Better To Be Poor
The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is a well-established and growing segment of the church worldwide. Though there are countless reasons why the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is a prostitution of the truth, it just keeps raking in the followers. Why is this? Because there are two powerful forces at work: people are incurably religious and incurably self-centered. Therefore, when you play on both of those two features, support it with highly selective verses from the Bible, and finally juice it up with the best suits and music money can buy, what you get is the prosperity gospel.
There is a need to address every feature of that formula at some point. But today I want to address only the issue of selective use of the Bible. One favorite place a prosperity preacher will go is to the book of Proverbs. The reason is that Proverbs says a lot about prosperity, so this should be expected. Proverbs addresses all of life and money is a big part of life. We should also realistically expect the book to address the ways of both poverty and wealth. What I want to do is to highlight a substantial cross-section of verses in Proverbs that I believe lay a heavy blow to the prosperity gospel.
There is a unique feature in Proverbs that I began to notice recently. In Proverbs, drawing contrasts is not unusual, but one feature did catch my attention. It revolves around the word “better.” If you do a word search for “better” in Proverbs you will find 23 instances. What is amazing is well over half of them, 16 of the 23 occurrences, deal with matters of poverty and prosperity. Breaking them down into more specific categories is even more helpful.
Category 1 – Better to be a poor man
Proverbs 19:1 Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.
Proverbs 19:22 What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.
Proverbs 28:6 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than he who is crooked though he be rich.
These three verses explicitly say there are times when it is better to be poor. How could these verses ever be reconciled with the health, wealth and prosperity movement? It can’t be! These verses are an absolute contradiction to everything the movement is about. The movement asserts that godliness and prosperity go hand in hand at all times. But these verses say that there will be times when you will have to choose between godliness and prosperity. When that day comes, it is better to be poor. The prosperity movement tells you to adjust your standards of what godliness is in order to gain or keep riches.
Category 2 – Better to have little
Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it.
Proverbs 15:17 Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred.
Proverbs 16:8 Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.
Proverbs 16:19 It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Proverbs 17:1 Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.
Proverbs 25:7 For it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,” than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, Whom your eyes have seen.
These verses all speak about having little and this is synonymous with being poor. How can the prosperity gospel work with these verses? These verses do not mean that riches and peace cannot go together, but they are clear that there is something better than riches. Peace and justice and honor are more important, and when the choice has to be made Proverbs tells us which to choose.
Category 3 – Better to have wisdom than riches
Proverbs 3:14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold.
Proverbs 8:11 “For wisdom is better than jewels; And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
Proverbs 8:19 “My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, And my yield better than choicest silver.
Proverbs 16:16 How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.
Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.
Finally, the last set of verses tell us plainly that riches do not compare with the power and blessing and joy of wisdom. The prosperity movement has made riches primary. The movement is full of fools who peddle warped doctrine, teach twisted scripture, and model unwise living. They don’t believe that wisdom is better than gold because the only wisdom they pursue is how to get more gold.
The prosperity movement is notorious for mishandling the Bible, and it is blatant when referring to the book of Proverbs. Yet as seen in the few verses we have looked at, the book of Proverbs clearly condemns the core principles of the prosperity gospel. May God give us his good wisdom to see the errors of this movement and wisdom for rescuing people from it.