The Prosperity Gospel

I own a strange Bible. In the first half, it tells about a God, many of whose dearest friends were “tortured … suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated … wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:35-38).[1] One man, Job, was particularly appreciated by God. His story is told in excruciating detail; he lost his health, his wealth and all (save his wife and a few dubious friends) that he held dear.

Shocked? Well, that’s just the first section of the book. The diligent reader will discover that the second half seems even more implausible! In it, the leading messenger of this God, the apostolic herald Paul, experienced a similar life: “labors … imprisonments … countless beatings, and often near death” (2Co 11:23). In his autobiography, he recalled, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2Co 11:24-27). Some life!

And dare I mention the very centerpiece of this amazing book? That this God, according to His own “definite plan” (Act 2:23), sent His own Son, from the indescribable wealth and glory of an eternal throne, downward, plunging Him into a dark and chaotic world of rebellion and sin. A world (my mind cannot take it in!) where the Rich One became “poor,” where the Beloved was “despised and rejected,” where homelessness and poverty, friendlessness and reproach, became His daily experience. And at the end, mocked, condemned, and roundly hated by all, the Man named Jesus was executed, in shame and blood on a felon’s cross. Some book, indeed!

But apparently, we have it all wrong; a new message now wings its way to millions who hungrily embrace it. Have you heard? God wants us to be happy! God wants us to be healthy! God wants us to be wealthy! What’s more, God wants His messengers to be well-coiffed millionaires, ensconced in elegant mansions, flying private jets, adored in large arenas, lavished with every luxury that a hedonistic heart can desire. And if you twist the Holy Bible into a pretzel, you can, with devilish deceit, even claim that all this is based on “what the Bible really means.”

Of course, the contrast between this new religion and what the Bible actually says could not be more stark. True godliness and grasping covetousness have no common ground. And what is called the “Prosperity Gospel” is a demonic trap, deceiving millions in the pursuit of material acquisition, rather than the reception of forgiveness and eternal life. It promises everything, yet delivers nothing. The poor are still poor, the sick are still sick, and tragically for most, the lost are still lost. No “prosperity”; no “gospel.”

The history of the “Health and Wealth” movement is interesting but irrelevant; it comes from hell and destroys those who embrace it. The biographical details of its leaders are beneath our notice; in short, they are messengers of Satan and deceivers of the highest order. Paul dismisses them as “enemies of the cross of Christ … [whose] end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Php 3:18-19). Their theories are destroyed by a single sentence from Christ: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mar 8:36 KJV).

Rather than dwell on man’s theories, let us listen to the words of the lowly Christ:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mat 5:3-11).

So, is it wrong to want good health? No, but a desire for the will of God and the glory of God in my life is infinitely more important. Is it wrong to have wealth? No, for God does, on occasion, grant it, though it is often found to be unfulfilling and empty (Ecc 2:8-11). But the real issue of Christianity and Christian living is quite simple: How may I best bring glory to God? How may I most fully be conformed to the image of His Son? (1Co 10:31; Rom 8:29; 12:2). Money and health may be used to that end but are hardly required; more often, especially in the case of money, it hinders rather than helps.

The Bible’s shocking message is contrary to all human wisdom; it opposes every fleshly inclination. Take up your cross (Luk 9:23). Die to self (Rom 6:6). Be Christ’s slave (1Co 7:22). Be weak (2Co 12:9). Be last (Mat 20:16). Surrender everything (Rom 12:1). Lose your life (Mar 8:35).

This is true health; this is real wealth. This is the currency of heaven, the earnest of its joys and reward. May God turn us from “cunningly devised fables” to a true and blessed appreciation of His purposes for us – both now and in the world to come.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.