Most of us are familiar with the dangerous teachings of the “prosperity gospel.” It’s a sect of teaching, guised under a whole host of tactics, that undercuts the beauty of the true gospel message of the Bible and distorts it by setting our ultimate sights on health, wealth, and a prosperous life. Not all prosperity gospels are created equal. Some of these teachers emphasize riches in their ministry, equating Godliness with net worth and “stuff.” Others place importance on living a happy, full “best life now,” a personal character development program that misses the redemption and restoration of the true gospel. Some underemphasize grace, while others overemphasize it. Some never talk about sin, while others call you sinful for not sending a certain amount of money to them. The prosperity gospel leaks everywhere, and rears its ugly head in multiple directions.
But there is a more subtle, muted message that grows out of this kind of teaching. It’s a line of thinking that, surprisingly, has little to do with bank accounts or chintzy social media hashtags. The problem with this one particular message is that it sounds really good on the surface — and it even feels right. But when we dig deep into the true gospel, the “gospel of God” as it is often called, we will see that it misses entirely what we have been called to as saints of Christ Jesus. Here is their idea, summed up into one quotable phrase:
“You cannot expect to live a positive life if you hang with negative people.”
There is a certain aurora of positivity that these teachers suggest we should stay occupied in, and further, that letting negativity penetrate that aurora is extremely damaging to your well-being, even, arguably, sinful. We all know that the message of self-improvement says, “Believe in yourself.” But popular prosperity teachers have taken it a step further. A critical step to finding our destiny, achieving our dreams, realizing our potential, is keeping people out who we consider a “threat” to such things.
Now, I would expect some of you to begin to question the legitimacy of this complaint. Why is it so bad to not want to be surrounded by negativity? I think according to Scripture, we have many reasons why we should be willing, even grateful, to step into relationships in which we are met with differences, criticisms, and even opposition and negativity.