Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Parable according to Joseph Prince

Recently I came across an online sermonette by Pastor Prince, which was entitled: “You Have It, So Say It!

The theme scripture he used was Matthew 25:29,
 which reads: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” In the secular world, this is known as the Matthew effect and it is taken to mean that, “the rich will be richer and the poor will be poorer.” Now, here is the background to that verse.

It is taken from the Parable of the three Servants or the Parable of the Talents and it begins with Matthew 25:13, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey.” As the master embarked on the journey, he entrusted his three servants with varying talents or talanta, which means money. He gave the first servant five talents, the other two and the third servant one. We are all familiar with the end. The one with five, doubled it and he was commended for his labor. The one with two also doubled it and he received the same commendation.

But the third servant with one talent “went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” He gave excuses that he knew his master was a “hard man” who labored with his bare hands and he was afraid and so he hid the talent. Here was his rebuke for hiding his talent, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.”

The parable of the talents has an important message. According to RT Kendall, who was the pastor of Westminster chapel for 25 years and an author of many books, he wrote that “In the parable of the talents, the focus is on work and productivity as opposed to being lazy.” He further wrote that “we are entrusted with a responsibility according to our level of skill. Not everyone is given the same responsibility (and this accounts for the different talents given to the three servants).” Each servant is therefore accountable for what was given to him for Jesus had already said in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

RT Kendall said that “God never promotes us to the level of our incompetence” and each of the servant got according to their ability. And what God gives, He also imparts us the grace to bring it to fruition. Each of us must thus know the limit of our gifts or anointing  bestowed by God. Because of our different stations in life, varying strengths and weaknesses, and different resources and abilities, God gave some more (talents) and others less. This is not about playing favorites or being openly discriminating. It is just the plain and raw reality of life for God will not give us more than we can handle or tempt us more than we can take.

The point of the parable is therefore about being responsible for what is given to us. Be it a ministry in church, a secular profession, or a homemaker, we are not to be lazy or giving excuses or self-indulgent or living in timidity. We are in fact called to grow our talents or gift and to expand/deepen our calling. In other words, we are to invest it productively. For in the end, it is all about being faithful and Mathew 25:23 reminded us of this well, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

I believe that I have given the whole context of the Parable of the Talents on which Pastor Prince’s theme of “You have it, so say it! is premised upon.

However, in his online sermonette, Pastor Prince explained it this way: “Have you come across people who have little, yet even that little is taken away from them? On the other hand, there are those who already have much, yet they receive even more. Jesus said, “To everyone who has, more will be given. From him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t go on to say what it is we have. He simply says, “But to everyone who has.”

He went further to say, “Jesus is talking about a firm belief in God’s Word that gives one the courage to say, “I have it!” If you say that you have it, you have it, and more will be given to you. But if you say that you don’t have it, when you actually do because God has freely given us all things (Romans 8:32), then even what you have will be taken away — not by God but by the devil! The devil does not want you to walk in God’s blessings. So when you say that you don’t have it, he can rob you of your blessings because he has your agreement!” 

Pastor Prince then concluded with this, “Today, we are talking about the haves and have-nots in the church. If you believe that it is yours, you will have it. You will see yourself possessing it and enjoying it, and more will be given to you. But if you say, “Well, I don’t feel it and I’m not sure if it will come,” in essence, you are saying that you don’t have it when you actually do. Then, even what you have will be taken away. So say you have it today!”

Somehow I am concerned that the good pastor may have given a  broader-than-expected interpretation of the verse and the Parable, for which the same is based upon. You see when it is written, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away,” the context is against the Parable of the Talents and it is about responsibility, accountability and productivity. It is about being faithful with what has been given to us. It is about stewardship of our gift. It is a therefore quite a stretch to say that it is about asking, possessing, enjoying and having more of what is asked, possessed, and enjoyed. I guess A Maslow hit the nail on its head when he said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail? And by extension, if the only pair of glasses you have is "radical grace", then I guess that is all that you will see?

In essence, for those who are faithful with what is given, they will naturally multiply their talents or gift. In other words, the fruits of their labor will be rewarded. And for those who are irresponsible and lazy, like the third servant, they will suffer the fate of having nothing in the end. This is consistent with the lesson imparted in the Parable of the Sower and the sowing and reaping principle. You see, if we do nothing with what is given, hiding our gift in the ground of apathy, indifference and fear, it dies with us. We remain empty vessels doing empty works and living an empty life.

However, Pastor Prince seems to have put a different spin to that verse. He has somehow turned it into an “asking-and-receiving” prosperity mantra. The hammer and the nail thingy? Here is the twist added to the meat: “If you believe that it is yours, you will have it. You will see yourself possessing it and enjoying it, and more will be given to you. But if you say, “Well, I don’t feel it and I’m not sure if it will come,” in essence, you are saying that you don’t have it when you actually do. Then, even what you have will be taken away. So say you have it today!” That’s the disconcerting part for me because it tends to turn the focus quite exclusively on us rather than on how God’s gift will transform us to His image.

Now, from the Parable of the Talents and the message about being responsible for your gift and multiplying the same, Pastor Prince has turned it into a message of “you-have-it-so-say-it”. The question here that has to be asked is, “What have I got?” More importantly, what is the impression given to his online listeners? Is he saying that the Parable of the Talents is all about naming it and claiming it? 

It is pertinent that in the same paragraph Pastor Prince wrote this, “Notice that Jesus doesn’t go on to say what it is we have. He simply says, “But to everyone who has.”” I wonder what pastor prince is alluding to when he wrote "Jesus doesn't go on to say what it is we have"? Is he then referring to a gift from God that demands that we bend our will to His or a gift of material/physical wealth that requires God to bend His will to us? Is it about thy will be done in my life or my will be done?

Now if the parable is a parable, then the lesson it seeks to impart has to be part-metaphorical. This means that the talents refer to our calling or our gifts and it is given to us according to our ability. Jesus may not have specifically said “what it is we have”, but it can be safely said that he was referring to the different gifts bestowed unto different people by God. Our calling are all different and it varies in responsibilities. Some are given more responsibility and some are given less. It therefore bears repeating that it is about how we are to be accountable and responsible for our gifts and not in the way Pastor Prince has phrased it as such: “If you believe that it is yours, you will have it. You will see yourself possessing it and enjoying it, and more will be given to you.”

Notwithstanding that he may have taken the parable out of context, the question here is this, “What do you believe is yours?” If you are a “two-talent” believer, are you encouraged to claim to be a “ten-talent” believer despite our different stations in life, resources and abilities? Wouldn’t that be overburdening yourself with responsibility beyond your ability? I wonder what would happen if the master in the parable had given five talents instead of one to the third servant? I guess the third servant will just have to dig a bigger hole to bury it. And what is the unintended consequences of such an online message? Will some believers who take in this message hook, line and sinker claim for all the good things in life as of right and then expect them to be realized by God as of right? Wouldn’t they be subsequently disillusioned in their faith when reality strikes?

Now imagine with me this scenario. If everyone of us believes and claims for wealth, health and success, as I believe Pastor Prince is trying to impress upon his readers and listeners, does this mean that we will be given exactly what we ask for – or to a large extent or measure? Because if you think long and hard about it, he is definitely not asking us to claim for trials, tribulations and hardship. God forbid that we should ever be visited by any of the close cousins of the infamous grim-reaper at any point(s) in our life, or eventually.

The truth – whether we like to hear it or not - is, not all of our prayers will be answered and not all of us will have what we want even by way of industry and persistence. This is a much dreaded, often denied, but no less unavoidable reality of life. In fact, Christians or otherwise, some of us will die with stillborn dreams and unrealized ambition. Because for every Biblical Joseph and King David and Solomon a believer can come up with as a template for eventual success and blessing, there are also the Paul, Peter, Stephen and John the Baptist who all died for their faith in the end. The latter group were in fact persistently and mortally persecuted for their belief. Many Christians and missionaries of our time are equally facing hardship and even deaths as I write this. But I have to qualify that this in no way makes for a death in vain or a life without purpose and joy

So, taking everything in their proper context, what is Pastor Prince advocating in relation to the Parable of the Talents? Is he saying that should you believe it is yours, laying claims to it and envisioning your possessing it, regardless of what you have in mind, be it material prosperity or career breakthrough, you will soon have what you ask for without exception? And it will not stop there, because more will be given to you as you ask and believe for more of what you have been asking and believing. Is that the impression given? Was that the preacher’s intention? Wouldn’t this breed a spirit of irresponsible greed for some Christians?

And isn’t this a departure from the lessons of the parable? Surely the master in the parable is not punishing the 3rd servant for not believing and asking enough, but for not being responsible and accountable for his gift in his lifetime. And it is definitely not about asking, possessing and claiming whatever that our heart fancies and expecting manifold returns thereafter.

Surely, the parable is first and foremost not about us. It is not about what we want and desire from God. It is on the contrary about God’s gifts to us in his absolute discretion and wisdom and how we are expected to align, apply and multiply it for His glory. The initiative therefore comes from God and not from us. The gift is a gift that God deems fit for us according to our ability and not what we want God to give to us according to our desires. And the lesson is about being faithful and fruitful with the portion that is given to us and not about being expectant and insistent about what we want God to give to us.

Let me end this way. I see a parallel between Jesus and the master in the parable. I see a parallel between the master’s journey and Jesus’ resurrection and his second coming. I see the talents as gifts (ministry and secular) we develop in our lifetime and I see that Jesus (or the master) will soon return to judge us for what we have done with it. We can therefore hide our gift or multiply it to bless others. 

And if I go with Pastor Prince’s unconventional interpretation of the parable, I foresee two kinds of Christians arising from his teachings. The first kind are the discerning ones who separate the wheat from the chaff (of his teaching) and boldly ask for strength and direction to facilitate the development of the gift in their lifetime. They are mature Christians who grow the gift and bless others with it. They are in fact some personal friends of mine who are leaders in their own right.

Then, there is the second kind – the less discerning Christians. They will inevitably be more enthralled (or occupied) by the name-it-and-claim-it undertones in the message and will thus be more inclined towards pursuing tangible results in their Christian journey. As such, the risk is that they may be asking for material blessings for themselves more than personal strength and perseverance to develop their gift from God. And along the way, there is this peril of focusing too much on the immediate tangible benefits at the expense of growing what God has given to them. In the end, they may very well end up like the third servant who hid his one talent until the master’s return.

Let’s just hope that in the middle of their journey of faith, they will come to realize the intended truth behind the parable and take the road less traveled so to speak rather than the broad glittering road that is just too good to be true. Cheerz.


  1. The preacher ever said himself that if the Context is taken out of its text, what's left for the people is a Con.

  2. Spittle is correct in his analysis of this article,

    But I wanna bring to attention the possibility that he is coming from the premise that that is Pastors only interpretation of the verse, when in fact pastor has taught on that verse another way, the Correct way, also

    Which i dont blame spittle, cos pastor doesn't elaborate further in the article so its cannon fodder for critics

    But hope he wouldnt throw out the baby with the bath water by discounting all the other good stuff that Pastor has taught

    There are 1 or 2 more questionable teachings that left me going "huh??" apart from this one, but overall, Pastor's teachings are no con

    1. Joshen, here is "spittle" replying. Thanks for taking the time. You are right about throwing out the baby with the bath water "by discounting all the other good stuff that Pastor Prince had said. He preaches well and deep (sometimes to depths that don't quite connect), that I concede. But here I quote you, "There are 1 or 2 more questionable teachings that left me going "huh??"". As a member of that church (I presume), your honesty is admirable. I wonder - most sincerely and with apologies if I am out of line - are the majority parts really that good and inspiring that it fully makes up for those minority parts that are (I quote) "more questionable teachings"? And if you - with discernment and maturity in the faith as a safe presumption - find that they are "more questionable," how would new believers or immature believers find/receive them? Because if Jesus had spoken 99% truth and 1% dubious gibberish, or as you have said "more questionable teachings," does it make it all ok? If Jesus had preached "radical grace" the exact same way Pastor Prince had preached it - in particular, that all your sins, past, present and future, are by default forgiven (presumably, this is the part that is "more questionable"?), how will new believers receive it? Is it ok for Pastor Prince to present "more questionable teachings" because he had by far presented even more "unquestionable" ones? Is it a case that we should overlook them because he had through the gospel saved, transformed and blessed so many lives and is running the biggest church in Singapore and maybe southeast asia? Does it make it alright? Maybe this is less a case of throwing the baby out together with the bath waters but keeping the bath waters with the baby for days on end and risking the dirty bath waters infecting the baby? In some ways, this reminds me of the Stockholm symptom (but only in some smallish ways). Pls forgive me for being over-presumptuous but I just can't reconcile small blemishes (the "more questionable teachings") sharing a stage with "mostly right teachings". But I have said enough. Thanks again for taking the time. I guess you are the second kind of Christian I have concluded with in the article. Take good care and God bless. Cheerz.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Hi Mike,

      Actually, I was not talking about the radical preaching of Grace that made me go "huh?", in fact, I support it all the way and heavily advocate it, having experienced it and had my life changed by it xD

      In fact, I would say where doctrine and foundation teachings are concerned, I believe Pastor is spot on. His sermons on our relationships with God, relationships with one another, how to do life glorifying God, and best and most exciting of all, revealing Jesus from seemingly boring and redundant scriptures are part and parcel of Pastor's ministry, and I am very satisfied.

      However, there are still times where I went "Huh?" , but in actual fact, compared to the major doctrinal issues, they seem really small and insignificant. I should have added that as part of the previous post but it slipped me.

      For example, there was one teaching on the Aleph-Tav, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the Alpha and the Omega (both being first and last alphabets in their respective languages). Naturally, to any Jew and hebrew speaker, Aleph Tav is simple grammar. But to Pastor, it's like Jesus's signature within the Scriptures, as to a greek speaker you would say "He is the Alpha and Omega," and to a hebrew speaker you would translate it to "He is the Aleph and Tav" . How true that is, well, i dont know, since most Jewish scholars that don't believe Jesus is Messiah, they wont support that.

      There are verses that support it, and yet not all the time where it appears, it makes sense. Therefore I went "Huh?" That's what I meant.

      Knowing if pastor is right about this Aleph Tav thing or not is akin to finding out that by lining up the meanings of the names from Adam to Noah in the Genealogy, you get the Gospel story. Try it, will blow your mind!

      Does it matter in terms of doctrinal issues, i.e salvation, holiness? I don't think so, but what it does, is enhance the way Jesus is portrayed. Newborn believers would go "Wow, never saw it that way, Jesus, you are awesome" and that's all it would do. Makes for great preaching.

      Now that I've explained where I was coming from, its so trivial that seems like i wasted your time, sorry =(

      *edited for missing word*

    4. Joshen, I stand guided. Thanks for your clarification. Now I feel silly questioning your "questionable Huh?" Glad you are growing in your own ways. Humbled and encouraged. Cheerz.

  3. Sorry Joshen...I mean the first kind of Christian. What was I thinking. Cheerz.