Does God Want You to Be Rich?

On Sunday, we talked about how American Christians have a complicated relationship with money. A lot of teachings in our culture today often argue that God rewards the faithful with material blessings. How did this temptation of prosperity come about in our world? Here’s a very brief history lesson on the matter!

As the United States became more industrialized after the Civil War, there were obviously many changes to daily life. New businesses and industries gave countless people the opportunity to make more money than traditional employment in agriculture or pre-industrial trade. Even with farming, machinery allowed people to work with greater efficiency. This continued on during the beginning of the 20th century with goods like cars becoming more available and booming economic cycles during of world wars. Of course not everyone became “rich” overnight, but with better working conditions in factories, higher wages, and more job creation, many Americans came to believe that wealth and financial security were finally within reach.

Likewise, Christians had to deal with a huge cultural issue surrounding money: is more money in life OK, or did the bible still caution against newfound wealth in America? Many Christians continued to warn against greed, arguing that it is always ungodly to serve money.

But one response to wealth and opportunity was prosperity theology, which essentially argued that God will reward believers with worldly benefits in exchange for faithfulness. Perhaps you’ve heard of this kind of teaching before–the “health and wealth” gospel. Things like retirement savings, bigger houses, or status symbols like cars and club memberships were viewed as signs of God’s reward. Some preachers even taught that healing from medical conditions was a way that God rewarded faithfulness. And likewise, if someone died or continued to be poor, that was supposedly a sign of unfaithfulness!

Prosperity gospel teachings increased even more during the 1960s with the rise of televangelism and the use of widespread media. Suddenly, programs and sermons could be broadcasted to a lot of people, right in their living rooms. Religion became more of a business. Preachers could amass millions of dollars by proclaiming a message of financial salvation to people.

Here are some core beliefs of “health and wealth” or prosperity thinking:

  • Poverty is a result of some kind of personal sin. After being faithful to God, someone is able to overcome that sin of poverty and become raised out of it.
  • Religion is a tool to better oneself materially. People have “dominion” over the physical earth, and are entitled to more worldly resources and higher status.
  • Worldly success is directly connected with God’s blessing. If someone is rich, that means he or she is in “good standing” with God.
  • The more you give, the more you will receive financially. (We’ve heard this all before: “Call the number at the bottom of your screen right now and…”)

As you can probably tell, I personally believe that there are countless problems with this message of health and wealth. So let’s take a look at scripture.

The bible does have some passages that appear to promote worldly wealth, particularly in the book of Proverbs. Perhaps most notably, we find sayings like these:

  • Proverbs 3:9-10– “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
  • Proverbs 13:25– “The righteous eat to their hearts’ content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry.”

These standalone verses might appear to promote a divine reward system, but there is definitely more to the picture. Elsewhere in scripture, it is clear that God intends for us to have a more comprehensive view of money, wealth, and material blessing. Riches might be satisfying in a worldly sense, but there is more to life than having money. We are called to worship God alone, and not obsess and worship material wealth:

  • Proverbs 16:16– “How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!” God clearly tells us that something like divine wisdom is much more precious than money.
  • Matthew 6:19-21– “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus directly tells his disciples that our true treasure is found in God’s kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world.
  • Luke 9:23-24– “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” We must recognize as Christians that we need to crucify the desires of the flesh, which also includes giving up our obsession with money in order to truly follow Jesus.
  • Romans 5:3-5– “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” God even promised that we would suffer, yet as Christians we realize that troubles in this life allow us the chance to refine our faith and offer ourselves unto God.
  • Philippians 2:5-8– “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” If anything, the calling of a Christian is to mimic the life of Jesus and to serve others in need, continually giving so that others might be raised into new life.

So yes, God does want you to be rich according to the standards of God’s kingdom. God wants you to experience the abundance of new life in Jesus Christ. In dying for us, Christ gave us more than we could ever ask for or even imagine. But God continually reminds us throughout scripture of the dangers of worldly wealth. Just as the church in Smyrna realized, God wants us to always have joy in Christ alone, even if we experience poverty on earth.

We sang a classic hymn on Sunday, and the lyrics are worth posting here, too. Remember where your true treasure lies in a relationship with God:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

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