As a Baptist minister and seminary student, I have heard the myriad of arguments against the “health and wealth” preachers, also called the “Word of Faith” or “prosperity” preachers. Religious television brings such sermons to millions, if not billions, across the globe. The prosperity preachers tell their audience that God wants to make you rich and wealthy. Often they ask you to plant a “seed,” namely money, in their ministry or the ministry they are promoting. In return, they say God will bless you with the prosperity. Some have gone so far as to say that you must claim that seed for something, such as physical healing or financial increase, and God will give you what you declare.
Baptists often oppose such preaching as unscriptural, untruthful, and dishonest. Some critics I have heard went so far as to call it heretical. While I reject the lengths to which such preaching often goes, I must admit that they have recognized something many Baptists forget. Jesus did promise blessings on this earth to the faithful.
Luke 18:29-30 states:
And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (NASB).
Notice the phrase “at this time and in the age to come” in Jesus’ statement? In Greek this phrase reads this way: en tō kairō toutō kai en tō aiōni tō ercomenō. This section includes two periods:
- this time (tō kairō toutō)
- age to come (tō aiōni tō ercomenō)
These two periods are divided by the conjunction kai (“and”). This single word both unites the periods and distinguishes them. It unites them in that both periods will experience the reception of “many times as much” (pollaplasiona) as what was sacrificed (house, wife, brothers, parents, children) to serve God. It distinguishes them as two different periods in that the blessing will occur in the present and the future.
Now that we see that Jesus is promising blessings in both the present age and the future age, the question left regards the type of blessing. There are two places to look to help us understand the specifics of the blessings. First, Jesus said that we will receive “many times as much” (pollaplasiona) of what was sacrificed. The things sacrificed are home and family. The second is the phrase “eternal life” (zōēn aiōnion). Jesus is saying that those who sacrifice in order to faithfully serve God will receive eternal life.
Some preachers may say that this means Jesus is promising earthly gain and salvation to those who work hard, creating a Scriptural dilemma. Such a reading, when Scripture is taken as a whole, cannot be sustained. First, salvation is not a reward for doing good deeds but is a free gift of grace (Rom 5:1; 6:23; Eph 2:4-9). Second, Jesus promised persecution to his followers, not riches (Matt 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:16-17). Further, one can look at the apostles who were tortured, beaten, imprisoned, and eventually killed (John was the only one not martyred) for their faith and service (Acts 12:1-3; 2 Cor 11:23-27). One would hardly say that Jesus must have failed to uphold his promise of earthly wealth and health to these faithful followers. Therefore, one cannot rightly understand Jesus’ statement as promising earthly gain.
For brevity’s sake, I shall quote Thomas Constable (Department Chair and Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary), who succinctly defined the blessings that Jesus promises to those who sacrifice to serve him.
Everyone who denies himself or herself the normal comforts and contacts of life to advance God’s mission will receive a greater reward from God for doing so. First, that one will receive deeper spiritual comfort and more satisfying human contacts in the present life (cf. Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37). Second, he or she will receive an even better and enduring life in the coming kingdom.
The conclusion that this passage teaches seems clear: those who sacrifice to serve God will be blessed in the present and in the future. Those blessings include more meaningful interpersonal relationships and greater life in the future kingdom.
To those preachers and teachers who say that to expect blessings on this earth for serving God I say this: consider Jesus’ own words. He promised blessings on this earth, not just in heaven. To reject blessings in the present is to reject the promise Jesus made to his followers. He did not promise to make us rich and free of all sickness. However, he did promise to bless us in this present life.