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Bible Q

Is the “prosperity gospel” scriptural?

The quick answer to this question is simply no.

The “prosperity gospel”, is the idea that being a good Christian, with good works or fervent prayer will bring back greater material rewards is simply not how God works with mankind, including not how God works with believers. The idea has been given a new lease of life by churches that are associated with televangelism, and churches that tithe 10% (or more) of church-goers income, and the phrase “prosperity gospel” is linked with North American Pentecostalism, but it’s not a new idea – the idea that good works will bring material rewards goes back into the Christianity of the Middle Ages and long before. Even in the 1st Century Paul had to warn against Christians who think “that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).


The prayer of Jabez

There are several verses that have recently become associated with the “prosperity gospel” idea. One of them which several years ago had great popularity was 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 which shows a prayer for material blessing being answered:

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 ESV)

The problem with Jabez is that this is an obscure micro-story of someone we otherwise know very little about. It is not the story of someone we do know a lot about like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and so on. That makes it impossible to put the granting of one prayer this man made into the context of a life which – like all better known biblical figures – must have had ups and downs. Citing an obscure figure like Jabez only shows up that better known men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, in fact had very mixed answers to their much greater works and prayers – at least in material terms.

Jesus’ teaching on material wealth

More broadly the problem with the “prosperity gospel” is that overall the message is not line with Jesus’ own teaching about riches to his disciples:

19:23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19 ESV)

We can see from this that Jesus is actually promising the disciples the opposite of what happened to Jabez – that his borders were enlarged in this life. What the disciples received was largely martyrdom and persecution, not bigger barns and material fulfillment. A serious approach to the mixed benefits of material blessing needs to start in the gospels, from Christ’s own teachings about material blessings.

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