Should we overlook the fact that Jesus tells us to “provide yourselves with moneybags” and to pursue “treasure”? If that’s not prosperity talk, I don’t know what is. Clearly, God wants us to be prosperous.
What we have to keep in mind, however, is that God’s definition of “prosperity” differs greatly from that of our culture. The context of Luke 12:33, from which I pulled the statements of Jesus above, makes this abundantly clear.
Jesus’ teaching turns to money when someone calls out from the crowd, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” That’s a weird thing to ask of Jesus, and Jesus says as much, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” But Jesus uses it as an opportunity to each them about money. Fill your moneybags full of treasure, Jesus will say, but be careful about what kind of treasure you’re seeking.
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The prosperity preachers are off to a bad start here. Don’t covet, and don’t think for a minute that true riches have anything to do with possessions. God’s kind of prosperity differs sharply from that of our culture.
Jesus tells two parables to illustrate this point.
Parable #1: Once upon a time, a rich man found himself with a plentiful crop. So he tore down his barns, built larger ones, and stored up massive amounts of grain. Then he said to himself, “You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” It’s the American dream. A hardworking man earns a huge reward on his labor. He’s able to retire early. Well done, rich man. But Jesus doesn’t quite see it like that. His response? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” His wealth had everything to do with materiality and nothing to do with God and his kingdom. What a waste.
Parable #2: The ravens make for a poor business model. They don’t take the time to sow, nor do they invest the labor to reap. Even if they tried these things, they don’t have any barns to store their goods in. These silly birds should be bankrupt. They should starve to death. Yet they don’t. Why not? Because God feeds them! And then there are the lilies. What lazy creatures! They’ve never done an honest day’s work in their lives. Plus they don’t last long. They stand for a few days in a field, then they’re gone. Worthless and fleeting things, really. And yet, they’re beautiful! Why? Because God clothes them! Jesus makes his point clear: You’re more valuable than birds. God cares about you. He’ll feed you. He’ll clothe you. God knows that you need to eat, drink, and be clothed. Don’t stress out. Pursue God and his kingdom and these things will be added to you.
And then we arrive at Jesus’ statements about prosperity:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34)
Be rich, Jesus says. But how? By giving everything away. Secure your investments. How? By storing up “treasure in heaven,” by grabbing “moneybags that do not grow old.” Every financial advisor will tell you to invest your money. But only one investment has an eternal guarantee. Every other investment will fall apart and be dispersed to others in the long run.
Jesus’ kind of prosperity gospel is all about pursuing the kingdom. It’s about giving instead of hoarding. It’s about faithful reliance rather than anxious management. In the end, it’s less about prosperity and more about perspective. If what we value most is God and his kingdom, then we will be ready for his return (see the rest of Luke 12), and we will find ourselves truly prosperous, by God’s definition.