As Christians, we may have stumbled across a sermon or a quote in a Christian Living book that went somewhere along the lines of:
“God wants you to live for now. If you pray to Him and ask for His blessings, He will cause you to prosper in your business, health, and family.”
“If you give to this ministry, God will bless you.”
“Speak into existence your peace, your destiny, your potentiality, and your goals. Leave yesterday behind and focus on now.”
Granted, the prosperity gospel tends to mince words a little more subtly than that, so the message sounds inspirational, and has just enough of a taste of some Bible verse to sound Christian enough.
Let’s dive into what is the prosperity gospel, problems with the methodology, and what the Bible has to say about the prosperity gospel.
First of all, what is the prosperity gospel?
Nothing is new under the sun.
Even in the Old Testament times, false prophets would preach good news during a tumultuous time in Israel. With Babylon on their heels, and the Northern Kingdom fallen to the Assyrians, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was desperate to hear some good news.
History shows anything but that was coming.
Today, we see a different form of this prophecy known as the prosperity gospel.
In essence, the prosperity gospel asserts God will reward faithful giving with financial, familial, and entrepreneurial blessings.
This doctrine also tends to double down on how a person can use God to accomplish what we set out to do.
It also tends to rely on humanism (what humans can accomplish on their own) opposed to our need to rely on God. Many messages will run along the same thread of “living your life now,” and “being the best you can be,” and “your suffering now will turn into a harvest later.”
The prosperity gospel often adapts select verses from Scripture to bolster the sermons. They will often point to passages such as Malachi 3:10 to encourage generous giving, even though that passage, in context, doesn’t have anything to do with church tithing.
Most importantly, this doctrine tends to avoid the stickier parts of Scripture. Anything about judgment, sin, and needless suffering (suffering that does not end in a blessing) does not appear in prosperity gospel sermons or books.
Wait a second, I thought Scripture encouraged giving?
We give because God has given us so much (2 Corinthians 9:10). Technically, nothing we own on this earth is ours, so we give because we trust God with our finances.
Here’s where the prosperity gospel and our call to giving diverge:
The prosperity gospel promises that if you give abundant finances, you will reap abundant finances in return. Jesus doesn’t promise this. We give because we trust Him, but that doesn’t mean He will give in material, earthly ways.
The prosperity gospel frames financial abundance as the mark of a true believer, and poverty as the sign of a lack of faith.
This couldn’t be further from the Gospel.
Jesus himself had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Instead of choosing to live for now, he lived an ascetic life.
Aside from the points listed above, this teaching has quite a few stumbling blocks. And here are two areas where the prosperity gospel goes wrong:
1. The prosperity gospel twists Scripture.
Again, this practice isn’t new. Throughout church history, various preachers and prophets have plucked a verse out of context and created a false doctrine. The prosperity gospel would look at the story of David working as a shepherd and say he wanted to embrace his full potentiality, so he became King over Israel.
What the prosperity gospel would fail to mention is:
- Lowly folk such as shepherds were among the first to witness Jesus’ entry to the world.
- David had to go through many near-death experiences before he ever became King, rattled by a miscarriage, rotten family members, and the loss of his best friend. He spent a great deal of the Psalms in anguish, not in blessed prosperity.
2. The prosperity gospel preys upon Christians in a selfish culture.
We live in scary times, and as we approach the End Times, we’re desperate (like the Israelites before the Babylonian invasion) to hear something good. The prosperity gospel absorbs our modern culture and makes it sound palatable to Christians.
We live in a culture that promotes vanity, selfishness, and gain. The prosperity gospel takes these three temptations and adds Scripture to them, so both Christians and the culture accept the message.
We have to keep in mind the Bible runs counter to every culture, including ours. There will be verses in Scripture our culture will take an aversion to.
What Scripture has to say about the prosperity gospel:
Besides any verses listed before, these passages seem to highlight teachers who had preached similar messages during the days of the early church:
1 Timothy 6:5: "and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."
1 Timothy 6:9-11: "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.For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
These verses highlight men who see Christianity as a way to gain riches. They use those same temptations to woo other Christians into the prosperity gospel trap. The verses also mention that many had wandered away from the faith because of these teachings.
1 Timothy 3:3: "not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."
This verse warns against being a lover of money; the opposite of what the prosperity gospel promotes.
And of course, the famous passage of Matthew 6:24 (The Servant of Two Masters) shows we cannot idolize both God and money. One has to go. Let's take a look briefly at that passage:
"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."
These verses make it clear. We cannot love both God and money. Following Christ does not always lead to financial gain. In fact, it's often the opposite case.
Why does discernment regarding the prosperity gospel matter?
Hundreds of thousands of Christians are exposed to the prosperity gospel (false doctrine) teachings weekly. This can cause a great many to walk away from the faith when they discover that God does not reward all giving in a financial, material sense and that not all suffering has a harvest at the end of a famine.
This matters a great deal because if we do not have the correct notion of what Scripture says, not only do we run the risk of falling away, but we can cause many others to do so as well.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon