Wealth is No Indication of God’s Favor or Blessing
Some churches preach what may be called a “health and wealth gospel,” claiming that God always rewards his people with prosperity in this world. But in the Bible, wealth is no indication of God’s favor. Neither is poverty an indication of God’s punishment. “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Advocates of the health-and-wealth gospel often note that in the Old Testament, many of the characters we most revere were wealthy. They include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Boaz, Job, David and Solomon. And there is little doubt that their experience of abundance was tied in some way to their faithfulness to God. Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg notes that in the Old Testament,
Wealth can be a sign of God’s blessing, even if it is not always related to an individual’s or a nation’s obedience. But the unique covenantal arrangements between God and Israel prevent us from generalizing and saying that God must materially reward his faithful people in other nations or eras.
Therefore, a strong connection between righteousness and wealth is difficult to make. The story of the people of Israel confirms this assessment. Many wealthy people in the Bible prosper because of their wickedness, not righteousness. These include a number of King David’s descendants. For example, in 1 Kings 21 we read that King Ahab lusted after Naboth’s land and when he failed to acquire it by fair means, his wife Jezebel had Naboth executed. This, even though Ahab was already unbelievably wealthy.
The association between righteousness and wealth is even more tenuous in the New Testament. In fact, biblical scholar Gordon Fee argues that wealth is never related to a life of obedience in the gospels and other New Testament books. While we find a handful of well-to-do believers such as Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia, there is no suggestion by any of the New Testament writers that God’s favor is particularly on those who have wealth. In fact, if anything the opposite is true.
For example, following his encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus comments that it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than enter the kingdom. The shock of this statement causes his disciples to ask, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). In other words, “If not a rich man, then surely there’s no hope for anyone else?” In a culture where wealth was presumed to be an indication of God’s favor and blessing, Jesus’ assertion was unequivocal. Wealth is not a sign of righteousness or God’s favor. Instead, it is a grave peril to our relationship with God.
Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Eerdmans, 1999), 51.
Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health & Wealth Gospels (Regent, 1996), 9.