Note: This is part of our current series “Correcting our Misconceptions about Evangelism” adapted from Larry Moyer’s book 21 Things God Never Said.
Misconception: “If you come to Me, I’ll make you both healthy and wealthy.”
It’s called the “health and wealth” gospel. It has encouraged people to pray for anything from a Lexus to a lake house. The exhortations are specific. If you need a thousand dollars, ask God for a thousand dollars. If you need five thousand, ask Him for five thousand. If you would like a successful stock portfolio, ask Him for a successful stock portfolio. One preacher said, “You tell God what He needs to do for you.”
They teach that if we are children of the King we should live like children of a king. We have a divine right to “name it and claim it.” Tell God what we expect then watch it happen. Sickness and poverty are not God’s will for His children. If you do not have both health and wealth, you may have not come to Christ at all.
The way Scripture has been mishandled in developing this misconception is alarming.
What biblical support do such people use?
Although several passages are used to support such teaching, five are prominent. When studied, these verses do not teach what they were declared to teach.
“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Claim: The Lord gives you “power to get wealth.” So, if you are not experiencing financial prosperity, it’s claimed there is something spiritually wrong.
Response: The passage is a warning, not a promise. In verses 14-16, God reminds the people of four things He did for them. He brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, provided water from a rock, and fed them with manna in the wilderness. Each provision was a test to see if they would depend on the Lord. Would they recognize God’s gifts or credit their own ability? The temptation was to say, “My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth” (vs. 17). Failure to praise Him would lead to forgetting Him. Forgetting Him would lead to worshiping other gods. Such worship would result in their destruction as it had the destruction of other nations.
The chapter concludes, “Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish” (8:19-20).
It does not promise prosperity. It warns of the danger of not crediting God for the prosperity one experiences.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”
Claim: “Give what you have to the Lord. He will return many times over what you gave.” Specifically used of financial prosperity, the idea is you cannot out give God. He will return to you more than you gave Him.
Response: The context explains the meaning. One verse later we read, “Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth.” One never knows what disaster he might face. It’s an exhortation to prudent investing.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” means “Send your grain across the seas and in time you will get a return.”
“Give a serving to seven, and also to eight” means “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Instead, make prudent investments in numerous ventures.
The paragraph speaks to the fact that investment in business promises some return. We are not told how great that return will be. Some investments turn out better than others. This paragraph is about work and prudence, not the promise of prosperity.
“‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’”
Claim: Give to God and watch what He gives back to you. If you give to Him, you will experience material prosperity. Your gifts to Him are seeds that reap a crop of abundance.
Response: These verses are in the context of a special covenant relationship God had with Israel. The Mosaic Law of Deuteronomy 28 specified blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Israel is the only nation with whom God entered into such a covenant.
God rebuked them for withholding their tithes and offerings. Therefore, they experienced His curses. He begged them to return to Him (3:7). How were they to return? What specific actions were they to take? They were to “bring all the tithes into the storehouse.”
“Storehouse” is a room or rooms in the temple where tithed grain was stored (cf. Neh. 10:38, 13:12). God would consequently bless them with agricultural prosperity. They could count on fertile fields and rich harvests. One verse later, He tells them their crops would not be destroyed by pests. Their verdant vines would be undamaged. In addition, they would have a good reputation among the nations (Mal. 3:12). The only thing preventing such blessing was their obedience to His commands. Again, the Malachi promise is set in the context of the Mosaic covenant to Israel. Hebrews 8:13 teaches that God has made a new covenant with us. Nowhere in Scripture is any nation told that God will deal with them on the same basis He did with Israel.
Does God promise to meet the needs of those who meet the needs of His work? Yes. Philippians 4:19 encourages us, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” As the Philippians met the needs of the gospel ministry (by their gift to Paul) God in turn met their needs. That, though, is not a blanket promise that with our gifts to God comes physical and financial prosperity. Remember, God promises to meet needs, not wants.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”
Claim: Capitalizing on the phrase, “ask what you desire,” the idea is given, state what you wish and you will have it—“it shall be done for you.” The application is made, if you want a new home or a new car, more money or a better job, just ask. It will be yours.
Response: However, this verse is talking about abiding in Christ. Only as we depend on Him are we fruitful. Two verses earlier we read, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” We are to so abide in Him that our wills are conformed to His. We only want what He wants for us. The prayers of our lips match the desires of His heart. With that kind of conformity to His will, we only ask what He wants for us anyway. Since our desire equals His, we can ask what we desire and it shall be done for us.
Also, this passage is talking about spiritual fruit, not physical provisions. The next verse reads, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (vs. 8).
Contrary to being a “name it and claim it” verse, John 15:7 urges conformity to God’s will. We want what He wants. We desire to be spiritually fruitful. There are more important things than physical and financial prosperity. Our heart close to His, our will and wants match His. We can ask what we wish, knowing it will be done.
3 John 2
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
Claim: As the “soul prospers,” we are increasingly Christ-like with a goal to live the holiest life possible for Christ. Therefore, God desires our physical health to be the same. Some would argue that “you may prosper in all things” includes the financial arena.
Response: Third John is a personal letter to Gaius (vs. 1). John’s purpose was to encourage him to show hospitality to Demetrius (vs. 12), a traveling preacher who was also the bearer of John’s letter.
Verses two through six demonstrate Gaius’ spirituality and it was John’s wish that he get along just as well on the physical level. The apostle’s concern for both Gaius’ temporal and spiritual well-being was obvious. Verse two could be paraphrased, “I hope that both spiritually and physically you do well.” Such a greeting encourages us to pray not only for the spiritual needs of others, but temporal needs as well.
To carry the thought any further is not warranted by the text. No mention of finances is made. Also, had Gaius suffered illness, which undoubtedly at times he did, John would have prayed for his health. Nothing suggests, though, that he would have said to him, “If you had more faith, you wouldn’t be sick.”
Not only are believers not promised health or wealth, some of God’s greatest servants did not experience earthly prosperity.
Join me Wednesday as I take a look at believers in the Bible who didn’t profit physically or materially.