The Promises of God: The “Prosperity Gospel” and its Discontents

What has God promised to his people? There are many Christians today who have reacted very strongly against what they call the “prosperity gospel”, which I think we can define as the view that God’s primary purpose for human beings, or the reason Jesus died for them, is for them to live a comfortable life of wealth and health. It is true that the prosperity movement within Christianity has gone too far, and unfortunately has to some degree hijacked the American Charismatic movement ( which is sad to me, because I’m a charismatic myself). There are legitimate concerns about the abuses of the prosperity movement, and the possible presence of “hucksters” in the movement. ( I say “possible” simply because I haven’t researched all the accusations against specific people and the evidence for those accusations). It is reasonable to raise as concerns the use of tithing scriptures to induce people to give to ministries that only seem to focus on prosperity theology. Should pastors be millionaires? Should there be ministries that focus only, or almost only, on prosperity theology? These are legitimate questions, but I’m not going to focus on them. Whatever the truth about the extent of the abuses within the prosperity movement, it is certainly true that there is a subset of Protestant Christianity that overemphasizes prosperity theology and neglects the more important aspects of Christian faith. It may be true that this overemphasis is such that some in this movement are either apostates, or are in danger of apostasy, or are merely guilty of the sin of greed and covetousness and have managed to justify their sin theologically (in their own minds).

However, the reaction against the prosperity movement I think has gone too far as well. The critics seem not merely to criticize the overemphasis of prosperity theology, but seem to go as far as to deny that there is any truth to prosperity theology. Do these critics ever acknowledge the scriptures that seem to teach prosperity theology? (By “prosperity theology” I mean the belief that God rewards people for their obedience and these rewards are both spiritual and material). Do these critics, some of them having PhDs in theology, not know about these passages of scripture, or worse, do they not care about them? Do they not care about these passages of scripture even though they claim to believe in biblical innerancy? Anyone, it sometimes seems, who teaches a promise of God apart from salvation by faith in Jesus, is thought of being guilty of preaching a different gospel. Sometimes accusations of “prosperity gospel” seem to assume that any belief in any form of prosperity theology, and any preaching of it, is automatically guilty of preaching a different gospel and of apostasy. In order to resolve this controversy, let’s look at the following simple question. What has God promised to his people in the Bible?

By the way that some people criticize prosperity theology and the charismatic movement in general, it seems they only believe that God has made one promise to Christians: the promise of salvation and eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Now that certainly is the most important promise that God has made and if you are to focus specifically on one of the promises of God, that is certainly the one that you should focus on. But is that the only promise that God has made? Definitely not. God honors those who believe his promises, so let’s endeavor to believe all of them, not just some. We will look at a few promises and then the scriptural support for them.

  1. God has promised protection from physical and spiritual danger.
  2. God has promised reward for obedience, not just in heaven but also on earth, in the form of physical, spiritual and emotional rewards.
  3. God has promised to heal those who come to him in faith.

It is also important to realize the difference between God’s promise of something and the extent to which we are preoccupied with it. For example, does the fact that God promises to bless us materially mean that we must be preoccupied with this, and focus on it constantly, and that our prayer life must be suffused with it? No. The promise is separate from our attitude toward it. It’s important not to conflate teaching of the promise with teaching a particular attitude of preoccupation. They are not the same thing, though it is true that some prosperity preachers do seem to preach both the promise and the preoccupation with it. And it is possible to say, consistent with the New Testament teaching, that we must realize that material rewards are the least important of rewards, and should not command a great deal of our attention (1 Timothy 6:5). Our primary goal must be the heavenly rewards, but all rewards must be preached. Prosperity preachers are right that God desires our welfare in this life as well as in heaven, but not without qualification ( i.e. there are things he regards as more important than our welfare on earth). Psalm 35:27 says that God “delights in the well-being of his servant.” Some Christians may be adopting a Gnostic or Platonic separation between the material and the spiritual and thinking that God only cares about our spiritual well-being. This is unbiblical. He cares most about our spiritual well-being, but he cares about our physical well-being as well.

Also, some of these promises are given to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, so why should we think they apply to us Christians today? Firstly, Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29). This means that the promises to the people of Israel are ours through Jesus. Even if this were not the case, the Old Testament promises shows how God acts toward his people, which means that we can expect that God will act toward us that way, if we are among his people ( as Christians) ( except, of course, where aspects of the Old Covenants were explicitly abrogated). If God was protector, provider and a God who richly rewarded in the Old Testament, he’s still that God today, and the New Testament reaffirms these truths and does not contradict them. God doesn’t change. Most of these promises I’m going to quote are not directed at Israel as a whole ( though some of them are), but if you reject that God’s promises in the Psalms and Proverbs (for example) apply to us today ( some of which very clearly teach prosperity theology), then it is unclear how you can ( consistently with that) believe that any of the promises in Psalms and Proverbs apply to us today.

I want to make one last point before we look at the scriptural support for the promises. You might point to the various places in the New Testament where Jesus and the apostles pronounce “woes” on the rich, and present these as reasons why we should ignore other scriptures that talk about material prosperity or as reason why any type of desire for material blessing is sinful. But just remember that there are also woes pronounced to the wise and the learned. Like the rich who struggle to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says that God does not reveal his truth to the wise and the learned (Matthew 11:25), but to the simple and childlike. This way of thinking is reaffirmed in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and can also be found in Isaiah 29:14 and Isaiah 44:25. (I plan to write about this in more depth in the future). So, does that mean that the critics of the prosperity movement who have PhDs should repent of their PhDs? Should they close their seminaries and liberal arts schools? Should they burn their libraries and suppress their desire for buying more books? The woes to the rich, as the woes to the wise and the learned, are indicating the spiritual dangers that come with successes and worldly advantages of all kinds. The spiritual dangers of learning does not mean that one should refuse education and suppress desires to engage in intellectual life, and the spiritual dangers of wealth does not mean that one should try to make oneself poor or refuse wealth. In the same way, the blessings on the mourning and the hungry in Luke’s beattitudes, and the woes to the full and those who laugh, does not mean that one should attempt to make oneself sad (Luke 6:20-26). Certainly, the intellectuals, the theologians and the rich must all watch themselves, but that does not mean they are wrong for being rich or for being involved in intellectual life. It depends on whether they are making these things into their pride and their security and are greedy for more.

Protection From Physical and Spiritual Danger

Let’s take a look at a couple of scriptures that teach God’s protection from physical and spiritual danger.

“No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.” Proverbs 12:21

“Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
    in his illness you restore him to full health.” Psalm 41:1-3

“When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
 Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.” Proverbs 4:3-6

“I will raise my eyes to the mountains;
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who watches over you will not slumber.
 Behold, He who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your protector;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not beat down on you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time and forever.” Psalm 121

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Psalm 34:7

“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah” Psalm 32:7

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.” Psalm 138:7

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.” Psalm 23: 4-5

“My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” 2 Samuel 22:3-4

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:18

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7

“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.” Psalm 18:35-36

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” Psalm 12:5

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” Revelation 3:10

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”Psalm 3:3

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” Proverbs 30:5

“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:30

“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.” Psalm 119:114

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…” Psalm 46:1-2

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” Psalm 5:1

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Psalm 43:2

“I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”
For it is He who rescues you from the net of the trapper
And from the deadly plague.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may take refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and wall.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the plague that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that devastates at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side
And ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
You will only look on with your eyes
And see the retaliation against the wicked.
For you have made the Lord, my refuge,
The Most High, your dwelling place.
 No evil will happen to you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.

For He will give His angels orders concerning you,
To protect you in all your ways.
On their hands they will lift you up,
So that you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will walk upon the lion and cobra,
You will trample the young lion and the serpent.” Psalm 91:2-13

“No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Luke 10:19

“We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” 1 John 5:18

Does the protection of God mean that you will never suffer or that nothing bad will ever happen? No. The New Testament constantly tells us that trial and suffering is something to be expected and persevered through and the book of Job, along with sayings of Jesus, affirms that tragedies do not necessarily imply that one is a greater sinner than others (Luke 13:1-5) but he did also affirm that sinning causes trouble in life (John 5:14). But none of this means that God is not the protector, that he doesn’t protect against many dangers, many of which we don’t even see, and doesn’t mean that we cannot hope in God’s protection for the future. We are in God’s hands and he is the one who determines our destiny, and no danger that comes near us that God does not allow, will touch us. It is possible to believe that something is a spiritual law, without believing that it obtains without exception of qualification. Clearly, none of the writers of these verses of protection believed that we would be protected from physical death. All of them probably believed that we would eventually get sick and die, or die by some other means. So the promises are qualified, but that doesn’t mean they are not important promises that we must meditate upon, hope in and trust in. We must look into the future, not expecting suffering, but expecting provision and protection without letting our own pasts or the lives of others cause us to indulge hopelessness, as though God is only king of heaven and not king on earth.

Spiritual and Material Reward for Obedience

It is true that some of these scriptures below refer clearly to spiritual reward or to reward in heaven, though it is an externally imposed paradigm and foreign to the text, to assume that all mention of reward is talking about spiritual reward. This assumes an artificial and Platonic separation between the spiritual and the material. It is strange and unscriptural for Christians today to affirm the reality of divine punishment both in earthly life and after earthly life in both material and spiritual senses, but to deny that reward is both earthly and heavenly and in both material and spiritual senses, when that seems to be teaching of the Bible. Preaching both the rewards and the punishments are important because they provide incentive for people to obey God and it is legitimate to allow yourself to be incentivized by the warnings of punishment and the promise of reward. If you believe that we should not preach rewards, or only spiritual rewards, because you are afraid it will make people greedy and covetous, then you are essentially thinking yourself wiser than the Holy Spirit, because the Bible is full of it. Does this mean we serve God for the sake of the rewards? Does this mean our service to God is conditional on him giving us rewards? Most certainly not! Anyone who thinks that is in danger of apostasy, because they will have made God purely a means for financial success ( which is idolatry) and as soon as things become difficult, they will want to abandon God.

“Even if the fig tree does not blossom,
And there is no fruit on the vines,
If the yield of the olive fails,
And the fields produce no food,
Even if the flock disappears from the fold,
And there are no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will triumph in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like deer’s feet,
And has me walk on my high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

It is also best not to have any too specific ideas about what type of reward God will give you. It may be wealth but it may be other things too. It may be a relationship. It may be more emotional satisfaction with life, even if your circumstances have not really changed. There are many things it can be and the Bible mentions many types of rewards. The primary goal of every Christian must be know God more, while using the promise of reward as a way to incentive for this, especially when obedience becomes difficult. However, the blessings themselves are probably conditional on not being greedy for them, and being content with what you have with thanksgiving to God, so it’s important to watch yourself closely when it comes to your attitude to the good things of earthly life. It is also strange that there are people who seem to think that emotional rewards are exempt from the warnings of covetousness and greed, but only prosperity theology is in danger of greed. John Piper’s Christian Hedonism emphasizes strongly emotional pleasure as a reward or as a devotion to God. But overemphasis on emotional pleasure in devotion can lead to greed too in the same way that overemphasis on wealth leads to covetousness and greed. It makes no sense to think of emotional rewards as automatically pious but material rewards as automatically impious. In fact it is spiritually dangerous to think this, because this makes one vulnerable to a type of idolatry of emotional pleasure. But does the danger of greed mean that we must not teach the rewards of joy and peace and comfort and wealth that God gives his people? No, of course not. But to avoid the danger, it is a good thing to preach about the biblical warnings about covetousness and the importance of contentment when you do preach about rewards. What about the apostles and Jesus himself? They were very righteous, but they suffered for their righteousness and, as far as we know, they were poor. It is possible to believe that certain rewards for obedience is a spiritual law without believing that it is the most important spiritual law or one that obtains without exception ( in fact it is impossible to believe this biblically, because the Bible itself qualifies it, through the book of Job and some of the New Testament teachings). It is also wrong to suggest that using the biblical promises of reward to incentivize oneself for obedience is a wrong self-interested motivation, because then obedience to God based upon fear of his judgment would also be illegitimate. The question of whether God provides material rewards for obedience is separate from the question of what our attitude should be to this truth, whether we should focus on it and whether our prayer life must be preoccupied with it ( it shouldn’t be). So let’s answer the question first. Are there both spiritual and material rewards for obedience? Let’s look at scriptures that support both types of rewards.

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:38

“Then Peter responded and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms on account of My name, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” Matthew 19:29

“The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” Proverbs 10:22

“A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Proverbs 28:25

“In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.” Proverbs 15:6

“The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:8-10

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17

“You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” Deuteronomy 15:10

“He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.” 1 Samuel 2:8

“Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever;
    his horn is exalted in honor.”

Psalm 112: 1-9

“You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” Deuteronomy 8:18

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 28:20

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” Revelation 22:12

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:33-34

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

“Knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:18

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

“The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.” Proverbs 11:18

“Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”” Psalm 58:11

“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.” Proverbs 21:20

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” 1 Timothy 6:17

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” Psalm 25:23

“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 4:10

“The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matthew 10:41-42

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you”1 Peter 5:6

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” Deuteronomy 28:1-14

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Malachi 3:10

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” 3 John 1:2

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” Psalm 128:1-2

What about the place where Paul condemns those who think that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5)? It seems to me that Paul is condemning the attitude that only wants to serve God for the sake of rewards, because every Christian, including Paul, believes that godliness is a means of gain, gaining the Holy Spirit, gaining eternal life, gaining godly wisdom and other rewards, and avoiding all sorts of unpleasant things of God’s judgment in the process. It doesn’t make sense to interpret Paul here as saying that godliness doesn’t benefit you, or that you don’t gain from it or that its wrong to hope and look forward to the many types of rewards God promises. This becomes clear because in the very next verse he says: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” So the teaching here is about greed or covetousness, not about gain in itself, of serving God purely or primarily for the purpose of getting rich. Even Jesus himself completed his travail on the Cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrew 12:2), implying that Jesus incentivized himself by looking forward to his reward. So the fact that Paul contrasts the false teachers’ attitude with the idea that godliness is a means of great gain as long as there is contentment, means that he is locating the problem not in the fact that they believe that godliness is a means of gain, but in the fact that they do so without contentment ( i.e. with greed). Also, just because someone is poor or suffering materially, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily doing something wrong in the eyes of God. It is possible for you to receive rewards from God but for other things to not be right. None of these promises of material reward indicate a perfectly happy life free of all affliction, which means they do not contradict the New Testament teaching about suffering ( as they may appear to do). In other words, people impose a false dichotomy or a false dilemma on the Bible. Either God’s will is for you to have a perfectly happy life on earth or he doesn’t want to give you earthly rewards at all. Clearly, you can both receive all sorts of spiritual and material rewards from God and experience persecutions and other suffering. They are not mutually exclusive ( as is explicitly indicated in Mark 10:28-30).


“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

“The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.” Psalm 41:3

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:2-4

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” Matthew 10:1

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” Matthew 10:8

“Saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”” Exodus 15:6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8

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