For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
God wants us to prosper. I get it. That’s not hard to glean from this passage. Even I can figure that out. But often, this message gets distorted in a way that causes harm to believers, not just in this country, but particularly in Africa and Latin America.
Many of Christian television stations available in Nigeria and Cameroon feature Christian shows that focus on the Word of Faith movement which includes something called “prosperity theology” or “health and wealth gospel.” The Word of Faith movement has its own adherents in the United States, many of whom have TV shows and broad followings. Their popularity belies their twisted message.
The idea is that you can “name it and claim it.” Sort of a perversion of “you have not because you ask not.” You can see the churches that preach this gospel in Cameroon and Kenya– often they are huge gaudy buildings which stand out starkly in contrast to the more normal understated buildings of other churches.
It is a message that brings, unfortunately, a false hope to people who have no ability to obtain the level of promised prosperity. Interestingly, the word “prosperity” does not appear in the New Testament. That, in itself, should be instructional.
In his book, Leading in Light of Eternity, Stacy Rinehart comments that one leader in Cameroon said that the prosperity gospel affects some 75% of the churches in his country. The pastor is quoted: “Pastors who want to maintain their people preach prosperity. It is what the people want to hear. It is like parents bringing candy to their children because they want it.”
Spirituality becomes a test of what you have and what you give, even though those aren’t the values taught by Jesus. Stacy concludes that these pastors are but one kind of three false teachers delineated in scripture. He has an Appendix to his book to document scriptural passages on heresy and false teaching.
The Apostle Paul was especially hard on this heresy, cautioning believers to be cautious of listening to men of “corrupt mind” who equated Godliness as a path to access riches which is a “trap leading to ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:5, 9-11). The prosperity message has an obvious appeal in countries where the standard of living is very low, and is a seductive siren call to a way out of poverty through a false message.
One of the great verses is in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” I vividly remember Charles Stanley pointing out that this passage does not condemn having money, but instead looks at our motive. As he said, “some of you have committed the sin of loving money when you didn’t have a dime.”
Paul experienced both having very little and having plenty, yet was able to say in Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Nothing in that passage even suggests that every believer is entitled to be wealthy or prosperous, but instead says that we should be learn to be content with our material circumstances, whatever they are.
So, what does biblical prosperity mean (as opposed to the heresy advanced by many)? Well, to me it means that not everyone is assured of riches. In fact, we aren’t even assured of a happy life without trials, temptations or even grief and sorrow. Jesus kind of nailed it by telling his disciples “You cannot serve God and mammon (money).” (Matthew 6:24). Those that teach otherwise are twisting scripture to fit their personal agenda.
Instead, the bible teaches stewardship – that we our stewards of everything we possess and that we don’t really “own” anything while here on earth. It is all God’s, and it’s our job to employ our resources in ways that glorify him, not ourselves. Buying fancy foreign cars, or huge homes may impress other people, but not God. God is concerned with what we do with what we have, not with what we want to have.
My own concept of the value of money and possessions was formed by teaching a Christian financial class in our church in the mid 1980’s, and then later attending a Crown Ministry class with my wife. There are many good resources out there including courses offered by Dave Ramsey. Forty Days with Jesus has a 5 session series which has a focus on Money and Possessions which gives a good biblical teaching on this topic in video form. The link to this is given below.
I think back to the saying that you will never hear a man on his deathbed say they wished they had worked more so they could have more stuff. In fact, I doubt that anyone on their deathbed would say they wished they had bought one more expensive painting that they could put next to their bedside to comfort them as they die. Yet our secular world sends out seductive messages of materialism that appeals to our senses, and often, those messages get assimilated into prosperity theology.
Having more stuff is good, “they” say. All you need to do is pray for it. To me, not so much. I went through several years of financial distress where just meeting the basic needs of my family was a challenge. I quickly learned that “stuff” was not important. What was important was relationships with family and friends. Those are priceless. That’s real prosperity.
Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:3,4, cautions us to be careful with our theology and doctrine: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” The prosperity gospel is something that appeals to “itchy ears”.
The challenge here is for all to have spiritual discernment about what is, and what is not, true teaching about prosperity, money and possessions. Unfortunately, many of those who advance the health and wealth gospel are highly visible and have wide television ministries.
Being popular doesn’t equate to being correct. It is not our job to eradicate false teaching, but it is our job to learn Jesus’ values directly from Him, not from someone with popular appeal. As mentors, it is also our responsibility to be sure our mentees have a firm grounding in this area.
FURTHER STUDY: A primer on prosperity gospel theology: https://gotquestions.org/prosperity-gospel.html
Information on Crown Ministries founded by Howard Dayton: https://www.crown.org/
Lead in Light of Eternity by Stacy Rinehart: https://www.amazon.com/Lead-Light-Eternity-Jesus-Model-ebook/dp/B00YSS73FA/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480684225&sr=1-1&keywords=lead+in+light+of+eternity
A book on false teaching is Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century: https://www.amazon.com/Christianity-Crisis-21st-Century-ebook/dp/B001NLL220/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479932269&sr=8-1&keywords=christianity+in+crisis+21st+century
For a Days with Jesus videos on Money and Possessions, go to: http://www.mentorlink.org/index.php/resources/days-with-jesus/english/
WORSHIP: The song Enough by Chris Tomlin reminds that Jesus is Enough for every need. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMzuHwVGuNc
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