In a genuine effort for many preachers in America to defend the Gospel against the popular and deceptive “prosperity” preaching, there has come to be a great imbalance in understanding the distinction between contentment and complacency as it pertains to living out the Christian life. This over-correction is in some ways worse than the thing it is trying to correct. It is called the poverty gospel.
Ironically, even in the so-called “richest” or “wealthiest” nation on earth, America, the majority are still living paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans are in some form of debt, which more than half claim is not manageable, according to a survey done by CareerBuilder. So, even for the small percentage of those who claim some savings, a good portion technically have no real savings because of the amount of debt they carry with it. Debt has become the American way, and when we consider how much debt we are in both as a nation and individually, the measurement of our wealth begins to sink drastically. But the problem is even worse than this.
I am not here to talk to you about debt, although it does play a major part in poverty. I want to address a theological problem. Although we all in one way or another struggle with the temptation of greed, in America, strange as it may sound, money still has an ugly stigma. Unfortunately, in many people’s minds, Christianity is to blame for this deception. Many have misquoted verses such as 1 Timothy 6:10. Many people believe that verse is quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil,” when it actual states that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” The problem is not money, the problem, as always, is our hearts. Sadly, many preachers and professing Christians have misquoted this to where the unbelieving world has taken it themselves and ran with it without verification.
Hating money, however, is just as evil as loving money.
What do I mean by that? Money, at least real money, is good because God made it. God made resources for us to be able to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors who have legitimate needs. To hate money in the sense that you don’t want anything to do with it is to neglect your responsibility to yourself and your neighbors, which is to neglect your duty unto God. Loving money is distorted because we are not to have any other gods before Yahweh (Ex 20:3). We are not to desire money in such a way that it overshadows our sight of Christ. This means we must call good what he calls good, and only call evil what he calls evil. This applies to anything in life, including money, gold, silver, property, wealth.
In another sense, those with a secular worldview are also to blame as well. Those who believe that a socialistic economy will be the epitome of love and serving mankind have exalted a view that the rich are inherently evil, poor people are always innocent victims with humble hearts, and that it’s OK to steal from some people to give to others. This is displayed all throughout the media. We are so indoctrinated with this mentality from childhood that once we reach adulthood, poverty along with dependence on government assistance is commonly accepted as normal, even though it keeps us poor. Eating ramen noodles and choke sandwiches (not by choice) becomes laughable although we painfully endure. Even the poor college kid imagery has in a strange way become cool, all while we demand those who sit in high places with big bank accounts spread their wealth amongst the rest of us who held to what we were told, such as, “money doesn’t bring happiness,” along with a bunch of other clichés that promised inner peace, but were seeds for our demise.
These worldviews play a part in why we have a big government that plays a big role in perpetuating a society addicted to debt, all while there are those in high places who are greedy, who have taken advantage of this poor mentality to prey on everyone’s pockets. We see this clearly in the medical industry, and the fruit of that is that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies in America. Obamacare did not save the day, rather, while it saved a few, it perpetuated the domino effect which in the end will result in more poverty monetarily and health-wise. When you think about how much money it takes to take care of a family, you must consider out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills or a high bill for health insurance every month. Knowing that all of us are promised death, if it does not happen by murder or an accident, then most likely it will be by our health. Considering this alone, outside of the controls of eating right and exercising, you must have enough money to take care of unexpected medical cost, which in this nation currently it is not cheap whether it be through insurance or your own expense. Even if the government did not have their hands in health insurance, the cost of health care still is an important factor that is often neglected when considering, what it takes to survive financially.
Why do I bring up this point? Because with all the clichés we are taught concerning money, we end up denying reality and practicality in the name of a misguided faith. I believe a lot of times we highly underestimate our financial needs, and sometimes we do so in anticipation that we will be able to depend on someone else or some system, especially a government system. So, when someone gets cancer and their health insurance can’t cover all the procedures and medical supplies needed, we may consider that if we could raise enough money, then that would help. But we don’t consider that the reason why the person doesn’t have enough money themselves to take care of the expense could be due to a long history of bad habits trained by a bad theology concerning money, and this bad theology has been passed down from generation to generation, from the pulpit and from the public school teacher’s desk. Obviously, if that situation occurs, we can only work with what we can control now for them, and pray. There may, however, be a long-term solution to this problem for the next generation, and it will involve correcting our worldview on money and wealth. This doesn’t promise eternal life or a fountain of youth, yet money does solve some practical problems in society:
Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.
Bread is made for laughter,
and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.
Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
or some winged creature tell the matter (Eccl. 10:18–20).
American Christians have such a tainted view of money it is hard to know where to start. There is the prosperity gospel which promises health and wealth when one is either a believer with “enough” faith, or a person who is living in obedience and paying their tithes, or . . . sometimes just paying their tithes.
There is no magical formula in the Scriptures to obtain wealth and health. Does God bless people with wealth due to their obedience sometimes? Yes. Was Israel promised prosperity for following His commandments? Yes. However, when we carefully examine the Scriptures, prosperity is not promised to every individual simply because they are obeying God’s commandments. Neither is wealth promised simply because you believe you can have wealth. It is true that your mind state about money and about your ability to obtain money can influence you achieving it or not achieving it. However, thinking, speaking, or believing you can have wealth does not ensure that it happens.
This is also true with health. God does heal. God does still answer prayers. However, just because you really believe God can heal someone does not guarantee he is going to heal someone. Just because you want him to heal someone, does not guarantee he will heal them. Sadly, because people have bought into this lie, and some even with sound theology subtly believe this from time to time as well, people have neglected their responsibility to prepare financially for health issues. So even in believing in the health and wealth gospel, people still set themselves up for financial strain in the name of Jesus.
But then you also have the poverty gospel. This includes those defenders of the Gospel against the prosperity gospel who preach contentment in such a way that nobody wants to work, save, or even move much at all. Contentment is preached in such a way that people fear money. Contentment is preached in such a way that people decline jobs that would help their families, because they are afraid it would take their minds off Jesus. Contentment is preached in such a way that people get comfortable with their current incomes, even though they are living paycheck to paycheck, or even though they don’t have much to give, all because they are just waiting on Jesus to come back, and think they must focus only on preaching the Gospel.
The “poverty gospel” is not really a label people would say they believe in, yet they preach it, and many show they believe it by living it out, and the general message is what I am labeling it. Interestingly, many of those who preach in this way, are themselves set financially. They tell others to just be content while they themselves go home and sleep on their financially-free pillows, often with salaries paid by the very church members they instruct. They tell others to sell all their possessions and go preach the gospel, while they accumulate wealth and prepare for their funded retirement. They preach about being good stewards over your money, but they don’t preach about accumulating more money to steward because that is “greed.” It sounds good. Its sounds holy. It sounds spiritual. Yet it is detrimental.
Are we to be content with what we have? Indeed. Yet we must not become complacent. We must not become monks thinking we are honoring God by rejecting to seek opportunities to build wealth. People who seek to get rich just to be rich, or just to live in luxury is what the Bible warns us about. However, we also see that building generational wealth is biblical. How do you leave an inheritance for your children’s children (Prov. 13:22) if seeking wealth is your enemy? Mind you, this was written before life insurance. I think many have suffered under imbalanced preaching, while genuinely wanting to be sold out for God. Many young people in my generation have given up a lot thinking that it was what the Lord wanted and sadly many times it was traded for “ministry” not really following Jesus. Yes, many have given up financial security to enslave themselves to “ministries.” Many have given up financial security just to “trust the Lord.” Ironically, some are blinded to the fact that even those ministries must have financial support to continue to exist, while they claim to “live by faith.” Others in this category forsake their own ability to make money so that they may beg—I mean, ask other churches, ministries, and organizations to fund what they say God has called them to do. While some are called to benefit in this way in order that they may be fully devoted to a task, there are many who dodge their own tentmaking by it.
I don’t believe God promises health or wealth to anyone, but just as I believe God wants us to be healthy and strive to be healthy, being good stewards over our bodies, he also wants us to prosper. He doesn’t promise poverty or sickness to cease fully before he comes back. Yet, although his sovereign will may be for you to remain poor until you die, his dispositional will is for us to be lenders and not borrowers, to be the givers and not the ones in need. He wants people to labor, so they can provide for themselves and be able to give to others (Eph. 4:28). Likewise, money is not only for us to provide and to help, but also for our enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17).
While we do see that the prosperity gospel is accepted by all ethnicities, we also know it is a plague especially in poorer communities. Preachers manipulate people who are desperate. Following the lies of the prosperity preachers, many poor folk will give what little money they do have in hopes that they will be set free from their financial bondage. But when such people are introduced to teachers who expose and condemn the lies of prosperity preaching, and they realize it was all phony, then they can be prone to falling into the opposite ditch: a theology that ushers them into contentment, yet forgets to aid them in understanding the biblical mandate for taking dominion. Abandoning the doctrine that teaches their prosperity will save them, they now believing their impoverished state will be their redemption. The Gospel does not guarantee prosperity, but neither does it mandate a contentment that surrenders to financial bondage. Yes, we cast the cares of this world on Christ, and endure that the word may not be choked, but at the same time we will not be deceived by false humility.
To be continued. . . .