Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.
One day, a mother went to a grocery store with her only child. She had a specific list for the family’s usual needs like milk, bread, and sugar, along with some other ingredients to make the dinners for the week. The child stuck with the mom in the store and kept his peace, that is until the both of them got to the checkout lines. The boy’s vision glanced upon the array of chocolate, gum, and other kinds of candy. He tugs on his mother’s shirt, begging for his mother to submit to his impulsive craving. The mother was reluctant, and explained to the boy that they didn’t come to buy candy, but rather to pick up what they needed for the family. She also explained that it wasn’t healthy for him and that she would prefer that he would stay away from the sweets.
The boy was devastated, as he usually got what he wanted. Within the mind of the child came an idea: who said someone has to buy the chocolate? The child sees a Hershey’s bar, and despite the mother’s refusal to purchase the milk chocolate treat, and the mother’s plea for the child to refrain from sweets, he took it. The boy then put the sugary goodness in his pocket and walked out of the store like nothing happened.
Silly story? Let me tell another one.
A work-obsessed and greedy man is unable to get ahead in life despite his wishes. He holds no college degree, gambles on the lottery, and never saves a a nickel for a rainy day. All of a sudden, he flips through the channels on his TV in his old, beaten-down apartment, and discovers a program on a channel called TBN. His eyes were captivated by the site of an individual who wears a $5K, London-tailored suit. The preacher promises that the god whom he worships can make anyone rich. The man sits up on his couch, failed lottery tickets fall to the ground as he does so. The preacher continues to speak of the things that this secular man can agree with. What are the things? Money, money, and money.
The man suddenly had a new favorite word: prosperity. With that, the accented preacher reads a Bible verse, Matthew 21:22 (NIV), which reads, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Suddenly, the man had a new favorite Bible verse. He calls the number on the screen, and “sows a seed”. He then “accepts Jesus into his heart”, and begins dreaming of the blessings that Jesus will give him, all by just giving some money to a white haired, thick accented, and well-dressed man. Despite the fact that God desires that all men steer clear from pride, chauvinism, greed, and idolatry, the man decides to sin anyway. Not only does he commit a great sin, but he does it all in the name of Jesus.
Indeed, people who are swayed by the prosperity gospel are no better than spoiled children, or have no more biblical knowledge than a typical 8 year old from a Sunday school class in church. Strangely enough, I encountered a person who defended the prosperity gospel using Matthew 21:22, with a dangerous presupposed idea: if I want something, God must give it to me. How is this mentality no better than a child who has the gimmes at the grocery store’s candy isle? How is the interpretation of the verse orthodox and contextually sound?
I have seen with my own very eyes how Benny Hinn opened his Bible in front of a crowd of thousands, and read Matthew 21:22 to support his idea that God is like a genie. We are to expect God to move mountains for us, as long as we have “faith”. To many who subscribe to Charismatic theology, faith is not a gift from God or divine evidence to an individual that God is, but rather faith is merely a state of mind. Faith, in the Charismatic sense, is a strong feeling of confidence or belief. Faith, in the biblical sense, is God’s evidence, securing the mind and heart of an individual to trust in God. Faith works according to the sovereignty of God, not according to the desire of man.
Is it true that Jesus in the same chapter commanded a fig tree to wither and die? Yes. Did he say anyone could do it, as long as they had the confidence? No. The man who uses God for his own gain, believes in vain. The man who thinks of God as a personal butler, has no understanding of the God of the Bible. Look at what Christ says in Matthew 21:21-22 (ESV), “‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.'” What does it mean to have faith?
To have faith in the circumstance that Jesus describes, you would need the very authority of God Himself. How do we know? Matthew 21:23-27 (ESV) says, “The chief priests and the elders…came up to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus answered them, ‘I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things: the baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?’…They discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Is it not clear that the kind of faith to move mountains and make fig trees wither is not given to just anyone? How this evil and perverse generation has become so enamored, and committed themselves to a lust for riches, to the point where they should use God’s name to do so. The very words of Jesus were twisted just to prove a false gospel, who benefits no one save for the ones on the top. There is only one gospel and Jesus clearly declared it in the passage which is this: Christ came with the authority of the Father, to speak life and death, and to hold power that no one else has. No man, no angel, no demon, no force of any kind, and no silly word of man’s petty mouth can equate to the authority of Jesus Christ.
If everyone was given such authority to work these things, would not the disciples try? Why is there no passage declaring that the Apostles command that their money bags be filled, their streets be covered in gold, and their clothes be of the finest linen? Why did they not have barns of the fastest horses, pastures with the fattest cattle, and lands outnumbering King Herod? Because of the fact that faith is not given to us to satisfy our gimmes. Faith is given by God for one reason, and that is so God’s glory be proclaimed to the world. We believe in God alone, we plead for God alone, and we receive whatever the Father wills. Will a man who knows God ask for something out of selfishness? Never!
Those who follow God don’t follow ambition, and they certainly wouldn’t believe that prosperity of any kind is the ultimate goal. Has God not promised the glories of Heaven and the riches of His grace? Why would we seek for titles that will be forgotten, for gold that will dissipate upon death, and for lusts that will never satisfy? It is God who satisfies. I desire that this verse will never be used to tell people that they must command that things go their way. If we do so, we are no better than the child who shoplifted chocolate just to appease his desire. May God be desired above all, and may we seek His holy and good will for our lives.
Soli Deo Gloria.