Does Proverbs Preach a Prosperity Gospel?


Does Proverbs Preach a Prosperity Gospel?

Proverbs 3:1-12

Main Idea: You can be a blessed covenant-keeper through faith in Jesus.

  1. We Should Keep the Covenant (3:1,3,5,7,9).
  2. God Blesses Covenant-Keepers (3:2,4,6,8,10).
  3. This Is Generally True Now and Will Always Prove True Later (3:11-12).
  4. Jesus Kept the Covenant for You.

In high school I ( Jon) lettered in two sports and competed all year round, so I was in great shape. But once I graduated and ceased to play competitive sports, I no longer had any motivation to work out and stay in shape. The results were not good! Solomon understands our need for motivation. He wants his son to be wise, but he knows that he needs to motivate him in order to get him to train in wisdom.

Proverbs 3:1-12 is about being in a faithful covenant relationship with God. Israel was in a covenant, marriage-like relationship with the Lord that was established at Sinai during the exodus. This covenant involved commitments that were to be upheld by each partner. We see this laid out here. In our modern translations, the odd-numbered verses give the obligations of the human partner in the covenant, and the even-numbered verses give the obligations of the divine partner.[6]

We Should Keep the Covenant

Proverbs 3:1,3,5,7,9

The odd verses give the obligations that we are called to live up to if we are in a covenant relationship with the Lord. Solomon starts in verse 1 by saying, “My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands.” Again, the father is King Solomon, and the son is the crown prince. He exhorts his son to obey the law—his teaching (Hb torah) and commands. We’ve seen throughout the Proverbs that there is a strong connection between the law and wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:6 says that keeping the laws is the wisdom of Israel. Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to teach the law to their children, and Deuteronomy 17 commands the king to be a man of the law. Solomon is obeying all of this in Proverbs by showing how wisdom is obeying the law in daily life. He is training his son in this so that he can establish the messianic kingdom.

But the law must be internalized in order to be obeyed. There has to be inward transformation where the law is written on the heart ( Jer 31; Ezek 36). Theologians call this “regeneration.” We see this not only in verse 1 with “let your heart keep,” but we also see it in verse 3: these teachings must be written on the “tablet of your heart.” This is covenant language. “Loyalty and faithfulness” are words that are associated with the covenant and the royal rule of the king (Prov 20:28). The covenant must be written on the heart of the king and the people for the kingdom to flourish. Solomon says to “tie them around your neck” (v. 3), which recalls the language of Deuteronomy 6 where the law was to be bound on the hand and inscribed on a frontlet for the eyes. And the command to write it on the “tablet” of your heart connects much Old Testament expectation. The Ten Commandments were written on stone tablets, and the people didn’t obey them (Exod 20; Deut 5). But Scripture promises that a day is coming when the covenant will be written on the tablet of the heart so that one can obey. The Lord will perform this. In Jeremiah 31:33 the Lord says,

“Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts.”

So, as anticipated by the rest of the Old Testament, Proverbs recognizes the need for inward-out transformation, not behavior modification. Proverbs isn’t exhorting us to behavior first and foremost; it’s advocating our need for regeneration before these things can be followed.

How does this happen? Verses 5 and 7 say you should trust the Lord instead of trusting yourself. One could boil the whole of Proverbs down to this truth. Obedience to the law starts with faith. This is the key to wisdom, as 1:7 already stated. Trust in Yahweh with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. Trust God, not yourself. Foolishness is trusting in your own mind and heart (28:26). Wisdom starts with recognizing that you don’t have it and looking to God in humility for it. The way that seems right to humans ends in death. We think that what is best for us is autonomy and the power to choose what to do with our own lives, but Proverbs says that is suicidal. What seems right to us usually ends up wrecking us.

There is the wisdom of God, and there is the wisdom of humans. The world says that it’s wise to live together before marriage, but God says that you can’t practice true intimacy without a covenant commitment where you’re actually connected to each other. The world says it’s wise to hoard your possessions, but Proverbs 11:24 says, “One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor.” The world says that it’s OK to hold a grudge—after all, how will the person know that what they did hurt you so badly if you let it go? But the Bible says forgive your enemies. The world says it’s wise to promote yourself, but that’s not true in God’s economy (27:2).

Here’s the key: don’t be wise in your own eyes. That’s the root of foolishness going all the way back to the garden of Eden. Instead, you should fear Yahweh. Thinking that you are wise is foolishness. Wisdom and folly boil down to humility and pride. Submit every area of your life to the Lord, and he will produce wisdom in you. If you do veer off the right path, Proverbs 3:7 says repent—turn away from evil. Recognize your sin and foolishness and turn from it to God.

Solomon gives one practical example of how inward piety leads to outward obedience to the law. Verse 9 speaks of generosity: honor the Lord with your possessions and your first produce (cf. Lev 23:10; Deut 18:1-5). Again, this is covenantal language (i.e., obedience to the law). Give back to Yahweh out of what he has provided for you. Give the firstfruits; give your best and your first to God, not the leftovers. This means giving should be set out at the top of your budget, not at the bottom “after everything else is covered.” This practice demonstrates gratitude for what God has given and confidence that he will continue to provide (see 2 Cor 8–9).

God Blesses Covenant-Keepers

Proverbs 3:2,4,6,8,10

The even verses give the divine partner’s obligations. He will be the faithful rewarder. Verse 2 starts with the word for, which gives the why, the motivation. Following this law will add days, years, and peace to your life. Just like the fifth commandment, Solomon says to obey your dad, and in return you will live a longer life and a better life (cf. Eph 6:1-3). In Proverbs, Solomon does give guidelines for healthy living that will generally increase your chances of a full life. If you unwisely get into drugs, illicit sexual sin, greediness for gain, or any number of follies outlined in the book, it can cut your life short.

Ultimately, what is being taught here is eternal life and abundant life. This is picturing a return to Eden, to shalom, to the way things are supposed to be. There will be complete harmony with God, other people, and the world around you. That’s what all the even verses are picturing.

Proverbs 3:4 gives the reward for covenant loyalty, and that is acceptance and a good rapport with God and people. Again, wisdom is about right relationship with God and others. Verse 6 gives the promise of the Lord to make our paths straight. He will give divine direction and divine protection to our daily lives on the right path. Verse 8 gives the reward for fearing the Lord and not being wise in our own eyes, and that is health. A well-ordered life leads to health (by contrast, sexual sin can lead to disease according to Prov 5). The picture of all of these verses is that wisdom reverses the curse of sin, death, and sickness. Wisdom is a return to paradise. Leviticus 26:16 taught that breaking the covenant would lead to disease. Proverbs shows that faithfulness to the covenant will lead to the blessing of health.

Finally, Proverbs 3:10 gives the reward for generosity to the Lord, and that reward is full barns and vats that overflow with new wine. God will bestow wealth on those who are generous. Again, this is covenant language. Deuteronomy 7:12-15 says that covenant faithfulness will lead to God blessing the fruit of the ground and taking away disease. If Israel obeys God, things will go well. The rain will fall, and the crops will grow (Deut 11:14; 28:8; Mal 3:10). When Israel disobeys, the reverse will happen (Deut 28:51). So it seems clear that obedience will lead to God giving us more. This shouldn’t surprise us. Good stewards can be trusted with more.

My ( Jon’s) parents paid for me to go to the University of Kentucky my freshman year. But if I had partied every night, shown up late to classes, and flunked the first semester, do you think they would have continued to pay for my college? No! But since I went to class, finished assignments on time, and made good grades, they were happy to continue to pay my tuition. A good steward will be trusted with more, and a bad steward will lose what he’s been given.

So obey God by doing the odd verses and in return you will get the rewards of the even verses. But this raises an important question: Is this really true? What about instances where things don’t work this way?

This Is Generally True Now and Will Always Prove True Later

Proverbs 3:11-12

Are these verses teaching a prosperity gospel? Are they teaching that we should trust and obey the Lord and in return he will give us health, wealth, and happiness? The answer is, “Yes, of course!” But there’s a problem. This doesn’t always work out immediately in a fallen world. Sometimes you can believe and obey, and things go bad for you. You get cancer instead of health. Despite your great generosity to the work of the Lord, you get laid off. Sometimes we suffer now and receive the rewards only in the next life. So it’s not your best life now; it’s your best life later and forever.

The proverbs are generally true now, but they are always ultimately true.[7]In the new creation we will experience every spiritual and physical blessing that has been promised to us. Proverbs 3:11-12 helps us understand this interplay. Solomon tells his son to accept Yahweh’s discipline and not reject it. Don’t get mad at Yahweh when he allows discipline in your life because he does so for your good. In order to be truly wise, one must have correction and discipline. That is key to the book because left without discipline we will go down the wrong path to destruction. That’s our sin nature.

The Lord certainly disciplines his children by holding their sin accountable to rid it from their lives; but he also might allow suffering into his children’s lives, not as a punishment for sin but rather to produce maturity in their lives. While a parent disciplines a child for breaking rules, discipline is also what we do to our bodies when we excercise. You put your body under hardship so you can get in better shape for later. We voluntarily let hard things into our lives to prep us for something much better later. For example, when our older daughter, Maddy, began learning to read, it frustrated her a great deal. She got very upset that she couldn’t read right away. She wanted to quit and play with her toys. But as she labored through the hardship she became a great reader and began to enjoy reading. God often operates in this way. He will allow hardship in our lives to produce something in us. In Deuteronomy 8 he tells the children of Israel that he let them endure lean times so that when they had plenty they wouldn’t forget him.

Why does he do this? Because he loves us just like parents who discipline their child out of love. He loves you enough to allow hardship at times to prepare you for something greater later. He loves us and wants to make us like Jesus, so that means discipline (cf. Heb 12—he allows suffering to produce holiness). So yes, God will reward us, but he doesn’t always give us what we want when we want it. Instead, he gives us exactly what we need when we need it. He will conform you to the image of his covenant-keeping Son so that you are the kind of person who can rightly experience the covenant blessings. Sometimes you will suffer now and not receive an immediate reward because the Lord is molding you for a greater glory later.

The problem with smiley prosperity preachers on TV is that they assume godly people will never suffer in this life. That’s unbiblical (see 2 Tim 3:12). Godliness through Jesus Christ is no guarantee that things will always go well for you in this life (see Job). After all, our righteous King suffered in this life. But even if things go badly for you now, they will go well for you ultimately in the next age and be far better than any good life here.

Finally, the last problem with the prosperity gospel is that it bypasses Jesus. The question must be asked, Who keeps the covenant?

Jesus Kept the Covenant for You

The false gospel of the prosperity preachers misunderstands that none of us are faithful covenant-keeping sons. None of us have been perfectly obedient to the Lord. None of us have perfectly trusted God instead of ourselves. None of us have perfectly turned from evil or been completely generous as we should be. This covenant relationship between the Father and the Son is not kept by God’s firstborn son Israel, nor is it kept by David, Solomon, or Solomon’s sons. Jesus is the Son who finally keeps it. Luke 2:52 shows that he is the Son of Solomon who grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people (cf. Prov 3:4) (Goldsworthy, Tree of Life, 57–58). He is the King with the covenant on his heart (3:3; cf. 20:28). So he is the one who gets the blessing, not us.

The good news is that he represents us before the Father in this covenant relationship. He lived up to our obligations for us, and then he took the curses of covenant breaking in our place. He experienced sickness, sorrows, enemies, and a premature death for us (see Isa 52:13–53:12). He offers full pardon to all covenant-breakers who believe in him. His righteous record of keeping the covenant is credited to the account of all who are united to him by faith, and as a result they will experience the blessings of covenant faithfulness by his merits not their own! And if you are joined to him by faith, God will do the work by the power of the Spirit to conform you into the image of his covenant-keeping Son—sometimes through discipline.

As sons of the Father in Christ Jesus, this is how we are to live—this is now how we can live. Your Christianity has never been about keeping the rules in order for God to save you. Christianity is about how God saves you through his Son and then molds you into his image so you can live out the life God meant for you to live. As we live out this covenant by the power of Jesus’s Spirit—obeying the law, trusting in the Lord, looking away from ourselves, and being generous to those in need—we recognize that the rewards will work out now or later. This is about faith, not effort. Faith is the key to obedience. Radical confidence in our rewarding God will be the means by which you keep his commands. You will give because you trust him to continually provide. You will forgive because you trust him to be a good and fair judge. That’s how God’s Son lives. That is how we live in him.


The problem with the prosperity gospel is not that it wants us to be physically blessed. God has promised that we will be. The problems with this false gospel are (1) it misunderstands life in a fallen world where the righteous suffer, (2) it bypasses Jesus who is the only one who has fulfilled these obligations, and (3) it doesn’t promise enough prosperity. The true gospel says that the faithful Son had his life cut short in the short run, but he was raised to an indestructible life to inherit the cosmos. That’s a prosperity worth having, and it’s available in Christ.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Has there been a time in your life when you were working toward a set goal? How was your motivation before you reached the goal, and how did it change after you reached it?
  2. When Proverbs 3:3 says these teachings must be written on the “tablet of your heart,” how does it connect with the covenant God made with Israel?
  3. What is the one truth that could boil down the whole of Proverbs?
  4. In contrast, what is the root of foolishness? How does it connect back to the garden of Eden?
  5. What is the one practical example Solomon gives in Proverbs 3:9 of how inward piety leads to outward obedience to the law? How should this truth affect your life?
  6. Does Proverbs teach that we should trust and obey the Lord and in return he will give us health, wealth, and happiness? How does this play out in the short term? How does this play out ultimately?
  7. How does the reward for generosity to the Lord in Proverbs 3:10 connect back to the covenant between God and Israel?
  8. What are the two types of God’s discipline? How have you seen his discipline in your own life?
  9. One problem with prosperity preachers is that they assume godly people will never suffer. How does Proverbs answer the question of suffering in this life?
  10. How does the false gospel of the prosperity preachers bypass Jesus?