This morning we begin a study of the little book of 3 John. If you remember, 1 John was a circular letter written to several churches. Second John was addressed to one local church and her leader. Third John is written to an individual, Gaius. We know nothing about this man except what we learn here. He was a faithful Christian leader in a local church that was under the care of John.
This little letter is only entitled 3 John because it is slightly shorter than 2 John. Second John has only 245 Greek words, making it shorter than any other New Testament book with the exception of 3 John which has 219 Greek words. Many think that the length of both 2 and 3 John is governed by the size of a single sheet of papyrus which would have measured about 25 by 20 centimeters or 9.84 by 7.9 inches.
2 John deals with the problem of heretical, itinerant preachers, while 3 John deals with the admonition to help itinerant Christian preachers.
Like 2 John, this one-page letter was written from "the elder," whom I believe was John Eleazar (aka Lazarus). It is my opinion that he wrote the Fourth Gospel, 1, 2, 3 John, and the Revelation.
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 3 John 1:1 ESV
Here John Eleazar (aka Lazarus) calls himself the "elder" and tells us that he is writing to Gaius. John tells us that he loves Gaius "in truth." As in all of John's writings, truth is a central concept. Some form of the word "true" appears seven times in this short letter. He mentions "truth" in verses 1, 3 (twice), 4, 8, and 12, and the word "true" in verse 12. John is obviously concerned about the truth.
We'll come back next week and spend more time on verse one, but for the rest of our time this morning I want us to focus on verse 2.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 John 1:2 ESV
Anybody know what group uses this verse to support their doctrinal beliefs? It's the prosperity teachers or the health-wealth proponents. They claim that this verse proves conclusively that Christians will always prosper in direct proportion to the condition of their spiritual life. In other words, if you are walking close to God, you'll be rich. If you are in poverty, you must be in sin.
On page 51 of his book, The Laws of Prosperity, Kenneth Copeland says this about 3 John 2: "You must realize that it is God's will for you to prosper. This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it."
On the contrary, this verse is not a declaration from God for the whole body of Christ, nor should it be viewed as a promise. It merely records the prayer or wish of John for his friend Gaius.
This Epistle is modeled after the typical letter format of the first century. William Barclay points out this fact by quoting from a pagan ship's captain which uses almost identical phraseology as that found in 3 John 2.
Howard Marshall, in the New International Commentary, confirms Barclay's views by stating that the elder (John) follows the traditional custom of his time by expressing good wishes to his friend, Gaius.
This is not a universal declaration from God with regard to His will for all believers. To construe it that way is to remove it from its literary and historical context. The Bible is written for us, but it is not written to us. Paul's commands to Timothy to watch out for Alexander and to bring his cloak before winter and his instructions to Titus to remain in Crete are all a part of the Word of God, but they are not written to us. Many people fail to make this distinction. In the case of the prosperity teachers, they have confused the difference between an individual address and a universal promise.
I want to focus on this verse this morning because we need to realize is that this false teaching is taking over churchianity. A Time poll revealed that a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous.
The proponents of this health-wealth view are teaching that God wants you--all of you--to be healthy, wealthy, pain free and prosperous in whatever you do. That sounds great doesn't it? People love hearing this type of message. What could possibly be wrong with the message that God wants all believers to be healthy, wealthy, pain free and prosperous in whatever we do? There is only one problem with this. It isn't true. Does truth matter? Yes, it does—especially when we are talking about God and the Bible.
I'm sure that you are familiar with some of the following statements:
- You can have what you say.
- The reason you haven't been healed is that you don't have enough faith.
- We can write our own ticket with God if we decide what we want, believe that it's ours, and confess it, we receive it.
- He wants you rich and healthy.
- What is the desire of your heart? Name it, claim it by faith, and it is yours! Your heavenly Father has promised it. It's right there in the Bible.
Such statements reflect the models which set forth a theology of the spoken word (rhematology) or of thought-actualization ("positive confession") which stresses the inherent power of words and thoughts.
Some who teach this system argue that in the same way that God, by His faith, conceived of the creation in His mind and then spoke matter into existence (Genesis 1, Psalm 33:6, Hebrews 11:3, 2 Peter 3:5), the Christian can, by faith, conceive of things in his mind and speak them into existence.
Many of those in the Word-Faith movement, such as Charles Capps and Jerry Savelle, teach that God had faith in His faith. They use Scripture texts such as Mark 11:22
And Yeshua answered them, "Have faith in God. Mark 11:22 ESV
They translate this as "have the faith of God." However, Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, very adequately shows that the phrase is not to be translated in the subjective genitive (meaning that the noun is the subject of the action – or that God is the subject of faith) such as "have the faith of God", but is to be translated in the objective genitive (meaning that the noun is the object of the action – that God is the object of faith). He goes on to insist that translating in the subjective genitive is preposterous. He says "it is not the faith that God has, but the faith of which God is the object."
An incorrect Bible hermeneutic combined with a desire for complete perfection have led many in the faith camp to deny the reality of sickness and disease.
For example, in his book, The Name of Jesus, Kenneth Hagin says: "In teaching on divine healing and health, I have often said, `I haven't had a headache in so-many years.' (At this writing it has been 45 years.) I guess the devil got tired of hearing me say it. Just a few months ago, as I left the office building and started home, suddenly my head started hurting. Someone might say, `Well, you had a headache.' No, I didn't have one! I don't have headaches. I haven't had a headache since August 1934.
"Forty-five years have come and gone, and I haven't had a headache. Not one. The last headache I can actually remember having was in August 1933. I haven't had a headache, and I'm not expecting to have one. But if I had a headache, I wouldn't tell anybody. And if somebody asked me how I was feeling, I would say, "I'm fine, thank you." (p. 44, parenthesis in original).
It is obvious from the above statements that Hagin doesn't consider having a headache to be real. That's because to him and other Faith movement teachers, symptoms are not real indications of sickness or disease but are distractions by the devil tempting believers into making a negative confession.
This "name it, claim it," false teaching that the health-wealth teachers push can be deadly. Let me give you an example of how this teaching can destroy your life.
In Larry Parker's book, "We Let Our Son Die," he tells the story of his son Wesley's tragic death. Wesley Parker was an active 11-year-old boy—a diabetic taking regular insulin shots. One day at church, after hearing a Word of Faith message to confess and claim their son's healing, Larry and Alice Parker intentionally withheld their son's insulin. As a result, Wesley went into a diabetic coma. In spite of warnings, these parents believed the "Prosperity Gospel" teaching: Don't make a negative confession (don't say he's sick). Make a positive confession (say he is healed).
Three days later, Wesley lay dead. Because of the "revelation knowledge," these parents had received and believed through Word-Faith teaching, they held a resurrection service instead of a funeral service. In the end, young Wesley was not resurrected.
Larry and Alice Parker were arrested and jailed … then charged, tried, and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse. Though they believed they were right, their thinking was dead wrong. This story tragically fits far too many people who have let Prosperity Theology become central to their thinking. Too many discover too late what the Bible actually teaches.
Let me ask you this morning. How do you feel about the health-wealth gospel? Are you indifferent to it and tolerant of it? Do you think Joel Osteen is a nice guy? If you don't hate it and if it doesn't make you crazy with anger, then one of two things is true: You either do not understand what the prosperity gospel is teaching, or you do not understand the gospel. Because if you understand the gospel and you know what the teachers of the health-wealth gospel are preaching, it should make you livid! And if it doesn't, you need to wake up. A false gospel is sweeping our nation while we sit quietly by. Yeshua said that it was truth that would set us free.
I think that Paul's words to the Philippian church are pertinent to us today:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, Philippians 1:27 ESV
Paul tells these believers that he wants to hear that they are "standing firm"—this is from the Greek word steko. This is a military term that means "to be at point in a war, to stand fast, to be stabilized." It is used of a soldier who will not budge from his post no matter how bad it gets.
Paul wants them to remain at their post and not move and not compromise with error or sin in doctrine or conduct. When Paul says "standing firm," he has in mind resisting temptation to doctrinal and moral compromise. This military metaphor has to do with holding a position while under tremendous attack.
Paul tells them that they are to be "Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel." The word "striving" is from the Greek word sunathleo which comes from sun, ("together with") and athlete ("to engage in competition or conflict").
It carries the association of contest in war and in the arena where the gladiatorial struggle was one of life and death. This is a call for team effort, of struggling together. Believers, we are to be "standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel." The gospel message is so unclear today it's a wonder that anybody has a clue as to what it is.
The gospel is the good news that God has provided redemption for sinful man through the death of His Son. This redemption is available to all who believe. Faith in Christ can take a sinner who is depraved in mind, body, and spirit and cleanse him from all sin, making him righteous in the sight of God and giving him eternal life. Now that's good news!
The gospel is not our trusting in Christ to pay our sin debt and then our lives are perfect. It just doesn't work that way. I'll still have flat tires, broken bones, arguments with my wife, financial struggles, etc. That's reality. That's life!
But the proponents of the health-wealth gospel teach that God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of health and wealth. They teach that God not only gives you eternal life, He also wants you to be rich and healthy and pain free and problem free.
How did something so far from the truth of the Bible ever come to be taught? Good question. Let me give you a little history on the prosperity gospel.
The earliest proponents of positive thinking were spiritual innovators like Phineas P. Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy, founders of the New Thought movement and Christian Science respectively. By the turn of the 20th century, Essek William Kenyon, a pastor and founder of Bethel Bible Institute, had incorporated similar ideas into his preaching on the finished work of Christ. Kenyon wrote that Christians could make a "positive confession" to bring emotional and physical desires into being. "What I confess," he is purported to have said, "I possess."
In the 1930s Kenneth Hagin added Kenyon's teachings to his Pentecostal beliefs to create what would become the Word-Faith movement. An Assemblies of God pastor, Hagin taught Christians that they could get rich by mustering enough faith. "Say it, do it, receive it, tell it," He said. He touted a "Rhema doctrine" which held that words spoken in faith must be fulfilled. This spawned slogans like "name it and claim it." In the 1960s, a young associate of Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, began teaching that faith is a "force" which when confessed out loud, brings material results. Within a couple of decades, Word-Faith had grown into a sizable offshoot of charismatic faith.
The teachings of these men may be summarized as follows: God created man in "God's class" or as "little gods," having the potential to exercise the "God kind of faith" in calling things into existence and living in prosperity and success as sovereign beings.
To be in debt, then, or be sick or to be left by one's spouse, and not have these problems solved by "claiming" God's promises, shows a lack of faith. While certain aspects of the above doctrine may vary from teacher to teacher, the general outline remains the same in each case.
The tentacles of this kind of theology have reached out far and wide. And of course it appeals to people because it demands nothing but faith, and it promises that if you have enough, you'll get rich and healthy. That's a popular message.
Listen to what some of its teachers say: "I am fully convinced—I would die saying it is so—-that it is the plan of Our Father God, in His great love and in His great mercy, that no believer should ever be sick; that every believer should live his full life span down here on this earth; and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus" (Kenneth E. Hagin, Seven Things You Should Know about Divine Healing, p. 21).
The cardinal fault with the prosperity gospel is this one central tenet: God wills the financial prosperity of every Christian; therefore, for a believer to live in poverty is living outside God's intended will. Normally, tucked away somewhere is another false affirmation. Since we are God's children, we should always go first-class, and we should have the biggest and the best. Only this brings glory to God!
Thanks to Joel Osteen's book, Your Best Life Now, which has sold over 8 million copies, this belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into all of churchianity. It may seem foolish to disagree theologically with the man who pastors the largest congregation in America, but I'll do it anyway. It is said that 30 to 50 thousand attend Joel Osteen's church every Sunday. Millions more tune in to his national and international television broadcasts. Certainly (one might assume) a man with this incredible following must be on the right track. Well, he's not! He is a false teacher preaching a false gospel.
Joel Osteen's wild popularity is truly a testament to the condition of churchianity in America. His motivational speaking tickles the ears of the not-really-convicted-of-sin. He purposefully avoids entire areas of God's truth, resulting in a lopsided, sugary-sweet "gospel" that has next to nothing to do with God's glory or Christ's atonement and everything to do with self-improvement. It is not even half a gospel; it is no gospel at all, and that is the reason why thousands flock to feed upon it and millions of others watch it on TV. It has no holy God, no divine wrath, no need for atonement, no repentance, and no death to self. It is the polar opposite because it is all about me, me, and me.
Human religion invariably invents gods for utilitarian reasons. They invent gods that give them what they want. They invent deities to serve them rather than the other way around. The health-wealth theology has turned Christianity into a system that is no different from the lowest human religions. It is a form of voodoo where God can be coerced, cajoled, manipulated, controlled, and exploited for the Christian's own ends.
Let's look at an excerpt from one of Joel's messages to his 30 to 50 thousand member church so we can understand just what he is teaching:
Because of the price He paid, we have a right to live in total victory. Not partial victory to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. That's not total victory. If God did it for you in one area, He can do it in another area. Get a vision for it. I know people, who have plenty of money, and they have good health, but they can't get along in relationships. There is always strife in their home; that is not total victory.
Maybe God's blessed you and you have a good family and a good job, but you've had pain in your body for years and years. You used to stand against it; you used to believe you could be free. But now it's been so long you've just decided, this is my lot in life… But Jesus has paid the price that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions, free from discouragement and depression, free from poverty and lack, free from low self-esteem. God wants us to be totally free.
The Scripture tells us to take hold of all that Christ died and rose again for. God made you healthy and whole, our original state is total freedom…Let me assure you He didn't create you to be average. He didn't create you to barely get by and have all kinds of things holding you back. You've got to get the right vision. God created you to be totally free, to have peace in your mind, to walk in divine health, to have good relationships, to have plenty to pay your bills…You have rights and privileges. One of those privileges is total victory.
We're supposed to be unquestionably free, that means free in our mind, free from worry. Free from poverty and lack, no matter what the bank account looks like, our attitude is: I know I am blessed, and I cannot be cursed. Whatever I touch is going to prosper and succeed.
By Joel's definition, walking with God in spiritual maturity means that you are wealthy and healthy, have good relationships, and live in victory without pain or anxiety. The problem with this view is that it excludes Yeshua and the New Testament church.
How does Yeshua fit this description? Was He rich? Not hardly! Throughout His three and one half year ministry, He walked throughout the land without even possessing a home to which He might return (Luke 9:58). He was homeless and was supported by others at a very basic level at all times. We would be tempted to call this "poverty."
Did Yeshua have problems with relationships? All the religious leaders hated Him, His family rejected Him, Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and the people shouted "crucify Him." I guess Yeshua wasn't living in total victory in His relationships. How about the area of pain? Did Yeshua suffer pain? He was scourged, beaten, spit upon and crucified. That is pain. So, this life of victory that Joel talks about was not lived by Yeshua, and the Bible says that we are to imitate Yeshua and live as He lived:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
If we do this, if we live like Yeshua, we are going to have the same problems that Yeshua had. If we live like Christ, we are going to miss out on the victorious life that Joel offers.
How about the disciples of our Lord? Did they live in total victory? Were they healthy, wealthy, pain free? No! None of the apostles was rich. All underwent incredible testing and suffering; and, in at least Paul's case, experienced dire health problems and extreme testing in the area of material privation.
Let's look at the Apostle Paul: Was he a godly man who walked in fellowship with God? Yes, he was. God used Paul to write most of the New Testament. Did Paul ever have problems with relationships? Paul spent a lot of time in prison.
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 2 Timothy 4:16 ESV
How about in the area of physical pain? Did Paul have physical problems?
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV
Here we see that Paul had a physical problem. The Word of God tells us why he had this problem. It wasn't because he wasn't walking in total victory; it was to keep him humble. That is a good thing because God gives grace to the humble.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 2 Corinthians 12:8 ESV
Paul prayed and asked God to take it away. He didn't confess that he was healthy when he wasn't. Notice God's answer.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
Does Paul boast about his total victory over poverty and pain? No! He boasts in his weaknesses. Notice why.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV
Please grasp this. The health-wealth gospel totally misses this. Paul says "When I am weak." This involved physical sickness, poverty, and bad relationships. He adds: "then I am strong." You see, it is when we have problems in life that we turn to Christ and trust His strength.
Look at Paul's personal testimony and see if it fits Joel's idea of total victory.
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 ESV
I wonder if Joel has ever read this? This is what living for Christ and walking in obedience to God looked like for Paul. How many of you want to sign up for this kind of a life? If Joel were to preach this as God's will for believers, he wouldn't need such a large building.
When the church proclaims that God desires to provide wealth to you and that you lack it because of "faith," what does that say to the millions of godly people living in poverty?
Every Sunday, 30 Kenyan slum dwellers cram into a 10-foot-by-20-foot "sanctuary" to worship the Lord Yeshua. It isn't pretty, but it is a church—a church made up of some of the poorest people on earth. But these folks' economic inferiority does not imply their spiritual inferiority. These people have no access to health care, but they call on the Lord to heal them. They have a level of trust in God's sovereignty that far surpasses so many of us. When these people pray "Give us this day our daily bread"—they really mean it. They are trusting God to provide their most basic needs.
This little church has a 22-year-old worship leader named John who miraculously managed to get through high school but could not afford to go to college. Filled with compassion for the children in the slum, he started a school in the church in which he personally teaches 50 kids, spanning all the elementary grades. When he was asked how he was supported financially, he just smiled and said, "There is nobody to pay me a salary. I just trust the Lord to meet my needs."
In the bowels of this slum in Kenyan we find this little church filled with spiritual giants who do not know where the next meal is coming from. Yet in the midst of their poverty and pain they worship God in joyous praise. This is total victory.
Believers, we must understand that whenever Christians will live as they ought to live in this world, where they will live righteous lives and aggressively seek to spread the gospel and make disciples, when they stand for righteousness, the natural outcome will be suffering. Yeshua wants His disciples to understand and expect suffering. So did Paul.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Yeshua will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV
This verse doesn't state that all Christians can expect persecution. What does it say? "All who desire to live godly in Christ Yeshua will be persecuted." It is godliness that brings suffering. When you stand with God and speak out against sins such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriages, and immorality, you are going to suffer for it. Expect it! Today parents who speak out at school board meetings against Critical Race Theory are being classified as domestic terrorists and are monitored by the FBI.
In several passages, Paul writes with the assumption that suffering and affliction are a necessary part of an apostolic ministry. But in other passages, Paul does not limit suffering and affliction to just the apostles' ministries. He assumes that it is an essential part of discipleship. This is the consistent emphasis of Scripture: Inseparably joined to discipleship are hardship, trial and difficulty, conflict and pain.
Believers, we must understand that pain and suffering and poverty are part of life, and becoming a Christian does not make them all go away. Our wise, Holy, and loving God has a purpose in pain and suffering. Notice what Paul tells the Corinthians:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 2 Corinthians 1:8 ESV
This doesn't sound like the total victory that Joel talks about. But Paul tells us why they were suffering. Please get this.
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9 ESV
Believers, suffering weans us from the sin of self-reliance. Many men and women have testified that God taught them the lesson that they are dependent upon Him by His taking away all the things they had mistakenly depended on. Much of the pain we experience is to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God. Suffering is designed to cause us to walk by God's ability, power, and provision rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.
Listen believers, when the sun is shining, when the sky is blue, when you are feeling great, when you have plenty of money, when you love everybody and everybody loves you, there is a tendency to ignore God. There is a tendency to trust ourselves and to just about totally forget God. This is why God warned the Israelites about prosperity.
"Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, Deuteronomy 8:11 ESV
God is warning the Israelites here, but He is not warning them of the dangers of poverty but of wealth!
lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, Deuteronomy 8:12-14 ESV
Notice that it is wealth not poverty that causes them to be proud and forget the Lord.
We see this same idea in Proverbs.
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9 ESV
There is a danger of denying the Lord when we are full and when all is well.
Believers, the truth is that life for a believer can be quite difficult. God does not promise us health and wealth. He promises us that if we live godly lives we will be persecuted. The gospel message is not about your living in total victory over poverty and disease and bad relationships. The gospel is about God putting His only beloved son to death to pay the sin debt of all who will trust in Him. God does not promise us a life of wealth and comfort; He promises us eternal life.
God wants us to trust Him and to live in dependence upon Him. It is the trials of life that help us to do just that.
So, we have seen that Yeshua didn't live in the total victory that Joel Osteen preaches. Neither did the Apostles or the saints down through the years. When you go to the Scriptures, you see that the health-wealth message is not biblical. Why is it, then, that so many are buying into this false message? I think the main reason is because it sounds so good. Who doesn't want to always be healthy, wealthy, and problem free? And let's face it, the prosperity part works for those preaching it. Kenneth Copeland's net worth is $760 million; Pat Robertson's is $100 million, Joel Osteen's is 40 million, and Creflo Dollar's is $27 million.
The message from these false teachers sounds good because so few people know their Bibles. They think that this is what God wants for them. Believers, we need to know and stand on the truth of God's word that we may be a voice of reason in the midst of this unbiblical teaching.