This week’s TIME cover story asks, “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” It looks at a number of prosperity preachers who teach that faith in God can lead to material blessings. Remember Jim Bakker?
Saying that God wants you to have nice things does have a nice ring to it. How can the gospel compete with that? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 & Luke 9:23) He told a rich young nobleman to rid himself of all riches (Mark 10). He called a prosperous businessman a fool for focusing on the material rather than the spiritual (Luke 12:16-21). One of his most well-known stories is about a wealthy man and a poor, sick beggar. The prosperity preachers of that time would have us believe that God smiled down upon the rich man, while the beggar, Lazarus, was paying for some sin. Jesus taught that the opposite was true. Lazarus went to heaven, while the rich man went to a place of suffering. (Luke 16). This is but a partial list of Jesus’ condemnation of materialism.
If God wants his people rich, why was Jesus poor? Why were the apostles poor? Do the prosperity preachers know something that our Lord did not? I don’t think so. Prosperity preaching plays well to the greedy, materialistic American society but it won’t play in Sudan.
It’s not just the wealthy who are obsessed with money. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautioned us not to worry about food or clothing. We are to rely on God for our daily bread.
I must admit that living by Christian principles can lead to a measure of prosperity. Giving your employer an honest day’s work can lead to a promotion. Staying out of debt can put interest in your savings account instead of the credit card company. Owning a home and putting your children through college are good things. The accumulation of material things for the status they bring and extravagant luxuries while others suffer is not.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19 - 21 (NIV)