There is a teaching in many churches that says that, “For many of us, our lives are not in the best place, in terms of our health, wealth, finances, marriages and relationships, but if you follow Jesus Christ and do the right things, such as understanding the message of faith and properly appropriating it, apart from working hard, other spiritual things you do, like making declarations and giving, activate God’s blessing to you, and then you start to prosper in your health and wealth.” But the gospel is neither a prosperity gospel nor a poverty gospel. That is, this teaching above is not right as it would be a prosperity gospel, but the alternative that says, “to be holy is to hate money, hate advancement, and not want to be healthy” is not right either.
““The gospel is not the prosperity gospel that guarantees wealth and health as a benefit of salvation but neither is it the poverty gospel that defines holiness as hatred of health and wealth“
Does this mean that God is not concerned about our health and wealth? He is. God is our father, just like a parent who wants the best thing for their children, but will not always give them what they want, even though they are crying, because if a parent gives their child everything they want, it spoils them and they start to read life through a certain lens. They start to have a sense of entitlement and see those around them as a means to meet their wants and needs, they also use people and don’t care about them, these are what parents try to stop and avoid. So, because a parent wants the best for their child, they don’t give them everything they want. A parent can do this because he or she is older, wiser and more knowledgeable than the child. Although the child will sometimes feel abandoned and ignored, the parent is raising the child well for the long-term positive results.
It’s the same with the world God has created, sin has messed things up and things don’t always work out the way they are meant to. So, there is suffering and inequity in the world, but this is not the world God created, and God has promised, as seen in the gospel that in the long term, there will be a world where all these things do not exist. The ultimate hope of the gospel is not about going to heaven, it is God recreating this world, so that we would forever dwell with him, in this world. As Revelation 22:3 says, “There will be no more curse, pain nor sorrow“, there is such a world coming, but between now that we are Christ’s followers and his return when the new earth will happen, God uses all things, including suffering to help, teach and train us.
“The ultimate hope of the gospel is not about going to heaven, it is God recreating this world, so that we would forever dwell with him in this world”
This is why there is so much about the gospel that ties to suffering, such as when it says in John 15:20 that, “…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you”, and in Matthew 16:24 that, “The one that will be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me” and in Acts 14:22 that, ”by much tribulation shall we enter into the kingdom” So, in many ways, God uses suffering as a tool to shape us.
Suffering for Christians is a tag, target and a tool. It is a tag because if you follow Jesus Christ, you will experience suffering like Jesus, who suffered on the cross. Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11, “that I may know him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” It is a target because Satan targets us as Christians in the same way he targeted Jesus Christ. But God, who works all things out for our good uses suffering as a tool to shape us. So, if you extinguish suffering like the Prosperity gospel does, by saying that your journey into Christian maturity is to fight and get rid of suffering, whereas God is saying, “No, sometimes I will not remove this suffering because I’m working through them” For example, to help us have a consciousness of God or repent when we have wandered far from him. There are many ways God triumphs over suffering by using it as a tool to help conform us into the image of Christ.
“God triumphs over suffering by using it as a tool to help conform us into the image of Christ”
The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it does not have a category for this. According to the Prosperity gospel, sin, pain and suffering is always bad and cannot be used by God, so there is no place for it, and all we have to do is get rid of it. Now, it is not that suffering itself is good. James 1:2, says “Count it all joy when you fall into diverse trial”, he is not saying the trials are good but that what God produces through those trials is good. So, if you just extinguish the suffering, there is a problem.
However, this does not mean that we will have to suffer all through our lives. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that “God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us through all our suffering” yet, sometimes we pray to God and he delivers us from all our troubles. There are times suffering is used as a tool, but this does not mean that when we are sick, we should not pray to our father. Sometimes, when a child ask for things, the parent gives it to them. The fact that a parent did not give a child what they wanted the last time does not mean they will not give them at another time. Sometimes, suffering comes, and God is saying, “Ask, Just ask” “If you ask me for fish, I would not give you a serpent; if you ask me for bread, I would not give you a stone” (Matthew 7:9-11) We can think about how human beings want to be wonderful parents and liken it to how God parents us. According to Hebrews 12, he is a God who shepherds and disciplines us, but at the same time, he is a God that loves to give us good gifts. So, when we want our work to be productive, we can take it to God saying,“God help me to be productive in this work”, and through that itself, God blesses us with more financial resources.
Finally, as we pray to God to deliver us in our sicknesses, by which he still miraculously heals today through the power of the Holy Spirit, and as we ask God to bless us financially, which he does because every good gift comes from him (James 1:17), we should also pray that we do not start to worship these things. How do we do that?
With financial resources, we can look at Psalm 112 which gives a portrait of a blessed man or woman. They are generous with their resources because they know they are stewards of God’s grace, to be used in advancing God’s kingdom. They give willingly and generously to their churches, God’s mission, and to those in need. Unlike the prosperity gospel that says, “give, so that you can get more”, the gospel says, “I have been given to, so I continue to give”, and on account of that God continues to bless you because he sees that you are a blessing to others. In summary, this is a more nuanced view as we see that God delivers, and yet he uses suffering in our lives. When God gives us his grace through resources, he expects us to use it for others. All these are towards the time when Jesus Christ will return and all things will be made new.
Answered by Femi Osunnuyi is lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.