I came across this quote recently.
“The church began as a movement in Jerusalem.
It became a philosophy in Greece, an institution in Rome, a culture in Europe, and when it came to America, it became a business…a highly profitable business. But Jesus is coming back for a movement.”
Unfortunately, this form of unbiblical Prosperity Theology is not just within America but it’s also global, from first world to third world.
In this little article, it is not my intention to debate about Prosperity Theology. There will be supporters and opponents, arguing from both sides and interpreting Scriptures with different lenses.
Personally, I would rather focus on the motives behind the message and the motivations behind the man. To me, it is very simple – Is the message preached Christ-centered, others-centered or self-centered?
So if Prosperity Theology is about generosity, charity, philanthropy and benevolence, then I teach it unapologetically. If it is about giving to build the church, missions and God’s kingdom, then I preach it unashamedly.
However, if Prosperity Theology is about enriching self by manipulating people with false promises and peddling false hopes, then it is a heresy.
If Prosperity Theology reduces God to a genie in a bottle and degrades Him to a heavenly sugar daddy, then it is blasphemy and I reject it in the name of Jesus.
The title of this commentary is – My Answer to Prosperity Theology. The emphasis is on “My Answer”. So, it is my personal conviction and revelation. It is not intended to be a benchmark for anyone to follow or a standard to be imposed on anyone. It most certainly should not be used to judge anyone.
1. My answer to Prosperity Theology is Contentment.
1 Timothy 6:6–8 (NKJV)
6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
Paul said: “I have learned to be content.” (Phil 4:11)
In other words, contentment has to be learned.
It is not natural.
There is no end to getting more, gaining more, wanting more.
“I will be happy when I have enough” – is like a dog chasing its own tail.
Contentment is learned by subtraction not addition. In other words, we are content not by adding more ‘things’ but by subtracting appetites.
True wealth is measured by what money cannot buy and what death cannot take away.
But a word of caution – Don’t confuse contentment with satisfaction.
Contentment comes out of simplicity.
Satisfaction comes out of complacency.
We should be contented but never satisfied because we can never rise above our level of satisfaction. Therefore, I am content with my life and lifestyle but I am never satisfied with my ministry and service to God.
2. My answer to Prosperity Theology is Simplicity.
Acts 2:44–47 (NKJV)
44 Now all who believed were together…
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
When I read this passage of Scripture as a young pastor pioneering Heart of God Church (HOGC), I was very intrigued with v47b, where the Lord added to the church daily. Now after almost 20 years in ministry, I am more attracted to v46b, where the disciples ate their food with “simplicity of heart”.
In my own ministry, I have found that growing a church is relatively easy. Keeping a heart and life of simplicity is harder.
Singapore is a place where we know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
We know the price of a house but not the value of a home.
We know the price of dinner but not the value of fellowship.
Our children know the price of an iPhone but not the value of communication.
On the other hand, these “primitive” disciples ate their food with simplicity of heart. They had something we don’t.
I believe that being rich is not how much you have but how little you need.
My staff complain that it is difficult to buy me birthday gifts, not because I am difficult to please, but because I simply don’t need anything. And I don’t need anything, not because I have everything, but because there is almost nothing I want. The ongoing joke is that whenever they ask me what gifts they can buy me, my answer is – “Ok, buy me 50 more good leaders from eBay.”
My wife, Pastor Cecilia Chan and I, have chosen to live simply. I grew up living in a house in District 10 (for my non-Singaporean readers, that’s an expensive neighborhood). After we got married, we have been living in a Woodlands HDB flat (that’s probably the cheapest neighborhood) for almost 20 years.
In the early years, that’s what we could afford. But now we can easily move to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. The first reason for choosing to live simply is our personal covenant with God. Inspired by the words of Haggai 1:4, we made a commitment to build God’s house first, then build our own house. So perhaps after Heart of God Church moves into our new Home, then I will move my home closer to church.
The second reason for choosing to live simply is our decision to give one million dollars to our church’s Building Fund a few years ago. Pastor Lia received a big insurance payout because of her cancer. Together with profits from my business and all of the insurance money, we took that leap of faith.
This brings me to…
3. My answer to Prosperity Theology is Generosity.
When God blesses you financially, it is not just to raise your standard of living but your standard of giving.
If we are content with our lives and lifestyles, then the additional income goes into our giving.
However, if we are never contented, our appetites and expenses will grow with our income. Consequently, we will never be able to give more.
When I took over my dad’s business, the Lord spoke to me from this verse.
Acts 20:33–35 (NKJV)
33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.
35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Paul was a tentmaker. I am inspired by Paul to be a tentmaker as well.
Like Paul, I want to be able to say that “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold”.
Like Paul, I want my own hands to provide for my necessities and for those who are with me (my team).
Now my business pays for my travels for missions and preaching.
The business supports my team.
The business pays for the renovations and furnishings of my personal office and the guest room.
And like Paul, I want to give more than I receive.
On balance, I need to add that being a Christian is not enrollment into a frugal, miserly life of austerity. When I became a pastor, I certainly did not take a vow of poverty.
I believe God is a good God and He wants to bless us, heal us and give us an abundant life. There’s nothing wrong with nice things, holidays and enjoying life. Pastor Lia and I do have some branded bags and pens that are gifts to us. We have no problems using them.
However, we also know that God is also more interested in our holiness than our happiness. He is more concerned about our character than our comfort.
I am not against a Biblical, Christ-centered, purpose-driven Prosperity. After all, our National Pledge ends with—“…so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”