Is the Prosperity Gospel compatible with the Suffering Gospel?
The Prosperity Gospel is a belief that God rewards those who live faithful lives with material wealth, e.g. “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” 3 John 1:2
The Suffering Gospel is a belief that those who live faithful lives are called to suffer, e.g. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”” Matthew 16:24.
As a young Christian, I often heard testimonies from people along the lines that one early discovery was that the Christian life was not about living on a bed of roses. I also heard teaching to the effect that God would reward faithfulness with material prosperity, and this was not just from wealthy tele evangelists who equated faithfulness with giving to their ministry, but well-meaning and Bible savvy ordinary Christians. Additionally, with Pentecostal types, they might add God would heal folk of their ailments if only one had faith, with lack of faith being a reason if healing was not happening.
Going back to the roses idea, besides noting, besides smells, roses come with prickles, my own experience 50 years on has been indeed life is not a bed of roses although walking with God can and ought to be a joyful experience even if we are to go through life relatively poor and suffering many things, as did the Lord Jesus himself.
Indeed, suffering is to be expected in the light of Jesus words: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” John 16:33. The Apostle Paul tells us: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” Romans 8:17,18. Moreover, he welcomed suffering because he had a higher goal in mind: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” Philippians 3:10.
There are many examples of good people, who feared and loved God, who suffered, going without, starting perhaps with the Hebrew prophets. Yesterday, I read the latest article in the “Heroes of Faith” series by J.John, concerning a missionary: Darlene Deibler Rose, who suffered and went without much, but also gained something far better as she sought to bring the Gospel to unreached peoples. When my father-in-law died, I wrote this tribute. Here was a man who faithfully did the work of the evangelist, lived by faith, went without, blessed the poor, saw the Lord provide for his and his family’s every day needs, knew the joy of the Lord, all because of his obedience to a higher calling. If I were to give it further thought, I can think of many who embraced the suffering rather than the prosperity gospel.
Back to the question: Is the Prosperity Gospel compatible with the Suffering Gospel? I would say the answer is no, at least according to our definitions, not that God does not want His children to be prosperous or to be healed, but in His way and in His time. Remember too: you can’t out give God and it is better to give than receive. The prayer that Jabez prayed was that God would proper him, and God answered his prayer, giving him what he asked for. The classic example when it comes to suffering was Job, of whom it was written: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” Job 1:1. Here was a man who had everything, lost what he had, and regained what he lost, with interest, and throughout continued to fear God and eschew evil.
In conclusion, I would say: embrace the true gospel that includes suffering but not the false one of prosperity, but allow and expect God to prosper you, and only in a way He alone knows is best. I end with a song I learned as a 15 year old, when deciding to follow Jesus: