Saturday, June 3, 2023

Will Belief in Jesus Lead to God’s Blessing of Material Wealth?

There are many who think believers in Jesus can transcend poverty and receive God’s blessing in the form of wealth.. This is called the  Prosperity Gospel. They argue that God desires all believers to be physically healthy, financially prosperous, and successful in every aspect of life. They suggest that through unwavering faith, fervent prayer, and financial contributions, one can receive miraculous blessings, including wealth.

However, this teaching cannot be traced back to the Apostles and is not embraced by Orthodox Christians. It is viewed as manipulative, placing excessive emphasis on material possessions and personal gain. It disregards the biblical teachings on humility, contentment, and the reality of suffering. 

Those who advocate the Prosperity Gospel support their view citing a few examples from Scripture such as Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Malachi 3:10-12, which speak of God's blessings upon the obedient and generous, including material prosperity, abundant crops, and protection from harm. They also point to verses like Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24, where Jesus states that believers who ask in faith will receive what they seek. They interpreted this to include material blessings and financial abundance. Additionally, they highlight passages like Matthew 17:20, where Jesus speaks about faith the size of a mustard seed being able to move mountains, suggesting that strong faith can lead to miraculous results, especially financial prosperity. They also emphasize the concept of sowing and reaping, particularly in relation to financial giving, referring to passages like 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.

In contrast, Orthodox Christians hold a different perspective based on Apostolic Tradition. They prioritize spiritual growth, holiness, and union with God as the central focus. Material wealth and prosperity are not regarded as the appropriate goals or measures of spiritual success. Instead, they emphasize humility, selflessness, obedience, and the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. They also recognize that suffering and hardship are inherent to the human experience. Rather than promising the avoidance of suffering through faith or monetary offerings, Orthodox Christians believe that Christ's example teaches us to embrace and find meaning in suffering or poverty, following the path of self-denial and carrying our cross.

Orthodoxy also teaches the importance of generosity and supporting those in need. Giving is seen as an act of love and charity, not as a transaction to receive material blessings in return. Their focus lies in selfless giving and sharing our resources with the less fortunate, following the teachings of Jesus to care for the poor and marginalized.

Orthodox Christianity claims a continuity of the faith taught by the Apostles. It places great emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, the Scriptures, and the consensus of the Church's tradition. It encourages believers to exercise discernment and caution when interpreting Scripture, recognizing the need for a balanced understanding of God's Word and avoiding interpretations that may distort the core message of the Gospel.

Regarding material wellbeing, Orthodox Christianity encourages believers to cultivate a spirit of detachment from material possessions. While such possessions are not inherently evil or to be wholly rejected, they are seen as resources that should be used responsibly to fulfill God's will. It is important to guard against idolizing wealth and excessive attachment to material possessions. Believers are expected to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them, demonstrating generosity and supporting charitable causes, including the Church. Christ calls His followers to care for the marginalized, and those who are blessed with material abundance have a responsibility to help those in need. Furthermore, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to exercise moderation and self-control when it comes to earthly pleasures and material possessions. Believers should not let the pursuit of pleasure or wealth overshadow their pursuit of God. True joy is not found in material wealth but in union with God, recognizing that earthly pleasures provide only temporary happiness.

The teachings of the Church Fathers offer valuable insights on this topic. For instance, St. John Chrysostom reminds us that the rich exist for the sake of the poor, emphasizing the importance of caring for those in need. St. Basil the Great teaches that our possessions, such as bread, coats, shoes, and money, are meant to be shared with those who lack them. St. Gregory of Nyssa highlights the idea that the land and resources we possess ultimately belong to God, and we are entrusted with them to nourish the poor.

Additionally, numerous important scriptural passages shed light on this topic. Matthew 6:19-21 urges us not to store up treasures on earth but to focus on treasures in heaven. Luke 12:15 warns against covetousness and reminds us that life does not consist of material possessions. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 encourages the wealthy to put their hope in God rather than in uncertain riches, emphasizing the importance of doing good, being generous, and sharing. James 5:1-3 serves as a cautionary reminder of the transient nature of earthly wealth and the consequences of hoarding riches.

The Prosperity Gospel's overemphasis on material blessings as indicators of God's favor or spiritual maturity distorts the true essence of the Gospel message. It can divert individuals from learning from poverty and suffering to cultivate a deeper relationship with God, to develop virtues such as humility, and generosity, prioritizing the well-being of others. Moreover, followers of the Prosperity Gospel may experience disillusionment and a crisis of faith when faced with setbacks or hardships, as their faith becomes tied to gaining material outcomes rather than a genuine connection with God.

Orthodox Christianity, in contrast, emphasizes the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, the cultivation of virtues, embracing the cross, and finding true fulfillment and salvation in communion with Christ. Material wealth should never be the primary focus or measure of our faith. Instead, we are called to seek spiritual growth, practice selflessness, and respond to the needs of others with love and generosity. We are called to be responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us and to exercise discernment in interpreting Scripture. Orthodox Christians understand that true joy and fulfillment come from a deep union with God, and material wealth should never distract us from our ultimate purpose in life.

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