Driven By Selfish Desires. Third, people will behave “after their own lusts” (v. 3); “according to their own desires” (NKJV, YLT); or “to suit their own desires” (NIV). The word, “lusts” (Gk. epithumia), denotes, “a longing (especially for what is forbidden), desire, lust (after).”290 Buchsel notes that in New Testament usage, epithumia “usually denotes evil desire as indicated by the object (a woman in Mt. 5:28, other things in Mk. 4:19).”291 In our text, the object of people’s lusts appears to be “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3, NIV). Thus, their desires are evil, in that they prefer messages that tickle their ears (James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-17). They lust no longer after the truths of God, but after things that please them.
Like people in Jesus’ time, people today seek the signs, not the Son (Luke 11:29; 1 Cor. 1:22). They want the gifts more than the Giver. They want it now.
The gospel of health, which promises complete, instantaneous healing, naturally feeds such craving. God does heal in answer to the prayer of faith, according to His perfect will (Luke 18:1-8; James 5:13-16; 1 John 5:14-15). God is a healing God. Yet He is also a sovereign God. God can even allow sickness for a higher and greater purpose (Job 1:8-12; 2:1-6; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 12:1-10; 1 Tim. 5:23; Heb. 12:6; James 5:10-11). After Job lost all his children and properties, he contracted terrible boils (Job 2:7-8). As if that was not enough, his wife told him, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9, NIV)! Nevertheless, Job said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity” (Job 2:10, NKJV)? Unlike Job, people in apostasy want only pleasures from God, but not pain.
Troubles and trials are not necessarily evil (Eccl. 7:1-15), just as prosperity and pleasures are not necessarily good (Eccl. 6:1-12).292 Nonetheless, they are all part of God’s perfect plan (Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; James 1:2-3). We may never fathom God’s purposes behind every painful event in our lives, just as Job never did even though he tried to find it. Yet the Bible stresses rejoicing in hope, patience in affliction, and perseverance in prayer (Rom. 12:12). It tells us to wait on God’s perfectly timed help (Ps. 27:14; 123:2; Isa. 40:31; Heb. 4:16). It never teaches us to presume on God’s will. Yet the gospel of health and wealth feeds on the natural craving of the sinful nature for the favor of God now, without regard for pain as the God-glorifying purpose of God for a believer.
People in apostasy also love money more than they love God. “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). The gospel of prosperity caters to this materialistic mind-set. It makes people believe in God for what they can get from Him. It fails to stress contentment in godly living (Phil. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19; Heb. 13:5). It breeds covetousness (Luke 12:15). It projects material blessings as an end in themselves. It contradicts the biblical teaching on giving up all things for Christ (Matt. 6:20, 24; Phil. 3:8).
Jesus’ prosperity theology is to have fewer things on earth, and to gain more in heaven. He said, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21, NKJV; Luke 12:33). “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Many Christians are so caught up with worldly materialism, that they already disobey the teaching of Christ.
Similarly, Paul’s doctrine of prosperity is “to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves . . . for the coming age” (1 Tim. 6:18-19, NIV). He teaches us to prosper, not in material goods, but in godliness with contentment, in whatever circumstances (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Yet people today, driven by consumer culture, want only material blessings. Paul clearly warns against such a carnal attitude. He predicts destruction for those who fall into its trap (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
290 Strong, Strong’s Greek Dictionary in Power Bible CD.
291 TDNT, s. v. “epithymia” by F. Buchsel.
292 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 179. God never promises a life free of pain, but a life full of His faithfulness, comfort, compassion, mercy, grace, and yes, even joy, in good times and bad (Lam. 3:22-23; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 12:9-10; 1 Pet. 5:10; James 5:11; Phil. 3:1;
Gal. 5:22). Our part is to trust in a sovereign God, who acts according to His perfect wisdom.