Jesus or Prosperity?

by Bill Muehlenberg

Judging by some teachers, if you come to Jesus, you are entitled to prosperity, riches and the good life. But according to Jesus, if you come to him, you are entitled to a life of hardship, deprivation and suffering. So which is it? I will side with Jesus here on this one thanks.

Now it is certainly possible that a real follower of Jesus will be, or become, wealthy. But that is not the reason anyone should come to Jesus. We should come to him because he is worthy of our all, not because of any possible goodies we might get out of him.

We are to love Jesus for who he is, not for any supposed riches, comforts and benefits we might get because of our relationship with him. If we really love him for who he is, then no price is too big, no sacrifice too great, and no obedience too difficult.

I am reminded of that love in my morning reading, where Jacob loves Rachel so greatly that he gladly works for her for seven years to win her, as we read about in Genesis 29. And the beautiful epitome of this story is found in Gen 29:20: “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

Wow, what a great love. No amount of time or toil was too much because of his love for her. How much more should it be for our love for God? He is lovely for who he is, and we should seek him and love him on that basis alone. As A.W. Tozer put it, “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.”

But far too many false teachers today will spend all their time pushing their dangerous prosperity gospel: ‘Come to Jesus and you will have riches, nice homes, fancy cars and everything you desire. You are worth it after all, because you are a King’s kid.’

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I have written before about this erroneous teaching before, but let me add a few more words here. In a sense, the biblical teaching on wealth and poverty is pretty straight-forward. God doesn’t want us rich, or poor. He wants us holy. That is his main concern, that we be conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29). If we can become that in wealth or poverty, fine. But if God knows that our ultimate end (conformity to, and fellowship with, himself) is best achieved by the absence of wealth or health, then he is quite willing to allow that to occur.

As John Mark Hicks has put it: “God’s intent is not to make everyone happy in the way that we want to be happy (e.g., wealth, fame, power, knowledge). God does not ensure everyone’s happiness in the world by providing them with everything their fallen hearts desire. God is not Santa Claus. His ultimate goal is not temporal happiness, but an eternal one. Consequently, if our temporal pain will serve God’s eschatological goal, then God may very well inflict us with pain because of his priorities.”

Success in this life, at least as the New Testament presents it, is not measured by material wealth. The values of the Kingdom often turn on their heads the values of the world. As Proverbs puts it, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; 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” (30:8,9).

The prosperity gospel is a good reflection of modern hedonistic “me-first” culture, but is a poor reflection of the gospel message…

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