Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Jesus or Prosperity?

Jan 4, 2013

Judging by some teachers, if you come to Jesus, you are entitled to prosperity, riches and the good life. But according to Jesus, if you come to him, you are entitled to a life of hardship, deprivation and suffering. So which is it? I will side with Jesus here on this one thanks.

Now it is certainly possible that a real follower of Jesus will be, or become, wealthy. But that is not the reason anyone should come to Jesus. We should come to him because he is worthy of our all, not because of any possible goodies we might get out of him.

We are to love Jesus for who he is, not for any supposed riches, comforts and benefits we might get because of our relationship with him. If we really love him for who he is, then no price is too big, no sacrifice too great, and no obedience too difficult.

I am reminded of that love in my morning reading, where Jacob loves Rachel so greatly that he gladly works for her for seven years to win her, as we read about in Genesis 29. And the beautiful epitome of this story is found in Gen 29:20: “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

Wow, what a great love. No amount of time or toil was too much because of his love for her. How much more should it be for our love for God? He is lovely for who he is, and we should seek him and love him on that basis alone. As A.W. Tozer put it, “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.”

But far too many false teachers today will spend all their time pushing their dangerous prosperity gospel: ‘Come to Jesus and you will have riches, nice homes, fancy cars and everything you desire. You are worth it after all, because you are a King’s kid.’

I have written before about this erroneous teaching, but let me add a few more words here. In a sense, the biblical teaching on wealth and poverty is pretty straight-forward. God doesn’t want us rich, or poor. He wants us holy. That is his main concern, that we be conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29). If we can become that in wealth or poverty, fine. But if God knows that our ultimate end (conformity to, and fellowship with, himself) is best achieved by the absence of wealth or health, then he is quite willing to allow that to occur.

As John Mark Hicks has put it: “God’s intent is not to make everyone happy in the way that we want to be happy (e.g., wealth, fame, power, knowledge). God does not ensure everyone’s happiness in the world by providing them with everything their fallen hearts desire. God is not Santa Claus. His ultimate goal is not temporal happiness, but an eternal one. Consequently, if our temporal pain will serve God’s eschatological goal, then God may very well inflict us with pain because of his priorities.”

Success in this life, at least as the New Testament presents it, is not measured by material wealth. The values of the Kingdom often turn on their heads the values of the world. As Proverbs puts it, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (30:8,9).

The prosperity gospel is a good reflection of modern hedonistic “me-first” culture, but is a poor reflection of the gospel message. We are here to serve and worship our Lord, not to see what material benefits we can weasel out of him.

As Michael Horton wrote, “We exist for his pleasure, not he for ours; we are on this earth to entertain him, to please him, to adore him, to bring him satisfaction, excitement, and joy. Any gospel which seeks to answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ has it all backwards. The question is, ‘What’s in it for God?’”

It is quite interesting that the very last sermon preached by John Piper after 32 years of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis was on this very topic. On January 20 he will hand over the pulpit to Jason Meyer. His final message was devoted to this unbiblical message which has enthralled and taken captive so many gullible believers, and shyster preachers.

In it he said, “If you entice people with wealth, … ease, health, chipper, bouncy, light-hearted, playful, superficial banter in your worship service posing as joy in Christ, you will attract people, oh yeah, you can grow a huge church that way. But Christ will not be seen in his glory and the Christian life will not be seen as the Calvary road that it is.”

He continued, “I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds chipper and frisky and high-spirited and chattering and designed evidently to make people feel light-hearted and playful and bouncy. I say, don’t you know there are people dying of cancer in this room? Don’t you know some are barely making it financially? … And you’re going to create an atmosphere that’s bouncy …? I just don’t get it. It’s not who we are.”

Happiness, said Piper, has to be a “Christ-bought, God-wrought happiness in pain. Otherwise, what we offer them isn’t anything they don’t already have. They know how to be happy in good times. What they need is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow … This people are not playing games here. They’re not using religion as a platform for the same old hyped-up self-help that the world gives them every day. They need the greatness and grandeur of God over them.”

He concluded, “You shouldn’t ever attract anybody to Jesus [with promises of riches] because if they get attracted they’re not coming to Jesus. They’re coming to the stuff and the one who can provide it. Thank you very much Jesus for giving me what my fallen, selfish heart always lived for anyway….

“We commend our life in ministry by afflictions, … calamities … It means that Christ is real to us, more precious than sleep, health, money, life … Wouldn’t you want a Christ that precious? If not, Christianity is not for you.”

Yes quite so. We need to learn afresh that our Christian walk is not about us – it is about the one who gave everything up for us so that we might have life in Him. He did not die a painful death on a cross so that we could pamper ourselves, indulge ourselves, and leave self on the throne.

He died so that we too would die to self, to sin, and to sinful desires. He did not come to give us all a Mercedes-Benz, the biggest plasma TV there is, and annual vacations on the Riviera. He came to set us free from our sin-encrusted and self-focused lifestyles.

Any gospel which results in us becoming even more selfish, greedy materialistic pigs is no gospel at all, but a false gospel out of the very pits of hell.

[1252 words]

8 Responses to Jesus or Prosperity?

  • Thanks Bill, another wonderful article that reminds me that I wasn’t off the planet when I squirmed in my seat with conviction when the bucket was passed around for the 3rd time in the same “show” straight after being told that he, the preacher, gets a new Holden Stateman every 12 months or 25000 KMs, whichever comes first, while I struggled to put petrol in my ancient Kingswood, even after working about 50 to 60 hours a week to raise my family. If I didn’t give at least 10% of my income before tax I was robbing God!
    I thank Jesus from setting me free after some time!
    Regards, Manfred Sollorz

  • Yes, we may be “King’s kids” but we are not entitled to be spoiled brats!
    John Angelico

  • It’s very sad to think this is happening with God’s Church, his people. I feel an ache in my heart for God.
    What are we doing……Jesus the KING gave us the example of how to do it.
    I have no problem with people who are comfortable, maybe even upper class and in the church. But, as long as their a vessel, a funnel for funds from God to recruiting-training-resourcing people. To increase the harvest.
    Because all who have will be given more.
    God said to me…you give when it’s needed and help whenever it’s required, and I’ll take care of the rest.
    Daniel Kempton

  • The non-Christian world has a word for the malaise that comes through the egotistical pursuit of material prosperity and wealth: “affluenza”. Even unbelievers are, in some cases, challenging the idea that the good life and personal freedom and happiness are found in following the philosophy of the consumer society that it is more blessed to receive than to give.
    John Wigg

  • Good! I esp. liked the part about how God’s greatest goal is to conform us to the image of his son. A good reminder of what our goal should be.

    Jason Stewart

  • What!?! You mean I’m not guaranteed wealth and good health when I come to Jesus!?!

    This is a very good article Bill. I’m with you; it’s a real concern today that so many supposed biblical leaders hold to such an erroneous theology as prosperity teaching. What’s perhaps even more concerning is that so many ‘mature’ believers buy into this lie! I see too many people today accepting the teaching of people such as the example that you used because they are ‘a nice person’ or because their teaching is ‘positive.’

    I don’t know if you’ve read Tim Challies take on Joel Osteen’s recent interview with Oprah, but it is a great article highlighting this troubling trend in the church today (accessible here:

    I hope and pray that as a church we can get back to examining each and every teaching and making sure that the teaching that we are consuming actually aligns with what the Bible says. Quite frankly I don’t really care if a person who preaches is nice or not, what matters is whether they are preaching the Word of God or not! That is why I personally appreciate John Piper so much – he is a man who is not afraid to preach on the whole of scripture. Unfortunately it seems that there are too many teachers who are willing to compromise and pick and choose from the Word of God in constructing their theology. And as you have pointed out in articles before, sadly many of those consuming and listening to their sermon messages don’t know their bibles well enough to know any better…

    Joel Hawting

  • Well written Bill. Has me wanting to dig deeper into this issue. I find that many choose their verses at the expense of all other warnings and cautions. The English language seems to do most of the injustice to the inspired Word of God. Well, that is a hunch I am going to explore.
    Thanks for sharing. Blessings.

    Stephen Higley

  • Amen to being Holy!!!

    Tara Kelly

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