By David Murray:
Does Proverbs teach “the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel?” It certainly contains multiple promises of health, wealth, and prosperity to those who live wisely. However, there’s an eternity of difference between the Prosperity Gospeland Gospel Prosperity. Let me give you five statements that will help clarify that difference.
1. God has provided external Wisdom, in principle and Person form, to correct our sin-caused ignorance, error, and folly.
God made us with knowledge, rightness, and practical life-skills. However, as a punishment for Adam’s sin, God cursed Adam and his descendants with ignorance, error, and folly.
As no amount of research, experimentation, or reasoning will make us spiritually wise again, God has revealed His otherwise inaccessible and unattainable Wisdom to us. In the Old Testament, God reveals that wisdom largely in principle form (e.g. the Moral Law, the Proverbs). However, Proverbs also personifies Wisdom, giving a hint of a future revelation of Wisdom in human form, a revelation we now know is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:3).
2. As Wisdom cannot be attained, retained, or practiced quickly or easily, God has graciously incentivized the diligent pursuit and practice of it with multiple different rewards.
As sinners find it so difficult to seek, keep, and do Wisdom for its own sake, throughout Proverbs God promises spiritual, physical, intellectual, financial, social, relational, and eternal rewards for seeking, remembering, and doing it. Yet even these rewards are of grace, because God is not obliged to reward what we should do anyway, and any spiritual diligence is itself His gift.
3. In the NT era, Wisdom’s rewards are more spiritual and eternal than material and temporary, Gospel prosperity more than the Prosperity Gospel.
The Old Testament manifested spiritual blessings in a much more material form, mainly because the church was still in its infancy. Although God still blesses in material ways, the focus of Christ and His Apostles is much more on spiritual and eternal blessings (e.g. John 7:17; 14:16,21; Rev. 3:7, 11).
The Prosperity Gospel puts prosperity before the Gospel, and seeks prosperity above all else. Gospel prosperity puts the Gospel first and gratefully accepts any spiritual and material blessings as the overflow of a Gospel-centered life.
4. The divinely-ordained connection between godliness and Gospel prosperity is a general maxim, but not without notable exceptions.
There are two kinds of wisdom in the poetic books. Practical Wisdom contains simple, optimistic, popular, and pithy truths. It describes the way things generally ought to be (e.g. the Proverbs). Philosophical Wisdom deals much more with the complexities of life. It reflects on the reality that things do not always go as they ought, that there are sometimes enigmas, mysteries, and exceptions to Practical Wisdom (e.g. Job, Ecclesiastes).
It’s like learning a language. You start by learning all the basic rules and regular patterns (Practical Wisdom), and once you’ve mastered them, then you consider the irregular verbs, the qualifications to the rules, etc., (Philosophical Wisdom).
5. Seek and embrace Wisdom for Wisdom’s sake, not for the rewards He brings.
While the rewards should encourage us to seek and practice Wisdom, it is best to look on them retrospectively rather than prospectively. Don’t predict in the future tense, “If I do this, then I’ll get this.” Rather reflect in the past tense, “I did that, and the Lord has graciously rewarded me.”
A couple of weeks ago I came home from a solo trip to Scotland. Imagine if when I came off my plane, my children grabbed my case and started rifling through it to find their presents, and then walked away leaving me empty-handed with my bags strewn all over the airport!
Don’t seek the gifts but the Giver, not the rewards of Wisdom but the Rewarder who is Wisdom. Remember what God said to Abram: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1 NKJV).