Q. Why should we oppose the “prosperity gospel” in the light of 3 John, verse 2?
A. The verse reads, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
To see if this verse teaches a “prosperity” or “health and wealth” gospel, we need to review this present-day thinking. The “prosperity gospel” in general presumes that God wants us rich. Proponents generally believe a certain level of wealth is a sign of God’s approval of a person (or of a church). If it is absent, something must be wrong with that person or group. Often the prosperity gospel is presented as a method or formula that enables and guarantees one to get things from God. This mind-set is often associated with charismatic and megachurches, thus raising a red flag due to doctrinal problems in such movements. Bombastic preachers in the prosperity gospel movement emphasize giving, “wholeness,” and “miracles,” along with attracting huge crowds, using undue pressure and manipulation to get people to give, building gigantic facilities, and promising great returns for the giver. Books such as The Prayer of Jabez have aided the prosperity gospel. God is seen as a glorified bellhop, and reinterpretation of the Bible’s teachings on giving and possessions is common. Financial and material success supposedly proves that God exists.
The verse you ask about refutes, rather than teaches, the prosperity gospel. John was writing to Gaius, a dear brother in the Lord. He apparently was in poor health physically but robust health spiritually. John wished that Gaius could have better health, just as he had a prosperousness in his soul. Many godly believers have not been materially wealthy—many have been poor and sickly, yet blessed and used of God. Other believers have been rich in material possessions while also rich spiritually. The issue is that we don’t have guarantees from God and that health and wealth are not necessarily barometers of His pleasure or displeasure. Ironside wrote, “A weak body is often the dwelling of a happy and prosperous soul.”
This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin by Norman A. Olson.