The Prosperity Gospel
It has been said that one of America’s biggest exports is the spread of the prosperity gospel. The teaching of the prosperity gospel is about how God wants most for His people is health and wealth, that He will bless you financially and in other worldly ways based on your faith, and that your prosperity is a sign of how good a Christian you are. Pain, suffering, hardships, or poverty shows that you have weak faith, and your trials are a result of your lack of faith. It is the shame of the church in America that this distortion of the Gospel is the main export of the church.
Paul’s Prosperity Gospel
The apostle Paul is one of the most faithful men in the Bible. He went on multiple mission trips around the then-known world, spoke to powerful rulers who could imprison or kill him, and great crowds of people who would mock him for his faith. He had met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3) and from that point on he never seemed to falter in his call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). At the same time, next to our Lord Jesus, there is nobody in the Bible who suffered more than him.
We have a recap of some of the trouble Paul experienced as an apostle detailed in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:
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. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul did not list these sufferings for sympathy. For Paul, this was the prosperity gospel. This list of suffering was written by Paul as proof that he was an apostle and as evidence of his effectiveness as an apostle. He concludes by saying, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (1 Corinthians 11:30).” There was no idea at all in Paul’s mind that worldly prosperity was to be expected once someone became united with Christ.
Later towards the end of Paul’s ministry, we can see that the suffering Paul experienced was not something that came to him by surprise. He was in Caesarea about to head to Jerusalem, and those in Caesarea were urging him not to go because it was revealed to some of them that Paul would be imprisoned if he went (Acts 21:12). But Paul was more concerned with accomplishing God’s will, telling them, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13).”
It is clear from these passages in Acts 21:13-14 that Paul was willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake and saw it as proof of his apostolic standing. If Paul saw the message of the prosperity gospel preachers today, he would likely have a very strong worded rebuke for those who claim that worldly gifts are proof of their faith.
Jesus’ Prosperity Gospel
But was Paul wrong in his views? Did Jesus have anything to say about worldly blessings? Not surprisingly, Paul’s words do not contradict what Jesus taught.
On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).” Jesus did promise a reward, but He promised that it will be a heavenly reward, not an earthly one. Jesus repeated similar teaching throughout His ministry (Matthew 6:4, 6:18, 6:19-21).
A Dangerous Lie
The prosperity gospel is a dangerous teaching because it is clearly wrong; it directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. That is enough reason to run from the teaching. In addition, the prosperity gospel hurts people. If God does not bless someone with worldly material blessings, it can make someone feel as though their faith is not strong enough, or worse can turn people away from God thinking He did not deliver on a promise.
Let us pray for those who have been hurt by the prosperity gospel and pray for and support those who actively seek to show the truth of God’s love through His Son Jesus Christ and the eternal blessing we will receive in heaven in the eternal presence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.