The West African wedding was as intense as the sun. The thatched walls of the church couldn’t contain the celebration. After a couple of hours, the music and dancing subsided. The bride and groom stood hand in hand in front of the pastor. He spoke the vows and the groom repeated them: “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward.”
The pastor continued, “For richer or poorer.” Smirking, the groom replied, “For rich or richer!” The congregation erupted in laughter and cheers. Taken aback, the pastor tried again. “For richer or poorer,” he said somewhat reproachfully. The groom, emboldened, looked the pastor in the face and took his stand: “For rich or richer!”
When the groom looked at his future with his bride, their married life held two possibilities: rich or richer. He’d been taught the prosperity gospel, leading him to believe wealth and success were to be expected. But Jesus, the Bridegroom of the church, makes different promises to his Bride. He’ll give her riches, but only after a season of suffering and trials.
Whenever I used to read about the prosperity gospel, I thought, Surely this is a caricature. No one would believe that! But my time in West Africa has shown what I thought was an exaggeration is not only believed but proclaimed with zealous fervor.
Jesus makes different promises to his Bride. He’ll give her riches, but only after a season of suffering and trials.
Next to my home, a prosperity church loudly broadcasts its messages to the community every morning at 6:00 a.m. It’s the prosperity gospel’s equivalent to the Muslim call to prayer. Over the loudspeaker blares a promise: “You can have the house of your dreams.” But Jesus tells his Bride that committing to him may lead to homelessness: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
Another day the speakers guarantee that “you will have wholeness and health.” But our marriage covenant with Jesus may leave us sick and near death (Phil. 2:27).
The preachers vow, “You will be the record breaker and most successful person in your family.” But faithfulness to Christ may cause others to view us as “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:13).
The church pledges: “You will receive breakthroughs in relationships. You will have a successful and happy marriage.” But Jesus, our Bridegroom, gently says our betrothal may lead family members to view us as their enemy (Matt. 10:36).
Not Yet Married
Sub-Saharan Africa, including Liberia where I live, is full of churches driven by the prosperity gospel. But no matter how loud the promises and blessings are shouted, they collide with the truth of Scripture. They ring hollow, like the promises of a paramour when compared to what the true groom offers (Hos. 2:5–13).
The Bible tells the story of God (the Groom) and his Bride (Ezek. 16; Hos. 1). It begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2) and concludes with the marriage feast of Jesus and his Bride (Rev. 19:6–10; Rev. 21). Marriage itself is a symbol that points to Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the church (Eph. 5:32).
Jesus’s marriage to the church is both already a reality and not yet fully realized. Believers belong to him in a solemn covenant now, but this covenant is like a betrothal. We’re promised to Christ and united to him, but the marriage isn’t yet consummated. We wait with expectation for the day he returns and brings us into the eternal kingdom. We wait for our wedding day (2 Cor. 11:2).
If we’re honest, we all prefer the promises of present health, fulfillment, success, and wealth. As believers, when we go through suffering, we’re tempted to think our Groom has left us and won’t return (Song 3:1). But Jesus is the faithful Bridegroom who can be trusted. So we must wait for him.
Our Good Groom
A glimmer of the eternal is seen in the joy that radiates from a groom as his bride walks down the aisle. This is a small picture of the glory of Christ when he sees his Bride (Rev. 21:2). On that day, Jesus will take her “to have and to hold from this day forward.” But then the traditional wedding vows will change. He won’t say, “For richer or poorer.” Instead, he’ll promise to be ours in the “coming ages” that are full of “immeasurable riches” (Eph. 2:7).
Jesus’s marriage to the church is both already a reality and not yet fully realized.
While we wait for that wedding day, Jesus allows his betrothed to experience suffering (Acts 14:22). But he isn’t cold and detached from our pain. Jesus is the Groom who “gave himself up” and freely chose poverty for the sake of his Bride: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (Eph. 5:25; 2 Cor. 8:9). These riches will be experienced by believers in unmitigated fullness after Christ returns.
Like a faithful Groom, Jesus is now preparing a home for his Bride (John 14:1–4). And that home will be a place with no sickness or sorrow, a place of indescribable pleasure and prosperity, health and wholeness (Rev. 21:1–4). For now, while we wait, Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He’s with his beloved, carrying her (Deut. 33:27) and supporting her (Song 8:5).
The prosperity gospel cheapens our marriage to Christ. It offers us the fullness of future joy without the faithfulness of waiting. Christians must ask ourselves if we’re willing to take Christ as our husband if he doesn’t promise everything we want in this life. Are we willing to trust our Bridegroom for richer and for poorer?
The Gospel Coalition