Is the “Gospel of prosperity” Jesus’s Gospel?

Introduction

God approached mankind at dif­fer­ent times and ulti­mate­ly through Jesus Christ to offer us a life filled with things that are imper­ish­able.

For our light and momen­tary trou­bles are achiev­ing for us an eter­nal glo­ry that far out­weighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is tem­po­rary, but what is unseen is eter­nal. (2 Corinthi­ans 4:17–18)

In order to look for these imper­ish­able things, one needs to look beyond the vis­i­ble (tran­sient) world. Though Jesus offered mankind this pos­si­bil­i­ty, the recent decades have seen a huge rise in preach­ers of mate­r­i­al abun­dance. Pros­per­i­ty the­ol­o­gy, gospel of pros­per­i­ty, “name it and claim it,” “health and wealth,” and the list goes on, has been find­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty espe­cial­ly among the Charis­mat­ic and Pen­te­costal groups. It has been suc­cess­ful­ly draw­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds to “believe” that the God of the Chris­tians wants to grant them health, wealth and any kind of per­son­al suc­cess even more than what they real­ly need. These bless­ings are claimed to be God’s promis­es for those with the appro­pri­ate “faith” and “obe­di­ence.”
We con­sid­er it impor­tant to assess this move­ment and under­stand the truth in the light of the Word of God since the pros­per­i­ty preach­ers assert that the Bible is the source of their teach­ings.

How the prosperity “gospel” works

Be obe­di­ent (i.e., donate) and faith­ful (i.e., pay reg­u­lar­ly), and give to the Lord boun­ti­ful­ly (i.e., to the pros­per­i­ty preach­ers and their min­istries). The more mon­ey you give, the more you will pros­per finan­cial­ly, the more your health will improve, the more suc­cess you will have and the more your fam­i­ly and rela­tion­ships will be blessed. These bless­ings will enable you to give even more.

Statements by prosperity preachers

Stel­la Dhi­nakaran from “Jesus Calls Ministries”—Be a cheer­ful giv­er:

… The Bible says that the Lord takes great delight in bless­ing you when you give to Him abun­dant­ly. When you give to the Lord you will not lack but increase in your finances … Hon­our the Lord with your faith­ful giv­ing how­ev­er small your income may be … Prayer: Lov­ing Heav­en­ly Father, I thank You for Your Word that You love a cheer­ful giv­er and when I give to You, You will cause a super­nat­ur­al increase in my finances. Help me to sow more into Your king­dom and let my eyes see the super­nat­ur­al increase in my finances …1

The above mes­sage of Stel­la Dhinkaran illus­trates the way the “super­nat­ur­al increase in finances” is to be sought, by being a “cheer­ful giv­er” to their min­istries.
The “Jesus Calls Min­istries” (Paul Dhi­nakaran and fam­i­ly) web­site is full of “encour­age­ments” to donate. One can join part­ner­ship plans for young peo­ple, one’s fam­i­ly, busi­ness, and many oth­er pur­pos­es. Along with the dona­tions one can send in his/her prayer requests. Here is an exam­ple:

Paul Dhi­nakaran on the “Busi­ness Bless­ing Plan”:

My dear busi­ness­men, traders and indus­tri­al­ists! The Lord … wants you and your busi­ness ven­ture to go up to the nation­al lev­el! This is the plan of God for you! … And, when you become a big and promi­nent indus­tri­al­ist or a busi­ness­man or a trad­er, the gov­ern­ment will sure­ly con­sult you when they for­mu­late the trade, indus­tri­al and eco­nom­ic poli­cies of the nation … Yes! The Lord has cho­sen you, the peo­ple who are involved in busi­ness, to pre­pare the world for His Sec­ond Com­ing … The Lord will pros­per you, your fam­i­ly and your busi­ness estab­lish­ment to reach the high­est lev­els in the nation … Then, the Lord explained to me in detail about the “Busi­ness Bless­ing Plan” and how this deci­sion of His will be ful­filled … * You may give as much offer­ing as you want to give every month to the min­istry * You may give a part of your month­ly prof­it to the min­istry … But, the impor­tant fea­ture of this plan is that the traders, the busi­ness peo­ple and the indus­tri­al­ists must be enrolled as the part­ners of this plan to serve Him and also to receive His abun­dant bless­ings.2

The Bible clear­ly con­demns peo­ple, who “think that god­li­ness is a means to finan­cial gain” call­ing them “men of cor­rupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth” (1 Tim 6:3–5). Paul Dhi­nakaran tar­gets the rich or those who want to become rich to give a pious label to their ambi­tions and there­by tries to draw mon­ey from them for his activ­i­ties.

Ben­ny Hinn: Pros­per­i­ty … Is It Bib­li­cal?:

I believe bib­li­cal pros­per­i­ty is scrip­tur­al, and it is taught through­out the Bible. Giv­ing to the Lord is so impor­tant that God has promised that those who give for the work of the Gospel will be blessed and pro­tect­ed … Pover­ty does not belong to the right­eous. It belongs to those who dis­obey God … The rea­son for bib­li­cal pros­per­i­ty is clear: the Gospel must be preached! This is why a wealth trans­fer is com­ing … The Lord is watch­ing every­thing we do for Him today. He is look­ing for a peo­ple He can trust, for the day will come when true rich­es will be com­mit­ted to believ­ers who are faith­ful. These true rich­es not only are the invis­i­ble pow­er of God but also the com­ing wealth trans­fer on earth that will finance the end-time har­vest! … So give today faith­ful­ly. Give today with obe­di­ence. Give today with all your heart, with a cheer­ful heart. And God has promised not only to take care of you today and tomor­row, but also to trust you one day with the wealth of the sin­ner … Now it is time that we as believ­ers obey the Lord, and even ask Him for pros­per­i­ty … God wants us to pros­per because the nations are call­ing and God con­tin­ues open­ing doors. We must respond now before it is too late! … Click here to plant a seed in obe­di­ence to His Word and help Pas­tor Ben­ny take the life-sav­ing, mir­a­cle-work­ing Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations!3

Ben­ny Hinn’s point is to show that obe­di­ence means main­ly to donate to his min­istry with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Assess these state­ments of Ben­ny Hinn your­self by com­par­ing them with Paul’s atti­tude:

I have not cov­et­ed anyone’s sil­ver or gold or cloth­ing. You your­selves know that these hands of mine have sup­plied my own needs and the needs of my com­pan­ions. In every­thing I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remem­ber­ing the words the Lord Jesus him­self said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33–35)

What the Bible teaches

The Bible instructs us to have a very dif­fer­ent atti­tude from the one pro­mot­ed by the Dhi­nakarans and Ben­ny Hinn:

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. Peo­ple who want to get rich fall into temp­ta­tion and a trap and into many fool­ish and harm­ful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruc­tion. For the love of mon­ey is a root of all kinds of evil. Some peo­ple, eager for mon­ey, have wan­dered from the faith and pierced them­selves with many grieves. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pur­sue right­eous­ness, god­li­ness, faith, love, endurance and gen­tle­ness. (1 Tim­o­thy 6:6–11)

In his let­ter to Tim­o­thy, Paul empha­sizes the virtues of mod­esty and con­tent­ment, or thank­ful­ness. Paul explains his point in verse 7, rea­son­ing that the things of this world are tem­po­rary, and we can­not take them with us. Thus, it makes no sense to accu­mu­late earth­ly rich­es as the pagans do. In verse 4 he warns Tim­o­thy of those who “want to get rich,” assert­ing that even the desire for wealth and earth­ly pros­per­i­ty can destroy a per­son spir­i­tu­al­ly and lead him away from God.

Jesus him­self speaks of this mat­ter in very clear words. In Matthew 6:19–21,24 he says:

Do not store up for your­selves trea­sures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for your­selves trea­sures in heav­en, where moth and rust 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 he will hate the one and love the oth­er, or he will be devot­ed to the one and despise the oth­er. You can­not serve both God and Mon­ey.

Jesus calls us to invest our time in our heav­en­ly trea­sures, rather than gath­er­ing wealth or earn­ing fame/power. He adds that it is impos­si­ble to please God and to sat­is­fy our own self­ish desires at the same time.

The Bible sheds light on an encounter Jesus had with a rich young man in Luke 18:18. The man approach­es Jesus ask­ing, “what must I do to inher­it eter­nal life?”
After a brief dia­logue Jesus says:

You still lack one thing. Sell every­thing you have and give to the poor, and you will have trea­sure in heav­en. Then come, fol­low me … Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the king­dom of God! Indeed, it is eas­i­er for a camel to go through the eye of a nee­dle than for a rich man to enter the king­dom of God.” (Luke 18:22–25)

In this inci­dent the rich man goes to Jesus, hop­ing to earn his eter­nal life by doing good things. But Jesus address­es the deep­er root of his problem—his attach­ment to his wealth—due to which he pre­vents God from becom­ing the mas­ter of his life. In this way he denies him­self eter­nal life, because of his stub­born­ness in cling­ing to the tem­po­rary and dis­sat­is­fy­ing “trea­sures,” which lead a man towards empti­ness and lone­li­ness.

The Apos­tle John writes in 1 John 2:15–17:

Do not love the world or any­thing in the world. If any­one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For every­thing in the world—the crav­ings of sin­ful man, the lust of his eyes and the boast­ing of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for­ev­er.

The Bible warns Chris­tians against pur­su­ing the worth­less ambi­tions and glam­our of the fad­ing world. But Jesus’s promis­es remain for those who want to set them­selves apart from all forms of decep­tion and are will­ing to humbly allow God to renew their mind, not accord­ing to the greed of this age, but in har­mo­ny with God.

Read more from the Bible about the right atti­tude towards wealth and mate­r­i­al things:

Matthew 8:20, 13:22 Luke 16:19–31 1 Tim­o­thy 2:9
Luke 6:24–25 Acts 2:44–46 Hebrews 13:5
Luke 12:13–34! 1 Cor 4:11–12 James 5:1–5

Bible passages prosperity preachers use and their assessment

Care­ful­ly fol­low the terms of this covenant, so that you may pros­per in every­thing you do. (Deuteron­o­my 29:9)

This and sim­i­lar vers­es like Deuteron­o­my 8:18 and 28:1,13 are often used to show that God wants to give mate­r­i­al bless­ings also nowa­days. The con­text of these pas­sages though makes it clear that God speaks here through Moses about the nation of Israel and how he would help them to set­tle in the Promised Land. The small nation of Israel was only able to sur­vive amidst so many oth­er and usu­al­ly greater and stronger peo­ples through God’s pro­vi­sion in both spir­i­tu­al and mate­r­i­al ways. In Deuteron­o­my 8:3–5 God reminds them that

He hum­bled you, caus­ing you to hunger and then feed­ing you with man­na, which nei­ther you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Israel was famil­iar with suf­fer­ing (i.e., hunger) which God had inflict­ed on them to learn to trust Him and to rely on his word and not on mate­r­i­al secu­ri­ty. Although in Old Tes­ta­ment times God often promised both spir­i­tu­al as well as mate­r­i­al bless­ings (mean­ing plen­ti­ful pro­vi­sion of what was need­ed rather than unnec­es­sary lux­u­ry) for those who obey Him by keep­ing all His com­mand­ments (Proverbs 8:17–18, 21; Proverbs 15:6; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 28:20), God’s pri­ma­ry aim has always been that his peo­ple keep his com­mands and entrust them­selves to His care. He has always con­demned greed and love of mon­ey. Striv­ing for wealth, fame, and suc­cess show an earth­ly atti­tude which God nev­er want­ed.

Two things I ask of you, O LORD; give me nei­ther pover­ty nor rich­es, but give me only my dai­ly bread. Oth­er­wise, I may have too much and dis­own you and say, “Who is the LORD ?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dis­hon­or the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7–9)

Job’s exam­ple shows that God has always want­ed that our love and obe­di­ence for Him should be inde­pen­dent of any cir­cum­stances.
Even if he allows mis­ery, per­se­cu­tion, ill­ness, etc. believ­ers should receive these thank­ful­ly from His hand:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in wor­ship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has tak­en away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charg­ing God with wrong­do­ing. (Job 1:20–22)

Suf­fer­ing and pover­ty are not nec­es­sar­i­ly an expres­sion of being far from God or not being blessed or being for­sak­en by Him as Mr. Hinn and oth­ers claim.

Ben­ny Hinn:

The Scrip­tures clear­ly say that it is not God’s will for any to per­ish, nor is it His will for any to live in sick­ness or pover­ty. Pover­ty comes when we refuse the Word of God. Proverbs 13:18 declares, “Pover­ty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruc­tion: but he that regardeth reproof shall be hon­oured.” But when we obey the Lord’s Word, pros­per­i­ty will be ours imme­di­ate­ly, and for all of our days: “If they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in pros­per­i­ty, and their years in plea­sures” (Job 36:11). The Word of God says clear­ly in Proverbs 15:6 that in the house of the right­eous is much trea­sure, not much pover­ty! Pover­ty does not belong to the right­eous. It belongs to those who dis­obey God. Abun­dance and bless­ings belong to God’s chil­dren.4

In Job 36:11, the pas­sage Mr. Hinn quotes, one of Job’s “friends” speaks who held the wrong view that suf­fer­ing is always caused by disobedience—the very idea the entire book of Job aims to dis­prove. Sure­ly there are cas­es when dis­obe­di­ence caus­es pover­ty and suf­fer­ing but the Bible also speaks about dis­obe­di­ence lead­ing to wealth (Jere­mi­ah 5:27) and there are many exam­ples of right­eous peo­ple who were poor, suf­fered, and were oppressed by the rich:

For I envied the arro­gant when I saw the pros­per­i­ty of the wicked. They have no strug­gles; their bod­ies are healthy and strong … This is what the wicked are like—always care­free, they increase in wealth. All day long I have been plagued; I have been pun­ished every morn­ing … When I tried to under­stand all this, it was oppres­sive to me till I entered the sanc­tu­ary of God; then I under­stood their final des­tiny. Sure­ly you place them on slip­pery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How sud­den­ly are they destroyed, com­plete­ly swept away by ter­rors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fan­tasies … Whom have I in heav­en but you? And earth has noth­ing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my por­tion for­ev­er. (Psalm 73)

Has not God cho­sen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inher­it the king­dom he promised those who love him? But you have insult­ed the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploit­ing you? Are they not the ones who are drag­ging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slan­der­ing the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:5–7)

Read more exam­ples: Job 21:7–16, Psalm 10, James 5:1–6

Jesus did not come to take away all kinds of suf­fer­ings from those who fol­low him but rather set an exam­ple of how to bear them with great endurance, love, and humil­i­ty while look­ing at the heav­en­ly goal.

For it has been grant­ed to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suf­fer for him, … (Philip­pi­ans 1:29)

Although suf­fer­ings are not some­thing God active­ly wants he allows them. If what pros­per­i­ty teach­ers claim was true all their fol­low­ers should actu­al­ly always be healthy and wealthy. Chris­tian­i­ty does not go along with such obvi­ous mate­r­i­al advan­tages since God wants fol­low­ers who real­ly love Him out of spir­i­tu­al rea­sons. Suf­fer­ings can lead to endurance and can take us clos­er to God.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suf­fer­ings, because we know that suf­fer­ing pro­duces per­se­ver­ance; per­se­ver­ance, char­ac­ter; and char­ac­ter, hope. And hope does not dis­ap­point us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spir­it, whom he has giv­en us. (Romans 5:3–5)

More pas­sages on suf­fer­ing: 1 Peter 1:6–7, Psalm 119:71, 2 Tim­o­thy 3:12

Summary

Unlike the pros­per­i­ty “gospel” Jesus’s gospel teach­es us to turn away from world­ly desires in order to be able to serve the Lord freely (Titus 2:11–12).

No one can serve two mas­ters. Either he will hate the one and love the oth­er, or he will be devot­ed to the one and despise the oth­er. You can­not serve both God and Mon­ey. (Matthew 6:24)

The first Chris­tians set a clear exam­ple of how Jesus’s words should be under­stood:

And the con­gre­ga­tion of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that any­thing belong­ing to him was his own, but all things were com­mon prop­er­ty to them. And with great pow­er the apos­tles were giv­ing ©tes­ti­mo­ny to the res­ur­rec­tion of the Lord Jesus, and abun­dant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy per­son among them, for all who were own­ers of land or hous­es would sell them and bring the pro­ceeds of the sales and lay them at the apos­tles’ feet, and they would be dis­trib­uted to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32–35)5

Jesus’s wish is that we love each oth­er as he loves us. The shar­ing atti­tude of the first Chris­tians is an expres­sion of this divine love. By this love, and not by increas­ing earth­ly wealth and suc­cess, all men will know that we are his dis­ci­ples (John 13:34–35).

Real pros­per­i­ty is as Paul express­es it in 2 Cor 6:3–6 being

… poor, yet mak­ing many rich; hav­ing noth­ing, and yet pos­sess­ing every­thing.

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Foot­notes:
  1. Quot­ed from: http://www.prayertoweronline.org/message/display.asp?t=20081113. 
  2. Quot­ed from: http://www.prayertoweronline.org/plans/bbp.asp. 
  3. Quot­ed from: http://www.bennyhinn.org/finances/articledesc.cfm?id=986. 
  4. Quot­ed from: http://www.bennyhinn.org/finances/articledesc.cfm?id=986. 
  5. Tak­en from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE.