Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. -3 John 2
There’s a lot of talk about prosperity and the gospel. I find that there is error on both sides of the debate, and am saddened by those who trash other ministers when they don’t know what they are talking about themselves. The answer to this is to go straight to the scriptures to see what it says about the subject.
First of all, I think it’s silly that some Christians think that God does not want to prosper them at all. Some of these Christians (and ministers) who say these things are actually very prosperous. I recently saw a preacher with very nice trendy clothing preaching against prosperity. What? In fact, the vast amount of American Christians are very prosperous. Many of us own houses and multiple cars, we’ve been blessed to be able to attend college, we eat the best of foods, and we are able to wear clothing that is fashionable and in good condition. And most Christians I know are, within reason, working hard with the legitimate hopes that they will make more money in the future.
Let’s look at the scripture I listed at the beginning. The Elder, John, speaking to Gaius, whom he loves in truth, greets him by praying that he would prosper in all things and be in health, just as his soul prospers.
The apostle John probably grew to the greatest age of any of the apostles (since all the others died as martyrs). In his many years, he made many disciples that he affectionately referred to as his little children (1 Jn 2:1). As spiritual children, he wished upon them the same thing that any father would wish for his children. How many of you, who have children, desire your children to grow up sick and broke? Don’t you teach your children, every single day, things to help them avoid being sick and broke? You tell them to brush their teeth, to comb their hair, to do well in school, to not eat too many sweets, etc. Why? Is it so they can grow up and experience the ‘blessing’ of having no money and bad health? No, it’s for the exact purpose that they might be prosperous and healthy, and even more prosperous and healthy than you have been.
Here’s my question to you:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him? – Mat 7:11
Here in this passage, Jesus makes it pretty clear what our Heavenly Father is like. He is like a parent that gives good gifts to his kids, but way better. How can it be that we understand that giving our children the things needed for health and prosperity is good, but somehow God finds good in giving us pain and poverty? This doesn’t add up.
I know what some people are thinking, “Well, God gives good spiritual gifts.”
He certainly does. The spiritual is definitely more important than the physical. For what will if profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul (Mk 8:36)? But John understood that. That’s why he said, “I pray that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers.” The spiritual is infinitely more important than the physical, yet we are not just spiritual beings. John wants his children to experience physical prosperity and health, but only if they were experiencing prosperity of soul, or in other words: they were growing spiritually.
Isn’t that exactly what you would want for your kids? Wouldn’t you want them, first and foremost, to grow spiritually, but as long as they were growing spiritually, to also be healthy and prosperous? If that’s not what you want then you have problems!
“But what about all the poor people in the bible!”
Before we talk about the poor people in the bible, let’s talk about the people that God blessed. The most notable person to talk about would be our father Abraham. Abraham is not just the father of the jews, but more so the father of all those that are of faith (Gal 3:7). We who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Gal 3:9). And we see that God blessed Abraham with abundant prosperity:
Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Gen 13:2
And then we see Abraham’s son being very prosperous.
The man (Isaac) began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous – Gen 26:13
And we know that Jacob was also very prosperous:
Thus the man (Jacob) became exceedingly prosperous. – Gen 30:43
And then look at the promise of God to the Jews through the law given by God:
Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obeyed the voice of the Lord your God: Blessed you shall be in the city…in the country…blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground, and the increase of your herds…The Lord will command the blessing on your in your storehouses and in all to which you set you hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you…And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods…you shall lend to many nations and shall not borrow… And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God. – Deut 28:1-14
We know that throughout Israel’s history they rarely obey God, but we do get one glimpse into what God meant when He spoke this passage in Deut 28. That glimpse is at the beginning of king Solomon’s reign. Israel’s greatest king had just died. He left the kingdom to his noble son, Solomon. Solomon does not seek prosperity, but wisdom to rule God’s people. God loves his request and decides to bless him with prosperity, among other things. Look at how God blessed Solomon:
So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. 2 Chr 9:22
So we can at least see that God, at one point, truly desired people to be blessed financially. Now, some people would argue that God has changed and doesn’t desire people to be blessed financially anymore. But I don’t think He has. Look what Paul has to say in regards to money:
And God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work – 2 Co 9:8
And then look what he says in Phil 4:19:
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:19
Isn’t that the true definition of prosperity? Having all your needs met, and then enough left over to be a blessing towards every good work? How can we argue against this?
Have there ever been any ministries that you have desired to give to but haven’t been able to because you didn’t have the money? Would you be less spiritual if you could afford to give to those ministries? Would it not be selfish to remain in poverty when you could be blessed to be a blessing?
As it is written: he has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.” – 2 Co 9:9
But what about the poor of the bible? What about Jesus?
Jesus was no doubt poor, but did you ever read this passage?
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Co 8:9
So we can’t argue that we must be poor like Jesus because Jesus was poor for us. And you can’t argue that this passage has nothing to do with money, for it is in the midst of a chapter all about money. Of course, ultimately we are rich in our inheritance of heaven, but that doesn’t mean that God wants us to be broke on earth. Otherwise, why would Paul dare say this:
He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 2 Cor 9:7
You know what Paul sounds like? He kind of sounds like the preachers that promise if you give to the ministry that God will bless you. We need to put aside our preconceived ideas and go with what the bible says.
Now here is where people get mixed up. They mix up persecution and prosperity. We are never free from persecution, and persecution will always trump prosperity. When persecution comes in such a way that it demands the physical blessings of a Christian, that Christian must then decide between Christ and physical blessings. Christ is always the right choice. But if we happen to live in a land where persecution does not demand our physical blessings then we need not choose between the two. Instead, we should use our blessings to help those that are being persecuted in that way.
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourself are in the body also. – Heb 13:3
Right now, for the most part, we live in a land where we can prosper as Christians. We should continue to use that prosperity to send and support missionaries as this country has always done. Sure, there are people that get in the ditch when it comes to prosperity. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get in the other ditch. Let God bless you so you can be a blessing to those around you.
One thought on “A Balanced Approach to Prosperity and the Gospel”
I appreciate your discussion, and agree. The arguments pro and con are usually extremest in nature. And often hypocritical.
My wife brought these seemingly unasked questions to my attention.
Just a thought about the assumed financial poverty of Jesus. What may have become of the gold that the one wiseman presented? Joseph and Mary spent it on themselves? Perhaps it was given to the bankers of the day until Jesus came of age. And how about the house in Capernaum? (Mat. 4:13). Someone had to pay for it.