Prosperity teaching is rapidly spreading around the world and it has led many inside and outside the church away from the good news (gospel) that is proclaimed in the Bible. In this article, we will examine this teaching in light of what the scriptures teach.
Let us begin by briefly looking at what the Biblical gospel is, in order to see how the prosperity teaching deviates from it. Since Adam’s fall in the garden, all mankind has inherited a sin nature and incurred the wrath of God because of sin. But God in His mercy, did not leave His people in their miserable state destined for death. He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to take the punishment for the sins of His people through death on a cross. Our sins were placed on sinless Jesus, and His righteousness was attributed to us. As His redeemed children, we are progressively made holier through the work of His Spirit. And after this life, we will be completely freed from sin, and enjoy the presence of our great God forever.
Prosperity teaching, on the other hand, does not address man’s biggest problem: sin! It focuses on his earthly well-being, making this life’s goals material wealth and perfect health. Do you desire to be relieved from your poverty? Do you want things you can’t afford today? Are you suffering from a serious physical ailment? Then follow the methods prescribed by prosperity teachers, and these problems will be solved. Such teaching is attractive to many in our society, especially those mired in poverty, and those envious of the better circumstances of others around them.
The life goals set by prosperity teaching are so contrary to what the scriptures teach. Jesus taught that instead of being preoccupied with material needs like unbelievers are, our focus is to be seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness while trusting God to take care of our earthly needs (Matt. 6:31-33). The path laid out before a Christian is very different from the path that is attractive to the world. It is one of self-denial, taking up one’s cross daily, and following Jesus (Lk. 9:23). After all, that is what Jesus Himself did and instructed us to follow. In contrast with seeking riches, Jesus, though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich (2Cor. 8:9).
How are we made rich through Jesus’ poverty? Ephesians 1 tells us that we who were chosen by God were redeemed by Jesus’ blood on the cross, forgiven of our sins, and adopted as sons of God. We have been given the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Guide, and have been promised perfection in holiness at our death and resurrection of our bodies to enjoy God’s presence for eternity. Unlike earthly riches which can be taken away, these spiritual riches are ours in Christ forever. Each of us has also been given spiritual gifts that are to be utilized for the building up of Christ’s body, the church (and not for our own personal edification).
Prosperity teachers may promise health and comfort, but the Bible says walking in Christ may bring something different. Paul tells us that we have been granted not only the privilege of believing in Christ, but also suffering for His sake (Phil. 1:29). Yes, denying ourselves and taking up our cross will mean suffering, which may involve illness, material deprivation, injustice, ill-treatment, and even death. But, if we see our difficult circumstances as a means to the greater progress of the gospel, we have cause to rejoice because of a greater reality of God’s presence with us.
Let us examine how prosperity teachers mislead their followers in reaching for their health and wellness goals. They claim that man’s spoken word has creative powers, just as God in Genesis 1 spoke all of creation into existence. One simply has to claim in faith whatever earthly blessings we desire, and they will be given to us. And if we do not receive what we desire, it is because of a lack of faith. This is a perversion of scripture such as 1 John 5:14 which clearly states that God gives us what we ask according to His will. The part about seeking God’s will is omitted by prosperity teaching, and our selfish desires are made dominant. Man is viewed as sovereign, denying the sovereignty of God.
There is also the call to give to the preacher or ministry some of your funds, with the expectation that in doing so, you will be materially rewarded many-fold. The only ones who end up wealthy as a result of this practice are the preachers. They become exceedingly rich while their followers are greatly disappointed. And yet, the preachers use their wealth to entice new followers to follow their teaching, suggesting they can become as wealthy as they are. The followers’ relationship with God becomes transactional: you do something, and God in turn rewards you. Such unbiblical thinking is quite prevalent in our country. And unfortunately, among the poor, it is viewed as a means of climbing out of their destitute state, only to be disappointed. Further, the spread of the true gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is hindered, because it is confused with prosperity preaching and branded as material enticement to conversion by opponents of our faith.
So, how are we to counter this prevalent false teaching influencing people in our society and our churches? First, we must ensure the whole counsel of God is preached. This will involve investing in the training of those who preach in our churches and those preparing to become pastors. And encouraging believers to be personally studying the Word of God must be a priority. Also, our personal lives must reflect what Paul taught Timothy in 1Timothy 6:5-6, that godliness with contentment is great gain, and godliness is not a means of material gain. Familiarity with and love for the true gospel is what will protect us from being misled by prosperity teaching.
Dr Ram Rao serves as an elder at Anugraha Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bengaluru, Karnataka. He is married to Asha and they have four adult children.