“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
The word “ask” conveys the idea of imploring. There is an element of deference in proper prayer. Jesus never used this term for “ask” because He asks from equal status with the Father. However, we come to the Father as finite beings asking something from the infinite One.
and do not receive,
God does not answer every prayer because there are conditions to answered prayer. We found some of these conditions in 1:5-7,
Jas 1:5-8, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
because you ask amiss,
The word “amiss” means improperly, badly, incorrectly. The improper request, in this case, is praying with the motivation of personal pleasure.
that you may spend it
The word “spend” connotes to consume, squander, waste. Some people excessively spend money on pleasure. This is what the prodigal son did with his inheritance (Lu 15:13). Paul, on the other hand, did another kind of spending,
2 Co 12:15, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.”
on your pleasures.
“Pleasures” is the same term as in verse one. It is from the root of hedonism, the philosophy of pleasure. If it feels good, do it.
God answers prayer when we pray legitimately.
There is a legitimate ask and a non-legitimate ask. God established prayer on certain conditions, but we can misuse it. God does not hear the prayer that seeks personal pleasure. The thesis of prayer is to give deference to God’s will who sovereignly provides for us, for He does not always give us what we want, but He always gives us what we need.
Some of us pray, and God does not answer our prayers. We say, “Why does God not answer my prayers? Does He hear me? It appears that the heavens are silent.” The problem lies within us.
1 Jn 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
If our motivation in prayer is to gain place, pleasure, power, and prestige, then we ask amiss, improperly. This kind of prayer disgraces God. God honors prayer motivated by His purposes.
Mt 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Thank you so much for this commentary! You wrote in a way that is so clear and leaves no doubt about the meaning of James 4:3. I have a ministry (Mosaic Heart Ministries) where I come along side women who want to heal through God's Word. I have set before the current group I am working with a challenge to seek out one verse a week (that God places on their hearts), to dig deep to find its meaning and how to apply it to their lives. I will recommend your site to them!
Thank you again!
Mosaic Heart Ministries
Susan, thank you for your gracious comment. May God richly use you in your ministry.
I enjoy your words – I have studied about the Amiss prayer and I had a lady say to me today I think God hears every prayer – and I said oh, no God does not hear Amiss prayer and if you have iniquity in your heart – your words are simple and correct and I have an inspirational page on fb and I am trying to put words on post(s) so that can get the message in a pleasant sense to help them understand how God’s Will works and how to pray with to get an answer by living an obedient life – I put your words on a post this evening and will presenting it tomorrow with other little post(s) on the same subject – Thank You, so much XXOO hugs
I found what you have said to be informative and quite accurate.
However, I am a bit confused because I’ve seen plenty of worship/bible study programs on television where we are reminded to “ask for whatever we wish” as long as we have faith and believe.
In one programe, the preacher told us if we wanted a house – we had to believe in it… we had to picture it ie the number of rooms, the design and colors etc.
And even in the Bible, God promises prosperity in our lives, and that he wants to see us succeed.
Contradiction much? Please help….
Karabo, thanks for your comment. Your question is a big one but I think the following article summarizes the issue:
The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel:
An Exercise in Biblical and Theological Ethics
David W. Jones
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587
Just over one hundred years ago, the renowned pastor and statesman Charles H. Spurgeon spoke these words to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom:
I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, “Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?” You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.
Over the years, however, the message being preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed. Due, in part, to the rise of several ungodly philosophies and movements, a new gospel is being taught today. This gospel has been ascribed many names, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”
No matter what name is used, though, the teaching is the same. Simply put, this egocentric gospel teaches that God wants believers to be materially wealthy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of the prosperity gospel’s most well-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word [of God], not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”
Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray, and even demand, of God “everything from modes of transportation (cars, vans, trucks, even two-seat planes), [to] homes, furniture, and large bank accounts.” By closely examining the faulty theology and errant biblical interpretation of the teachers of this movement, this study will prove that the prosperity gospel teachings regarding the acquisition and accumulation of wealth are ethically incorrect.
The Theology of the Prosperity Gospel
“Theology is important,” wrote scholar Millard J. Erickson, “because correct doctrinal beliefs are essential to the relationship between the believer and God.” A corollary to this statement is that an incorrect theology will lead to incorrect beliefs about God, His Word, and His dealings with men. The thesis of this paper is that the prosperity gospel is constructed upon a faulty theology. Consequently, many of its doctrines, including the teachings concerning wealth, are erroneous. While it is beyond the scope of this study to examine in detail all of the specific doctrines of prosperity theology, there are four crucial areas of error relating to their teachings on wealth that may be isolated and examined. These areas are the Abrahamic covenant, the Atonement, giving, and faith.
Prosperity Theology and the Abrahamic Covenant
The theological basis of the prosperity gospel is the Abrahamic covenant. While this is good in that prosperity theologians recognize that much of Scripture is the record of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, it is bad in that they do not maintain an orthodox view of this covenant. Prosperity theologians hold an incorrect view of the inception of the Abrahamic covenant; what is more germane to the present study, however, they hold to an erroneous view concerning the application of the covenant.
Researcher Edward Pousson best stated the prosperity view on the application of the Abrahamic covenant when he wrote, “Christians are Abraham’s spiritual children and heirs to the blessings of faith…. This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.” In other words, according to the prosperity gospel, the primary purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was for God to bless Abraham materially. Since believers are now “Abraham’s spiritual children,” they consequently have inherited these financial blessings of the covenant.
Prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland wrote, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!” Referring to the prosperity theology of Kenneth Hagin, author Harvey Cox wrote, “Through the crucifixion of Christ, Christians have inherited all the promises made to Abraham, and these include both spiritual and material well-being.” To support this claim, prosperity teachers such as Copeland and Hagin appeal to Gal. 3:14, which says “that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. . . .” While it is not an understatement to say that the problems with this argument are legion, two glaring problems need to be addressed. First, in their appeal to Gal. 3:14, prosperity teachers ignore the second half of the verse, which reads, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” In this verse Paul clearly was reminding the Galatians of the spiritual blessing of salvation, not the material blessing of wealth.
Second, prosperity teachers claim that the conduit through which believers receive Abraham’s blessings is faith. This completely ignores the orthodox understanding that the Abrahamic covenant was an unconditional covenant. That is, the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant were not contingent upon one man’s obedience. Therefore, even if the Abrahamic covenant did apply to Christians, all believers would already be experiencing the material blessings regardless of prosperity theology.
Prosperity Theology and the Atonement
A second cracked pillar upon which prosperity theology stands is that of a faulty view of the Atonement. Theologian Ken Sarles wrote that “the prosperity gospel claims that both physical healing and financial prosperity have been provided for in the Atonement.” This seems to be an accurate observation in light of teacher Kenneth Copeland’s comment that “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” This misunderstanding of the Atonement stems from two errors that proponents of the prosperity gospel make.
First, many who hold to prosperity theology have a fundamental misconception of the life of Christ. For example, teacher John Avanzini proclaimed that “Jesus had a nice house, a big house,” “Jesus was handling big money,” and He even “wore designer clothes.” It is easy to see how such a warped view of the life of Christ could lead to an equally warped misconception of the death of Christ.
A second error of prosperity theology, which also leads to a faulty view of the Atonement, is the misinterpretation of 2 Cor. 8:9. Without exception, this is the verse to which prosperity teachers appeal in order to support their view of the Atonement. The verse reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” This problem with this interpretation is, of course, that in this verse Paul was in no way teaching that Christ died on the cross for the purpose of increasing anyone’s net worth materially. In fact, Paul was actually teaching the exact opposite principle.
Contextually, it is clear that Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much for them through the Atonement, then how much more ought they empty themselves of their riches in service of the Savior. This is why just five short verses later Paul would urge the Corinthians to give their wealth away to their needy brothers, writing “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack.” Commentator Philip E. Hughes wrote of 2 Cor. 8:9, “The logic implicit in the statement of this great truth is too obvious for anyone to miss it.” Apparently, however, the champions of the prosperity gospel have indeed missed it.
Prosperity Theology and Giving
One of the most striking characteristics of the prosperity theologians is their seeming fixation with the act of giving. Students of the prosperity gospel are urged to give generously and are confronted with such pious statements as, “True prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life,” and, “We have been called to finance the gospel to the world.” While at face value these statements do indeed appear to be praiseworthy, a closer examination of the theology behind them reveals that the prosperity gospel’s emphasis on giving is built on anything but philanthropic motives. The driving force behind this emphasis on giving is what teacher Robert Tilton referred to as the “Law of Compensation.” According to this law, which is supposedly based on Mark 10:30, Christians need to give generously to others because when they do, God gives back more in return. This, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity.
As Gloria Copeland put it, “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000;… in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” It is evident, then, that the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving is built upon faulty motives. Whereas Jesus taught His disciples to “give, hoping for nothing in return,” prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return. One cannot help but agree with author Edward Pousson’s observation that the stewardship of “the prosperity message is in captivity to the American dream.”
Prosperity Theology and Faith
A final area of prosperity theology that merits investigation is that of the doctrine of faith. Whereas orthodox Christianity understands faith to be “trust in the person of Jesus Christ, the truth of His teaching, and the redemptive work He accomplished at Calvary,” prosperity teachers espouse quite a different doctrine. In his book, The Laws of Prosperity, Kenneth Copeland wrote that “faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function. . . . There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” This is obviously a faulty, if not heretical, understanding of faith. Later in the same book Copeland wrote that “if you make up your mind . . . that you are willing to live in divine prosperity and abundance, . . . divine prosperity will come to pass in your life. You have exercised your faith.” According to prosperity theology, faith is not a theocentric act of the will, or simply trust in God; rather it is an anthropocentric spiritual force, directed at God. Indeed, any theology that views faith solely as a means to material gain rather than the acceptance of heavenly justification must be judged as faulty and inadequate.
The Biblical Interpretation of the Prosperity Gospel
As has already been demonstrated in this paper, the hermeneutics of the prosperity movement leaves much to be desired. Author Ken Sarles wrote of the prosperity teachers that their “method of interpreting the biblical text is highly subjective and arbitrary. Bible verses are quoted in abundance without attention to grammatical indicators, semantic nuances, or literary and historical context. The result is a set of ideas and principles based on distortion of textual meaning.” Indeed, a survey of the volumes of literature produced by the prosperity teachers yields numerous examples of such misinterpretations. As was the case in the theological study of this movement, an analysis of all such examples of misinterpreted texts would fall beyond the scope of this study. However, it is possible to choose one verse as an example and to examine both the prosperity gospel and orthodox interpretations of the text.
A suitable verse for this study is 3 John 2. In this verse, the Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” This verse is interpreted by prosperity teachers to mean that God wants all believers to “prosper in all things.” Furthermore, their interpretation of this verse makes clear their claim that material prosperity is inseparably linked to spiritual growth. Oral Roberts, regarded by many to be the father of the prosperity gospel movement, claimed at the beginning of his ministry, during a time of search for direction, that God miraculously led him to 3 John 2, which he understood as a revelation of the prosperity gospel.
Another faith teacher who has built his ministry around this faulty interpretation of 3 John 2 is Kenneth Copeland. Author Kenneth Kantzer noted that “Copeland misinterprets this [verse] as a universal promise,” and writer Bruce Barron remarked that “the Copelands use these words so often that they appear to be the key verse of their ministry.” A careful study of 3 John 2, however, reveals that this verse is not a carte blanche approval of prosperity gospel teachings.
Those who use 3 John 2 to support the prosperity gospel are committing two crucial errors, the first contextual and the second grammatical. First, con-textually, one is wise to note that John’s purpose in writing 3 John 2 was not to teach doctrine; it was simply to open his letter with a greeting. This is not to say that doctrine cannot be derived from a nondoctrinal passage, for all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, but it is to say that one must be sensitive to the original author’s intent. Therefore, the claim that 3 John 2 teaches the doctrine of prosperity ought to be regarded as suspect at best. Second, one is wise to note the meaning of the word “prosperity” as it occurs in this verse. The term translated “prosperity” is a form of the Greek word eujodovw. This word, which is used only four times in Scripture, does not mean to prosper in the sense of “gaining material possessions,” but rather means “to grant a prosperous expedition and expeditious journey,” or “to lead by a direct and easy way.” The wording of modern translations such as the New International Version even reflect this nuance of the word. Therefore it is evident that teachers who understand 3 John 2 to teach prosperity theology are misinterpreting the text.
Through this study of the theology and the biblical interpretation of the prosperity gospel, one may discern five clear reasons why this movement’s teachings concerning wealth are incorrect:
1. The prosperity gospel is built upon a faulty understanding of the Abrahamic covenant.
2. The prosperity gospel is built upon a faulty understanding of the Atonement.
3. The prosperity gospel is based upon a faulty understanding of the biblical tachings on giving.
4. The prosperity gospel is based upon a faulty understanding of the biblical teachings on faith.
5. The prosperity gospel, in general, has been constructed upon faulty biblical interpretation.
Aside from these five specific theological and biblical arguments against the prosperity gospel, and without even considering the practical implications of this movement, there is perhaps one general, summary reason why the prosperity gospel is a wayward gospel: its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is correct, grace becomes obsolete, God becomes irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things. Whether it is the Abrahamic covenant, the Atonement, giving, faith, or the biblical interpretation of any given verse, the prosperity teacher seeks to turn the relationship between God and man into a financial quid pro quo transaction. As scholar James R. Goff noted, God is “reduced to a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.” This is a wholly inadequate and unbiblical view of the relationship between God and man and the stewardship of wealth.
Thank you Dr. Grant, I’m very thankful for you teaching; I utilize it daily in my study time. Would you please provide some clarity regarding your text above; specifically I believe healing is God’s will. You stated God doesn’t always give us what we want but He always gives us what we need. I’m believing for fully restored central vision. My central vision was affected by stargardt eye disease . I use my peripheral vision as my primary sight. I know hearing is in God’s timing (maybe I just answered my own question)I just wasn’t very clear because I believe I need my central vision and I don’t believe I’m asking a amiss. Did I miss something in your teaching?
God, bless everyone. I do not say the following with intentions to disrespect, however I still do not understand. When it is said that God does not answer prayer for our pleasure. What then shall we pray for? His will is always going to be done, so why pray about that? Can I pray for a wife, a good career, a home of my own and children that I can support? Can I pray that God protects my wife and children? Can I pray that my brothers and sisters be blessed with the same as me. That I succeed and they do as well. Can I pray to be blessed with my own business and that I may employee people and serve as an example of what God can do for all of us. You make it it sound like God does want this for us, is that right? What can we pray for? We know God rarely heals if He even does anymore. Let us all be honest, we never seen God heal anyone from terminal cancer. Or give sight to the blind. The big difference is that I do not believe God does anything for anyone, and to me, that is ok. God owes us nothing. We are not entitled to his favor or wealth. There is lots more, but I will not say anymore in the hopes somebody answers me. I hope I am wrong. It would be great if He answered prayers. If you never parents growing up, you be abused, and kicked around family to take care of you. If you ever been sexually abused as a five year old child. If you ever had to sleep on the streets and had nothing to eat. Then perhaps you too could settled for God’s forgiveness. I am just glad He has redeemed me with His blood. If my parents who brought me to this world abandoned me, why would I expect the Almighty God to notice my needs? I am but less than dirt in His presence, and that is ok with. God bless everyone. Hope to hear from someone. I hope; I really really hope I am wrong. God bless.
Carlos, it appears that you have made two points. The first, that God does not answer prayer for “pleasure.” I am afraid you completely missed the point of this verse. The idea in this verse has to do with sinful pleasure, or, the attempt to take control of our lives whereby we become sovereign of our lives regardless of God’s will. Your second point indicates that you believe in a deistic God that has no concern for His creatures. On that point, if the experiences you describe are yours, I can see why you attribute a cause/effect directly to a God that does not care about people. That is because you measure God by your experience, rather than the method He asks you to do so, i.e., by biblical revelation and the affirmations about the nature of God. Everyone in the world has had their problems, maybe not to the extent which you experienced reversals. However, many of us do not ascribe to God the direct cause of our problems. That is because we believe in the principle of free will. God gave people the right to make bad choices and even sin because they are free moral agents.
I think you missed the point. Please prove me wrong. When has God done anything for anyone if not for His Glory? It is all for His Glory. When did you see God heal terminal cancer? You also say, if I’m understanding correctly, that I blame God for my crappy life as a child? I did no such thing, as I have read that even Jesus was subject to far worst things and the Father did not deliver Him from any. His parents had to hide in Egypt for a while. It does not say God flew them there or hid them in plain sight with His Spirit. You see, I expect nothing, and I’m now self made. I never said I was not well off. I have all the things I mentioned above. But I did not pray about them. I do however thank Him for the tools He has given me. You see, He told Noe ( I think you call him Noah in English, sorry, I read it in Spanish) to build the ark, He didn’t build it for Noe. Noe had to build it himself. God gave us all tools to work with. He might have given me the worst parents, but I made sure the three children I adopted never had to live what I did. Anyway, back to God answering prayer. Like I said, I never prayed for any of what I have, I do thank Him that I became an architect. I might not be far from where I started, but I’m closer to where I want to be. But all with hard work. Believe me, growing up in the projects where I would wake up to someone splitting dime bags in the kitchen while I’m trying to get me a bowl of Mr. T cereal was normal for me. Now that I am self made, I am truly thankful for the abilities God gave me. Please feel free to share evidence of God healing people. Feel free to tell me how God blesses all of in different ways. That, brother, is buffoonery. That is a liberal mind set, where you think you are owed God’s favor. I expect to a make treasures in Heaven, not here on earth. While I’m here, I expect nothing from anyone but what I am owed for my professional services, not by handouts or poor excuses of fake blessings. Again, God bless you, brother Grant. If you are ever in Puerto Rico, I’d gladly show you around the island. You have my email. God bless everyone.
Carlos, I am impressed that you have made of your life what you did. A core doctrine of the Bible is that man is to take the initiative for his own life, as you did. God told Adam to “gain dominion over…” any number of things, including his employment. What you have done with your career is exactly what God wants you to do.
I am afraid that you are operating on a number of false presuppositions about what the Bible teaches. God never said that He would heal terminal cancer, or that He would create a heaven on earth. In fact, He has said that this world is full of sinful people who make existence worse.