Prosperity Reassessed

Historically, Christianity has a paradoxical relationship with money and wealth. On one hand, the Bible explicitly states that prosperity is one of the rewards of a righteous life (many passages in Deuteronomy and Proverbs, for example). On the other hand, we can find many passages that hold up modesty and self-sacrifice as ideals. To support this, we find the Beatitudes (blessed are the poor, etc.) or the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4; Mark 12:41-44). Even in the Old Testament we find many examples of unassuming people who are elevated to high position, in both spiritual and worldly terms, as a result of their humility and faithfulness.

We will always struggle to understand the relationship between King David and his Descendant from Nazareth, Jesus. Even the Old Testament carries a different emphasis on prosperity than the New Testament; the first is pointing to the conquests of God; the latter is pointing to the sacrifices of love He showed us.

Ultimately, this paradox has its origin in the interface between the material and the spiritual. How do they overlap in our lived reality? A crown means victory in the material context; but the cross, originally understood only as a means of shameful and painful death, has come to mean the same thing spiritually. A wall around the city can signify an uncaring attitude to the world outside or even a kind of arrogance, or it can symbolize the caring protection of God. If God cares, this must be reflected in our perceived material reality. Yet it remains hard for us as humans to determine where one reality starts and the other ends.

This is why Jesus was often misunderstood when He tried to approach these seemingly paradoxical overlapping realities. John 6 is a great example. Jesus was drawing material analogies to spiritual truths. The Jews understood only the material side; they failed to grasp the spiritual lessons. Many chose not to follow Him as a result (John 6:66).

Let us approach this paradox once again, understanding this overlapping reality and trying to make some sense of it.

Why does money matter?

Humans were made for relationship. Our existence depends on mutuality and exchange on many levels. Money is one of the ways in which we relate to each other. It is an intermediary system that organizes and facilitates our transfers. It is easier and faster to change a paper note than a bucket of salt. “Money is a medium of exchange,”[1]says the classic definition. So it is not evil or good in itself. It depends on the way we handle it.

Therefore, what matters is how we perceive and use money. Our vision is much more important than money itself. Our worldview determines what money is to us, and what functions it will serve in our lives and our relationships with others.

What worldview does Christianity bring to all this? Paul wrote that money’s proper use was to “support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’”( Acts 20:35, NKJV).[2] Jesus teaches that giving is the essence of His kingdom. “God . . . gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16, NKJV), Jesus gave His life, and all that follow Him are invited to give, not to accumulate (Luke 9:23-25, NKJV).After all, “no one should seek their own good, but the good of others”. (1 Cor. 10:24, NIV).[3] We are not takers, but givers.

When Paul speaks about wealth, he is clearly countering the predominant worldview, then and now: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:17, 18, NIV). Arrogance, hope, good, generosity, and sharing are all evidences of a worldview. Paul is not attacking behavior, but the mindset underlying certain behavior.

Another Christian insight is: Jesus is coming, and we are foreigners in this land. Nothing here lasts forever. This concept made C. S. Lewis coin the expression "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date,” [4]and this changes everything. Consider this: Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, people are the only thing in this world entitled to eternity, and thus the only thing worth investing in.

Ellen White expressed it this way: “Spiritual prosperity is closely bound up with Christian liberality. The followers of Christ should rejoice in the privilege of revealing in their lives the beneficence of their Redeemer. . . . Let them seek to retain their possessions for selfish purposes, and it will be to their eternal loss. But let their treasure be given to God, and from that moment it bears His inscription. It is sealed with His immutability.”[5]

We should not have any doubt about it: money is a resource to serve others, to extend the hands of God in this world, to help the weak, to share, to do good. If money is a medium of exchange, we should use it to exchange our old character for the new character Jesus wants for us. Money should be just one more way to express who we are because of Jesus.

Then how should we approach money?

“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes’” (Luke 12:42, 43, NKJV).

God is looking for “faithful” and “wise” stewards. People who are faithful in sharing while being wise to manage His resources. God wants us to be wise channels of His mercy. People who strive to be like Him, faithful in following Him.

The faithful Christian views money as a means to serve and share. Without this understanding, one may think prosperity is gain, and not giving.

The wise steward manages money well so that God may multiply it, giving even more to His “faithful and wise steward” so that one can share with God’s household. A wise steward will have a budget, as Jesus teaches (Luke 14:28-31), and will know how to invest God’s resources (as in the parable of the talents). A Christian steward will not place faith in money apart from God (as mentioned by Paul), but will put the kingdom first, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

Prosperity is required.

If Christians understand that resources belong to God and are God’s means to extend the hands of Jesus to the weak, if they are not self-seeking, shouldn’t they be blessed with prosperity? Don’t these words echo Abraham's calling: “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”? (Gen. 22:18, NIV).

God’s promised prosperity is for sharing, not hoarding. God wants to bless us, and He will. But this is not a bargain; it is not to promote selfishness. It is for the sake of eternity that He will bless us. Salvation is the highest purpose of God for our life: “Some will have their hundredfold in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. But all will not receive their hundredfold in this life, because they cannot bear it. If entrusted with much, they would become unwise stewards. The Lord withholds it for their good.”[6]

The problem was never with prosperity; we were made for this. The problem was always our heart.

And this is where the material and spiritual realities overlap. Christ directs us to be givers through His Holy Spirit. That is why we will receive prosperity: to emulate God in exercising love and generosity. We will be blessed when we bless others. It is then that we become “faithful and wise stewards.”


[1] Patrick J. Welch and Gerry F. Welch, Economics: Theory and Practice (United Kingdom: Wiley, 200),. p. 204.

[2] Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[4] Clive Staples Lewis, The Four Loves (United Kingdom: Harcourt, Brace, 1960), p. 137.

[5] Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 344, 345.

[6] Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 232.

Diego Barreto

Diego Barreto, an ordained pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has a background as a professional investor with international experience, certification on economic fields, and financial planning.