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To the Point . . .

Have a Prosperous New Year!

It is the customary at this time of the year to wish one another a prosperous New Year. But what do we mean by wishing each other a prosperous new year? Jim Bakker, of PTL Ministries, struggled with understanding how exactly God wants to prosper us after falling from grace through being taken in by his own prosperity teaching.

Needing half a million dollars a day just to keep his ministry going, Bakker had become consumed with raising funds to the point that he stooped to fraud to get what he wanted. The tail, as Bakker put it, began to wag the dog (Christianity Today, Dec. 7, 1998). In his drive for success and a ready acceptance of his message, Bakker emphasized that God wanted above all things for people to enjoy material prosperity. Bakker used to love to display 3 John 2, "Above all things God wants you to prosper," across the TV screen as he was appealing for money. The underlying message was that if you gave to PTL Ministries, God would bless and prosper you.

After Jim Bakker was in prison, he was forced to re-evaluate his prosperity teaching. He realized that he had overlooked numerous warnings in Scripture about the deceitfulness and danger of riches. Material prosperity was not the absolute in God's purposes for people that he had taught and upon which he had built his ministry. The warnings of Jesus, in particular, struck home to Bakker and helped him to gain a more balanced perspective on prosperity. Yet the truth Bakker came to understand through painful experience, was already embedded in the verse that he so often loved to quote.

The apostle John's wish for his dear friend, Gaius, was that he may enjoy good health and that all might go well with him even as his soul was getting along well. John thus tied the two aspects of material prosperity and spiritual prosperity together. He wanted Gaius to enjoy both physical well-being as well as spiritual well-being. However, the spiritual well-being was uppermost in the apostle John's mind and that is what he proceeds to affirm and encourage in Gaius' life. John had heard of Gaius' faithfulness to the truth, and his continuing adherence to the truth in the way he lived, and it was this that was of greatest significance and encouragement to John (3 John 3-4).

John would have never wanted his friend to prosper physically at the expense of his spiritual well-being. He would have agreed with Jesus' sentiment that, "what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). John's wish for his friend was that he would enjoy health and wealth to the extent that all was going well for his soul as he remained faithful to the truth of the gospel in his life. When we wish one another a prosperous new year, it is this wish of John's that should best be echoing through our thoughts and prayers.

Philip Barr, Belleville, PA

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