The Error of Prosperity Gospel
Writer's Comment: This article was written for the Nigerian audience and published in a Nigerian newspaper in 2004!
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18
It wasn’t surprising that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) banned unverifiable healings or miracles on TV. After all, miracles, healings and prosperity preaching dominate Nigerian television channels these days. So much so that very few preachers are preaching on righteousness or holiness; which makes one to believe that that’s all Christianity is cracked up to be. But that’s so far from the truth!
Prosperity gospel, like miracle TV, is meant to deceive the followers to take their eyes off Jesus and set them on mammon (riches); i.e., focusing on the wrong thing – wealth, while neglecting the right thing – true salvation. It is certainly not the gospel that Jesus and His disciples preached. Contrary to what these prosperity preachers teach their congregations and anyone that cares to listen, the Bible is full of scripture verses warning about the danger of loving the world or the things of the world; about the love of money being the root of all evil; and taking no thought for tomorrow, etc.
Perhaps you ask, “What is Prosperity Gospel?” Prosperity Gospel is the gospel of materialism. A gospel that teaches that materialism (personal wealth) is an indicator of a person’s spirituality, righteousness or holiness. Prosperity gospel says that the more you have, the greater your spirituality. Prosperity gospel teaches that you can use your faith to acquire wealth, fame and power. It is a self-centered gospel; a gospel of “me, myself and I!”
Speaking on the doctrine of materialism (prosperity gospel), Pastor John A. Cherry said that, “it is fueled by lust and sustained by lust.” It is a gospel that plays on the people’s greed and lack. Like miracle gospel, it is a gospel targeted at the spiritually gullible or scripturally ignorant.
Prosperity gospel is designed to profit one person, and one person only, the preacher, and of course his cronies! It is designed to con people of their honest, hard-earned money. In other words, it is spiritual 419! It is a gospel where the preacher, using scriptures out of context, promises you financial blessings because that’s your covenant promise as a Christian. However to get that blessing you have to sow a seed into the kingdom or the vineyard. And the more seed you sow, the more prosperous you become, regardless of your lifestyle.
Now, listening to some of these preachers preach on prosperity, you’d think that’s the sole reason why Jesus came to the earth; lived, bled and died. Rather, He came to seek and to save the Lost. Jesus died for the sins of humanity. He came to reconcile sinful Man back to the Father. And whosoever shall believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In other words, eternal life! (John 10:10.) Therefore, all through the teachings of Jesus or the Early Disciples, never once did anyone preach on prosperity. In fact Jesus or the apostles rarely talked about money. And where they did, it was often in reference to meeting other people’s needs, not about them being rich.
One way of determining if something is scriptural or not, is to examine it in light of Scriptures, particularly the life of Jesus and the Early Church; because that’s the pattern for all believers today. So, let’s look at the attitude of Jesus and the disciples towards money. Jesus and his disciples taught more on the danger and deceitfulness of riches than they did on acquiring it. He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy, warned him not to be consumed with getting rich. Rather he wrote him saying, “Now, godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience (and) gentleness. 1Timothy 6:8:11 The Bible is full of passages like these, warning about the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for money, passages too numerous to list in this article.
One of the reasons, why the Bible strongly warns against the lust for money is because it makes people lose focus of what is important, and of eternal value. That’s why Apostle Paul again wrote to the Colossians not to set their affections on earthly things but on things above or heavenly things. (Colossians 3:2).
The danger of prosperity gospel is that it makes people seek God for the wrong reasons. And when people seek God for the wrong reasons, they seek Him for what they can get from Him rather than salvation. The extent of their love for God is as high as the extent of the things they get from Him. And as the things go, so goes their love. You can’t make people love you by the things you give them. A very good biblical example is the Nation of Israel in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, God provided for them everything they needed; parted the Red Sea, manna from heaven, water from the rock, etc. But in spite of the numerous miracles and provision, they ALWAYS rebelled against God. So much so that God called them a stiff-necked people.
Comparing what the Bible teaches on riches or prosperity to what these prosperity preachers preach, one thing that is very evident is that most of these preachers and the people falling for the scam don’t understand what biblical prosperity means. Most of these preachers misconstrue biblical prosperity for secular or worldly prosperity; which means “good fortune, wealth or success.” To begin with, you will never find the word prosperity in the New Testament! The closest you’ll find is the word prosper or prosperous, which means “to succeed.” Now, success does not necessarily mean wealth or materialism. For instance, academic or athletic success does not necessarily translate into money! Rather, prosperity means to succeed in whatever one does; especially what one does truly for His kingdom or to His glory and honor.
In the Old Testament (Hebrew), the word prosper, prosperous or prosperity is often used interchangeably with the word shalom, which means peace or a derivation of it. So often times in the Old Testament, when the word prosperity or prosper is used, it’s used in the context of peace or favor. For instance, when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, the Bible says that Joseph was prosperous, even while in slavery. “And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man in the house of the Egyptian.” Genesis 39:2 If prosperity were to mean wealth in every passage of the Bible, the passage won’t say that Joseph was prosperous while in slavery. Instead, it means that Joseph had the favor of God and the peace of God.
Therefore, biblical prosperity is a state where one enjoys the favor of God or the peace of God. Biblical prosperity transcends wealth or materialism. It means having something money cannot buy such as peace of mind, good health, joy, love, perseverance, etc. One can have all the money in the world and not have peace or good health. Matter of fact, there are many rich people who will give up their money to have peace of mind or good health. By the way, having an abundance of wealth does not even come close to having the favor of God. When you have the favor of God, you have everything! Biblical prosperity is having God with you every step of the way, regardless of what you may be going through.
Therefore, my people rather than run after fleeting riches, instead hunger and thirst for righteousness. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and other things shall be added on to you.” Matthew 6:33.