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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Exposing the Empty Promises of the Prosperity Gospel

Do you want to be satisfied? I’m not just talking about not being hungry or thirsty; I’m talking about being completely satisfied in every area of your life. I’m talking about the type of satisfaction everyone who has ever walked the face of the planet dreams of one day finding. It’s a satisfaction we experience when all of our needs are met and continue to be met.

For all of human history, people have believed that by living in obedience to a supreme being of some type (it may be one god or multiple gods), the supreme being will reward them by giving them things of this world which will satisfy them. A few examples of these rewards include health, wealth, and prosperity.

These same thoughts have infiltrated, at least to some degree, the theology of many 21st century American Christians. There are theological strands of all types floating around Christian circles which support the case for God rewarding people who obey him with tangible blessings which are intended to satisfy their longing souls such as health, wealth, and prosperity. So the question on the table is this: Does the Bible, the foundational truth of Christianity, actually support this theology?

Supporting Case for This Theology

Let’s take a look at the supporting biblical case for this theology. The first place we’ll look is in Deuteronomy 28. In this passage, God promised the Israelites blessings upon blessings if they obeyed him including things like health, wealth, and prosperity. Then he followed up by promising curses upon curses if they disobeyed him including the removal of health, wealth, and prosperity. By solely reading this chapter of the Bible, it would appear that health, wealth, and prosperity blessings will be poured out on everyone who lives in obedience to God’s commands.

Another Bible passage which is often used to support this theology is found in Luke 18. Near the end of this chapter, one of Jesus’s disciples asked him what he would receive in return for leaving seemingly everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’s response was that he would receive many times more of everything he gave up both in this age (earthly life) and in the age to come (afterlife). Once again, by solely reading this passage of the Bible, it would appear that health, wealth, and prosperity blessings will be poured out on people who live in obedience to God’s commands.

Lastly, I want to point us to a passage from 2 Corinthians 9 where it is written: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”[1] If we look at the context in which this verse was written, we see that Paul, the writer of 2 Corinthians, is strongly encouraging the Corinthian church to collect a financial gift which he will deliver to the church in Jerusalem. At first glance, it would appear that Paul is sharing a formula which states that the more you give, the more you will receive. Once again, this passage appears to support the health, wealth, and prosperity theology.

Now that we’ve investigated some biblical passages which appear to support this theology, let’s take a look at what I believe to be the best counterargument to this claim.

Counterargument against This Theology

Of all the people in the Bible, which ones were probably the most obedient to God? My list would include Abraham, Job, Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. If obedience always leads to health, wealth, and prosperity, then we should expect to find that these guys were the healthiest, wealthiest, and most prosperous people living during their generations. Let’s see if they were.

Abraham lived a long life, had lots of livestock, had almost two handfuls of children, and had hundreds of servants. He was healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Job lived a long life, had lots of livestock, had two handfuls of children, and had lots of servants.[2] He was healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Moses lived a long life, but doesn’t appear to have had more wealth than any of the other Israelites.

David lived a relatively long life by reaching the age of 70, was the king of Israel, had lots of possessions, and had lots of servants, but he experienced lots of war with neighboring kingdoms and even within his own family. Elijah was a nomad who doesn’t appear to have accumulated lots of possessions. Elisha lived to an old age, but doesn’t appear to have accumulated much wealth. He even turned down an opportunity to receive wealth as payment once when he used his prophetic gift.

John the Baptist lived in the desert on a diet of locusts and honey, wore camel’s hair and a leather belt, and doesn’t appear to have accumulated any wealth. He also didn’t live a long life having died in his early thirties by having his head chopped off by the Palestinian ruler. Jesus was constantly on the road traveling from place to place, meaning that he didn’t have a house or material possessions. He died in his early to mid-thirties by crucifixion (one of the worst types of death imaginable). Peter appears to have given up his successful fishing business in order to follow Jesus, so he was unable to accumulate lots of wealth. He also faced constant persecution and was crucified when he was in his fifties. Lastly, Paul supported himself on his missionary journeys rather than fundraising, didn’t accumulate wealth, and was martyred in Rome when he was in his fifties.

All twelve of these guys lived fairly obedient lives, except Jesus. Jesus lived in full obedience to God whereas the other nine fell short of perfection. So if God’s intent was to bless those who live in obedience to him with health, wealth, and prosperity, then certainly Jesus should’ve been the healthiest, wealthiest, and most prosperous person in all of history. Yet, we read that he wasn’t. Actually, quite a few of these guys (and many others) who lived fairly obedient lives didn’t get a chance to experience health, wealth, and prosperity in this life.[3] Does that mean God failed to fulfill his promise? Or does it mean that his promises were intended to be interpreted differently? The writer of the book of Hebrews spoke to this point when he wrote:
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.[4]
According to these verses, some of these guys didn’t receive what was promised because God provided them with something so much better. What could possibly be so much better than receiving health, wealth, and prosperity? The writer of Hebrews went on to tell us what could be so much better when he wrote that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Jesus’s act of obedience at that point in time was to endure the cross which was far from looking like health, wealth, and prosperity. It was going to kill him. Yet, he obeyed and went to the cross. Why? Because he knew the joy he would find by living in obedience to God was far better than the joy he’d find having more health, wealth, and prosperity.

What Is the Source of Jesus’s Joy?

As I stated near the beginning of this article, every single one of us desire to be completely satisfied. And we turn to numerous objects in order to find it. We find some satisfaction in food. We find some satisfaction in wealth. We find some satisfaction in accomplishments. We find some satisfaction in relationships. All these objects provide us with some sense of satisfaction, but only for a period of time. For example, I might eat a meal and be satisfied for a few hours, but then I get hungry again. The problem with all the things of this world is that none of them will keep us satisfied for the rest of our lives. Not even the greatest amount of health, wealth, and prosperity can keep us satisfied.

If the highest level of satisfaction we can achieve is to jump from one temporarily satisfying object or experience to another, then it would make sense for us to continue chasing after things like health, wealth, and prosperity. But the good news is that God promises us something different; he promises to satisfy us eternally. As the writer of Psalm 16 put it, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[5] This satisfaction was never intended to come from things he gives us such as health, wealth, and prosperity; it was intended to come directly from him. He is the object of our eternal satisfaction. He is the living water which quenches our thirst and the living bread which quenches our hunger.[6]

Thus, when we read Hebrews 11 and 12 and see that Jesus saw the joy set before him, what he saw was the joy which comes from knowing God and living in obedience to his commanded will. It’s when we joyfully live in obedience to God, both in our hearts and in our outward actions, that we have the opportunity to experience the satisfaction which comes from him. We may receive health, wealth, and prosperity in this life, but then again, we may not. But if we’re looking to God as our source of satisfaction rather than earthly things, then it won’t matter to us whether we’re better or worse, healthy or sick, and rich or poor. We’ll still be satisfied and still experience joy because it’s being derived from God and not from all that other stuff.


As I hope you can see, the Bible never promises that obedience to God will lead him to make us healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. That’s not to say that obedience doesn’t lead to a joyful and satisfying life. It just looks a lot different. The joy and satisfaction we receive when we live in obedience to God isn’t experienced by God giving us earthly things to satisfy us; it’s experienced as we gain more and more of him.

[1] 2 Corinthians 9:6.
[2] It was all taken away from him, but he eventually received back double of almost everything he lost.
[3] See Hebrews 11:36-40.
[4] Hebrews 11:39-12:2.
[5] Psalm 16:11.
[6] In John 4, Jesus, speaking in metaphorical terms, said that he is a type of living water which would quench our thirst. In John 6, Jesus again speaking in metaphorical terms, said that he is the living bread which would quench our hunger.

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