Talking about prosperity in connection with following Jesus is tricky business. That one word causes more confusion and false expectations than any other word I know. It has been twisted, pushed, and pulled in all sorts of directions. Folks have preached impossible promises about prosperity that seem more like an investment scheme but without the disclaimers: read the prospectus, past performance does not indicate future gains and invest wisely. The Bible does talk about prosperity, but does it mean what we think?
The simple definition of prosperity is growth or increase. A prosperous business is one that grows and increases year after year. A prosperous person is often measured by the home they live in, the car they drive, or the clothes they wear. But there is so much more to prosperity than what we have in our bank accounts or invested in things.
The Apostle John, writing to a friend, prays, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 2, NASB95) So we can pray for prosperity? Well, yes and no.
There are a couple of things to notice here. John prays that his friend would prosper in all respects, including his health. That’s one mistake we make. We link prosperity so tightly to money, profit, and gain that we lose sight of all the other ways we can grow and increase. The second common mistake is to consider “just as” as being cause and effect. That somehow our soul prospering leads to physical prosperity. If we worship enough, tithe enough, and pray enough, then we will be financially prosperous.
We can easily get the vague and confusing notion that physical prosperity somehow indicates God’s favor. That the prosperous are more loved by God. But we know from simple observation that the wicked seem to prosper even more than the righteous. The Psalmist writes, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7, NASB95) Or consider these words from James, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5, NASB95) Therefore, we can’t exclusively connect financial prosperity with God’s goodness and favor.
So, what are these other things we can prosper in? Relationships and friendships. Family. Love. Joy. Peace. Grace. Contentment. Wisdom. Knowledge. Faith. Integrity. Reputation. Favor. And yes, finances. The Biblical concept of prosperity is way deeper than the shallow measure of our bank account. Paul wrote of himself, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13, NASB95)
Now, wait a minute! Paul started churches, led folks to Jesus, wrote much of the New Testament, cast out demons, healed folks in Jesus name, but didn’t always prosper? Yep. Must have been before he knew Christ, right? Nope. Paul’s fortunes rose and fell like everyone else. In fact, Paul was probably financially better off before Christ than at the end of his life. But Paul did prosper, just consider the lives he continues to touch and impact for Jesus through his letters and example.
True prosperity in Jesus, you see, is not measured by our bank account but by the amount of love we have for God and for each other. My friend, I pray that you too would prosper in every way and be in good health just as your soul prospers.