“We can stand affliction better than we can prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.” – DL Moody
There is a new style of Christianity gaining popularity here in the U.S. It is called by several names, but the most prevalent is Prosperity Christianity. No matter what name is used, though, the teaching is the same. Simply put, this form of Christianity teaches that God wants believers to be materially wealthy. As I understand the concept, it is equating Godliness with prosperity. That material wealth is evidence of being in covenant with God. The theology’s emphasis is on God’s promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. If God loves us, it teaches, then God will reward us with a new home, a good job, or good health. God wants us to be prosperous.
This is creating some confusion with Christians who are not prosperous, including me.
That the Bible teaches that God blesses us is unquestioned. Leaf through the Bible, from the great blessing of Abraham in Genesis 12 to Deuteronomy 28’s famous list of blessings and promises to Jesus’ beatitudes there is a reoccurring theme in the Bible that God blesses. However, blessings does not mean that God’s miraculous power can be treated as an automatic ATM, or is at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions, gifts, or rituals.
The Bible doesn’t permit a prosperity gospel interpretation. Take the example of Paul. What do we need to say but quote these lines from his own letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. A constant in Paul’s life was suffering, not material blessing. And who would argue whether Paul was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. And the roll call in Hebrews 11 tells us time and again of solid saints who experienced one hardship after another.
Let’s look a little deeper at what the Bible says about prosperity.
While the prosperity gospel teaches that Christians should boldly ask God for new cars, a bigger house, and nice clothes, Jesus warned in Luke 12:15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Prosperity preachers say riches and material goods are signs of a right relationship with God. But Jesus warns against pursuing worldly wealth in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Wealth can and does build up people in the eyes of many, but it does not impress God. In talking with a rich man, Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ (Luke 18:24).
Rather than grasping to get rich, Paul counsels contentment with what you have in 1 Timothy 6:6-9: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
Then there are the realities of today. We are in economic hard times in the Panhandle. I see faithful, Godly men and woman who are integral members of Northstar Church who are unemployed, suffering, and going to bed worrying about their future. Countless Christians are anxious about their finances. Others have lost their retirement. The problem that needs to be explained to me by those espousing the prosperity gospel is that these folks are faithful, they are trusting God, and they are still get laid off and struggling.
Let me conclude with this thought. We are called not to seek our own happiness but to seek the glory of God by giving ourselves to God and for others. The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it focuses on “getting our wants.” The Christian should focus on “giving ourselves.”