One of the most pervasive and dangerous philosophies to invade the church of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has been called the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel. With the help of global media, almost no one has been untouched by these teachings.
It is hard to generalize this theological perspective, but the typical tenets of this so-called “gospel” include: 1) God does not want you to be unhappy or unhealthy in any way, 2) poverty, disease, hardships, etc. are a nothing more than the result of sin or a direct attack from Satan and his demonic forces of darkness, and 3) it lies within the authority of the believer to overcome these things, especially through faith.
God is characterized not so much as the God of the universe who does as He sees fit, but rather as the God of all wealth and health. He might better be described as more of a cosmic Santa Claus or perhaps a “great vending machine in the sky.” All I have to do is be good, punch the right buttons, fulfill the right requirements, have enough faith, and God will necessarily “deliver the goods” to me.
Since health and wealth teachers try to justify and vindicate their positions using scripture, how, do these teachings coincide and differ with biblical truth? I cannot give an extensive exegetical analysis of the entire Bible on the subject of health, wealth, and hardship, but I will share some of the clearer passages to support the claim that the health and wealth “gospel” is no gospel at all but only a heresy, a godless “get rich quick” scam cleverly clothed in spiritual language.
First we turn to the life of Christ. Jesus, who never sinned, never succumbed to Satan, and lived a holy and perfect life, was rejected by His family and hated by many of the leaders and adherents of His own religious heritage. He was homeless, threatened, mocked, scorned, spit upon, beaten, and ultimately crucified—all because He was perfect God in human flesh, not because He didn’t have enough faith!
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul speaks of “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” When he asked the Lord to remove it three times, God answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” It was actually part of God’s perfect plan that “a messenger of Satan” buffeted Paul with some sort of physical disability.
In 1 Peter 2:20-24, Peter explains that as followers of Jesus, we are called to suffer because Christ also suffered. Later on in chapter 4:12-16 he says we should not be surprised when we suffer for righteousness, but rather rejoice! As James 1:2-4 says, we are to consider trials “all joy” because they make us more like Christ. The purpose of the Christian life is to be holy—like Christ—letting this be a witness to the world. It is not to be healthy and wealthy and avoid all suffering and poverty, but rather to face it with faith and joy, recognizing that it is a critical part of God’s plan to mature us and share in the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10).
In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Paul says, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many a pang.” Christ clearly says in Matthew 6:19-24, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also . . . . You cannot serve God and riches.”
This is not to say that health and wealth are inherently evil. 1 Timothy 6:10 says that it’s the love of money (not money itself) that is the root of all sorts of evil. And certainly, health is a gift from the Lord when we have it, but we must not be fooled into believing that we ought to be healthy and wealthy all the time, simply because we are God-honoring Christians. We must not seek after health and wealth, but rather, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” (Matthew 6:33) and God will provide what we need—even if that means times of poverty and sickness—to make us more like Christ.
Jesus warns us to guard against the teachings of false prophets in Matthew 7:15, and 2 Peter 2:1-3 puts the warning this way: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Paul gives this solution to false teaching in Titus 1:9-11: “Hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that [you] may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”
The tragedy is that many have been led astray by these heretical doctrines. It is one evidence (among many) that we do not really know God or adequately consult the whole counsel of His word. Consequently, we have been duped into believing that what will bring us lasting peace, joy, and “the good life,” is nothing more than physical health and wealth. This is a thin and paltry substitute for knowing, loving, and serving our good and righteous God. We worship and adore Him not for what He can give to and do for us, but simply for who He is—love itself.
As Psalm 73:25-26 and 28 reminds us: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. . . . [A]s for me, it is good to be near my God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” Amen, Lord Jesus, amen. Let this continually be the cry of my own heart as well.