Paul's Prosperity Gospel
Did you know the Apostle Paul wanted the people to whom he preached to have abundant riches? It’s true. He talks about it on more than one occasion in his epistles. Now before anyone has a Scrooge McDuck or Mr. Krabs reaction (choose whichever pop-culture allusion suits your age), we need to ask what kind of riches Paul wanted his readers and listeners to have.
Some contemporary prosperity preachers say Paul wanted all of the people to whom he preached to have “a million dollars” in their bank account. But is that the kind of riches Paul is talking about? Let’s see.
To the Church at Ephesus, Paul writes:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:7–8).
Paul speaks of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” He’s not talking about a pile of money belonging to Christ. He’s talking about Jesus Christ Himself. To have Christ is to have these “unsearchable riches.”
The pursuit of these riches should be the priority in our lives. Sadly, many people around the world, including many Christians, focus all of their lives on gaining the other kind of riches. Jesus warned of the dangers involved in this:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).
The danger of making the accumulation of earthly riches our priority is that it subtly and deceptively pulls our hearts away from God. Find a man’s treasure, whatever it may be, and there you’ll find his heart. In other words, the pursuit of earthly riches can easily turn those riches into an idol vying for the affection of our hearts.
Are we to work in order to provide for our families? Of course (1 Timothy 5:8). But we have to put things in the right order. We work to provide for our families not as a means of mere accumulation but in order that they may lay up treasures in heaven as well. We are to seek first the kingdom of God.
Those who do happen to have earthly wealth and riches are instructed by Paul on how to handle it:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17–19).
Note the priorities. Earthly treasures are uncertain, so they are to be used in order to store up true and certain treasure in heaven.
Whether we have great earthly riches, no earthly riches, or something in between, the only riches that are eternal are the unsearchable riches of Christ.