First, it deflects attention onto God’s gifts as the main source of our happiness, rather than God himself. It obscures texts like, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25–26). Or texts like, “At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Or, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The emphasis falls so heavily on happiness because of the gifts that he gives — like health, wealth, prosperity — rather than on him.
Second, the cross itself and its proper function is obscured, or the crucified life is obscured. Peter says that Christ died not so that we wouldn’t have to suffer, but so that we would have a model for how to suffer (1 Peter 2:21). Christ gave you an example by suffering, so follow your suffering example. And with the prosperity gospel, I don’t hear the note of suffer with Christ, but rather he died, so that we can have an easy life.
Third, the prosperity gospel ignores the profound redemptive historical shift between the Old and New Testament from a “come see” religion to a mainly “go tell” religion. Here’s what I mean: In the Old Testament, the Queen of Sheba clearly was supposed to cross hundreds of miles and drop her jaw at the wealth of Solomon, and say, “You’ve got a great God.” That’s the pattern in the Old Testament. You don’t have in the New Testament anything like, “oh pastors should live in palaces, so that the Queen of Sheba could come and say, ‘Whoa. I’d like to be a pastor, be able to live like that.’” You don’t have anything like that.
Instead, all the focus goes onto the Great Commission, and Paul saying something like, “I don’t count my life of any value or as precious to myself if only I might complete the ministry that the Lord gave to me to preach the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). In other words, wartime simplicity to get the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world is the emphasis, rather than Christians having a lot of accumulated wealth, and give our wealth for the sake of the nations.
“Love and faith are misconstrued by the prosperity gospel.”
Fourth, love and faith are misconstrued by the prosperity gospel. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, the Macedonians are being held up as a model for the Corinthians, and the way they are held up as a model is that the grace of God fell upon them, came to them, brought them out of darkness into light, and then it says that they were in an extreme form of poverty, and out of their poverty a abundance of joy overflowed through their affliction.
So you’ve got poverty that hasn’t gone away because of grace, and you’ve got affliction, and in the middle is this vesuvius of joy in spite of poverty, in spite of affliction, pouring out in generosity for the poor saints down in Jerusalem. And, in 2 Corinthians 8:8, Paul calls this love.
So, I think, if you overpromise your people that things are going to go well for them, and they will prosper because of the gospel, you undermine the possibility of loving like that — loving in spite of affliction, loving in spite of poverty — because your joy obviously is grounded somewhere else than in the removal of affliction or the removal of poverty. It’s in God’s grace.
The fifth and final thing I’ll say is simply from Philippians 1:20–21. The majesty and the beauty and the glory of Christ is going to be obscured if we don’t make plain to our people that one of the primary ways that Christ is magnified is when we are more satisfied in him than in the things we are losing. Paul says, “My desire is that Christ would be magnified in my body whether by life or by death for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
So Christ is magnified when in my dying, by which I lose everything, and I consider that a better deal than if I had everything in this world. So, the glory of God is obscured and the glory of Christ is obscured, I think, by the prosperity gospel. I really pray that you would reorient your life if you’re involved in it and embrace Christ as your supreme treasure.