What do you say when someone tells you about their church and you realise the teaching they’re getting is what is often called ‘the prosperity gospel’?
The instinct to talk to someone about their relationship with God, and their church, is a good one. Good friends care about their friends’ spiritual well-being. But we feel cautious about this conversation. We’re nervous about being annoying, and, let’s face it, we don’t want to be that Christian who’s always-telling-people-they’re-wrong.
So, what can we say? Here are three thoughts.
1. Help them listen to Jesus
Your Bible hero and mine, Mary (sister of Martha) gives us a simple priority for the Christian life – sit at Jesus feet and listen to his teaching (Luke 10:38-42).
So, a loving thing you can do is help your friend to do the same. The primary issue is not what church they go to. The big issue is whether they have a living relationship with Jesus through his words.
You can help them keep their eyes fixed on the king. Why not talk about what you’ve learned recently about Jesus? Share the passage you learned it from, and talk about how it helps you love Jesus more and helps you to keep wanting to follow him.
Asking your friend about their own Bible reading can feel like a painful barrier to cross. But if you’re gentle and kind in the way you express it, it’s a loving thing to do.
2. Help them find hope in Jesus
The prosperity gospel gives people hope in the circumstances of the here and now. Of course there are all sorts of gifts that we can enjoy in this world. But if our hope is in the material circumstances of our current situation, what happens when those things are taken away? They do not represent assurance or certainty. The things of this world are fleeting; they will spoil, perish and fade.
But when Jesus is our hope we have a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).
Jesus is our high priest who, though tempted in every way, was yet without sin. He learned obedience through what he suffered. He is everything that I am not; he is perfect in every way. And so when I put my hope in Jesus’ work as the ultimate high priest I put my hope in something that is described in Hebrews as unchangeable and guaranteed. He is the hope I want my friends to know.
3. Help them be satisfied in Jesus
The prosperity gospel can leave people feeling unsatisfied and always looking for something more. The incredible news about Jesus is that we have all we need in him. When we talk about being ‘satisfied in Jesus’ we don’t mean ‘we’ve had just enough to get us through.’ Instead we mean the kind of satisfaction that is overflowing in its abundance. The more I read the Bible and learn about my glorious Saviour, the more I realise there is always more to know. I don’t feel defeated by this truth (as in, “oh, I’ll never know everything”) but rather I feel liberated and enthralled (“Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end!” Psalm 119:33).
That’s what we want our friends to know. So let’s hold out Jesus to them, because in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20).
This article was originally published here, on the blog of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London.