The Prosperity Gospel
A Defense of the Message
by Tom Brown
Has the message of prosperity confused you? You want to believe that God desires to prosper you, but the flashy evangelists that proclaim this message turn you off. They seem to be motivated by something other than the spread of the gospel. I understand your feelings. I too had difficulty with the message of abundance.
I was raised in the Assembly of God church, and was quite happy with my relationship with God in it. However, my mom heard on radio a new pastor in the city proclaiming a positive message of prosperity. His words excited her. While feeling stagnant in our church, she felt this new pastor would provide a key to a deeper relationship with God.
Our Assembly of God pastor, sensing that he may lose many members to this new pastor, warned us of this new pastor preaching health and wealth. Ignoring his warning, my mother took me to this new church. Although my mother was completely enthralled with the pastor’s sermons, I wasn’t. I agreed with certain truths he preached, but when the topic of money, prosperity and riches were mentioned, I closed my ears to what he said.
After being in the church for a few months, I decided to take the matter of prosperity to God. I told the Lord, “God, you know I am confused about prosperity. My former pastor warned us against the prosperity message, yet this new pastor is for it, and the church seems to be doing much better in terms of growth than my other church. Now Lord, I make a decision to hear from You. I am not going to take sides with either position. But I need You to show me the truth.”
From that simple prayer, I made it my quest to know everything about prosperity, wealth and money in the Bible. I listened to various Bible teachers explaining their views, both pro and con. It wasn’t until I heard Derek Prince that all my doubts and confusion was removed. I want to share the three simple keys I learned from him.
Purpose, Promise and Precondition
These three words clarified for me the message of prosperity. It explained the warnings of materialism and yet affirmed the great promises of El Shaddai, the God of abundance and at the same time balanced out the truths with human responsibility to meet the conditions to qualify for prosperity. I have always kept these three great truths before me when I teach on prosperity and practice it.
First, let’s look at the first word: purpose. God spoke to Abraham and said, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:2). God said he would “bless him” so he “will be a blessing.” From the beginning God wanted Abraham to know why God was going to bless him—not for his sake only—but for the sake of all nations. God wants to bless us financially so we will have the funds to bless the nations with the gospel.
The primary purpose of prosperity is to spread the gospel, not for us to live self-indulgent lives. While it’s true, God desires for us to enjoy the wealth He gives us, He wants us to primarily use it to give toward the gospel. Paul affirms this truth:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)
Notice three important points in this passage: first, the rich are often tempted to become prideful of their riches; second, God does indeed “provide us with everything for our enjoyment.” God delights in watching His children enjoy all the abundance and pleasure prosperity provides. It’s true that the Lord “hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant” (Ps 35:27, KJV). If God enjoys the prosperity of his “servants” then He must leap with joy over the prosperity of his “children.” Just as any parent enjoys watching their kids have fun, God delights in watching His children enjoy what money can buy. I believe God is love and He desires the best life we can have.
However, the third point is the most important: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” God does not give wealth for our own sakes, but so we can help others. We should not become selfish or arrogant with our wealth. If we do, we will lose out on the blessing that money can bring. There are many rich people that recognized the emptiness of money. To have money, just for the sake to have it, is pointless. Money cannot buy you real life. Real life is in sharing! So when God blesses me, I try to remind myself of the purpose behind my prosperity. And I do my best to guard against pride. I attempt to be there for the poor as well as the rich. I try not to show favoritism.
It makes me sick in my heart to watch ministers who have experienced some success, maybe even great success, to let it go to their heads. They demand only five star hotels, limousines, and special goodies, before they will even consider coming to your church. And when they do come, they become too big to mingle with the “little guy.” They are too important to take time to answer questions from the “little people.” They act like kings with little regard for “the peasants.” C’mon, without God’s grace, none of us would be blessed with success. I thank God everyday for the unusual blessing He has shown me. I have and will refuse to allow it to get to my head.
If God promised to bless us, then why should we doubt it? The Bible provides many examples of God blessing people and promising abundance to His covenantal people. The passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 helped me greatly in understanding this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The verse is staggering in its implication. It’s not just that God promised His Old Testament saints riches, but Jesus, Himself, on the cross provided redemption from poverty, so we can be rich with His riches.
On the cross, Jesus could have simply focused on our sins and took that away so we can be righteous, but He extended the benefits of the cross to our financial lives. He chose to allow all His riches to be taken from Him—in substitution—so that we can be “rich”. Immediately, because of religious upbringing, we have a tendency to interpret the word “rich” to mean “spiritual riches.” But the context of the passage is referring to wealth. Paul was encouraging the Corinthian Church to give money to the suffering saints in Jerusalem. So the context is about money, and thus, the word “rich” is a reference to material riches. I know this is shocking! I was shocked too over the passage—and like many, I tried to reinterpret the passage in a spiritual way, but I could not, because of the context.
Then as I looked at the cross and compared the curses that would come on Israel because of their disobedience, I recognized that Jesus took each of the curses.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. (Deut 28:47-48)
Instead of the blessings of prosperity, they would experience poverty. The description of poverty is vivid: hunger, thirst, nakedness and dire poverty. Do you see it? This is the description of the cross! Jesus was hungry, thirsty (He said, “I thirst”), and naked (He was stripped of all His clothing). He lost everything, even the essentials. Why would God allow His Son to lose every bit of His material possessions? Didn’t Jesus simply need to shed His blood and die? Why make Him go through such humiliation, that He was naked before the public? It was clear to me that Jesus went through dire poverty, as atonement for our poverty, so in turn; we could be rich with His riches.
When I saw the complete sacrifice of Christ on the cross, I determined that I would not allow one bit of suffering to go to waste. If Jesus died for my poverty, then, bless God! I was not going to be poor. Since He made such a great sacrifice, I would not allow the sacrifice to be wasted by me. I was going to make the most of the atonement, and be rich with His riches!
Of course, there are many other passages where God promises to supply all our material needs. (see the following prosperity scriptures: Phil 4:19, Deut 28:11, Ps 25:13, etc.).
This is where the rubber meets the road. You can have a good heart and desire to help others with God’s blessings and you can claim all God’s promises of prosperity, but if you do not meet the conditions of the promises then you will not prosper. God does not promise “unconditional” prosperity. Prosperity is promised by God, but He puts preconditions in front of prosperity. This is why many sincere Christians fail to prosper; they do not qualify for it.
There are two important preconditions to prosperity as I understand it: hard work and generosity. There are many sincere Christians living in poverty due directly with laziness or stinginess. It’s not enough to have a job—one must work hard at it to prosper.
Proverbs 14:23, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Some are mere talkers. They speak a good game, they claim all the promises, but they do not work hard. Instead they hardly work.
Besides hard work, we must give generously. God wants to put money in the hands of those who will give toward the gospel and help the weak. The people of Judah were hard workers but they forgot to put the Lord first in giving to the temple. Haggai speaks to them these words:
You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." (Hag 1:6).
Have you ever felt at times that you had holes in your purse or wallet? You slave at work, but see little results. God gives Judah the answer:
Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the Lord. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. (Hag 1:8-9)
Those words should still speak to us today. We cannot expect great results from our hard labor while we neglect our churches. Tithing to our churches is not just the right thing, but God will bring rewards to you.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Mal 3:10)
I know you may feel this scripture has been abused by ministers who you think are trying to get every last nickel from you, but do not let your attitude change what this verse says. God promises to bring a flood-time blessing to the tither. Make no mistake; God does not make this promise to anyone but to the tither.
Jesus provides the biblical proof that giving brings a boomerang blessing, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). It would be nice if God returned every gift to us, but He goes further by explaining that the gift will be returned, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”
It’s like a box of cereal. The manufacturer may claim 20 ounces and then puts a disclaimer: “some settling may occur”. But if they tried hard enough, they could shake the box, fill the box with more cereal, press down the cereal, so more can be poured into it; and then overflow the box with running over cereal. You could get pounds and pounds of cereal by “pressing down, shaken together and running over.” They won’t do this because they are stringent. But God is not! He will return our generous gifts with much more than we originally gave.
As I searched the Word of God concerning prosperity, these three keys brought a needed balance and wisdom concerning prosperity. When I saw these truths, I went back to God and praised Him, “Lord, I see very clearly the truth about prosperity. I believe in it and know I can proclaim it without apology.” To this day, I am proud to be a prosperity teacher. And I think every gospel preacher should be a prosperity preacher and proclaim the great truths about biblical finances.
I hope you won’t throw out the baby with the bath water because you feel that the prosperity message was been twisted to encourage greed and put money in the coffers of preachers. Instead, try not to judge peoples’ motives, and be bold in claiming your inheritance in Christ.
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