According to Harvard Divinity School, the prosperity gospel “emphasizes believers’ abilities to transcend poverty and/or illness through devotion and positive confession.” Preachers like Kenneth Hagin and Joel Osteen have made the idea popular from the twentieth century forward.
Proponents of the prosperity gospel insist that God blesses the faithful with material gain. Want a home with tons of bedrooms, a heated pool, and all the modern conveniences? Be faithful and God will give this to you. Want to travel the world in luxury and see the most beautiful places? Be faithful and God will reward you with this. Want to be healthy or have a family full of children? Be faithful and God will provide. If you don’t get what your heart desires, you need more faith, more prayer, and, most important, more offerings to the church.
The problems with this type of theology are obvious—it can lead to idolatry, selfishness, greed, and individualism—but its main fault is that it completely goes against the way of Jesus. Today’s lesson text from the Gospel of Matthew has nothing to do with the world’s idea of prosperity. To Jesus, the point is proclaiming the good news and sharing that the “kingdom of heaven has come near” (v. 7). He explains how the disciples are to proclaim and share this news: by their actions of healing, resurrecting, and cleansing. When they travel, they should take no money or supplies. They are to rely on people’s hospitality. And they are not to expect a smooth path and willing hearts. They will instead face trials and floggings and rejection.
Where’s the prosperity gospel in this? It’s absent. Jesus’s gospel is the gospel of faithful reliance. We rely on Jesus and follow him faithfully wherever he leads us. Our reward will not look like the world’s rewards. It will look like the love of God in Jesus Christ, sustaining us throughout our lives.
Source: Harvard Divinity School, “The Prosperity Gospel,” Religion and Public Life, https://rpl.hds.harvard.edu/faq/prosperity-gospel#:~:text=The%20Prosperity%20Gospel%20(PG)%20is,through%20devotion%20and%20positive%20confession.
• Where have you seen the prosperity gospel at work?
• Why do you think this type of theology is so tempting to believe?
• What harm have you seen come from the prosperity gospel?
• Why do you think Jesus told his disciples not to take supplies on their trips to share the gospel?
• How can you cultivate a stronger sense of faithful reliance on God as you share Jesus’s love?
Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!
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