“Being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity” says a popular preacher. “Our lips can make us millionaires or keep us paupers” another said. This teaching (called the “Prosperity theology”) has found a niche in many African churches. It emphasizes material wealth for every Believer. To provoke God to release great wealth, adherents say we need to claim our prosperity with our words and give a “Faith seed.”
This teaching “being exported from America sweeping across Africa” writes the Watchman Fellowship “arguably may become the single greatest threat to African Christians.” Some of the richest pastors from Africa adhere to this teaching. For instance, a popular Nigerian faith preacher, has a total net worth of $150 million and property including 4 private jets. But didn’t God promise great riches to all who serve Him? Weren’t all of His servants in the past wealthy?
Under the Law, God’s blessing was often associated with material prosperity. God said to the Israelites that He “giveth thee power to get wealth” (Dt. 8:18). Individuals like Job was given “twice as much as he had before” (42:10). Abraham was “very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold” (Gen 13:2). The same goes for Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon and others. Doesn’t this mean all Christians today should be materially rich?
Now, the Bible does not suggest that God inflicts poverty as a blessing upon Believers. Instead, it shows us the generosity of His provision: “to make all grace abound towards you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work.” (2Cor. 9:8) The mistake many make is to interpret poverty and abundance by the materialistic standards of Western civilization. But like Christ, our primary purpose as Christians is “not to do [our] own will, but the will of Him who sent” us (Jn. 6:38) so, its from this perspective that “poverty” or “abundance” should be defined.
Poverty, therefore, is having less than all one needs to do God’s will in one’s life, while abundance, is having all one needs to do God’s will and something over to give others. Godly prosperity is not provided for us to squander on our carnal desires, but for every good work. And the standard for each believer differs in relation to God’s will for his or her life.
There are Biblical examples of Godly people who weren’t materially rich. Elijah wasn’t rich; he even depended on a poor widow whose miraculous supply of flour and oil sustained him (1Kgs. 17:8-16). Amos was a herdman and humble labourer (Amos 7:14), Naomi and Ruth were poor widows, yet they had God’s blessing (Ruth 2:12). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was “highly favoured” by God, yet she was not wealthy, as evidenced by the Temple offerings she gave (Lk. 2:24; Lev. 12:8). Should we imply these people were not blessed because they weren’t materially wealthy? No.
There is a higher level of wealth than the material. Moses turned his back on wealth and luxury because he “esteemed the reproaches of Christ than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Jesus said to the church in Smyrna: “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!” (Rev. 2:9) Though they were materially poor, they had riches far more valuable than silver and gold. Today, many Christians enduring persecution and affliction for Christ’s sake may not be rich, but they are heirs to wealth of a higher order.
God’s also bestows “peace like a river” (Is. 48:18) “good health” (3 Jn. 2) and His people are never “forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps. 37:25). Knowing Him personally is itself, a treasure. It may not bring material wealth, but it brings an inner peace and contentment that all the money in the world cannot buy.
Granted, Jesus for our sakes “became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2Cor 8:9). Throughout His earthly ministry, He didn’t carry a lot of cash, but at no time did He lack anything. He regularly gave to the poor (Jn. 12:4-8), paid taxes (Mt. 17:27) and fed thousands of people (Mt. 14:15-21). Though the methods were unconventional, He exemplified abundance – not poverty – but in the context of God’s will. He became poor for our sakes at the cross. There, he suffered hunger, thirst, nakedness and was even buried in a borrowed tomb.
Peter admits: “Silver and gold I do not possess” (Acts 3:6). James also indicated that the early church was composed of poor people (Jas. 2:5). The point is, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possession” (Lk. 12:15). Conclusively:
1. Its an error to teach that we can “force” God to give us what we want and when we want it. He is not a heavenly vending machine.
2. Material wealth is not always a sign of God’s blessing and lack of it is not always a curse or sin.
3. We shouldn’t seek God for what He gives, especially material things – cars, mansions, private jets etc, rather for Who He is. He will meet our needs if we are faithful to Him.