It is amazing how popular the “Prosperity Gospel” still is. The basic premise is that faith in Christ will not only bring you salvation and forgiveness of sin, but also material gain, physical health, and wealth. As a former adherent to this version of the gospel, I understand it’s allure. We love riches, comfort. and material goods. And so many preachers prey on our desire for material prosperity.
There are so many problems with the Prosperity Gospel it’s hard to know where to begin. There are theological errors, errors of Bible interpretation, errors in understanding where we are located in the history of redemption. But perhaps the biggest problem with the Prosperity Gospel is that it sets its sights too low and gets our eyes off of what true prosperity is.
The Prosperity Gospel encourages us to put our hope in riches. No prosperity preacher will say that and some may not even be aware of it, but that is what they are doing. This version of the gospel particularly attracts the poor and the needy, offering hope for riches and healing. And so many come away disappointed when they are still not rich or healed and the blame is put on them for their lack of faith and sin in their life. How horrible. How predatory. How shallow.
The Bible shows us a better way.
The Prosperity Gospel teaches that faith leads to riches. The Bible is more realistic and teaches us that believers may go through times of poverty and lack. The Bible then shows us that true faith leads to something better than material riches and comfort, and that is joy and satisfaction in God even in poverty and lack.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
In one sense, the prosperity preachers are right. The gospel does unlock the key to great wealth, to priceless treasure. But they get it wrong in regards to what that treasure actually is. Jesus helps reorient our focus and priorities:
What is so valuable about the kingdom of heaven? What is the greatest thing you get when you are part of the kingdom of God? The greatest thing you get is Jesus! Nothing is more important, precious, or valuable than He. There is no greater Treasure than Christ. In Jesus’ parable, this man in joy goes and sells all that he has to buy the field. He is going to lose everything he previously had and yet he still has great joy. Why? Because the man knows that what he will receive in the treasure far surpasses whatever he might lose.
Habakkuk does not say “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, I must believe harder, claim God’s promises for riches, and believe that wealth is just around the corner!”
No. Habakkuk does not say that. He doesn’t take the advice of the prosperity preachers. Instead he says, though I lose it all, “I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation…” Why? The only reason he can say that and do that is if he really believes that what he has in God is infinitely more valuable than fruit, food, and crops. He can handle not having lesser treasures because he has a superior treasure.
This is the kind of gospel that a world where millions are in poverty and suffering needs. The world needs a message that doesn’t guarantee that if you believe in Jesus brain tumors will automatically shrink, limbs will automatically grow back, and bank accounts will automatically be full. The world needs a better and truer message. A message that even when you lose your money, even when you lose your health, even when material comforts fade, there is a God who can sustain and satisfy the deepest needs of your soul and give you peace and contentment and joy even if you lose everything else. This is a superior prosperity gospel! A gospel that on the one hand acknowledges pain and suffering and sorrow in the world, but on the other hand, because our hope is in God and not in riches and physical comfort we are, as Paul says to the church in Corinth, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing!” (2 Cor 6:10)
The biblical gospel not only offers strength through our pain, poverty, and suffering as we cling to the Superior Treasure, it also offers a promise that one day Christ, our Treasure, will return and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
The gospel of Christ gives us strength for today, and hope for tomorrow.
One of my favorite stories is about Horatio Spafford.
In 1871 he lost everything in the great Chicago fire. In 1873 his four daughters drowned at sea, and his wife barely escapes. How can a man endure such hammer blows in his life? A smiling, slick, shiny-toothed prosperity preacher has nothing to offer. But thankfully in those dark hours Spafford didn’t put his hope in a shallow “name it and claim it” message. Instead, he clung
to the only true Treasure he had, and out of that experience, he wrote the hymn, “It is well with my soul” where he wrote those classic words,
When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou hath taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.
Sounds a lot like Habakkuk.
It is one thing to say, “If I lose everything but still have Jesus, it’s more than enough.” It’s quite another thing to live it. Spafford did. And not only did Christ and His gospel give him strength for today, but also hope for tomorrow. Which is why he could write at the end,
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Take a moment and watch this video. Not only do you get to hear Jimmy Needham’s great performance of this hymn, but at the 3 minute mark you’ll hear John Piper explain the story behind this inspiring hymn. I think you’ll be encouraged.
To Christ, our Superior Treasure, be the glory!
Grace and Peace,