I see a lot of people these days critiquing the so called prosperity gospel. This prosperity gospel takes several forms and extremes. Sometimes it’s used to suggest that if I do certain things then God will give me worldly prosperity. For example if I tithe then God will give me a lot of wealth. Or if I give my life to Jesus, then my life will go the way I want it to. The idea is that doing what God wants will alleviate my suffering in this world sort of runs counter to the idea of picking up my cross.**
This is of course not true. Now it is true that God rewards faithfulness. It’s important as we critique the prosperity gospel peddlers that we not lose that truth. Otherwise we’d have to toss out a lot of scripture. But God doesn’t promise rewards in the way that we often like to see them. That’s the key distinction.
It’s also true that God set up natural law. What I mean is that in general if I do the things that God designed us to do, it will in general most often go better for me than if I do things against that design. In other words there are consequences to my choices.
But the idea that if I follow God everything will go the way I want is terrible theology and church leaders are right to call out that message as false.
But there is at least one place where I think the evangelical church has missed this. I think that a lot of what has been taught about singleness and marriage is actually a form of this prosperity gospel***.
For example in the purity movement young people were essentially taught that if you don’t have sex before marriage then sex in marriage will be easy and awesome. Again there is some truth here. Sex before marriage negatively affects the marriage relationship. In fact there are statistics that show that the more partners a woman has before marriage the more likely she is to get divorced. There is no doubt that there are many negative consequences to premarital sex. I’m not negating that. But promising great sex, or even marriage at all, if I don’t have premarital sex is not a promise of God. This is why we shouldn’t tell people to save themselves for marriage. What we should tell people is to be obedient to the teachings of God . . . because it’s best for you whether you get married or not.
Another example of this is the idea that when looking for a spouse that we should never settle. This sounds good. Don’t settle for less than God’s best for you. I know God has this perfect person for me so I’m not going to settle. Don’t settle because in God’s time He will bring you the one He has for you.
The problem is that God doesn’t say any of this. There is no scripture that says that God has a perfect spouse for you. Find the scripture that says, “don’t settle”.
Again there is some truth here. But in our culture the idea of not settling is a real problem. The idea that there is this perfect person for me that meets all of my needs and expectations of a spouse is nothing more than a prosperity marriage gospel. To begin with we’re pretty limited on our view of what God’s best for us is. Our view is what we want, how we want it to look, or even how we want our spouse to look physically speaking.
The whole focus is on me and what I want. We end up making ourselves the focus instead of God. He’s just there to meet our wants and desires whatever they happen to be. This magical spouse I’m waiting for Him to deliver will look and act how I want. They will meet my needs and desires. They will fulfill me. Until I meet that person, then I can’t get married.
Perhaps even worse, we often seem to tell people that they don’t have to change or grow. Just remain the same. Just be you and God will bring you the perfect person. You are the prize so wait for the one who is “worthy” to claim it.
While we tell this stuff to everyone, we especially tell women this. No guy is good enough for our women. Frankly this does not help women at all. All of this does a disservice to both men and women. It’s not only a disservice to singles but also to those who get married thinking they found this perfect person. If you think this way going into marriage you’re in for a rude awakening.
There is not a perfect spouse for you. You are not a perfect spouse for anyone else either. I know this because we are all fallen. We all sin. We all come up short. As we follow Christ we are becoming sanctified but we aren’t there yet. We can’t possibly be a perfect spouse for someone. Someone will be settling for you.
The bible doesn’t say much at all about who we should marry. It tells us how to act in marriage but not how to get married. Really the only clear directive in the bible about who we should marry is that we shouldn’t marry someone outside the faith. That is the only thing that we shouldn’t settle for from a biblical perspective.
So if you aren’t looking for the perfect person then what are you looking for? If the prosperity spouse is not the goal, then what is? If I’m not praying God’s one for me then what should I pray for? More on that soon.
** I’ll say more about suffering and singleness soon
*** I first saw this idea of the prosperity spouse here