Q: #158. What do you think about the "prosperity gospel?"
By: Steve Shirley
A: I truly believe that this is one of the most destructive and unbiblical teachings there is, and that those who teach this heresy will one day answer to God for the damage they have done to the cause of Christ.
First, for those of you reading this who don't know what the "prosperity gospel" is, let me explain. The "prosperity gospel" (taught primarily by Word Of Faith teachers) teaches that the Bible says that God wants you to "prosper" and this prosperity is tied to money. In short, God wants ALL Christians to be rich. In perhaps one of the most blasphemous sentences I have ever heard uttered, I have heard at least four of these teachers utter the words "You cannot be a blessing to others unless you are blessed." In other words, "Unless you have lots of money, you can't bless anyone!"
This statement boils my blood! How destructive is this to MILLIONS of Christians around the world? Let me give you some examples. One of the most respected and humble pastors in the United States recently set up a pastors conference in a third world country. Some pastors were brought in on dirt roads by bus, some traveled dozens of miles on foot. During the conference, many of these awesome men of God reported being demoralized. Why? Because somehow the teaching of the "prosperity gospel" had gotten to them and they felt like failures because they were dirt poor. And, it isn't just the Christian pastors who are dirt poor, it is almost EVERY Christian in a third world country! In fact, if you make more than $1500/yr you are richer than 80% of the world. How do you think God feels about those who are bringing down these pastors and fellow Christians in third world countries??
This same pastor also reported traveling overseas with his team for another conference and they decided not to take up any offerings but pay for their own expenses. The people, along with the media and pastors in that country, were stunned. They could not believe that there was an American evangelist preaching to them who wasn't trying to sell anything and asking for nothing.
Another ministry recently reported that "Portugal is being seriously divided by prosperity teaching."
The destructiveness of this heresy doesn't simply end with making those who aren't rich feel worthless, but those who teach it go on to say that if you AREN'T rich, then it is because you don't have enough faith and your relationship with God must be lacking because the Bible is clear that God wants you to "prosper."
These "teachers" completely misconstrue the meaning of "to prosper." "To prosper" means to succeed or be successful, but being successful does NOT mean that we need to have wealth. Was Jesus wealthy? There is nothing in the Bible to indicate He was. He was a carpenter, which was a low wage job in those days. His parents were not wealthy (they offered a pair of doves for a purification offering after the birth of Jesus [Lk 2:22-24] because they could not afford a lamb which, according to the law, was supposed to be offered by those who could afford it [Lev 12:6-8]). However, would ANYONE dare say Jesus was not a successful and prosperous man? He lived a humble life, yet His ministry was unparalleled.
Yes, there were cases in the Old Testament where God did "prosper" people financially, however, we do not see examples of this in the New Testament. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Jesus said that the poor were blessed, "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God." (Lk 6:20) and "woe unto you that are rich: for you have received your consolation" (Lk 6:24). Indeed, the New Testament is filled with verses showing God blesses the poor and warns the rich of the danger they are in (Lk 4:18)(Lk 21:1-4)(Mk 12:41-44)(James 2:5)(1 Tim 6:9-10)(James 5:1-6)(Mt 19:23-24).
I love this quote by an unknown author, "God may have blessed people of the Old Testament financially, but His blessings of the New Testament are found in suffering." How true this is! We see it all through the New Testament (Mt 5:10-12)(James 5:10-11) (1 Pet 3:14,17)(1 Pet 4:12-19)(Phil 1:29-30)(2 Th 1:5-7).
Let me add here that there is nothing inherently evil in being rich. The evil comes in SEEKING to be rich. We are warned about this in Proverbs:
(Prov 28:22) He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, And considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.
(Prov 28:20) A faithful man shall abound with blessings: But he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.
The "prosperity gospel" completely contradicts these verses. It teaches that you SHOULD seek to be rich. It teaches that we should be discontent with what we have when the Bible says we should be content with what we have (Heb 13:5)(Phil 4:11-13)(1 Tim 6:6-8)(Lk 3:14).
The leaders of this heretical teaching live in mansions, drive luxury cars, own private airplanes, etc... blatantly flaunting their wealth and having the audacity to teach they have all of that because of their "faith." (Obviously, they have more "faith" than the thousands of less fortunate people who support their ministries.)
Let me ask you a question. What is one of the main reasons why unbelievers say they want nothing to do with churches and pastors? Because they are all out for money! I hear it over and over... Given this is the case, should ANY church or ministry put such an emphasis on money? If God is behind whatever we are doing, won't He provide? Do the teachers of the "prosperity gospel" believe ANYONE is drawn to Christianity because they flaunt their wealth? From my own experience, I don't recall ANYONE telling me that the prospect of material blessings drew them to Christianity.
Friends, the message of the world is that happiness can be found in wealth. This is why millions of people play the lottery. This is why many people are mired in credit card debt. House foreclosures, at the time of this writing, are at a record high because people bought lavish houses on credit that were beyond what they could afford. There is a quote I heard a while back that, "Many people use up their health trying to gain wealth, then have to use their wealth to regain their health."
What most of these people have in common is that they believe that having money and possessions will lead to happiness. Solomon, the richest man in the history of the world knew it did not. He said in (Eccl 2:1-11), "I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself, I made gardens and parks for myself... I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who proceeded me in Jerusalem... I collected for myself silver and gold... I provided for myself many concubines... All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them, I did not withhold from my heart any pleasure... (Verse 11) Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted and behold it was all vanity (futility) and striving after the wind and there was no profit under the sun."
Yes, God did bless Solomon and several others in the Old Testament with wealth, but nowhere do we see that God did so in response to a request for Him to do so. God promises in the Bible to meet our needs (Mt 6:25-34)(Lk 12:22-31)(Phil 4:19)(Ps 37:25)(Ps 145:15)(Ps 136:25), and will bless us if we give generously of our money (Mal 3:8-10)(Lk 6:38)(2 Cor 9:6-11)(Prov 3:5-6,9-10)(Prov 19:17)(Prov 28:27)(Prov 11:25), however, He never promises to make us rich. God knows the dangers of being rich which is why He gave so many warnings about it. Those who have money in abundance are almost always self-sufficient and don't NEED God. Those who have little often rely upon God the most. In the end, who is happier, those who are self-sufficient or those who rely upon God? Solomon, the wisest man in the history of the world, knew the answer.