Introduction: Some Views on Prosperity
Some Christians believe that God has promised them prosperity and affluence as a reward for their faith, and we should enjoy it. This is especially attractive to the impoverished, often pentecostal in tendency - e.g. Benson Idahosa. Other Christians believe that riches and affluence are evil, and that God has a 'bias to the poor'. Such Christians are often socialist in tendency. Yet others believe that moderation is the key: have enough for a pleasant lifestyle but 'not too much', not realising that their 'pleasant lifestyle' is far above the poverty line. Yet others believe that the pleasant lifestyle of millions is destroying the planet.
In the Bible can be found individual statements that support any and all of those views. So, if we want to follow Christ and truly represent God in the world, as this 'new view' beleives, how can we make sense of this? How should we live? To what should we aspire?
By 'prosperity' I mean wealth, comforts, conveniences, pleasures, safety, etc., not just money. Psychological and social prosperity as well as material.
Towards a More Coherent Picture
Here is a summary of a way of making sense of all this, recognising three dimensions of salvation:
- Dimension 1 (Our eternal stance before God): Riches are often an idol. Challenge to give up riches, comforts, conveniences, pleasures, and even safety, because they have been an idol, drawing and turning our hearts and devotion away from the True God. Luke 9:24, 18:22.
- Dimension 2 (Experience of God here and now): God's people are loved and are always provided for with all they need. Never have God's people been abandoned nor "begging bread" [Psalm 37:25]. Sometimes this is 'just-enough': 'precisely' what they need rather than what they want, so they learn the glory of God's knowing our needs and caring; sometimes it is less parsimonious and "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" [Phil 4:19]. See example of George Muller. Sometimes God gives in abundance, perhaps to overcome a false asceticism that has crept into the community of his people, which makes them unnecessarily unattractive. The so-called Prosperity Gospel has arisen as a result, especially in impoverished parts of the world, where the message is given "Trust God and he will give abundance, so you can sneer at your enemies". But, I believe, that message of "God gives abundance" should be seen as a corrective, and we should learn real enjoyment of 'just-enough' rather than rejoicing in abundance. Enjoyment of life is to be seen as a gift, not as a goal or a right, and God's people should learn to be content in whatever circumstances they find themselves. What should they do with wealth? See D3 ...
- Dimension 3 (Representing God in this world): Prosperity is given to God's people, not for their own comfort, convenience, pleasure or safety, but so they be effective in representing God in the world; so that they can give generously to others [Eph 4:28] and have resources to do good. They should not live for themselves but for others [II Cor 5:15]. Should be open-handed, open-hearted. And we should not let our 'needs' expand because our prosperity has increased. See example of John Wesley. Those who are faithful with little are trustworthy with more [Matt 25:21] - but those who turn their wealth to selfish purposes, enjoying the D2 resources on themselves, will be deemed unfaithful and are in danger of falling back into idolatry -- do we then stand in need of Dimension 1 all over again? Does not wealth make us forget our Maker, become self-reliant, seek pleasures, convenienecs and comforts rather than God, and become idolatrous in heart? Does this not happen even while we thinking we are doing right by God [Isa 58]. God's early people were destroyed and exiled because, in their economic prosperity (e.g. in times of Ahab and perhaps Manasseh), they turned away from their responsibility of representing God among the nations, to merely being a successful nation. God's new people have extra resources of the Holy Spirit indwelling, but sadly today seem to be taking the same path, so I wonder whether Jeremiah 45 applies to us as to God's early people.
Now, let us think it out in more detail ... (but this is yet to be expanded).
What is the Bible's take on prosperity?
- Genuine prosperity is not wrong in itself, indeed is what God intended in his creation.
- But affluence and pleasant lifestyle are not genuine prosperity. Does not genuine prosperity involve joy? Is it not better described as "life in all its fullness" [John 10:10]? See Reality Rejoicing.
- Genuine prosperity is for all, not for the individual [Malachi 3:10-112]. See Relatedness.
- In particular, it includes prosperity for the whole creation, not just people we know, not just humankind, but for all. Human beings have the privilege and responsibility to order things for the sake of the rest of creation [Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15]. See Radah.
- Prosperity for all is a result of going with the flow of the diversity of laws that God has woven into the fabric of creation. See Law of God. Especially the laws of agape-love. See God is Love.
- Prosperity is a responsibility.
- When the individual prospers, it might occasionally be a sign of God's blessing - both because we go with his laws [e.g. Psalm 1:2,3], and because God sometimes intervenes [Philippians 4:19].
- But often it is more a sign of that individual's arrogance, selfishness and injustice. [Psalm 37:7, Psalm 73:3-12]
- If I prosper, it is so that I can bless others, bless the rest of creation, not so I myself can be blessed. [Paul====]
- But I must beware: prosperity is like thorns and thistles, which choke my spirituality, my relationship with God. Remember Solomon.
- Prosperity is not primarily something we enjoy, so much as something we enact, something we bring about.
- Full, substantial, lasting prosperity is not to be found in this life, but in the next. Whatever genuine prosperity we experience here and now is only a tiny foretaste of what is to come. The prosperity we enact here and now is like a seed, which falls into the ground, dies to itself, and in so doing grows into a full, fruitful plant. That is the lasting, substantial prosperity - the shalom of the next life. That is God's cosmic plan.
That is to be expanded into a discussion at a later date.
Example: George Müller
Example: John Wesley
Here is an excerpt from What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money.
"He [John Wesley] had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left.
"Immediately the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will thy Master say, 'Well done, good and faithful steward"? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold!' O justice! O mercy! -- Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
"Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor.
"He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.
"Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian's standard of living but the standard of giving."
See the full article.
Example: Benson Idahosa
This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2010, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: .
Created: 5 December 2010.
Last updated: 5 October 2014 summary based on 3ds, Example of Wesley, defn of prosperity.