Beginning in the 19th Century, and increasing in popularity right after World War II, men began to interpret a few passages of scriptures to mean that God would materially bless those who trusted in Him. This idea asserts that the man who prospers in this world is the man who puts their trust in God.
In defending such a position, the following verses are pointed to (not exclusively):
III John 1:2, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Deuteronomy 8:18, “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.”
As might be imagined, this is a popular belief in our time. If I just trust in God, all these troubles will go away. He’ll make sure I have a job, and can feed my family, and maybe if I’m really trusting, He’ll provide a BMW. But what happens when we don’t receive the job we wanted? The mortgage is falling behind because we have to provide bread for the children to eat. And we certainly do not have a BMW, unless that stands for “Barely Moving Wheels.” Is it my fault for not trusting in God like I should? Is it God’s fault for not willing that I should be provided for?
Let’s look at three reasons why God does not provide for our material well being based upon our faith, and how this sort of idea warps our attitude till we become focused on the temporary instead of the eternal.
TIME AND CHANCE:
A company goes belly up and their stock depreciates to nothing, leaving investors without recourse. A runner becomes ill on the morning of the race, leaving them with no opportunity to win the race. Two brothers live to be 50 and 95 respectively.
Solomon is very clear in Ecclesiastes 3:6 that there is a “time to gain” and a “time to lose.” He continues in chapter 9:11,
I returned and saw under the sun that—The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.
It is not always the will of God that we prosper materially or wallow in the mire of poverty. Jesus, explaining to us why we should bless our enemies, shows us that God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45) Where does the farmer who has no belief in God receive sun and rain for his crops? God provides, the same source providing sun and rain to the believing farmer.
I am reminded of a poor Christian man looking at his well-to-do neighbor and wondering, “Am I in the wrong religion?” This is the conclusion one has to accept if they are to believe that God blesses materially those who have faith in Him. It becomes never about time and chance, and always about how faithful I am. Putting your trust in God’s willingness to bless materially because of your faith will leave you cold and questioning when, by time and chance, you find yourself struggling to pay your bills.
Paul was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9) Putting your trust in God will not make you better off materially, but it will provide you with the strength you need to overcome trying times.
EACH ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY:
James writes in 1:17,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
God certainly blesses men. It is He who created us, and it is He who sustains us. John would not have made mentioned that he prayed for the physical well-being of Gaius (III John 1:2), except that it is from God that these blessings flow to us.
What John does not say is, I pray you will increase in faith so that God might bless you materially. Nor does he say, I know that God will bless you materially. It was a prayer to show that John had a concern for Gaius’ well-being. We do that too; ask for prayers for illness, or help finding work. It not only shows a caring spirit within us, but a realization that every good and perfect gift does come from God, and God will provide each according to his need.
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
God is good in how He gives gifts. They are according to our ability to use them. He knows our hearts; He knows our capabilities to handle poverty or great wealth. Agur prayed to God in Proverbs 30:8-9 that he be neither wealthy nor poor, because they are both filled with temptations.
It is interesting that each man in Christ’s parable, as recorded in Matthew 25:14-30, received a different amount of talents. No two were alike. If we had been writing the same thing, we might have given each man five talents and been done with it. This parable teaches us how God looks at us. He gives to each of us according to our ability (Matthew 25:15). Paul told the brethren at Corinth in I Corinthians 10:13 that God would not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. Our material well being is a gift from God, but the reason for our reception of that gift is not our own goodness or own faith, but rather because God knows what we need.
FROM TEMPORAL TO ETERNAL:
In Genesis 17:8 God promises Abraham He will bless his descendants by giving them the land of Canaan. Abraham and His descendants would follow the law of God faithfully, and God would be faithful to them by giving them the land of promise. Therefore, God tells the descendants of Abraham in Deuteronomy 8:1 that every commandment which was delivered to them they must keep so that they might prosper in the land which the Lord would give them. In verse 2-5 he then explains how God provided for them through forty years in the wilderness, while He tested them. Therefore, verse 6, “…keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” Why? Verse 7-17 explains that God promised them a bountiful land full of blessings, but they will be tempted to forget that it was God who blessed them so abundantly.
It is in this context that Deuteronomy 8:18 states,
And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, the He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
God blessed His people, Israel, with abundance of material blessings in the land of promise. He gave them the land, and the power to get wealth. This was the covenant He established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The writer of Hebrews points out in Hebrews 8:7-13, that this old covenant was made “obsolete” and has vanished away. It was the physical representation of the covenant which now is, based not in blood of physical animals, but in the spiritual application of the blood of Christ.
For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.(Hebrews 9:13-15)
This covenant is not based on the promise of wealth and land for an earthly habitation. God indicates seeking these will only lead away from Him (I Timothy 6:10, Matthew 6:19-34). This covenant is based on spiritual blessings. “…blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”(Ephesians 1:3) “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7) “…having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
IT’S THE ATTITUDE:
Believing in this “prosperity gospel” leads to a life where our first thought is how God affects us physically. We may become discontent with what we have, thinking, “If only I had more faith.”
Instead, we ought to be setting our mind on things above, seeking the life above, spoken of by Jesus in John 10. We should have the same attitude as Paul in Philippians 4:12-13,
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.