Should Christians prosper or suffer?

The answer to the question of whether Christians should ultimately prosper or suffer on earth is found in 1 Timothy 6:6, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." This mystery is further expounded in Hebrews 13:5-6, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you' [Deuteronomy 31:6]. So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid, What can man do to me?' [Psalm 118:6-7]." The Apostle Paul taught that, whether suffering or living in prosperity, we should be content in whatever circumstance (Philippians 4:11-13). Christians will at times suffer want, though at other times they may prosper. We see it all around us and experience it ourselves. Whether or not suffering in poverty for the sake of Christ is an ideal lifestyle for the believer is not the concern, rather, it is the condition of the heart that matters. Contentment in all circumstances regardless of control, therefore, is the key.

        ...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

For the Christian, suffering and prosperity go hand in hand. Although God has plans of prosperity for those who obey and serve him (Deuteronomy 30:9-10, Joshua 1:8, Job 36:11), for those who fear him (Psalm 25:12-13, Psalm 128), for those who are righteous (Proverbs 13:21, 21:21), and for those who are chosen (Psalm 106:4-5), ultimately, Christians must be prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8-12, 2:8-10). Not only must believers share in the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10), but also share in the sufferings of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:26, 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Philippians 1:29-30, 4:14, Hebrews 13:3, 1 Peter 5:9). Christ promised that those who forsook all relations and belongings for the sake of his gospel would receive them back a hundred times in this present age, though not without persecution (Mark 10:29-30). Even so, Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden light and he invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves (Matthew 11:28-30).

        Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16)

Christ himself suffered much while on earth and expected it beforehand (Matthew 16:21, 17:12, Mark 8:31, 9:12, Luke 9:22, 17:25, 22:15, Acts 3:18). It wasn't until after he suffered that he entered his glory (Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8-10) and we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his incomparable glory (Romans 8:17-18). His sufferings flow over into our lives (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15) and for this we were called (2 Timothy 1:8-9, 1 Peter 2:18-25) and should have the same attitude (1 Peter 4:1). If you suffer for what is right, and not as a result of your own wrongdoing, you will be blessed (1 Peter 3:14-17, 4:15-19) and should rejoice at being counted worthy (Luke 6:20-23, Acts 5:41, 1 Peter 4:13). Suffering proves the believer's faith as genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7) and produces perseverance (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2, 5:10-11).

        In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to you so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

Christ admonishes that our treasure be stored in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21, 19:21, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 12:13-21, 12:33-34, 18:22-30). He also warns against a wealthy lifestyle (Luke 6:24-26, 8:14, 14:12-14, 16:19-24). Jesus plainly told his disciples that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-24). Rather, do not worry about the physical necessities of life, but concern yourselves with the things of God's kingdom and he will provide these for you (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-31). We must be content with the basic necessities of life, food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-8). "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9-11). We must be content with our wages (Matthew 10:10, Luke 3:14, 10:7, Hebrews 13:5). Those who want to get rich fall into a trap and face the danger of wandering from the faith (1 Timothy 6:9-10) and failing to enter into heaven (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-24, Luke 18:24-25). This is not to say that financial prosperity is itself a sin, but the love of money that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) and the worries and deceitfulness of wealth that choke the word from those who believe and make them unfruitful (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19). Those with wealth are asked to give based on the condition of their heart. Take the rich young man who was seeking salvation and was told by Jesus to give all that he had to the poor but went away sad because he was unwilling to make the sacrifice (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-25) and compare this to the tax collector that followed Jesus, who accepted a pledge of half of his wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1-9). Again, it is the condition of the heart that is measured in giving, not the amount of wealth, as attested to by the poor woman who gave out of her poverty more than the generous offerings of the wealthy (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) and by the Macedonian churches who gave generously to the early disciples out of their extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-12).

        Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14) and that those who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Even so, the gospel should be freely given without the expectation of financial return (Matthew 10:8-10, 1 Corinthians 9:7-18, 2 Corinthians 11:7-12). Though Jesus does exhort us to invest his financial gifts in order to increase them, all that is gained belongs to him and the reward is still in heaven (Matthew 25:14-30). There is no arguing the promise that whatever you give will be given back in good measure (Mark 4:24, Luke 6:38), however, we must manage worldly wealth wisely and use it shrewdly toward the gaining of our friends, so that we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Luke 16:1-12). On one hand, Jesus taught that to everyone who has, more will be given (Luke 19:11-27), on the other hand, we are not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). It is then that God will give us anything we ask (John 15:16). When we give to the needy, it is to be done in secret, so that we do not receive honor from men, but reward from God (Matthew 6:1-4). That reward is yet to be given, but will come when Jesus returns (Revelation 22:12). Remember, you cannot serve both God and money, and what is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight (Luke 16:13-15).

        We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you...
        ...Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11-18)

To his early followers, Jesus expected that they'd be arrested and flogged (Mark 13:9-11). Jesus warned that some would be persecuted for his sake, even to death, and that all men would hate them because of him (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:12-19). Suffering, then, comes not through poverty, but from the afflictions that result from proclaiming the gospel. Our struggles are not against the flesh, but against the rulers of this world and the spiritual powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:11-12).

        "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

Note: Malachi 3:10 -- "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty," and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it," -- is a challenge to reap physical and material blessings as a direct result of giving to God. This is an awesome example of the potential for prosperity both for the Jews it was proclaimed to and for Christians today. Jeremiah 29:11 -- "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" -- was not referenced because it was directed specifically to the returning exiles from Babylon. God has plans for all believers to prosper, though he does not give as the world does (John 14:27). 1 Chronicles 4:10 -- Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request -- may be a possibility for some, but most who follow Christ will encounter hardships throughout life (John 15:20-21, Acts 14:22, 1 Corinthians 4:8-13, 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 2 Timothy 3:12), which we are to endure as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). All said and told regarding prosperity and poverty, Christians should share what they have with one another, that there may be equality (Acts 4:32-35, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15).