3 John

Vital statistics

6:3–6 The Dangers of Prosperity Theology

Susan is a sales representative. She can make a big sale, but only if she mildly deceives the customer. She decides to tell the truth and she loses the sale. Should she expect God to honor her integrity by helping her make an even bigger sale in the future?

A contractor is deciding whether to award a job to Allen’s firm or to another company. Allen really needs the business. So he prays at length that he will get the contract, and asks others to pray, too. Should he anticipate that God will somehow make the contractor award him the job? If not, should he expect God to arrange for other work to come along soon?

John and Joan are reviewing their finances. John has recently received a small bonus from his company, and they’re wondering what to do with it. They finally decide to give ten percent of it to their church, and another ten percent to a mission. Can they expect God to bring them more money as a result?

Does God reward godliness with material blessing? Not according to 1 Tim. 6:5. In fact, Paul describes those who teach that as being “destitute of the truth.” They are guilty of fostering a “prosperity theology.” That’s a dangerous view:

It encourages perverted motives. God wants us to seek Him for His own sake, not for a “payoff” of physical well-being or financial gain. The reward of loving obedience is a closer relationship to God (John 14:15–18, 21–23). He also wants us to be content with what He provides us, not greedy for more (6:6).

It misinterprets God’s deepest concerns for us. If God wants us to have abundant material benefits, if He sees that they would be in our best interest, then we can trust Him to supply them. Otherwise, such “blessings” would be harmful. God loves us too much to destroy us with what we don’t need or can’t handle.

It misrepresents God’s promises in Scripture. The Old Testament offers plenty of promises about material prosperity and blessing. But for the most part, those benefits were offered to the nation of Israel, not to individual believers.

Furthermore, God’s promises are always offered to those who truly love Him, seek His will, and obey Him from a pure heart. The Lord Himself is always the end to be sought; material benefits are never an end in themselves.

A final note: God has established certain “moral laws” that benefit anyone who adheres to them. (The Proverbs are filled with prudent advice that rewards those who keep them.) For example, paying taxes avoids the trouble, fines, prison terms, and public censure associated with nonpayment. In this sense it “pays” to obey the law. But we shouldn’t expect special blessing for doing what God wants us to do anyway (Luke 17:7–10). ♦

Word in life study Bible . 1997, c1996 (electronic ed.) (1 Ti 6.3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The Blueprint

1. God's children live by the standards of the gospel (1:1-12)

2. John's final words (1:13-15)

John wrote to commend Gaius, who was taking care of traveling teachers and missionaries, and to warn against people like Diotrephes, who was proud and refused to listen to spiritual leaders in authority. If we are to live in the truth of the gospel, we must look for ways to support pastors, Christians workers, and missionaries today. All Christians should work together to support God's work both at home and around the world.

Third John Overview