Do you believe in the Prosperity Gospel? (Part 3)
In our Q&A on 1 Timothy 6:10, we stated the following:
“Because of the refusal to follow God whole-heartedly, Mary said about rich people that God ‘filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty’ (Luke 1:53). Christ spoke this timeless warning: ‘But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation’ (Luke 6:24).
“James adds that the rich man ‘also will fade away in his pursuits’ (James 1:11), continuing, ‘Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasures in the last days’ (James 5:1-3).
“Notice! James’ warning is for our time–the ‘last days.’ When our worldwide economic troubles increase… all our wealth, riches and money will be useless and without value. None of them will help us–people will throw their gold as well as their silver into the streets, treating it as refuse, because it will be totally worthless (Isaiah 2:7, 20-21; Ezekiel 7:19)…”
In this context, let us note Proverbs 11:4: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death.” And Zephaniah 1:18 states: “Neither their silver nor their gold Shall be able to deliver them In the day of the LORD’S wrath; But the whole land shall be devoured By the fire of His jealousy, For He will make speedy riddance Of all those who dwell in the land.”
Continuing with excerpts from the above-mentioned Q&A:
“Proverbs 28:20, 22 says: ‘A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished… A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, And does not consider that poverty will come upon him.’
“Again and again, the Bible tells us not to give in to the love of ‘money’ or materialism, and not to work for, as our main focus, the physical riches or possessions in this life. Proverbs 23:4-5 says: ‘Do not overwork [or: ‘wear yourself out’] to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.’…
“Rather than pursuing the love of money, wanting to become rich, or perhaps glorying in our riches (Jeremiah 9:22-23) and parading a cocky attitude of self-contentment and -sufficiency (Revelation 3:17), we are to ‘buy’ the true spiritual riches from God (Revelation 3:18), and to pursue God’s love of helping others and sharing with them our physical and spiritual riches.”
That is why we read in Proverbs 11:28: “He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage.” Compare also Psalm 62:10: “Do not trust in oppression, Nor vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them.”
Proverbs 16:16 tells us instead: “How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.”
On the other hand, the fact that a person is rich does not prevent God from calling him or her. An interesting example can be found in Luke 19:1-10:
“Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’ Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’”
Still, riches can become a great danger for some. We need to carefully consider the warning in Matthew 13:3-7, 22:
“Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: ‘Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell… among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them… Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
It is partially for this very reason that Agur, the son of Jakeh, said the following in Proverbs 30:7-9:
“Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.”
Paul addresses the same situation when he talks about contentment. He says in 1 Timothy 6:6-8: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
He says in Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
He says in 1 Corinthians 4:11: “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.”
These passages also show us that Paul, a righteous man, had to endure affliction, including, at times, lack of food, clothes and shelter. The concept of the “prosperity gospel” that God has bound Himself, by contract, to always, at all times, bless us with wealth and riches when we live righteously, is not true. We are living in a world, which is ruled by Satan the devil who wants our destruction. He afflicted Job and took away all that he had, and God allowed it for a while.
Notice Paul’s description of the lives of righteous people in Hebrews 11:24-26, 37-40:
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward… They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
God’s ultimate purpose—our spiritual and eternal salvation—may override temporarily His general promise to bless us, including financially.
On the other hand, we need to be careful that we do not equate prosperity and wealth with righteousness and poverty with unrighteousness, because righteous people can be “poor” at times and unrighteous people can be “rich.”
The Bible contains a clear warning not to judge, mock or reject the poor, including in the church.
James 2:1-6 says:
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?”
Proverbs 17:5 adds: “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 22:2 adds: “The rich and the poor have this in common, The LORD is the maker of them all.”
At the same time, God cautions us not to think that people are rich because God must have blessed them. In many cases, the opposite might be true.
Psalm 73:12 says: “Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches.”
Psalm 37:7, 16 says:
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass… A little that a righteous man has Is better than the riches of many wicked.” Compare Proverbs 16:8: “Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.”
Psalm 52:7 states: “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, But trusted in the abundance of his riches, And strengthened himself in his wickedness.”
Proverbs 13:11 adds: “Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, But he who gathers by labor will increase.”
Finally, after telling the (unjust) rich that they ought to weep and howl for their miseries that are coming upon them (James 5:1), James 5:4-5 warns them because they became rich through ungodly means and who use their riches for ungodly purposes:
“Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.”
In conclusion, the “prosperity gospel,” as defined herein, must be rejected, as God is not duty-bound and obligated by contract to bless us financially even when we live righteously. At the same time, our physical and spiritual conduct is relevant for God’s blessings or curses, but we must be careful not to judge a particular situation by outward appearance.
A person may be wealthy because God has blessed him or her, but his or her riches might also be the result of ungodly conduct (which is often the case for the rich in this evil world). At the same time, somebody might not be poor because of God’s punishment, but his or her condition might have been caused by evil people or circumstances.
It is most important that we keep our priorities straight. We must not desire to become rich because of “love of money” or “greediness,” and we must not trust in our riches or allow them to prevent us from following God completely. If need be, we must be willing to give them up and leave them behind. We are always to seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness first, and if we do, then God has promised us that He will bless us in His way and in His due time.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link