Saturday, 4 August 2018

The Real Prosperity Gospel

Earlier this year there was a clip circulating on the internet featuring the television evangelist, Jesse Duplantis.  Jesse was claiming that the Lord had spoken to him and said, ‘I want you to believe me for a Falcon 7X’.  That is a private jet that costs fifty-four million dollars.  Jesse already has three private jets, but this one will enable him to travel longer distances non-stop.  Of course, believing for that jet really involves his supporters paying for it.  No doubt he will promise them that if they give to his ministry, God will reward them with financial blessing.  He even claimed, ‘If Jesus was physically on the earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey.’

I detest the ‘Prosperity Gospel’.  I think it fosters greed, manipulates vulnerable viewers, makes false promises and enriches the already super-rich.  I think that it turns many people off Christianity.  I certainly was uncomfortable thinking of my friends viewing this clip of Jesse Duplantis fundraising for his fourth jet.  So, what do we make of a verse in the Proverbs that reads, ‘honour the LORD with your wealth, with the first-fruits of your crops, then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine’ (3:9-10)?  Surely that sounds like a ‘Prosperity Gospel’ proof text!  
Let’s take a closer look at what the book of Proverbs really says about money and blessing.
Wealth can be a blessing from God  
‘Long life is in her [wisdom’s] right hand, and in her left riches and honour’ (3:16).  ‘The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it’ (10:22).  ‘Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.  A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous’ (13:21-22).  I don’t think we can doubt the fact that wealth can be a blessing from God.
Notice the statement of God giving wealth and adding no trouble to it.  Wealth can come with problems.  The wealthy may be left wondering how many of their new friends only like you because you have money.  Many families have been divided over the inheritance of wealth after the death of a loved one.  
Wealth does not prove God’s blessing
Just because a person is rich does not mean that they are necessarily blessed by God.  Jesse Duplantis expects that if Jesus was physically on earth today he would not be riding a donkey.  Well when Jesus was physically on earth, two thousand years ago, his godly parents offered a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons as a sacrifice, because they were of a poor or modest income (Luke 2:24).  The well-to-do would have offered a lamb.  
During his ministry Jesus did not own a house, and said that ‘foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20).  He was telling those who wanted to follow him that they could expect hardships.  
If wealth was simply a sign of God’s pleasure with us, then surely Jesus would have been loaded.
When it comes to wealth there are four groups of people in the book of Proverbs.  There are the righteous rich and the righteous poor, and there are the corrupt rich and the lazy poor.  ‘A kind-hearted woman gains respect, but a ruthless man gains only wealth’ (11:16).  ‘Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool’ (19:1).  You cannot please God if making money is your greatest ambition in life!
Hard work generally pays off
'Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth’ (Proverbs 10:4).  That is a truth that we can observe all the time.  We should admire people who have worked hard and done well.  
Although the Bible also knows that things don’t always work out as planned. 
When I was growing up the one of the safest investments was bank shares.  If you wanted to invest your money in something that was a little bit boring and involved little risk, you invested your money in the shares of one of the big banks.  Then, in 2008, we had the collapse of the banks.  Were those with bank shares especially foolish?  No!  Were they being judged for their poor investing?  No!  
The Proverbs give us true insights into what happens when things work in an ordered way.  Hard work generally pays off.  But it doesn’t make you become immune from the financial crises.  While Proverbs tell us how things should work in an ordered world, another wisdom book, Job, reminds us that calamity can befall even those who love the Lord.
Wealth brings responsibility
When God blesses people with wealth he wants them to be a blessing to those who have less than them.  I think that is one of the things that annoys me most about the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ preachers on the television.  Those religious leaders are super wealthy, but they fund themselves off the giving of their less wealthy viewers.  I met a man in America who sited this as his big objection to Christianity.  If I remember right, he hated the thought of old people like his granny giving to these crooks.  
God calls us to use our wealth generously.  ‘He who opposes the poor shows contempt for his maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God’ (14:31).  The Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).  God loves to be generous to those who are generous.  ‘A generous person will be blessed’ (22:9).  ‘He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to the poor receives many curses’ (28:27).
Wealth brings dangers
One of the great dangers of money is that we begin to see it as our source of security.  ‘Whoever trusts in his riches will fall; but the righteous flourish like a green leaf’ (11:28).  
Another danger is that you become obsessed by the desire to be rich.  ‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich, have the wisdom to show restraint’ (22:4).  The family of a work-acholic pay a big price to accommodate his obsession.  He wants to give them things, but his children just want some of his time.  They want his presence more than his presents.  Then having burned himself out he crashes.  
The book of Ecclesiastes pictures that vanity of the wealthy fool lying awake at night trying to figure out how to hold on to his wealth.  While we live in a wealthy society, we often spend more time worrying about money than those who live more simply.
There is a wonderful prayer near the end of the book of Proverbs that reveals Agur’s (one of the givers of the Proverbs) priority of being faithful above any material blessing.  He says to God, ‘Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful to me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God’ (30:7-9).
Conclusion
Our God is a generous God who delights to bless his people.  That generosity is seen most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9).  Those words were spoken as a reminder to be generous.  ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things’ (Romans 8:32).  God has blessed each of us with such blessings of forgiveness and adoption into his family.  We look to the cross and can have no doubt about his generosity.  That generosity will often come in the form of material gifts.  He is a faithful God who gives us our daily bread along with many other good gifts.  But he is a good father who knows that sometimes money is the last thing we need.
s I worked on this topic I was struck by the realisation that we must not judge those who are well off.  Their prosperity may be God’s blessing on their hard work.  Neither must we judge those who are less well off.  Their poverty may be the cost of living with integrity.  Both rich and poor can be guilty of greed or wonderful in generosity.  Guard your heart.  ‘Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation (1 Timothy 6:9).  As for those prosperity teachers, I think many of them are simply an example of those deceived people who imagine that godliness is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:5).

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