7 problems with prosperity theology

The prosperity gospel is a movement that has its origins in America about a century ago and came to greater prominence after the Second World War. It has largely grown out of pentecostalism and the Word of Faith movement. 

It is the idea that it is always the will of God for genuine believers to be materially blessed and physically healthy. It’s essentially preoccupied with material blessings. 

In John 6, Jesus has just fed a large crowd of people. They’ve wanted to make him king. They’re drawn to his teaching and signs, yet Jesus rebukes the crowd when he says: “you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” 

I’m not saying that this first century audience had a 20th and 21st century notion of a health and wealth gospel. But they’re drawn to Jesus because of him fulfilling a physical need. There are elements of what they believe which are picked up in the prosperity gospel movement. 

It’s not the only place where we find this attitude in the New Testament. Paul addresses a similar issue within the church at Philippi. Philippians 3:19-20: 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

They’re not looking to take up their cross and follow him. They’re not looking to die to themselves and their sinful ways. They’re there because of a free meal. 

The theology that looks merely at the material blessings of God has many problems. 

First, it’s not the gospel. 

The gospel is the message of Christ crucified and his redemption of sinful people for the glory of God. 

He died to save souls. 

The purpose of life is knowing and enjoying Jesus Christ forever. The purpose of life does not revolve around material blessings. 

Secondly, prosperity theology teaches things that are not Biblical. 

It undermines the doctrine of suffering. The Bible does not hide from suffering. 

Prosperity theology believes that it is never the will of God for a person to be sick, to die from cancer, to struggle with depression.  

The Bible teaches that the Christian life does involve suffering. 

God uses it and works all things together for good for those who love him. Romans 8:28. 

God uses suffering to work his purposes. Story of Joseph. We referenced it last week. Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, but through that betrayal, it brings Joseph into Egypt which allows him to be in a position years later to save his family during a time of famine.

But we also see God’s providence and goodness through that evil. 

Genesis 50:20: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 

God uses suffering to sanctify and perfect his people. 

James 1:2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

Notice that James says to count it all joy WHEN not IF you meet trials of various kinds. 

To quote my professor D.A. Carson, if you’re not suffering, just keep living. 

Romans 5:3-4: we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope

God uses suffering so that we can have a positive influence on others. 

Wonderful passage. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 

God uses suffering to remind us that our ultimate need is in him. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9: 

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

And we could talk for hours on many more passages. 

God allows suffering. In his sovereign will, God allows it. It is talked about constantly in the Bible and especially in the New Testament. 

And you have televangelists and authors of popular Christian books who say the opposite of that. 

They’re teaching an idea that is not Biblical. 

Yes, God does ultimately promise healing, in heaven. But there is no promise given in the Bible that all true believers or faithful Christians will always experience healing in this life. 

The third problem with prosperity theology. It turns God into your genie. 

God does not primarily exist to fulfill to give you everything you want. 

A lot of times the things we want are not good. 

If you have a child and just gave them everything they ever wanted, would that be loving? Of course not. Because a lot of things kids want aren’t good for them. 

Prosperity theology views giving not primarily as a way of giving back part of what God has given for the purposes of his kingdom, but as a way to receive material blessings back as a result of your generosity.

Prosperity theology views prayer as a way to force God to give you what you desire. 

Prosperity theology believes that faith is rewarded by leading to prosperity. 

Fourth, it teaches untrue things about the world

While turning God into a genie and believing in a theology where good things happen if you’re good enough or if you have enough faith, what that essentially teaches a person is that they’re in control of their own destiny.

Not Biblical. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign. 

Fifth, prosperity theology actually distracts us from true riches. 

Ironically, God actually wants to give us so much more than what prosperity theology focuses on. But if we just focus on this world, on materialism, on what’s physical, we lose sight of that. 

Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. 

Sixth: prosperity theology distorts the teachings of scripture and takes the Bible out of context 

It cherry picks the Bible. We’re going through the Gospel of John. Prosperity gospel preaching churches don’t go verse by verse through books. Because they have a theological belief system that is not supported by the whole of scriptures and so they pick and choose what fits their system. 

You don’t have great scholars or theologians of prosperity theology. Because honest reading of the Bible tears it down. 

The seventh issue with prosperity theology is that it relies heavily on special revelations from God. 

I know I’m hammering on this topic this morning. But it’s a highly influential, unbiblical movement that influences Christians here in America and across the world. 

Many of the best-selling Christian books are written by prosperity teachers and preachers who do not teach or preach the Word but preach a worldly message. Many, I would say most, televangelists fall into this camp. 

Our world eats up prosperity theology because it tells us that it’s all about us. It co-opts the gospel and replaces it with worldliness. 

As Jesus said, “you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Why are you a follower of Jesus?

Is it because he is the way, the truth and the life? Is it because he is glorious? Is it because he’s worthy? Is it because he’s the savior of the world? Is it because of the gospel. That you were dead in your sins and that the only way to redemption was through his life, and death and because of the shedding of his blood? 

I’m hoping that I’m preaching to the choir on this. For those of us who love the Word of God, who have reverence for the scriptures, the prosperity gospel must be seen as a counterfeit gospel. 

But here’s my challenge. 

Because while we might not buy into a health and wealth gospel, we have so many blessings in our country that there can still be a temptation into falling into the trap of thinking that we’re good and that our lives should be good. We should have good families. We should have happy marriages. We deserve to not really suffer. 

It’s a constant temptation. But the Bible makes no such promises. Why are you a follower of Jesus? 

The Biblical message is not that we should follow Jesus so that everything will be easy. It’s that when you follow Jesus, you’re taken from death to life. It’s not a promise of ease but it’s a promise that the difficulties have a purpose. It’s not a promise of getting what you want, but it’s a promise of all things working together for your ultimate good. People wanted to follow Jesus because he took care of a physical need, but Jesus came in order to tend to our spiritual needs.

Final verse of the passage. Jesus has given his rebuke to the crowds. He’s exposed their heart and the real reason they’re following him. 

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27)

Jesus tells them to work for the food that endures to eternal life and that is the food which Jesus came to bring. 

Not only did Jesus come to bring it, but it can come only through Jesus. As the end of the verse reminds us that it is Jesus upon whom God has set his seal. Jesus is the one who has come to bring eternal life to a sinful world. 

And he offers that life to you today if you believe in him by faith. Know that you are a sinner and that Jesus has come to forgive you of your sins and reconcile you to God. 

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