Question: "What does the Bible say about prosperity?"
Answer: Prosperity is a popular theme that has woven itself into the Christian message. Because it sounds so encouraging, and there are Bible verses that seem to support prosperity, many popular teachers have substituted prosperity teaching for the sound doctrines of repentance, the cross, and the reality of hell. Our desire to be prosperous is so strong that we are drawn to this teaching like a moth to a flame. The promise of prosperity, wedded to spirituality, offers hope, financial help, and a relationship with God all at once. Preachers of prosperity also tell us what we want to believe. The premise of prosperity preaching or Word of Faith teaching is that, because God is good, He wills that His children should prosper in health, wealth, and happiness. And because He is rich, He can make it happen. It can become difficult to separate biblical fact from man-made fiction. What does the Bible actually teach about prosperity?
We must start with the recognition that all creation belongs to God (Psalm 50:12). He owns everything, and it is His decision what He does with it (Isaiah 45:9; Jeremiah 18:6–10). We also know that He is good and desires to give us good things (1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 100:5). The greatest gift God has already given: His own Son, Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:15; John 3:16–18). When we have received that gift and accepted the high honor of being adopted into God’s family, the Creator becomes our Father (Romans 8:15). He loves us as His own dear children. Just as an earthly father wants his children to prosper in many ways, so does God. Just as earthly fathers love to give their children good gifts, so does our heavenly Father love to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). As His children we can expect Him to take care of us (Philippians 4:19).
It’s true that God wants His children to be prosperous, but in what ways? The popular understanding of prosperity reaches beyond what the Bible teaches. Prosperity teachers focus primarily on the here and now, seeking wealth as “proof” of God’s blessing. They attach a couple of out-of-context Bible verses to their hype and call it biblical teaching. However, God’s desire for us to prosper may not include material wealth at all. First Timothy 6:9 warns, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” There are different types of prosperity, of which material or financial prosperity is only one. Other types of prosperity may be far more important in God’s eyes.
Many times, God cannot trust us with material prosperity because we would make an idol out of it. Jesus said, “How difficult it is for the rich to inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24). Wealth quickly takes hold of us and promises a security it cannot deliver. Prosperity can become a substitute for the real goal of pursuing God and His righteousness (see Matthew 6:33). As a good Father, God may withhold what we clamor for, choosing instead to give us what we truly need. He has our eternal benefit in mind, not our short-term comfort (Luke 12:33–34).
Prosperity teaching also goes wrong in that it includes the idea that the cross of Christ took care of all our physical and mental ailments. If Jesus’ atonement provides for physical healing and prosperity now, then we should expect to live long, prosperous lives free from all sickness, infirmity, and disease. But it’s not earthly, physical prosperity that’s provided by the atonement of Christ; it’s heavenly, spiritual prosperity. Some of God’s most loyal servants suffered physical ailments that were not miraculously healed (Philippians 2:24–28; 1 Timothy 5:23). And many believers throughout history were imprisoned, tortured, and eventually killed. “They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. . . . They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:37–38). The early church knew nothing of today’s popular prosperity teaching. They may not have been prosperous in riches and lands, but they prospered in generosity, in love, and in fellowship with Christ and each other (1 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 9:11).
God’s ideal for this world was perfection (Genesis 1:31). He created it perfect, desired that we enjoy perfect lives and perfect fellowship with Him, and intended that prosperity would be a way of life. But sin corrupted that perfect plan, and now prosperity, health, and a trouble-free existence are impossible for many and fleeting for the rest (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3). God does offer to prosper us beyond explanation, but it may not come during our short earthly stay. For many, the full realization of God’s restoration will be experienced only when we leave this world behind and enter His presence for eternity. Hebrews 11 lists dozens of faithful servants of the Lord who one might expect to have lived prosperously because of their faithfulness. Yet verses 39 and 40 say this: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” Every child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, will experience prosperity beyond our wildest imaginations for all of eternity (1 Corinthians 2:9). Until then, we walk by faith.
Romans 8:17–18 promises this: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Being co-heirs with Christ means that forever we will enjoy everything God owns. No earthly prosperity can compare with that.