A Balanced View of Wealth

We as Christians need not suffer financial setbacks… The Lord spoke to me and said ‘Don’t pray for money anymore. You have authority through my Name to claim prosperity.’… Our lips can make us millionaires or keep us paupers” – Kenneth E. Hagin

Being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity” – Robert Tilton

The above quotes – called “Prosperity theology” – is a crucial aspect of Word of Faith teachings which found a niche in many African churches in the 1990s. It emphasizes material wealth as God’s will for every Believer. To provoke a divine release of this great wealth, Christians are taught to give Faith seed, visualize prosperity with their mind’s eye and claim their prosperity through positive confession.

Some of the richest pastors in Africa adhere to this teaching. For instance, a popular Nigerian preacher is estimated to have a total net worth of $150 million with property including four private jets. Those on the other side of the spectrum, however, believe pastors and Christians in general should be poor because there is something intrinsically wrong with wealth.

Thus, wealthy Nigerian pastors are targets of increasing attacks and ridicule by the media. The economic situation in the country has geared up many social media denizens out of their caves to seize on these Christian preachers at the jugular. The way I see it, we are faced with two dangerous extremes: one tending towards idolizing wealth and the other, towards glorifying poverty.

Heresy is often an outgrowth of either an exaggeration or suppression of Bible truth. Therefore we need to carefully examine prosperity and try to maintain a Biblical balance.

Granted, under the Law, God’s blessing was often associated with material prosperity: “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” (Deut. 8:18 ESV).

Individuals such as Job were ultimately blessed with wealth: “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). Abraham was “very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” The same goes for Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon and others. Does this imply that every Christian today must be wealthy? Not exactly.

While the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth in itself, it condemns “those who put their trust in riches” (Prov. 11:28) “and boast of their great wealth” (Ps. 46:6). It doesn’t say money is the root of all evil , but “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It commands wealthy believers, among other things, not to be arrogant nor put their hope in wealth, which is uncertain, but to put their hope in God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” and be generous and willing to share (1Tim. 6:10, 17, 18).

From this, it can be inferred that not every believer will be physically rich but God generously provides for His people. We see this expressed in 2 Cor. 9:8 “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

God doesn’t inflict poverty as a blessing upon believers but promises His abundance. Where many “Word faith” teachers have missed it is that, they interpret abundance and poverty by the materialistic standards of contemporary Western civilization. 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). It’s 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 (helping others, supporting the preaching of the gospel, etc.). And the standard for each believer differs in relation to God’s will for his or her life.

The Bible furnishes us with several examples of Godly people who weren’t materially rich even though they followed God’s will. During the period of famine, prophet Elijah depended on a poor widow whose miraculous supply of flour and oil sustained him. Neither Elijah nor the widow became rich, but God met their needs (1Kgs. 17:8-16).

Amos was a shepherd 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). It’s wrong to always conclude that someone is poor because he/she lacks God’s favour.

There is a higher level of wealth than the material. There may be times when a believer will be temporary tested with insufficiency and there are some Christians who deliberately renounce material wealth that poses an encumbrance to their faith, like those who leave their wealthy backgrounds to serve Christ. This is what Proverbs 13:7 talks about: “There is one that makes himself rich, yet has nothing: there is one that makes himself poor, yet has great riches.”

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 materially rich, but they are heirs to wealth of a higher order.

God’s also bestows “peace like a river” (Is. 48:18) 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.

Another error in the Word-Faith’s prosperity theology is how certain Bible verses are remotely interpreted to unduly emphasise material wealth. For instance, a verse oft quoted is: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11)

The Hebrew word translated as prosper here is “shalom.” Normally this word is translated “peace”, but it has a much wider range of meanings than the word “peace”. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes it as: “Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment . . .  Unimpaired relationships with others and with God.” So the prosperity God is speaking of here is not really material wealth but complete wholeness.

Another bible verse used is: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2)

The Greek word rendered as prosper is euodou which means to “succeed in reaching” or “to succeed in business affairs.” This is not strictly referring to prosperity of a financial nature, but success “in all things.” God’s blessings are not limited to money.

Granted, Jesus for our sakes “became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9). Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus 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. It was there he suffered hunger, thirst, nakedness and He was even buried in a borrowed tomb. But this does not directly imply that every Christian will be materially rich.

Peter, for example wasn’t wealthy. He told a lame man: “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”” (Acts 3:6 Holman). From the statement of apostle James, it’s clear that there were poor people in the first century church (see Jas. 2:-5). Evidently, they didn’t understand 2 Cor. 8:9 to mean that every Christian must have great wealth as some teach it today.

Some questions might be ringing in some of my readers: “What could be wrong if I believe in the mandate God gave our father in the Lord to liberate men from the shackles of poverty? What could be harmful if I key into the wealth transfer agenda and claim my money by faith? What of the many testimonies of those who sowed a ‘faith seed’ and then became millionaires after one week?” I’ll say:

1. Both the bible and church history furnish us with examples of people who started out well but later deviated from their divine mandate. They switched from grace to man-made methods; they displaced the cross from the centre of their lives; they made their stomachs their gods and diluted their teachings with ear-tickling lies that appealed to fleshy hearts.

We are not to hang our truth on any man’s mandate, but “examine the scriptures” carefully and apply our God-given reason in what we believe (Acts 17:11).

2. It’s an error to believe that we can somehow “force” God to answer our prayers by slotting in the right positive confession to gratify our carnal desires. God is not a heavenly vending machine. Our giving to God should be willingly from our hearts and for His glory, not for Him to make us millionaires in return. God doesn’t operate NaijaBet or Mobgidi Lottery.

3. To believe that being poor is a sin fuels arrogance towards the poor that causes one to unfairly blame them for their own unfavourable circumstances. If you are poor, it’s because of your negative lips; you ought to wield the right words and follow the requirements set by the Faith teachers and boom, you’d become wealthy! This is presumptuous (see Prov. 23:4-5).

4. Prosperity theology breeds modern day Gehazis rather than Elishas. Many Word Faith teachers and their followers have been known to be overtly consumed by an overwhelming desire to be rich at all cost; evade taxes; exploit people financially; place members under burdensome financial obligations; ridicule the poor and needy; steal and resort to fraudulent Ponzi schemes all in a bid to meet up with their pet beliefs (Matt. 16:26)

5. Because material wealth is perceived as a vital sign of God’s favour, many who subscribe to prosperity theology tend to easily backslide and doubt God whenever they are in a financial difficulty and they’ve followed through their “kingdom regimen” but their condition isn’t improving.

We are not to hang our faith on material things (exotic cars, mansions, yachts, private jets etc.). Material wealth is not always a sign of God’s blessing and lack of it is not always a curse. The point is, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possession” (Lk. 12:15). Finally, we shouldn’t serve God for what He gives, rather for Who He is. He will meet our needs if we are faithful to Him.



Human Free Will and the Problem of Evil

One of the garden variety objections usually thrown out by atheists and skeptics – especially after a tragic event – is: “Why can’t God just instantly fix all the injustices, wickedness and outrages in the world? If God is so good why is this world so messed up?”

Notice, these folks imagine God to be like a wishing well. Just toss a coin in and your dreams come true. This is not how God works and such a narrow concept of God evinces ignorance. God will still fix these evils at the end of the age – in His own time – not ours.

Many of the atrocities, disorder and outrages in the world stem from man’s free will and humans, to an extent, can “fix” some of these problems. The question is, why do we always blame God for what we entirely caused? This blame-shifting mentality is as old as Eden. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, but the serpent had no one to blame.

God cannot instantly “fix” the mess in the world because to do so will override human free will. Now what does free will means? It’s the ability of mankind to make willing choices that have real effects.

It is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded; it’s the power to make decisions. I’ve had some dear Christians say rather brazenly, “There’s no such thing as ‘free will’ in the Bible.” They are either repeating someone’s line or their adherence to a theological system precludes them from seeing it.

The term “free-will” appears several times in the Bible. It occurs as “freewill offerings” (Ex. 36:3; Lev. 7:16; Amos 4:5), “freewill offering to the LORD” (Ezk. 46:12) and offerings from “everyone who is willing” and “each man whose hearts prompts him to give” (Ex. 35:5; 25:2). If the concept is an illusion, it wouldn’t have been alluded to.

The heart is the seat of the will and emotions. Free will is very essential to man’s relationship with God. He calls us to love, obey, serve, worship and to do so by choice. Without free will, it will be impossible for us to love or hate, choose or reject, submit or rebel. For example:

Loving God
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)

Love can only come willingly; you can’t compel someone to love you. God in His love gave us the freedom to serve and love Him with the whole of our hearts. This command is meaningless if we don’t have the power of choice.

Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:24)

David admonished Solomon “acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9)

Joshua said “then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…” (Jos. 24:15)

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (Jn. 7:17)

But you are not willing to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:40)

If people are not willing to come to God or Christ, then there must be a choice to be willing. In fact, God’s warnings and ultimate judgement are meaningless (if not mockeries) if humans lack a free will.

I have seen this time and again when people trapped in false religions willingly seal their hearts to the Christian Faith and this prevents them from learning anything. The Bible warns: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 4:7)

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land.” (Is. 1:19)

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my heart against their foes!” (Ps. 81:13-14)

Coming to God
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:3)

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Seeking God
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Prov. 8:17)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-7)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

Praying for God’s will on earth

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)

This shows that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will, otherwise there would have been no use for this prayer. To assert that everything that happens is according to God’s will and man has no power to decide logically implies that the rapes, murders, wars and evil in the world today are God’s handiwork. That’s theologically abhorrent.

Rejecting His ways
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2)

I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law” (Jer. 6:19)

But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Ezra said “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (8:22)

Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jer. 17:13b)

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor…” (2 Pet. 2:15).

A major objection raised to the reality of the free will is that God foreknows and wills all things, otherwise we can’t believe, trust and rely on His promises. This was an argument raised by Martin Luther in The Bondage of the Will. But this is faulty on 3 counts:

1. Scripture doesn’t imply that God knows all things beforehand because He has caused it, much less that He must cause it in order to know it. Granted, God knows everything that will happen before it happens. That’s why the Bible is full of prophecies. But foreknowledge is not the same as predestination.

To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. God doesn’t need to predestinate something in order to know it will happen. For example, in Job’s case, God knew he would be would stand the trials, but God wasn’t the author of his troubles.

2. We can believe, trust and rely on God’s promises because He is God and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). He doesn’t have to will all things for Him to make or keep His promises. We can trust Him because He is faithful and sovereign, and He will fulfil His Word regardless of the will or actions of man or nature.

3. It’s unbiblical and fallacious to assert that God’s foreknowledge eliminates human free will. God being Sovereign can effect His eternal purposes unhindered and yet allows man freedom of choice. Both man’s free will and God’s Sovereignty are presented in Scripture (cf. Ps. 75:6-7; Jer 10:23; Rom. 8:28 etc). To deny either is to espouse a heresy.

Many Calvinists and Lutherans will perhaps find this indigestible, but we don’t accept something just because someone influential said it. We need to examine the Bible for ourselves in arriving at truth. Even Augustine of Hippo, whom Calvin and Luther fondly admired wrote:

“Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we … faithfully and sincerely confess both” (The City of God, V. 10. 1977, 35).

Conclusively, the evils we see in the world today are results of people who have rejected God and His Word and chose to serve Satan and sin. Therefore, they have no moral anchor, no empathy, no reason, no hope, no direction, no shame, no conscience, no understanding of right and wrong and most of all, no willingness to even listen to any other view except their own.