There are a number of authors and pastors who promote what has been called the prosperity gospel. We are told, since God desires the best for His children, that we should expect and claim wealth, health and abundance. God has done His part, and now we just have to do ours by going and getting it. If we lack, it’s our fault, not God’s. We need to speak it, confess it and believe it into existence.

That’s a dangerous oversimplification, albeit an appealing one. But does it really stand up when the entire witness of scripture is brought to bear?

Jesus didn’t own more than the clothes on His own back, and we never hear Him criticizing the poor for their lack of faith; in fact, the apostle James claims the poor are rich in faith (James 2:5). Proverbs 17:5 warns against mocking the poor; God looks on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit (Isaiah 66:2); He defends the poor (Psalm 109:31).

Contrariwise, both Old and New Testaments contain numerous warnings to the rich: to be generous, not to trust in riches, that money is a snare. Jesus said it was harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and that we couldn’t serve God and money. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, give to the poor, and to follow Him.

Implicit in the prosperity gospel is the idea that our hearts can have whatever we want and that God endorses this on the basis of His will to prosper us. The question of our asking amiss or unwisely doesn’t seem to enter the equation; and there’s the tacit understanding that if bad things happen, it just means we need more faith.

It’s all about us. And that gets us to the heart of the matter: the prosperity gospel short-circuits the work of the cross in a believer’s life. Real discipleship is personally costly: not because of legalistic striving, but out of a life lived in trusting submission and obedience to God’s will, even when it runs counter to our personal agendas. Our unruly wills must be brought under His lordship, and the process of making us into His image is gradual and sometimes uncomfortable.
We have to unlearn a lifetime of self-interest, and I think the gospel of prosperity simply tends to reinforce the materialism that we should – as Christ followers – be putting out of our lives.

God really does want the best for us, and we’ll get more loving attention than we bargained for if we really give our hearts to Him. He has promised to give us what we need – not what we want. Material wealth is not always what’s best for the believer, and if we let ourselves believe that it is, we’re going to get hurt – and we’ll probably drag more than a few down with us when things go sideways.

Don’t put God in a box. In a world where free will exists, bad and good things will happen alike to saint and sinner; the difference is that God promises to use life’s rough edges to make His followers more like Jesus and bring His plans to bear in the world.

An example of this principle is Christ’s crucifixion. It’s true that God hates injustice and oppression; yet he used the kangaroo court that condemned Christ to bring salvation to the world, and the obedience learned as a man was the final touch in making Him the appropriate author of our salvation (Hebrews 5:8,9). And the Bible tells us it was God’s foreordained plan from the start.

Hebrews 11 is perhaps the best chapter in the Bible to look into the nature and results of faith. And while it does mention many great victories gained by faith, it also mentions that others were tortured, or wandering the earth destitute and homeless “that they might obtain a better resurrection”. If we take the Gospel of prosperity to heart, we break faith with all who have suffered or disadvantaged themselves for Christ’s name: the early church suffered grievous persecution, as have many of the faithful throughout the last two thousand years. At the cost of financial security, in the face of imprisonment or even martyrdom, believers have forsaken wealth and position for His name.

I do think there are times, for His purposes, that God does provide in answer to specific prayer. But this is when things are asked for according to His will and His work; we presume too much when we start expecting – as our birthright – comfort, pleasure, toys and security.

What God desires above all is a changed heart, given to Him in faith and loving obedience. Sometimes our imperfect hearts need to be broken – what we are, rather than what we get is what matters.

Is it a sin to be rich? Not at all; and we are to be wise and diligent with what we do have. But neither should we seek it or expect God to rain money on us like some sort of cosmic butler. Scripture certainly teaches that diligence tends to a measure of deserved wealth and success; and if material prosperity comes, that’s great; but if not, we are still to trust the God who sent His Son for us.

The prosperity gospel comes of only reading the parts of the Bible one wants to hear and leads to unbalanced, immature lives that serve to discredit the gospel more than anything else. It’s a sad comment on the state of Christianity today that this teaching could gain the traction it has.

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition”. (1 Timothy 6:9 NKJV)

Remember the PTL scandal? If you’ve forgotten, look it up.

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