Preaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church
Prosperity Theology/Idolatry: Click | View Series
Theologically, prosperity theology is just plain wrong. When the Bible speaks of wealth, it does so in four categories. In the stewardship chapter of our new book Doctrine, Dr. Gerry Breshears and I explain it this way:
- Everything we have—including our finances, jobs, houses, products of our land, real estate, investments, credit, equity, cash, businesses, automobiles, and personal items—is given to us by God and is part of our treasure, or wealth. Good stewards make every effort to manage their treasure as an act of worship.
- Sadly, much of the teaching about stewarding one’s treasure is prone to either poverty or prosperity theology. Poverty theology considers those who are poor to be more righteous than those who are rich; it honors those who choose to live in poverty as particularly devoted to God. Conversely, prosperity theology considers those who are rich to be more righteous than those who are poor; it honors those who are affluent as being rewarded by God because of their faith. In fact, both poverty and prosperity theology are half-truths because the Bible speaks of four ways in which treasure can be stewarded. (Doctrine, pg. 388-389)
4 Ways Treasure Can Be Stewarded
- Righteous rich stewards – Biblical examples of righteous rich stewards include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job (both before and after his life tragedy and season of poverty), Joseph of Arimathea (who gave Jesus his personal tomb), Lydia (who funded much of Paul’s ministry), and Dorcas (who often helped the poor).
- Righteous poor stewards – Biblical examples of righteous poor stewards include Ruth and Naomi, Jesus Christ, the widow who gave her mite, the Macedonian church, and Paul, who often knew want and hunger.
- Unrighteous rich stewards – Biblical examples of unrighteous rich stewards include Laban, Esau, Nabal, Haman, the rich young ruler, and Judas Iscariot.
- Unrighteous poor stewards – Biblical examples of unrighteous poor stewards include the sluggard and the fool, who are repeatedly renounced throughout the book of Proverbs.
Those who promote prosperity theology/idolatry are prone to proof text 3 John 1:2 from the New King James Version, which says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” This verse is simply not a promise, but a wish. Like every good friend, John is saying that he wishes and hopes that his friend Gaius would be in good health and would be able to meet his needs. This is a far cry from a promise, especially a guaranteed promise for all. Rather, it is a goodwill prayer for a friend.
A great brother and enjoyable friend of mine, Dr. Daniel Akin, writes about this verse in the New American Commentary:
- After an initial greeting, John moves to express his good wishes for Gaius in the form of a brief prayer. He begins by again expressing his love and affection through the second use of agapete (“dear friend”). In Greek concerning “all things” is put first in the sentence for emphasis: “Concerning all things [John] prays that [Gaius] may prosper and be in health just as his soul prospers” (my translation). The word “prosper” (translated “all may go well with you” in the NIV) can mean “to have a good journey.” Here it is used metaphorically. John asks God for the best in every way for Gaius. Further, he specifically prays for “good health.” (New American Commentary: 1,2,3 John, pg. 240)
We should be free to pray for the total well being (spiritual, physical, and financial) of our friends as John did. But to take a prayer of goodwill and twist it into a promise of guaranteed health and wealth is to completely distort the faith we have in the homeless and poor Jesus Christ, who was so distressed that he sweated blood before suffering excruciating physical pain in order to liberate us from the idolatrous worship of created things, such as health and wealth, in place of the Creator God.