“For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).
Those who proclaim a gospel of wealth and prosperity love to use 3 John 2 as the foundation for their theology: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
This verse has been the foundation for the promoters of the wealth and health gospel. They believe that God wants every Christian to prosper financially.
Their theology is centered on the riches of God. The wealth and health theologians teach that God is a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and that he is the owner of the hills also. They teach that God owns all the silver and gold in the world (Haggai 2:8) and that he wants to share all his wealth with his children.
The late Oral Roberts wrote in one of his books: “God is not poor. God is not sick. As you love Him, give to Him, and believe Him, God will supply your needs according to his riches. God’s riches are laid end-to-end across heaven waiting to be given to you.”
And Roberts proved that his gospel was true when he told his television audience that God asked him to request his faith-partners to give $8 million. If he did not collect the money, which would imply that Roberts did not believe enough to receive by faith, then God would take him home (here one wonders if God would take him as he “took” Enoch or as he took Ananias and Sapphira).
At the time Roberts made his announcement on his television program, everybody laughed at him. Many ridiculed him and called him sick. But Roberts fooled everyone because he raised all the money he needed. Presto! His gospel was proven right again.
Although there may be some truth behind the gospel of prosperity, the pillars upon which the wealth and health gospel stands are not good. God does own the cattle on a thousand hills and he is the owner of those hills as well, but God is not an absentee landlord. God owns all the silver and the gold but he knows also the value of divesting, of deaccumulation.
Today many Christians associate a sizable bank account with God’s blessings. To many Christians, the life of opulence, riches, and prosperity is equivalent to faithfulness to God. According to the promoters of the prosperity gospel, God blesses those who ask for prosperity. As one television evangelist used to say: “The only power is green power.”
The Bible challenges the assumption that material wealth and financial prosperity can be taken solely as the sign of God’s approval. The Christian organization that needs millions every month just to survive is in sharp contrast with the simplicity of the New Testament church.
The idea of pastors who make a million dollars or more in salary or Christians who crave for a life of riches is a reversal of the teachings of Christ. Jesus was so poor that even foxes and birds had more than he had (Matthew 8:20). He asked his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33) because “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
If the will of God is that every Christian prosper, what kind of God allows faithful Christians in India to be desperately poor? What kind of God allows dedicated Christians in Central and South America to be hungry? What kind of God allows faithful believers in Africa to be poor, hungry, and illiterate?
The lifestyle which American Christians live today is directly related to America’s economic system, and many people in the United States of America believe that God was the first and greatest capitalist.
The accumulation of wealth can be the result of the exploitation of the poor who are demeaned by the inhumane policy of imbalance. The degenerate greed that motivates people to accumulate wealth deprives the poor of access to the common good, promotes employment that supports questionable enterprises, and fosters policies that widen the gap between those who can afford luxuries and those who cannot. That was not the intent of the gospel of the man of Nazareth.
Christians must be aware of the danger of degenerate greed. The wise man said: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). They also must remember that “some have been so eager to have money that they have wandered from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary