The Prosperity Gospel (a struggle for everyone)
Believing the prosperity gospel will kill a proper vision of following Jesus.
The prosperity gospel is a belief or a conviction that God would have his children experience financial prosperity. In a positive sense, this means that God’s design is to bless his children, here and now, with economic benefits that others do not have. Another way to say this might be: if we live out God’s design for us, and if we are in the center of his will (whatever that means), we can expect financial success that is not normal. In a negative sense, it’s an expectation that Christians will not – or should not – experience the financial hardship that others might.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21
The gospel does have hear-and-now benefits.
To be sure, there are amazing life-is-made-better benefits of believing the gospel. And these benefits are ours because Jesus is ours here and now. The Christian should have a life that knows God’s love in a deep and intimate way. This life should overflow with peace and hope and joy and purpose. We should not be captured by the soul-sucking entrapments of this world or be anxious about anything.
The Christian’s self-sacrificing love for others should create a noticeable Christ-exalting reputation that glorifies God and communicates hope in Jesus. Life should be fulfilling and meaningful and victorious because we serve the living and eternal King who saved us and will never leave us.
And because Jesus frees us from sin’s slavery, the grip that idols would have over us is broken. We can rest knowing that God is enough and, with joy, engage those around us. And our situation – whatever it is – works for our good because God is for us.
Proverbs 3:6 is absolutely true: “In all your ways acknowledge [God], and he will make straight your paths.” The path of life, for the Christian, should be very different, because we can let go of self and focus on the One that controls what comes into our lives. We should be hope-filled instead of fearful, content rather than whining, thankful instead of complaining, prayerful instead of self-reliant, and steadfast in the middle of chaos. Our path should be straight and full of joy because Jesus cares for us. Indeed, life should be much better here because we have Jesus.
The prosperity gospel is worldly
The prosperity gospel embraces a worldly vision of what life in Christ should look like. It pushes God’s design for us – living out the gospel as Jesus did – into the corner and replaces it with greed and idols. Instead of striving for a self-sacrificing, love-at-all-cost, live-by-faith, everything-belongs-to-God life, the expectation includes material wealth as proof of God’s favor.
The prosperity gospel ignores Jesus’ example and his instruction to embrace a humble, self-sacrificing life. And, it ignores countless numbers of faithful Christians who’ve lived steadfast, Christ-exalting lives while absorbing all the pain and rejection and poverty this world can dish out (Mat. 5:11; 10:22, 39; 19:29; Acts 5:41; 9:16; Rom. 8:17; 2Cor. 1:7; 4:11; 12:10; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Heb. 11:25; James 5:10; 1Pet. 3:14; 4:16; 5:10). Instead, the prosperity gospel seems to follow the desires of Simon (Acts 8) who thought that the gospel was the key to worldly success.
God’s design for us is to find sufficiency in Jesus as the world propagates its war of pain and destruction and we pursue the Christ-exalting, other-oriented, walk-by-faith mission we’re on. We are not exempt from the struggle but are here to showcase the beauty of Jesus while we’re in this broken world.
We all struggle with prosperity gospel thinking
We’re all susceptible to various forms of the prosperity gospel. It’s the temptation to questions God’s love for us when things don’t go as we’d like. It’s a struggle because we don’t, or won’t, embrace God’s design for us – to approach life as Jesus did.
…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:26-28
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
If we’re focused on this world, it’s natural to think that the God who owns everything and wants his children happy, would also want us to have lots of money. We struggle to believe that life in the palm of God’s hand could include life-long illness or poverty or the loss of a child or spouse. From birth until death we’re bombarded with the idea that success and fulfillment in this world include the things of this world. It’s easy to buy into the wrong vision.
As Christians, when we critically question the sickness, pain, and tragedy in our life or in the lives of those we care about, or when we don’t get the answer we want from fervent prayer, or when we lose a job, or our marriage isn’t what we had hoped for, we, at some level, are saying, I deserve better. This is prosperity thinking. Instead of believing that God’s sovereign action in my life is always good and his grace is always sufficient, we can doubt that God exists or that He cares for us.
Maybe you have a dream that you just can’t give up. Not a Christ-exalting, Kingdom-advancing dream but a self-centered, controlling, this-would-make-my-life-great dream. The words new and better are often a part of this (new car, new house, new spouse, better vacations, a better job, etc.). Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can embrace Jesus instead of worldly ambitions and idols, and seek to be joyfully content as we pursue life in Christ.
The gospel does produce change
The prosperity gospel has one thing right. Faith in Jesus does produce massive change. But the real wealth is in all that Jesus is for us. We are new people with new aspirations and new hope and a new willingness to give our lives to the Kingdom. We have true riches that will never vanish.
When it comes to money and what money can buy, we must fight to know that the victory God has for us here does not necessarily mean financial prosperity. And if it does, we are stewards and not owners.