The prosperity gospel (or health and wealth gospel) started as a movement in the 1940s. It teaches that God wants Christians to be prosperous financially, physically, spiritually, and in every other aspect of life. The supporters of this gospel have influenced millions of eager listeners who are desperate to hear the promising message of the prosperity gospel.
If you’ve ever listened a prosperity preacher, you’ve probably heard some of the outrageous lines, often broadcasted to millions via televangelist and Christian radio shows. I won’t be quoting any names, but here are some lines that I’ve heard while listening to the prosperity message:
“Money Cometh to the Body of Christ”
“If you don’t give, you’re not giving the blessing anything to multiply”
“Allow the blessings to multiply your material investments.”
“We are totally free. Free from habits, addictions, fear and worry, discouragement, poverty and lack.”
And the tagline for the prosperity gospel… “Name it, Claim it!”
Could anything be more opposite to the teachings of the Bible than this! There aren’t too many things that bother me more than watching the Word of God get twisted as prosperity preachers lead thousands to literally run to the alters at churches, leaving money on the stairs with the hope and anticipation that God will multiply and lead them to a prosperous life. The reasons for giving shouldn’t be based on what you can get back in return; rather, we’re challenged in the Bible to give with a cheerful heart, not out of reluctance and under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7)
Prosperity in the Bible
There’s no denying that the Bible is full of scriptures that tell us of God’s blessings. Unfortunately, when we solely focus on the good endings of these stories, we can miss out on the not so glamorous parts of scripture that put things into perspective.
I think it’s worth referencing a few commonly used scriptures that take God’s Word out of context in order to promote the prosperity message.
Genesis 39:2-4 The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned.
Let’s not forget that Joseph was disowned by his own brothers, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. Even after this encouraging verse showing God’s favor on Joseph’s life, we read how Joseph was falsely accused of sleeping with Potiphar’s wife. He was put back into prison and then released again later to become ruler of Egypt. Here’s a perfect example of someone who had the blessings of God on his life, yet still faced unimaginable troubles.
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither and they prosper in all they do.
The Bible uses hundreds of agricultural references and the example of bearing fruit is a reflection of righteous living. It’s just as we would read in Matthew 7:17 as Jesus teaches us that good fruit cannot come from bad trees, and that good trees cannot produce bad fruit. It’s an encouragement to study God’s Word so that our actions (our fruit) will be good so the message of God’s love can be shared to everyone.
Deuteronomy 28:11 The Lord will give you prosperity in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, blessing you with many children, numerous livestock, and abundant crops.
When put in the context of the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel, prosperity was used as a sign of God’s approval and blessing. Today, we don’t live under the requirements of the law – we live under the freedom of God’s grace according to Romans 6:14. We have an even greater covenant with God and an even more prosperous promise through His son Jesus Christ. To say that material possessions, riches, health, and worldly wealth are promises from God is to completely discount the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made. Christ is our promise, not wealth, health, or success here on earth.
Here are a few more scriptures that are often taken out of context by prosperity gospel preachers.
Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do, I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessings so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”
Matthew 25:14-30 The Parable of the Ten Talents
John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Philippians 4:19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
3 John 1:2 Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Why The Prosperity Gospel Is Wrong
The prosperity gospel says that it’s OK to pursue riches and that worldly wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Here’s the thing – the Bible is clear in telling us that riches are a dangerous thing to pursue. It’s not that money is evil in itself. Money can be used for great things. But as soon as we make riches and prosperity our pursuit, our priorities get all screwed up. That’s exactly the point behind the story of the rich young ruler and Jesus found in Matthew 19: 16-30.
It wasn’t enough for the rich ruler to keep all the commandments. Jesus specifically brought up his wealth because the young ruler made it a priority in his life. It was so much of a priority that he valued it more than following Christ.
When we turn our focus away from sharing the Gospel message and promote the promise of prosperity in health and worldly wealth, we are clearly forgetting the purpose of the Gospel.
Jesus said if we want to be his disciples, we must to take up our cross daily and follow him. The phrase take up your cross means that you will face suffering in this life. Being a follower of Christ isn’t well taken in a world that is full of sin. There will be difficult times for everyone – that’s a reality.
I listened to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church talk about the prosperity Gospel. In his message he made four excellent rebuttals to common prosperity gospel promises that often get twisted. The prosperity gospel quote is bolded and his rebuttal (paraphrased) follows.
1. God wants you to always have great relationships.
Jesus’ family disowned him, his friends abandoned him, Judas betrayed him and the crowds screamed Crucify him. Jesus appears to have had occasional relational strains.
2. God doesn’t want you to have pain.
Did Jesus ever suffer pain? He was beaten, whipped, and crucified – one of the most excruciating ways to die.
3. God doesn’t want you to be a victim, but a victor.
Jesus was a victim: false accusations, false witnesses, trials, condemnation, an execution. Sounds like Jesus was victimized, doesn’t it?
4. If you really trust God, you won’t have anything to worry about and you won’t have any anxiety.
Remember the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was stressed to the point of sweating blood.
I’ll finish with one of the most powerful verses that help us to understand the role of wealth and contentment in our lives is found in 1st Timothy 6:6-9
Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
What are your thoughts on the prosperity gospel?