oh no, not in our day.
We are the enlightened church; we’ve found a better way
To preach the Gospel message while getting no one mad:
We leave out “God the Judge” and just speak of “God the Dad”!

We major on the promises. We’re positive to the max.
We want the sinner to feel at home. We help him to relax!
We’re strong on self-acceptance; we build the ego up;
We’re here to make you happy—so come to church and sup!

You’ll find such tasty dainties; each meal will be so sweet;
Nothing will upset you; the sermon will be a treat!
Sunday morning is the best show, designed to entertain,
With every detail chosen to spare the rebel pain.

We’ve cut out all those nasty words: “hell,” “repent,” and “sin”;
Our pastor’s slick, with such finesse; even his wardrobe’s in!
He’s not the John the Baptist type, rabid and out of control,
Raving and foaming at the mouth, like some frenzied droll.

Our church is for the family, with fashion shows and fun;
And bowling, tennis, swimming, too, plus cruises in the sun.
We’re socially acceptable; we adapt and change our hue;
We’re sensitive to our culture—like chameleons we’re true blue!

Oh, away from us, you dreary ones with your talk of self-denial;
Jesus already bore the cross; now we can live in style!
The Savior’s not offensive; He only gives good things.
He makes us rich and prosperous so we can reign as kings!

Suffering, hardship, martyrdom—they’re really not for us.
We’re giving out the good news. There’s no need for all the fuss!
Persecution comes from lack of faith, when saints don’t know the Word;
Poor Stephen might be alive today, if our message he’d only heard . . .

Since I wrote that poem, millions of Christians have been killed, beaten, tortured, imprisoned, or exiled for their faith while we’re still measuring our spirituality by the type of vehicle we drive or the amount of money in our bank accounts or the size of the house we live in. What universe are we living in?

And what do we do with verses such as these, from the lips of Jesus, Paul, and Peter?

  • “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be very glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in this manner they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).
  • “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
  • “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the minds of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith, to go through many afflictions and thus enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22).
  • “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us” (Romans 8:16–18).
  • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37).
  • “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, so that you may rejoice and be glad also in the revelation of His glory. . . . [And] after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory through Christ Jesus, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 4:12–13; 5:10–11).

Somehow these verses—all of which speak of suffering persecution, opposition, and hardship for the Gospel—do not mesh well with the success-in-life, pep-talk, hyper-prosperity message.

One godly woman who works with the very poor in Africa heard the Lord say to her, “Come up here where I am, with the poor.

To repeat: I believe in God’s provision; and over the years, millions of dollars have gone through our ministry to support the work of the Gospel around the world. And I thank God for meeting my family’s needs and giving us a beautiful home to live in. But it doesn’t take great faith to live in a nice house. It takes great faith to believe for your crops to grow in the midst of a drought as your neighbors die around you. And it doesn’t take great faith to get people to give you money when you promise them riches in return. But it does take great faith to confess Jesus as Lord when you are promised imprisonment and death in return.

“If God Loves Me, Why Am I Poor?”

At the time of this writing I host several different TV shows on three different networks (GOD TV, Middle East TV, and NRB TV), along with my daily radio broadcast. One of my shows on GOD TV is called Ask Me Anything, where I respond to questions sent in from viewers around the world. More than once, someone from India has asked, “If God loves me, why am I poor?” This is some of the effect of the carnal prosperity message, since most people hearing it around the world are poor, and after hearing the message and sending in their sacrificial gift, they remain poor. They have not become rich like the fancy preacher on TV.

But rather than question whether God loves them, these precious believers should take comfort in the words of James, who wrote: “Listen, my beloved brothers. Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him? But you have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you and drag you before the judgment seats? Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by which you are called?” (James 2:5–7).

Throughout Scripture there are far more rebukes for the rich than for the poor, along with far more warnings. Conversely, Jesus identifies with the poor and needy (see Matthew 25:31–46). And I write this as someone who, by global standards, would be considered rich as a middle class (or upper-middle class) American. One godly woman who works with the very poor in Africa heard the Lord say to her, “Come up here where I am, with the poor.” Yes, come up here, where the poor are. How different this is from our earthly perspective.

After Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You cannot serve God and wealth,” Luke tells us: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things and derided Him. He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed before men is an abomination before God’” (Luke 16:13–15, emphasis added).

That’s why the Lord taught a parable to warn the person “who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). And that’s why John exhorted: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world and its desires are passing away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15–17).

*All scriptures are quoted from the Modern English Version.

This passage is an excerpt from Playing With Holy Fire (Charisma House, 2018) written by Michael L. Brown, Ph.D., who is the founder and president of Ask Dr. Brown Ministries (askDrBrown.org). He is host of the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, “The Line of Fire With Dr. Michael Brown.”