I'll get the confessions out of the way right off the top. One of my pet-peeves is the so-called prosperity Gospel which is being promoted from many North American pulpits. I find it morally repugnant that some preachers tell people living in one of the wealthiest societies in the history of the world that getting even richer is something that they should expect if, indeed, they are followers of God.
I've read the Bible through a number of times; I myself am a pastor and a preacher. I am at a loss to find how a balanced view of the Scriptures can lead to the conclusion that some in this movement have reached. The Bible does teach that our lives will be blessed. It does teach that if we are faithful to God He will provide all of our needs. It also says that "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction." (1 Timothy 6:9).
So, what does the Bible teach about money?
- There's nothing wrong with money - in and of itself. We know this because Jesus used money and commented on it. He told his disciples to look at a coin and tell him whose inscription was on it. Then he said in Matthew 22:21: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Many have wrongly quoted Jesus as saying that "Money is the root of all evil." It was actually the Apostle Paul, and what he said, in 1 Timothy 6:10, is this: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
- Money can be used for good or evil. Again, Jesus gives us examples of both of these. He praises the widow who gave an offering of 2 mites, each of them worth 1/5 of a penny (Mark 12:42). In Mark 12 he draws a comparison between her small gift and the seemingly more generous gifts of the wealthy. In his eyes, her gift was better because she gave all she had and the wealthy merely gave spending money. Hers was a heart gift.
- The management of our money is a reflection of God's place in our lives. In 2 Corinthians 8:5 Paul commends the church in Macedonia who gave "out of their deep poverty." He praises them because they "gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will." Note firstly that they were not wealthy themselves; secondly, they were giving to help the church in Jerusalem, which was also experiencing hardship.
- Becoming a Christian does not guarantee wealth nor a free pass on the problems of life. No less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself said "In this world you will have trouble..." He also told us in Matthew 16:24 that: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." The Apostle Paul, likely the greatest missionary in the history of the church, had so many challenges to overcome that he said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." It is the resurrection of the dead that provides hope for Christians - not the promise of wealth on earth.
- Wealth does not necessarily reflect God's blessing. A cursory glance at any list of the world's wealthiest people should give enough evidence of this. If this were true why is it that in a society which is the richest in the history of the world antidepressants are a multi-billion dollar industry?
- Each of us is responsible to God for our use of the resources placed at our disposal. This goes for the poor as well as the wealthy. In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives His Parable of the Talents. Note that he expected the same faithfulness from the one who was given one talent as he did from the one who was given five.
- Sometimes God does reward us with material blessings. Scripture clearly teaches us that all of the good things that we enjoy are gifts from God, including things like raises and bonuses. Luke 6:38 says "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." In context, this clearly speaks to more than material wealth, as Jesus had just been speaking of the law of reaping and sowing.
Conclusion: As a general principle, the Bible does teach that if we walk in obedience to God and His Word our lives will be blessed. That blessing can, and often does, include material things. However, the Bible also teaches that the gifts we are given are meant to be used to advance God's purposes in the world. Wealth for its own sake is condemned as selfishness and sin in Scripture (See Luke 12).
As a pastor I've always had the belief that God's Word is universally true. His principles do not change whether you live in Hollywood or in a village in Africa. If it is true that prosperity always signifies God's approval, then the lack of prosperity would signify His disapproval. If that is the case then most of the New Testament Christians (most of the Christians in history!) have lived under God's disapproval. I much prefer to stand with men like the Apostle Paul, who said in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."