Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. –1 John 2:15
“God wants you to be successful, wealthy, and healthy, so give me your money to plant that seed.” That’s the mantra of the charismatic prosperity gospel movement. We hear it constantly from the clean-cut pretty boy figureheads like Joel Osteen to the downright, dirty unashamed whore-mongers, like David E. Taylor.
It’s not surprising that there are so many charlatans that rip people off in the name of Christ for personal gain. But it is, somewhat, surprising that so many people fall for it. These con-artists play off the vulnerability of an unregenerate, materialistic constituency who desire an easy way out of some kind of calamity they are in, be it poor health or poverty. The premise is that faith produces these positive outcomes in our lives.
But what does the Bible say about this? Did Jesus die to bring us health, wealth, or prosperity?
First, let’s establish who God is and who we are.
God is the almighty creator of the universe and is accountable to nobody. God is sovereign over all creation and does all that He pleases, irrespective of anything outside of Himself.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
God does not exist for man’s pleasure. God exists because He is. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Revelation 22:13) and his purpose is to glorify Himself–and we were created for that purpose.
Rightly understanding who God is and our purpose in Him is to understand why the prosperity gospel is so blatantly false. Because we exist to glorify God, it goes without saying that God is glorified in all that he does with us–be it sickness and poverty or good health and riches. Jesus said a few things that should give the proponents of the prosperity gospel serious pause. He warns us against chasing the riches of this world.
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…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:19–24
For, Jesus says, it is the love of money–that is the desire for materialistic gain in this world, covetousness–that produces all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and He also says that those who are caught up in worldly pleasures and selfish ambitions probably won’t be in Heaven (Matthew 19:24).
So why doesn’t God want us to be healthy, wealthy, and rich? After all, doesn’t God want the best for his people?
Of course, he does, but Jesus says His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)–we are called to be a witness and testimony to the salvation of Jesus by proclaiming His gospel and being imitators of Him. In other words, we are to call people out of this world and into the Kingdom of eternal life. When we come to Christ, we get Christ, not the world.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. –2 Corinthians 12:9
So let’s lay the myth aside that those who hate the false gospel of prosperity believe that God desires all of His people to be poor and sick. This is a false accusation and an affront to the gospel. The gospel no more produces sickness and poverty than it produces health and prosperity. God can choose to bring about His glory whether we are on our deathbeds suffering from a terminal illness, whether we are in China being persecuted under a tyrannical communist regime, or whether we are gifted with lots of money and great health. But, these things are not products of the gospel.
The gospel is that Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, came into the world to live a perfect, sinless life, to bear the imputed guilt of our sin in His body on the cross, bearing the wrath of God and taking the punishment for our sin, dying on the cross, and rising again three days later defeating death, so that we can stand in front of the Father clothed in the righteousness of Christ and be declared innocent and worthy of eternal glory in the Kingdom with Jesus Christ.