Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2 NASB
An important topic that affects all our lives is the stewardship of money. Christian attitude to wealth has varied down the centuries. There was an age when people born to wealth and influence voluntarily embraced poverty in their service to Christ. To them, the words of Christ were unambiguous: “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Although protestant communities were traditionally against extreme forms of austerity, opulent lifestyles were considered incompatible with godliness.
A strange development in recent decades has been the promotion of the ‘prosperity gospel’, chiefly by American tele-evangelists. In this post, we look at the question of whether its teaching – now spread around the globe, thanks to the global reach of the American media – is compatible with scripture.
What is the prosperity gospel?
In brief, it is God’s will for all of us to always enjoy health, wealth and to have wonderful experiences. It is our duty to appropriate these blessings – as our rightful inheritance – by faith. Failure to do so suggests a lack of faith; without which, it is impossible to please God. Worldly success is a mark of God’s favour.
Does Jesus support the prosperity gospel?
A wealthy young man came to Jesus. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus drew his attention to the commandments, which he then claimed to have observed since his youth. According to Jewish teaching, his integrity and hard work entitled him to the material possessions that he now enjoyed. But Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22 NIV
The self-denial, which Jesus requires from us can seem hard at times. It means dying daily to our own desires, yielding our will, giving up our rights and seeking Him. It means rejection of the world and rejection by the world – a hard path that even the disciples, despite having left all to follow Jesus, found perplexing.
Jesus is not opposed to the rich or people having money, but He is opposed to the direction our lives could take when we embrace the prosperity gospel. The resulting self indulgence and a desire for more and more of this world’s goods are both at odds with self-denial and carrying His cross.
The burden of great wealth
God may choose to place His people in positions of wealth and influence through well paying jobs or large inheritances; and there is nothing inherently wrong in receiving and enjoying these gifts with a thankful heart. But increased wealth carries the heavy responsibility of diligent stewardship.
A Christian who is rich in this world is exactly like the manager of a vast estate or corporation – handsomely paid, but still an employee. Should he run the company as a personal fiefdom, using its finances for his own pleasure and abusing other employees, he risks the displeasure of the rightful owners, and could expect to lose his position.
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
A rich Christian needs to work harder to guard his heart. It is more difficult for the rich to be humble. Many millionaires give generously to charity, but their lives are divorced from the suffering around them. When much of their time is spent either in the acquisition of money or in the enjoyment of it, they grow indifferent to the plight of people who suffer from extreme poverty, whom God specially expects them to serve.
Agur prayed, “..give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for 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.’ Proverbs 30:8-9 ESV
So, too much wealth can, in many cases, become a burdensome responsibility and at worst a stumbling block. Many Christians never use it well or wisely. It is actually a mercy when God gives someone just enough and no more.
Are the claims of the prosperity gospel consistent with the terms of the new covenant?
“Do not lay up for yourself, riches on earth, where moth and rust destroy; where thieves break in and steal. Instead store up for yourself, riches in heaven…
“Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
“Love of the world is enmity with God.”
Although isolated verses of the New Testament such as 3 John 1:2 are quoted to prove that God wants us all to be rich and successful, nothing in the whole tone of gospels or the epistles promotes this teaching. None of the apostles subscribed to this gospel; theirs was the gospel of the cross. They encouraged Christians to endure suffering for the gospel and promised them that their reward would be eternal, imperishable. Every effort was made to direct their attention away from this world and in pursuit of kingdom goals.
To be continued…
Dear Father, thank you for all the blessings you have showered upon our lives – including the money you provide for each day’s needs. We know that everything comes from you. Forgive us for the times that we have been unworthy stewards. Help us give wisely and generously to the poor and for the gospel.