Why is the health and wealth gospel unbiblical? Dr. Richard Belcher explains the purpose of Proverbs and how the health and wealth gospel takes Scripture out of context.
The health and wealth gospel basically says God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, and if you just had enough faith, you would be blessed by God with health and wealth. Part of the health and wealth gospel is based on the use of certain proverbs, such as Proverbs 12:21, which says, “No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.” So if you’re experiencing trouble, you must be wicked. Or a proverb like 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, he adds no sorrow with it.” How do you know if you’re being blessed by God? Well, doesn’t this proverb say that the blessing of the Lord makes rich, that you know you’re being blessed by God if you’re wealthy? And if you’re not wealthy? Then you must not be blessed by God.
Rightly Applying God’s Wisdom
Now, this actually is a misunderstanding of how proverbs work. Proverbs, these short individual sayings, are not meant to be universalized. They’re not meant to apply to every situation in life. These individual sayings are situation specific. They give a slice of life. They’re meant to be applied to different situations of life. That’s what wisdom is about, to understand life, to understand situations of life, and to be able to apply God’s wisdom.
Wisdom is understanding life situations and applying God’s truth to those situations.Therefore, we have a proverb or a couple of proverbs, like in 26:4–5, that says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” or “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” So do you answer fool, or do you not answer a fool? Depends on the situation. Wisdom is understanding life situations and applying God’s truth to those situations.
This is expressed in 22:17–18: “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips.”
Understanding Health and Wealth in Proverbs
Wealth cannot be used as a standard to judge our relationship with God. Use proverbs in life situations; they are not meant to be universalized. There are some proverbs in the Book of Proverbs that sort of tell us this. A proverb like 16:8, “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with unjustice.” Now notice what this proverb says: it’s better to be poor walking the way of righteousness, walking the way of wisdom, than to have a lot of money if it comes through injustice. There are several of these “better-than” sayings in the Book of Proverbs. What these teach us is that wealth cannot be used as a standard to judge a person’s life. Wealth cannot be used as a standard to judge our relationship with God.
So what do we do with these proverbs that we looked at earlier? Well, here’s the way you can approach them. Proverbs are dependently true now—they depend on extenuating circumstances; they’re meant to be applied to life situations—but they are ultimately true for the believer. In other words, if you look at these proverbs again, Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich and he adds no sorrow with it,” there’s coming a day when I will experience all of the blessings that God has for me, including wealth. I will have no needs whatsoever, all taken care of.
Now we know that that day will not come until Jesus Christ comes again. So until now and then we may experience difficulty, suffering, poverty because we’re followers of Christ, but we have the promise that there’s coming a day when we will experience all of these blessings. This is how we should understand these proverbs: God does want us to be healthy, God does want us to be wealthy, it’s just when? It’s when Christ comes that we will experience the fullness of his blessings.