Scriptures: Matt. 6:19-22,23; 23:25; Luke 8:1-3; 9:25; 12:15; 18:24; 1 Timothy 6:6-9
The “prosperity gospel” is a term used to describe, at least in part, the Word of Faith Movement (WOF), and the teaching is exploding in popularity across the world. But is it true? Where is the focus? Is the focus on Christ or on self?
The WOF movement promises its followers health, wealth and happiness. Prosperity in all of its forms are to be expected from God. Some of the defenders and leaders of the prosperity gospel try to sneak by claiming the riches should be used for outreach, evangelism and other church related programs, but the ministers who preach it can’t seem to resist the temptation of spending the money that comes in on themselves. Private jets or helicopters, Rolls Royces, mansions, and designer clothing have become the norm.
What About Greed?
Jesus Christ was very clear, open, and honest in regards to greed and selfishness. Both attitudes are nothing short of sin. He blasted religious teachers who used the Bible as a means to enrich themselves. He calls them out by pointing to their inner motives, he said:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25, NIV).
While the prosperity gospel boldly teaches that Christians should authoritatively ask God for new cars, bigger houses, and nicer clothes, Jesus warned:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV).
Prosperity teachers also argue that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, it’s evidence of their faith. They point to their own material gain as proof that they have tapped into God’s riches. But, Jesus doesn’t see it that like that:
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self” (Luke 9:25, NIV)?
Was Jesus Rich?
In an attempt to legitimize the prosperity gospel, many WOF teachers make the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was rich. “After all,” they say, “he needed a treasurer.” Any notable Bible scholar says that their theory contradicts the facts.
“’The only way you can make Jesus into a rich man is by advocating torturous interpretations (of the Bible) and by being wholly naive historically,’ says Bruce W. Longenecker, a professor of religion at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Longenecker specializes in studying the poor in the time of ancient Greece and Rome.”*
Longenecker adds that about 90 percent of the people in Jesus’ time lived in poverty. People were either rich or they were barely able to make it day by day.
Professor Eric Meyers from Duke University agrees basing his knowledge on being one of the archaeologists who excavated Nazareth, the small village in Israel where Jesus spent most of his life. Meyers reminds us that Jesus had no burial place of his own and was laid in a tomb given to him by Joseph of Arimathea,** indicating neither Jesus nor the disciples had money for a burial location.
Word of Faith teachers try and counter by saying that Judas Iscariot was the “treasurer” for Jesus and the disciples, as I hinted to above, so they must have been rich. However, “treasurer” appears only in the New Living translation (actually a paraphrase) and not in the KJV, NIV, or ESV, which all simply say that Judas was in charge of the money bag. Traveling rabbis at that time received alms and free temporary room and board at times. Luke 8:1-3 notes:
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (NIV, pay particular attention to the last sentence).
Does Wealth Indicate we are Right with God?
Prosperity teachers claim wealth and material goods are signs of being right with God. But Jesus warns against pursuing worldly wealth:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, 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 Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money“ (Matthew 6:19-21, 23, NIV).
Wealth may build people up in the eyes of men, it may portray power and impress humanity, but it does not impress God. When talking with a rich man, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:24, NIV)!
The problem, which Jesus clearly understood, is that wealthy people can get so preoccupied with their money and possessions that they neglect or ignore God. As time passes, they may even come to rely on their money instead of, or more than, God.
Rather than aiming to get rich, Paul counsels to be content with what you already have:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:6-9, NIV).
*Inspired and adapted from an article by Jack Vazada on christianity.about.com.