Theme: The Prosperity Question. What the Bible Says: What We Say And Do By Dr. Biodun Sotunmbi
Prosperity is an issue that has caused a lively debate within and outside the church for some time and one of the reasons for this debate is the lifestyle of many senior pastors. Should pastors ride SUVs or private Jets? But before we get involved in the arguments perhaps we should define prosperity.
According to the dictionary to prosper means to thrive, to flourish, to enjoy good fortune, to be successful. A second meaning is to have one’s needs met regularly even if one is not wealthy. There are 4 categories of prosperity.
The first category is material prosperity. To be materially prosperous is to have great wealth which often translates to high living although it does not always lead to peace and contentment. Eccl. 5:10-12.
The next category is Physical Prosperity. Those who belong to this category are persons who have large assets - financial assets, property and sometimes many wives and concubines. Yet they hoard rather than give, on the assumption that the less successful people around them are simply foolish or lazy. Example is the rich man in “The rich man and Lazarus,” Luke 16:19-31.
The third category is Mental Prosperity. Those in this group operate at a much higher level than their contemporaries. They shine over and above people around them because their wisdom/intelligence gives then power and prominence. King Solomon belongs to this category. I Kings 3:7-14; I Kings 10:14-23.
The fourth category is Spiritual Prosperity. This is type that man ought to strive for because it is God-given. Whoever seeks the kingdom of God and His righteousness, above everything else, will enjoy all-round prosperity, namely material, physical and mental in addition. Matt. 6:33.
But any discussion on prosperity will be inadequate unless it includes the opposite, which is Poverty. There are at least three classifications of poverty.
The first is Material/Physical poverty. The widow of Zarepath is in the category. She has down to her last meal when Elijah met her. She was a destitute, waiting for death, I Kings 17:8-13.
The second type is Mental Poverty. The madman of Gadara is in this group. Anyone in this man’s state of mind belongs to the poorest of the poor. The demons who dominated his mind had robbed him of the ability to think normally, to earn any income to feed, clothe or house himself. He lived among the dead, Mark 5:1-20.
The third classification is Spiritual Poverty. The Rich Young Ruler is in this group. He was materially prosperous but spiritually a destitute. Mark 10:17-22.
It is quite easy to condemn this man on the grounds that he abandoned eternity in preference for worldly treasures. But how many Christians would have made a different choice given similar circumstances? The fact is that material possessions give comfort, facilitate access to power, fame and even more wealth. Even the disciples of Christ thought the Master was rather hard on him. Would the gates of heaven be shut against the rich on account of their wealth? Jesus provides the answer in Mark 10:23-27.
So, wealth is not the problem. It is man’s attitude to wealth. In Old Testament times, there were rich people, servants of God who had enormous wealth and, inspite of it, lived in obedience. Examples are Abraham, Gen. 24:34-35, Isaac, Gen. 26:12-14; Jacob Gen. 30:41- 43 and Job 1:1-3.
In which case there are two sources of riches - God and the devil. The main source is God who owns the world and all therein Psalm 24:1 He alone gives wealth, the type that brings no sorrow, Pro. 10:22.
The second source, of course, is the devil although, in reality, he owns nothing by himself. Whatever he gives is what he has stolen from someone else, John 10:10. Those who consult his agents, seeking wealth or power, may get what they want, and retain it for a fixed period, but they lose something more valuable in the end.
Whatever anyone may say, however, material prosperity of the godly kind is not undesirable. For one thing the church needs money for its administration and for evangelism. That is why it must continue to encourage the congregation to pay tithes, offerings, donations and, where applicable, levies. But the collection and administration must be transparent and must be devoid of threats. The congregation should be given adequate biblical teaching and they will surely respond if they are aware of the blessings awaiting consistent and cheerful givers.
Finally we have to ask ourselves if prosperity message is misplaced. In some respects, yes it is. The lifestyle of some senior pastors suggest that the emphasis on tithing is to enable them to maintain high living in sharp contrast to the poverty and hopelessness all around. Jesus would certainly have frowned at the inadequate response of the church to the level of poverty and hunger all over place.
Many of the one-man churches have not helped to image of the church, on account of their advertisement of miracles, primarily to attract crowds, and thereafter systematically exploit particularly the most desperate among them. Miracles are real, no doubt, but the church offers a lot more than miracles. And, in any case, divine miracles are not sale.