Do You Believe in a Prosperity Gospel?

Question:

I have been sharing episodes from your podcasts with a friend (Catholic). He likes some of the ideas, but says much of the financial material sounds like the “prosperity gospels”. This being defined as “look how wealthy I am, I must be favored by God”.

His counter example being an aunt that was a pillar of the community, was always helping everyone, always front and center when it came to supporting others. But she was never wealthy. It seems to him that with your focus on wealth you are downplaying someone like his aunt.

I am curious as to what your response would be to this? Thank you for all your wisdom.

~ Daniel C.

Dear Daniel,

We very much appreciate you sharing our podcasts with friends and also for taking the trouble to tell us of your friend’s concerns. Not only does the doctrine of Prosperity Gospel suggest that wealth is evidence that one is favored by God, but also that one can achieve wealth chiefly by means of prayer and tithing.

We reject Prosperity Gospel first because there are many notoriously despicable people whose ill-gotten wealth cannot possibly indicate God’s approval and there are those without great financial resources who live wonderful, Godly lives. Money is one aspect of our lives; it is not the entire story. Second, because while prayer and charity are necessary actions, they are insufficient for material improvement.

Our teachings come from a very different vantage point. Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible is God’s instruction manual to humanity. It contains guidance on marriage, child raising, relating to God, structuring government, and on many other topics. It also contains guidance on making money. Much of this content concerns economic relationships between people, meaning financial and commercial transactions.

We prepared about ten hours of instruction in our popular resource The Financial Prosperity Collection in order to provide a comprehensive guide to the specific economic activities that the Bible teaches through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom so we won’t try and cover them in this short discussion. However, we will stipulate that the centerpiece of the Jewish financial outlook is that when God declared “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) He was doing far more than commenting on Adam’s matrimonial prospects. In fact, He teaches us that one important way of connecting with other people is by means of financial transactions. In light of this principle, we often recommend that people feeling loneliness look for a job or open a small business even if they have no need for the money.

Quite independently of our obligation to pray for others and give to charity, we know that God wants us to be obsessively preoccupied with trying to provide the needs and desires of His other children. If we do so, it shouldn’t surprise us that God’s system is set up so financial reward goes along with following His guidance. Rather than praying to God for, say, a Ferrari (although if He is so inclined, I (RDL) will just mention that an older model F430 would be fine!) we pray for Him to open our eyes to more of His children that we can serve.

Prayer and charity are obviously both valuable and important however, usefully serving God’s other children is an important part of the key. Imagine someone climbing into his car for a cross country drive. He knows that in addition to behaving in as Godly a way as he possibly can, he must also make sure that he knows how to drive competently, and he must remain alert while behind the wheel.

Similarly, a person setting out on the holy task of making a living, in addition to behaving in a Godly manner must also make sure that he knows what God teaches about making money by serving others and he must remain faithful to those principles.

God says, “Look, I put you in a world of rules and laws and I encouraged you to get to know them. One of them is gravity; you violate it at your own peril. Do not step off high roofs. Similarly, there are rules and laws having to do with human economic interaction. If you violate them, no matter how good and beloved a person you may be, you handicap your ability to make money.

To stress, we do not serve others in order to get money. We serve others because we take joy in serving His other children and because He asked us to love one another. The money is not the cause of our actions, it is a consequence of them. Sometimes it follows quickly and directly, other times faith and persistence are needed to stay the course.

We see our work to be encouraging people both to follow God’s plan for human financial interaction and also to put in the necessary work to become the very best person that God expects us to be. While it is certainly true that we see many financially successful people whom we do not regard as good people, many of them are politicians who magically became enriched in office or tycoons who rode a technological or social trend to staggering wealth Most entrepreneurs and small business professionals who own and operate millions of small businesses around the world are decent, upright people trying to deal honestly and generously with their customers, employees and vendors. Furthermore, while one can be a truly terrible person and be a wonderful musician, tennis player or politician, business generally rewards those of us who have many friends, that is to say many people who know us, like us and trust us. Yes, there are obviously exceptions, but to succeed as a business professional, an entrepreneur and at building a business, you generally cannot be a repugnant human being.

We are definitely not disparaging people like your friend’s aunt. Certainly not. What we are saying is that people who are making a few dollars deserve no disparagement either. Rather the reverse because by making a few dollars, in an open and transparent business, they must have provided value to God’s other children, otherwise known as their customers, because otherwise, nobody would voluntarily have handed over their hard-earned cash.

We hope this helps you to explain to your friend where we are coming from and what our approach is.

Wishing you an abundant storehouse,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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8 thoughts on “Do You Believe in a Prosperity Gospel?”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Robert,
      Do you also say that if God wants the poor person in your church to receive help, then He will bless him somehow; no obligation on you to actually do anything? If you fall into a river, do you also say if our Creator wants me to survive, He will bless me and send me rescue, not on my own work but His wishes? Until then I’ll just sink. According to ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible does not endorse passive inactivity to life’s challenges. As far as I know, that culture of victimhood (I am drowning because God wants me to or I am enduring poverty because God wants me to) is found only in other religions but not in the Bible based Judeo Christian world view.
      Warmest wishes-
      RDL

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      1. I have heard the prosperity gospel preached in many different ways and many different churches. I am very thankful for that because it was one of the catalysts that drove me into the arms of Torah. RDL, if you were ever to preach a prosperity gospel of any sort I would find you and quite possibly bloody your nose. I am only kidding… Or am I?
        You guys are awesome.

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  1. LYNDA B Miller

    We have always been taught to give the Lord the tithe first, before anything else. People who trust God with their finances do indeed, get blessed. I can remember so many times when we wondered how we could make it financially. I was prepared to go back to my teaching job with two small children and wondered how I could physically do both? It was a scary time for us when suddenly one evening we got a call that my husband’s father who was in a nursing home with dementia had died suddenly about a week before I was to return to school. With the sale of his house, we had enough money for me to stay home and take care of our children for many years later. God is full of kindnesses for us, if we trust Him!

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  2. This question is along the lines of “why do bad things happen to good people” and vice versa. I think your answer is spot on. Much of our destiny is determined by the decisions we make starting at an early age (how hard to study and do well in school). Obviously some people start with an economic advantage, but that is not a life sentence. Mostly if we are willing and determined to succeed, that along with the grace of God is the winning combination. Sometimes God is at work in our lives and we can only see that later when we look back. We are all blessed even if we don’t have the most money.

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  3. How very true!

    Reminds me of the long-time business advertising saying “word of mouth” … and how it did help to personalize business activities and the successful outcome!

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  4. The prosperity gospel is magical thinking. If a person did actually continually receive money and other material things just by praying and tithing, that would ruin his character. Because God would not do something to ruin our character, the money would be coming from someone else who does not have our best interests in mind. We know who that someone else is.

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  5. I completely reject the idea of the prosperity gospel. Nothing we do is worthy of God, only by his grace and mercy to we get anything good in this life. Wealth is not measured strictly by how many zero’s in our bank account, but also by the relationships we forge with God’s other children and the Father himself.

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