There's a lot of talk in the Church today regarding God's promises of prosperity. Preachers full of promises make millions convincing others to sow a seed so that the giver can receive a hundredfold reward from God. Followers are convinced that it is God's desire that we have everything we want, and that we can give our way to riches. Are ideologies like these an easy to follow solution to our money problems or are they misplaced hopes in a reward we are never promised in the first place?
God's Word does say that God wants to bless us. This is found repeatedly in the Bible. God's Word does say he wants us to prosper, even as our soul prospers (3 John 23 John 2 (NKJV)
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. ). The Greek word for prosper here is the word εὐοδόω (euodoō). This word is only used four times in the New Testament and this word does mean "to prosper." However, more clearly, it means "to grant a prosperous and expeditious journey, to lead by a direct and easy way." It is the same word used in Romans 1:10 which says "Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (KJV)"
So while 3 John 23 John 2 (NKJV)
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. does say that John's prayer was for us to prosper, even as our soul prospers, we must realize that both words "prosper" are the same Greek word. Our selves and our souls are to prosper in the same fashion. So, better stated, it is John's prayer that we would have a prosperous and expeditious journey in life, led by God in the ways of Jesus (remember, his yoke is easy: Matthew 11:30Matthew 11:30 (NKJV)
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." ), just as our soul has been saved by God through Christ, and is on a journey that will ultimately see us in Heaven. While this does not deny any monetary or material blessing, it does not promise one, either.
The only other time this word is used in the New Testament does speak to material prosperity, and setting aside for God's work a portion from what God has prospered someone with. However, there is nothing in the text which suggests a promise of any particular amount of blessing or abundance (See I Corinthians 16I Corinthians 16:1-4 (NKJV)
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me. ).
For a discussion on the Hebrew word for prosper and prosperous, please see the previous entry.
The Bible doesn't limit its discussion of prosperity to these single Greek and Hebrew words, though. There are many passages that speak to God's blessings that utilize other verbiage.
Common in our society is the idea that material prosperity is a sign of God's favor. Some even say that prosperity is a sign of our faith and taking God at His word that blessings are ours. "If we only have faith," we are told, "we can receive the blessings promised us." Others say that if we are not being blessed, it must be because of some secret sin, or due to our lack of faith. This idea is not new, for even Job's "friends" suggested that the calamity that befell him was due to some hidden sin (See Job 8:5-7Job 8:5-7 (NKJV)
If you would earnestly seek God And make your supplication to the Almighty, If you were pure and upright, Surely now He would awake for you, And prosper your rightful dwelling place. Though your beginning was small, Yet your latter end would increase abundantly. and 22:21-28Job 22:21-28 (NKJV)
"Now acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace; Thereby good will come to you. Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, And lay up His words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; You will remove iniquity far from your tents. Then you will lay your gold in the dust, And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks. Yes, the Almighty will be your gold And your precious silver; For then you will have your delight in the Almighty, And lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you, And you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing, And it will be established for you; So light will shine on your ways. - notice how much these words of his "friends" sound like many preachers today!). Job's friends did not speak for God, though, as the remainder of the book shows. Others have said that Job's trials came because he feared, and wasn't acting in faith (referring to his regularly offering sacrifices for his sons, in case they had done some unknown wrong). But what does the Word itself say on this subject? Job 1:1 and 1:8 say "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil... Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?'" The Word, God speaking even, says Job was a blameless and upright man. This is quite the opposite of saying he was a fearful man who lacked faith, and thus opened the door to the devil. Yes, Job was blessed, before and after the months of extreme testing, but the time of testing was permitted, and it wasn't because Job had lost faith or favor with the Lord.
In looking through the Bible, there are many examples of men whom God blessed with abundant riches. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had excessive wealth. But Hebrews 11:24-26 says that "Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward." God provided for Moses' every need, but had Moses turn down the rich life he was naturally eligible for as a member of Pharaoh's household.
We also must consider Elijah and Elisha. While God did provide for their needs, they by no means appear to have been overly wealthy by anyone's material measures. Elisha probably came from a well to do home, but still was in a position where food and a place to stay provided by others appeared beneficial to him (See 2 Kings 4). Elijah went through times where he had to be fed by ravens and depend on a widow woman for sustenance (See 1 Kings 17). Did God provide for their need? Absolutely! Did God give them wealth as we would consider wealth today? The Biblical evidence suggests... no.
In the Bible there is a mix of people from a variety of economic backgrounds who were faithful and served God. In all cases, God provides for need, but for more than that, it is difficult to stand on a "for everyone" example that we can legitimately apply to our lives. This does not mean that people don't attempt to make such applications. There are common Bible passages and scriptures which are misappropriated by some regarding material wealth being promised for God's children today. Sadly, in misapplying these promises to material wealth, the true, greater spiritual significance is sometimes missed.
The Abrahamic Covenant is commonly pointed to as the source of promise for spiritual and material blessings for believers today. I have regularly heard it taught that if we have faith, then the blessings of Abraham can be ours - for we are all children of Abraham. Faith is stated to be the "key" to unlocking these blessings. But is this really a covenant of faith in the sense being taught?
Genesis 15 tells the story of the covenant God made with Abram (Abraham). The promise was to give to Abram and his descendents the land mentioned, and that Abram would have an heir from his own body (a son), as he and his wife were childless at that point. Further, the promise of God says that Abram's heirs would multiply and be numberless, just as the stars are numberless. Abram did believe God when God showed him the stars, explaining that his seed would multiply, and that was accounted to Abram as righteousness. But as it happens with many of us, he did later waiver, as seen in he and Sarai's actions with Hagar. But nowhere was Abram told to claim any promise by faith in order that it come to pass. In fact, the promise was absolute; it was not conditional on any action of Abram. If it were, it would have failed, as Abram and Sarai (Sarah) proved their later lack of faith by trying to make the promise come to pass in their own strength. Like many humans do, they tried to make God's Word come to pass by their own actions. Their plans failed miserably. A read of the scripture shows that Abram was asleep when the actual covenant was made. God was the one - the only one - who passed between the two halves of the animals. It was all on God. It is the same with Christ, who passed between God and us, sealing our redemption and reconciliation to God. All we have to do is believe, and the covenant will come to pass - we will be saved. We may even at times waiver as Abram and Sarai did, but just as it was with them, it is with us - the fulfillment of the promise is on God.
The covenant with Abram was to make from him - from his seed - a nation of God's people. We are "children of Abraham" in that we are also born into the race of the Kingdom of God through salvation. That's all it is - a promise of salvation. A promise of God making Himself a nation of believers. It has been established in the preceding paragraph that it was not a promise that required "enough" faith to make it come to pass. When the sun went down and Abram was asleep, Genesis 15:12 says that "a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him." This represents us, lost in darkness, asleep in the horror of our being lost. While in that condition, God made the covenant, wholly of Himself, to make of Abram a great nation for God. Abram had simply believed God's word that the promise was true - that simple belief was counted to him as righteousness. We, like Abram at the time God provided the covenant are in darkness, asleep in our own horror of being lost without Christ, and we, like Abram, simply have to believe that Christ, wholly of Himself, made a covenant whereby we could be saved. This is indeed a marvelous promise and foreshadow of what was to come through Christ.
The covenant is absolute - to Abram who believed, and to all of us who believe. Even when Abram laughed in his heart when God reminded Abram of the covenant He would bring to pass in Genesis 17, the covenant was still absolute, wholly founded in God. It was not a covenant of faith, as we sometimes teach faith today. It was a covenant that came to pass despite Abram's laughing, and misplaced actions to make it come to pass in his own methods. God only appears to have required Abram's initial belief in the promise, and not a continuous, exercised, proclamation of faith in God's absolute promise. And with this simple truth, we can also say it was not a covenant of abundant material riches, because if it were, as some propose, it would still be wholly founded in God, and even those who laugh in their hearts saying "how shall I, a poor nothing be rich and prosperous" would be rich and prosperous because of the covenant. But this is not the case of this covenant, for it is a covenant of salvation - of making a nation for God.
I find it interesting, and we should find it load lightening that despite Abraham's obvious attempts to procure God's plan via his own means, and his and Sarah's obvious lacking of faith at times, that Hebrews 11 states that things did occur for them "by faith." Eventually, after some initial wavering and realizing their human methods were not producing success, they came to be fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21Rom 4:20-21 (NKJV)
He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. ). Also remember that the righteousness granted to Abram was based on his initial belief in God's Word before the covenant and previous to his laughing at the idea of the promise and attempts to make it come to pass on his own. Too many people have made faith into a military discipline that can not be slacked on without the grave consequences of failure to obtain. But the Bible seems to speak of faith as being God provided to all of His fallible servants, in correct measure, and that this faith can work despite our occasional doubts (see Romans 4 in light of Genesis 15-17; Romans 12:3Romans 12:3 (NKJV)
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. ; and Hebrews 11). This is not to lighten the importance of faith. We just need to realize that faith is from God, delivered to us by His Word (See Romans 10:17Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. ), for the purpose of His Word, and it is not something we can mold to do our bidding.
Finally, the prosperity of God's making for Himself a nation from the seed of Abraham is not only valid for his biological seed, but because of Christ, is valid for all peoples - both Jew and Gentile. Galatians 3:14 confirms "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." The blessing is the promise of the Spirit through faith, which is salvation available to all mankind who chooses to believe. This is prosperity indeed.
Prosperity Part 1: OT Word Study Prosperity Part 3: The Blessing of Abraham and the Christlike View of Material Wealth