The rich young man likely thought his life was a good example of a Jew receiving blessing because of keeping the covenant. Yet the reality—as Jesus will soon reveal to us, the rich man and the disciples—is that he wasn’t rich because of his faithfulness to God; rather, he was rich in spite of his unfaithfulness to God.
The great travesty of the prosperity gospel is that, if we embrace it, it can lead us to believe we’re being faithful to God when we aren’t. Just like the rich young man.
As you may recall, in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18 a wealthy young man approaches Jesus to ask what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. After Jesus reminds him of what God’s commandments require, the young man assures Jesus he has kept them since his youth. To this Jesus replies: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
The Scriptures tell us the man left disheartened because he was so wealthy.
The Epitome of Faithfulness
Because we’re separated from these events by over 2000 years, this doesn’t shock us as much as it should—this man has just been undone by what is supposed to be an indication of his faithfulness to God.
The Old Testament is filled with God’s promises to his people regarding the abundance that could be theirs in exchange for their faithfulness. In Deuteronomy 28, for instance, God makes clear to Israel that if they are faithful to him they won’t have to worry about enemies invading their land and causing them trouble because God will grant them peace at their borders. In this peace, they will be able to enjoy fertility, great harvests, growing herds and flocks of livestock, and fresh wine aplenty. Deuteronomy 28:11 even says specifically “The Lord will make you abound in prosperity”. Additionally, Proverbs 3:9-10 contains one of the prosperity gospel teachers’ favourite verses to encourage people to give to the kingdom: “Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine”.
The rich young man likely thought his life was a good example of a Jew receiving blessing because of keeping the covenant. Yet the reality—as Jesus will soon reveal to us, the rich man and the disciples—is that he wasn’t rich because of his faithfulness to God; rather, he was rich in spite of his unfaithfulness to God. Considering the prosperity gospel’s promises of wealth and blessing are based upon the Sinai Covenant, we must pay careful attention to another testimony the Old Testament provides us, one that is extremely inconvenient for the prosperity gospel.