Jeremiah 29:11: #5 on the List of the Most Often Misused and Abused Bible Verses for Church People
The agreed upon meanings of words in language is incredibly important for every society. If you think about it, you rely on a cultural consensus of sorts countless times every day without thinking to do even the most basic communication. If a dog is mentioned, your mind goes to man’s best friend without having to consult a dictionary. This is a certainly good thing in most instances. Yet, this same automatic agreement on definitions can also be used against you. This happens when people intentionally misuse words to trick or manipulate you. You see this tactic in things like misleading food advertisements touting a product’s “All- Natural” ingredients. The description triggers your mind to expect a healthy product, while too often the seller is relying on a technical definition that mean something entirely unhealthy. They trick you into thinking the normal definition apply so that they can get what they want from you.
This type of term manipulation is sadly very common in the Christian community and this makes sense when you think about it. Christians are immediately suspicious when someone comes in and tries to add new terms and ideas to the Bible. To avoid tipping you off, false teachers play the same word game as the seller of “all natural” Twinkies. They hide their heresy behind Biblical language hoping that you don’t notice it. They speak of grace, freedom, service, and love like Jesus did, for example, but don’t mean them in the same way as Jesus.
This leads to the next Bible verse that is commonly misused and abused in church. Jeremiah 29:11 is #5 on my list of the 7 Most Often Misused and Abused Bible Verses for Church People.
For context, here are the first three posts in the series:
7 Most Commonly Misused and Abused Bible Verses in Church
Why “Touch Not Mine Anointed” has No Place in Jesus’ Church
Bible Testing the “Jezebel Spirit”: What is the Truth about this Popular Claim?
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
First, importantly, the problem with Jeremiah 29:11 is not what you think. Strictly speaking, God spoke Jeremiah 29:11 to Israel and only Israel and not the church. Technically, therefore, its modern usage is problematic. Yet, this misapplication is balanced out by the fact that the verse is true as applied. The promises of Jeremiah 29:11 are just as true for New Testament believers – possibly more so. God really does have a plan, hope, and future for you that is much greater than Israel ever contemplated. Sure, there are more specific verses for the church and it is better to refer to those, but you can still honestly trust these promises of God, even if the verse is applied imperfectly.
So why does Jeremiah 29:11 come in at #5 on the list of 7 Most Often Misused and Abused Bible Verses for Church People.
The problems lies in the abuse of the terms involved – prosper, hope, and future – by false teachers to make promises God never made and to rob from God’s people. It is a tactic that leads to endless amounts of pain, heartache, and exploitation of the most vulnerable.
33 Chilling Bible Verses on False Teachers
Does God Promise You Prosperity and Health?
The Bible is filled with wonderful promises to God’s people. Jesus says those who come to Him will have rest and abundant life. Paul wrote that those in Jesus will have unsearchable riches. Jeremiah 29:11 alone is God’s statement that He has a great plan for His people filled with prosperity and hope. These sound great, but getting down to the details, do you understand what God means when He makes these promises to you? What does prosperity look like, for example?
There are far too many prominent pastors and teachers of the Word who will give you definitions that are entirely unbiblical. In doing so, they diminish God, refocus your life in Christ towards your flesh, and set you up to miss God’ s glory in your life. Want to see what I mean?
Take a look at some of the statements of some who claim to be teaching the Bible:
God will begin to prosper you, for money always follows righteousness.
God said: ‘it is time to tell the money you don’t belong to the wicked, you belong to us.’ (..) Money come to me now!”
When you pray and sow seed of faith and see your neighbors with a big house and a nice car, you know what that means? That means you’re next. God has instructed me and I want you to hear. This isn’t for everyone but this is for someone. If you sow (into her ministry) $1,144, it will be your turn.
You get spiritually rich, and you’ll get financially rich.
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What is the Claim?
This type of doctrine is really tricky. It mixes truths about God with lies that appeal to your flesh in a subtle and powerful way. It is informally called the prosperity gospel or the health and wellness gospel. Please don’t misunderstand the title as it is no Gospel at all. What it is, in reality, is a self help, self actualization program hidden behind biblical language. It contradicts the teachings of Jesus while also making Him into a sort of cosmic vending machine. It harms everyone it touches.
The short version of this doctrine states that when God promises prosperity, abundance, riches, and hope, He defined these terms in the materials. God wants you to have money, cars, lavish lifestyles, power, and acclaim. Despite Jesus’ words about the dangers of riches, guys like Kenneth Copeland prey on the church by claiming that financial riches always follow spiritual riches. In the worst versions of this teaching, the way to access your wealth is to show your faith by giving money to those preaching this doctrine. God wants to bless you with cash, but He won’t if you don’t give cash to pastors who are already fabulously wealthy. Where this message once was limited to the Tv televangelist, it now shows up in many different forms – from churches pushing talented worship bands to charismatic pastors with wildly expensive lifestyles. It is offensive to Jesus in every one of its manifestations.
Hooked on Your Feelings Not Jesus
The TV evangelist may seem outlandish to you, but the prosperity message is not just for the preachers in shiny suits anymore. It is so powerful that it has infected the doctrine and expectations of millions of believers who would never listen to a Joel Osteen sermon. Think about this common word of encouragement you have probably heard in church:
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
It is comforting, seems true, and sounds like it is biblical, right? This graphic from Joel Osteen seems motivating on its face. Yet, have you considered whether it is actually true? Does God give you more than you can handle? Thank God, He does.
You don’t have to read far in the Bible to find many examples where God gives people like Ruth, Peter, Samson, and Phillip much more than they can handle in many different circumstances…and it is a good thing for them. A major theme of the Bible is that the entire Christian life is more than you can handle in yourself and it is when you accept this that God is strongest in your life. It is when you are overwhelmed that you full rely on the Rock. It is there that you also see God working the clearest. He never leaves you an orphan.
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The persistence of this quote and the idea behind it, though, is a testament to the lure of material prosperity. Your flesh does not want to be overcome, now matter what God promises, and fights for prominence. Jesus never encourages self centered expectations and Christian consumerism. His goal is to destroy self not feed it.
So what does God mean by prosperity and abundance? Are you defining these terms correctly?
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible is very clear in rejecting the message of the televangelists. Life in Christ is truly wonderful and filled with blessings. Yet, there are no promises of a billionaire lifestyle, quite the opposite, in fact:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:12-13
Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well;
“We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The Scriptures clearly set out that you can expect trials and persecution if you follow God. Following Jesus means going against the ways and demands of the world. It means shining the light of Jesus in a world that hates the light. The New Testament says nothing about Christians being financially rich or immune to sickness. Yet, the appeal of possible prosperity induces millions of Christians to allow themselves to be deceived. They read the same warnings from the Lord about facing troubles, yet are lured into a faith that is all about getting what they want.
Does the prosperity doctrine play any role in your faith?
Testing Your Expectations of God
I have a way to test your definitions, if you are willing. It is meant to see whether your understanding of the Lord has been infiltrated by the preachers of easy prosperity.
Stop reading this for a moment and think about what comes to your mind when you hear the word “prosperity”.
If God granted you prosperity, what would that practically look like?
How about what you think a blessed, faithful, and abundant life looks like?
Same hypothetical – if God answered every prayer exactly as intended and came through immediately to give you the good Christian life, what would it be like?
Do you have your pictures? What are they?
If you are honest about your answers, they will most often range from you comfortably getting your bills paid to retiring early to diving into a vault of gold like Scrooge McDuck. They may also include sickness and pain being healed and general freedom from struggles, sickness, and strife. The specifics will look different for each person person but the focus of most people will be ease of life and material provision. God answering prayers and providing prosperity tends to look like getting what you want, how you want it, and much of it.
Ready for the next step – the test is not over.
Think about the entire lifetime of the Apostle Paul. This includes the time before he was a Christian and then after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
If you are not familiar with Paul’s life, he was a prominent Pharisee before Jesus. He was a well known among them and a brilliant student of the Law. Paul was also highly motivated and successful. Pre-Jesus Paul had a lot going for him – he got a lot of what he wanted, when he wanted it. The world of his day would describe him as prosperous.
How about Paul after Jesus?
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There are great moments, of course, but Paul spent the rest of his life sharing the Gospel and serving the people. Paul encountered great hardship, persecution, and struggles in doing so until he is martyred. His life included great pain and suffering. He wrote of these trials:
Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
2 Corinthians 11:23-25
It is quite the list and this is only a portion of it.
With the entire life of Paul on your mind, next answer this:
Do your ideas of prosperity, blessedness, and abundance fit Paul’s life before Jesus?
Do your ideas of prosperity, blessedness, and abundance describe Paul after Jesus?
Where does your picture of prosperity, abundance, and blessing place you in the life of Paul? If it takes Paul back to before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, you are viewing God’s promises through the lens of the world.
Paul himself was not confused about the definitions of riches, abundance, and blessing:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish,
The word translated as “rubbish” that Paul used to describe the things of his past can also mean dung. The things of the world are excrement when compared to God’s prosperity.
Are you disappointed with God for not giving you this sort of reward?
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this World.
Despite his challenges, Paul simply understood that God’s Kingdom and God’s riches are monumentally better than the world’s version.
You probably recognize these words of Jesus from His trial before Pilate. They meant, in one sense, that Jesus was not challenging Pilate for administrative control of Israel. Yet, there is so much more to them. Jesus’ Kingdom is not physical as Pilate mean, but it is also not defined or limited by the world. Jesus does not care about the value and rewards systems of men and will never import them into the heavenly realm. They are contrary to one another. As a result, if you think of Jesus, His rule, His people, and His rewards in human terms, you will miss them entirely. The riches of Jesus are not money, palaces, power, or any of the things the non-believers chase after and give their lives for. They are all about Jesus:
Who Do You Want to Be in Christ?
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,
The world’s version of a King looked nothing like Jesus.
See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…
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Real Prosperity, Hope, Abundance
How does God define prosperity, blessing, and abundance then, given that He does not mean rolex’s and fancy cars? The Bible is clear about this as well:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
God wants to produce fruit in you and through you.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
He wants to give you the greatest blessing a true disciple could ever hope for:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Any private planes, $1,000 suits, or mansions involved there?
Its true that prosperity from God looks nothing like swimming in gold, but God’s version is so much better. The things of the world are nothing compared to the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord. Your life in Christ’s Kingdom was given to you as a free gift from God. He promised to prosper you, a future, a hope, and to not harm you. If you want to see these pledges fulfilled and rejoice in them, you must let the One who brought you into the Kingdom show you how He defines these terms.
To do otherwise, is to miss out on seeing the glory of God in your life.
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