Theology 101

Does the Bible Teach That Righteousness Automatically Leads to Riches?

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Surprising as it may be, the category of the righteous rich does in fact exist, and the Bible contains many important truths about this category.

People have addressed the topic of righteousness and riches in different ways. One way is to mistakenly argue that righteousness automatically leads to or should lead to riches, although it does not. This is the view of the righteous rich that we’ll deal with today.

There are a few passages that, if selectively chosen, might lead some to this conclusion. For instance, Proverbs 3:9-10 says:

Honor the Lord from your wealth, from the first of your produce; so your barn will be filled with plenty, and your vats overflow with new wine.

There is a connection (though not an inevitable one) between being generous and being prosperous.

There is also a relationship between hard work and wealth. Proverbs 10:4-5 says:

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in the summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully.

The connection between righteousness and wealth in these and other verses has led some in the “health and wealth gospel” movement to proclaim that the only reason we are poor is that we don’t have enough faith. In other words, the truly righteous will always be rich.

Some other key verses they use include…

Malachi 3:10:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this,’ says the Lord of Hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

Philippians 4:19:

My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

…and 3 John 2:

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

This last verse is especially echoed in “health and wealth” circles.

Prosperity teaching abounds on television programs as well as in written material. One statement summarizes the technique used: “God’s got it, I can have it, and by faith I am going to get it.”

This mindset has also been summarized as “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it.”

We see additional examples from the past in titles such as Kenneth E. Hagin’s pamphlet, “How To Write Your Own Ticket with God” and Robert Tilton’s magazine, Signs, Wonders and Miracles of Faith, in which testimonials of financial and physical success abound.

Or look at Kenneth Copeland’s brochures, “God’s Will is Health” and “God’s Will is Prosperity.”

Oral Roberts promised people on his mailing list “prosperity miracles that are within fingertip reach of your faith” and a book he titled How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.

Peter Popoff entreated his followers to wash with an “anointed” sponge and then send a monetary gift to his ministry. This “will unlock heaven’s storehouse of blessings for you.”

Joel Osteen is probably the most famous purveyor of what some have called a “soft prosperity” message. Al Mohler responds to Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, by saying:

Just consider the fact that most Christians throughout the history of the church have been poor, and often desperately poor. They were not hoping to move into a suburban mini-mansion, they hoped to be able to feed their children one more day. That picture is still true for millions upon millions of Christians around the world today….What about those who are even now suffering persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ? What about the loved ones of the martyrs in Mosul? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria…or those martyred by Boko Haram in Africa?….If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament.

Kate Bowler in her book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, says that 17 percent of American Christians identify with this movement, and one million people attend such churches every Sunday.

There are a number of full length refutations of this theology, including Bruce Barron’s The Health and Wealth Gospel, Gordon Fee’s The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, D.R. McConnell’s A Different Gospel, Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis, and a book to which I contributed, The Agony of Deceit, edited by Michael Horton.

Waltke summarizes Proverbs on wealth by saying that the means of obtaining wealth is “a matter of character, not method.” Proverbs is a “how to be” book, not a “how to” book. Note that if there is a group of people that could be called the righteous poor, then righteousness doesn’t always lead to riches.

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