The Biblical Case Against Health-wealth Teaching

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Health-wealth teaching has become a major doctrinal epidemic in America and is spreading around the world. It has fantastic attraction because it appeals to our selfish nature: "If I give to God He is obligated to give back to me in the measure I have given - and even in greater measure." At first hearing, who of us would not want a God like that? This is better than a bank account. All I need to do is believe that God is storing up more and more for me as I give, love, serve and show mercy. Sooner or later He is duty-bound to shower upon me more than I could possibly give to Him.

If we think biblically, however, we soon see this health-wealth teaching is really age-old paganism wrapped up in Christian jargon. Such teaching believes it can obligate the deity by sacrificing something precious. In so doing, the deity must respond favorably. It is a way of manipulating the divine. As we will see, health-wealth teaching is basically in error because it has an unbiblical view of God.

The God of Scripture and the god of health-wealth teaching:
Biblically, God is not obligated to give us anything. All we have and are is pure grace, (please note Ephesians 2:8-9). Just as we cannot earn salvation from sin and death, we cannot earn health or wealth as we live out our lives. It is all a gift. "Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17. The very nature of gifts is that they cannot be earned. Not so with the health-wealth god. This god says he will unfailingly give back to us even more than we give to him - as the legal profession says - quid pro quo. It's automatic. It's mathematical. You can count on it. It has to happen. As one health-wealth preacher is fond of saying, "Your time is coming." There is no doubt.

Health-wealth preachers won't preach from Luke 17:7-12 because it doesn't fit their idea of God. They think we do become worthy servants because of what we do for God. In fact, God has to reward us in this life for what we have done. After laying out the parable, Jesus taught: "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." Luke 17:10. Health-wealth teaching says we can hold God responsible to reward us for what we have done. He has to come through. This, however, is a man-made god - and not the God of the Bible.

In Paul's wonderful doxology in Romans 11:33-36, there is a most instructive verse in this regard: "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" Romans 11:35. Of course, the answer is "no one." The health-wealth god is obligated to repay us for what we have done. The God of Scripture owes us nothing. When we make God in our image as one who must be in debt to us, we create a pagan idol who is not and cannot be the Sovereign God of the Universe.

Our motives for giving, loving, serving and showing mercy:

According to health-wealth teaching, our motive for giving, loving, serving, showing mercy etc. is to receive back from God in proportion - or more. According to the God of the Bible, our motive is simply Him and Him alone. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26. We give because He gave; we love because he loved; we serve because he served; we show mercy because He showed mercy. There is a world of difference between the two motivations.

A family illustration might be helpful. When we're teaching our children to do something good, what motivation do we want them to have? Do we want them to love and obey us for what we can give them, or do we want them to love and obey us for who we are - their Mother and Father? If everything kids do has to be materially rewarded, they never come to the place of loving us from the heart. There's always a price tag involved.

This illustration points out the huge difference between health-wealth teaching and biblical teaching. The God of Scripture wants us to love Him for who He is, not for what he can give us. The god of health-wealth teaching wants us to love him and serve him for what we can get in return. The two motivations are worlds apart.

Does not God teach us to ask, seek and knock? "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone: Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him." Matthew 7:7-11. Any number of Scripture passages can be added to this one, and health-wealth preachers have found every one of them. The problem is this: what is our motivation when we ask, seek and knock? Are we doing so because we think we deserve what we may be given? Are we doing so because we think God owes us something? Heaven forbid! We do so as children before our heavenly Father trusting that in his way and in his time He will give us what He knows is best for us.

Follow the money trail:

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." I Timothy 6:6-10.

Regarding false teachers, Jesus taught: "By their fruit you will recognize them." Matthew 7:30. You don't have to look far down the money trail to see that health-wealth preachers are fabulously wealthy. They need to be. If they are going to teach what they do, they have to be a good example. If they constantly teach that prosperity is just around the corner providing we do what they say, then they must also be prosperous. A real estate agent who drives around in an old beater won't make many sales.

Paul by inspiration had some words for health-wealth preachers: "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." II Corinthians 2:17, or " of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain." I Timothy 6:5.

Next time you hear a health-wealth preacher on TV, see one of his videos or read one of his books, think about the megabucks coming in right and left. Jesus said, "By their fruit you will know them."

The examples of Jesus and Paul:
Who ever gave more than Jesus did? Who ever loved more than He did? Who ever served more than He did? According to health-wealth preachers, Jesus should have been the most prosperous, healthy, successful person on the planet! No, instead He did not have a place to lay his head. When He died even his robe was taken from him. Instead of the success and adulation we're all supposed to have when we follow health-wealth prescriptions, Jesus was whipped, spit upon, penetrated by ugly thorns around his head and brutally spiked to a cross.

Who of Christ's followers ever gave more than Paul did - loved more than he did - served more than he did? According to the health-wealth formula, he should have had money coming out of his ears! Instead, he made tents to try to make ends meet. He certainly should have gotten a great position in Roman government; he should have been greatly revered by his Jewish peers; he should have been welcomed as a hero preaching the Gospel. According to health-wealth teachers, he certainly paid his dues.

No, he was in prison, flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, in constant danger, hungry, cold and naked, (please see II Corinthians 11:21-28). What happened? The health-wealth formula didn't work for him either.

What about you and me?

Health-wealth preachers tell us to believe, wait and hope. Our ship is coming in. Do we need a mate, a better job, a nicer house? Be patient. If we have given to God, He will give to us. Our time is coming! They will never speak on Matthew 16:24-26: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Contrary to the promise of health-wealth preachers, God only promises a cross of self-denial. If our motive is self-preservation, we will be lost. If our motive is giving of self to Christ, we will be saved. The forfeiture of soul is too high a price to pay for material gain. But material gain is exactly the goal of health-wealth teaching. This is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Christ.

Doesn't God want to give good gifts to his children? He certainly does, and He loves to do so. But they are always gifts - not obligations.

The centrality of the Cross:

You can listen to whole messages of health-wealth preachers without any mention of the Cross - which is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God." I Corinthians 1:22-24. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." I Corinthians 15:3-4. "May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." Galatians 6:14.

Anyone who claims to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and does not make the message of the Cross central to his teaching is not true to his calling. What we get from God because of what we do is not the Gospel -- and never can be. In fact such teaching is an affront to the Gospel. Notice sometime if you listen to health-wealth preachers how much they teach about the death of Christ in our place for our sins -- the very heart of biblical teaching, (please see Isaiah 53:4-6). You may have to listen for a long time.

The health-wealth gospel:

Paul doesn't pull any punches. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned." Galatians 1:6-8. Health-wealth teaching is another gospel - if there ever could be such a thing. At first it sounds good, but anyone familiar with biblical teaching soon begins to tell there is something drastically wrong. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been cut right out of it, and all that is left is a body without a heart.

What is the antidote?

Rather than seek the gift, we need to seek the Giver. "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon." Isaiah 55:6-7. Health-wealth preachers will tell us to seek the Lord by means of our giving, loving, serving and caring so that He will reciprocate with all manner of material blessings. True Bible preachers will tell us to seek the Lord for who He is, to believe Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and to live the rest of our lives in obedient thanksgiving for what He has done for us - asking nothing in return - content with what God has been pleased to give us.

The old Rock of Ages hymnwriter had it right:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

This is no health-wealth, self-help gospel. There is only one Gospel -- the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.