The Prosperity Gospel Refuted
Is the prosperity gospel the true Gospel of Jesus Christ or another gospel (Gal. 1:8)? There are some very sincere people who believe it to be biblically sound. They have many "proof" texts to support their position but how can we be sure the texts in question are being interpreted correctly? Is the real meaning of the texts being ignored and a presupposition read into them, a process called eisegesis?
Here are a few brief examples. It would take a book, not an article, to cover them all in depth.
2 Corinthians 8:9 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."
In splendid isolation, this text looks very supportive of the prosperity gospel. However, context is everything. As the well-known Bible commentator Albert Barnes said of this verse, Christ "...was willing to leave his exalted station... and to become poor, in order that we might become rich in the blessings of the gospel... and (we) who have such an example, should be willing to part with our earthly possessions in order that we may benefit others."
It is clear from the weight of scripture, that Christ didn't leave his exalted position in heaven and sacrifice himself to make us millionaires, he did it to secure our salvation. If one would look just a little further in this chapter to verse 13, Paul summarizes what he is trying to communicate. It is NOT that God desires you to be financially wealthy, he was actually imploring the Church in Corinth to divest themselves of their riches in order to help those in need elsewhere. He was using Christ's wonderful example of self-sacrifice to inspire his audience.
Paul did not want one person (or one group) to have abundance while others suffered privation, he wanted those with excess to give to those who lacked. To create equality such that no one had to do without, the giver or the receiver.
2 Corinthians 8:13 "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality."
Notice in the first two verses of this chapter Paul points to "believers" in need, which would not be the case if the Gospel is supposed to make believers rich (as some teach). If a "prosperity gospel" existed, it was certainly not working for these worthy souls.
2 Corinthians 8:1-2 "...Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty..."
Paul is talking about Churches. These are believers he considers authentic, even praiseworthy, who are experiencing extreme poverty. Does he tell them to just "name and claim" their wealth? Does he suggest they give the little they have to him, so that God will bless them back a hundred fold? Does he say if they would pay God a tithe, the windows of heaven would open and they would be showered with blessings? No, Paul asks those who are wealthy to give up their excess riches and support their poor brethren.
Christ's lofty example of self-sacrifice is simply used by Paul to encourage the Corinthians to sacrifice their lowly money. What the prosperity preachers read into 2 Corinthians 8 is that God desires them to be rich. What Paul actually advocates, is that those who have wealth should support the poor.
Another verse often ripped from its context is Mark 10:30 (below). Notice that they conveniently leave out verse 23 of the same chapter where Christ says "...it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." They also leave out Christ's admonition to the rich man in verse 21 to “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor..." Instead, they focus on verse 30.
Mark 10:30...will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields..."
Not seeing the beauty of belonging to the body of Christ and having all things in common, they teach that if you give up a house or field (for Christ), you will literally receive back a hundred houses or fields for your personal profit. It is forced literalism to suit their agenda.
They use this verse to support what some teachers call the “Law of Compensation.” It is quite different than the "Law of Christ" (LOVE). They want you to give them your money, to sow into their Ministry, enticed by the false promise that God will then bless you back 100 fold financially. They manipulate both the greed of the rich and the desperation of the needy.
For example, in a book called God’s Will is Prosperity, Gloria Copeland says “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000... She is NOT asking you to GIVE TO THE POOR. To receive this blessing you must give to her and her billionaire husband Kenneth Copeland.
However, there is another teacher (named Jesus), in a much better book (called the Bible), who graphically illustrates that such giving is from faulty motives. In Luke 10:29-37 Jesus tells the story of the "good" Samaritan. He took from his own pocket to pay the expenses of a stranger he found in need. He didn't do it in order to receive and be blessed, but to give and be a blessing. His motive was love, not monetary gain, and we are told to do likewise.
Luke 10: 29-37 "...‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ ...Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Again, in Luke 6:35, Jesus taught us to give, even to our enemies, expecting nothing in return. The false teachers tell you to give to them, expecting 100 fold back in return.
Luke 6:35 - "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."
Indeed, there is a reward for giving, but it is not monetary gain. It is spiritual gain, to live as a child of God. Both the motive and reward are different than what false teachers read into the text.
Another often used text that they misinterpret contextually and grammatically is:
3 John 1:2 "Beloved, I pray that in every way you may prosper and enjoy good health, as your soul also prospers."
First of all, it is a greeting, not a doctrinal statement. Not that greetings can't also speak to doctrine but that is apparently not John's intent here. We need not have dollar signs in our eyes and view the text as the prosperity preachers do. Modern translations use language that does not carry the connotations some like to assign to this verse. What John was really saying has nothing to do with money.
3 John 1:2 - "Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit."
Let's take a quick look at a few verses that are often used as the collection plate is passed around. They are sold as God's guarantee that the money will come back to you multiplied.
Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
If you take a look at the train of thought in that chapter, this is actually talking about giving mercy, not money. It is in the context of judging others just as in Matthew 7:2. When you pray the Lord's prayer and ask that "your sins be forgiven just as you forgive others", you are expressing the same thought. The same common proverbial expression is used in Mark 4:24 where spiritual knowledge is in view. Why make it about money when money isn't mentioned in these texts?
What about this verse, written over 400 years before the first Church even existed? The context is the nation of Israel where by law the various tribes supported the now defunct and obsolete Levitical Priesthood with part of their crops and flocks (not money). It refers to the requirement to store a tenth of their grain for the Levites. It has nothing to do with money, Churches, or the New Covenant - where free will giving, not tithing, is the model exclusively taught.
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 throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it."
How did grain become money, the storage silo become the Church, and the promise of rain for bumper crops become financial rewards? The tithe has no validity in the New Covenant, just as animal sacrifice, stoning, and hundreds of other practices, ended when Christ nailed the law to his cross (Col. 2:14).
Just as circumcision of the flesh has now become circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29), we no longer tithe but give from the heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Not by law, or compulsion, or by a set amount, our hearts determine the gift.
Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that the early Church was supplied by spontaneous offerings and it was not until the sixth century that a tithe was imposed based on the old law. Rome used it like a tax to support its massive structures and army of priests and prelates. When the Protestants broke away, some groups followed Rome's tradition, while others faithfully stood on God's Word (sola scriptura).
There is not one tithing verse in the entire Bible that can legitimately be applied to Christians, yet many modern Churches mandate a tithe in order to fill their coffers. The theological gymnastics involved amounts to a shameless twisting of scripture and willful ignorance of history.
Perhaps the most blatant and odious use of a pretext to solicit funds involves Christ's parable of sowing the seed of the WORD and reaping a SPIRITUAL harvest. This is morphed into sowing seed money and reaping a monetary reward up to 100 times what was sown. The underhanded guile of this claim is appalling.
Mark 4:20 "Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown."
Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
The prosperity Gospel is highly objectionable in that faith and prayer become tools to acquire material gain rather than justification before God and life in the Spirit. Not that there is anything wrong with provision but there is a great difference between God's promise to supply your daily bread and the expectation that he must make us rich if only we believe and pray in a way that unlocks his power to provide.
James 4:3 "You do not have because you do not ask God." This verse is often quoted and tied to John 14:14 (and other verses) to support their mantra that all one must do is ask in faith and God will give you "ANYTHING".
By implication, if you do not have health or wealth, or something you desire, it is because you lack faith, or did not ask for it in prayer, or didn't sow into their Ministry to share in their anointing. In other words, you are not a "super" Christian like them, rolling in money, so you must be deficient in some way. You do not have success as they (and the world) measure success.
What they conveniently leave out is the rest of James 4 and other verses that set conditions for God's response to our prayers.
James 4:3 "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
1 John 5:14-15 "If we ask anything according to his will...
Christ did not leave any room for us to wonder about God's will when it comes to our relationship to material wealth. God is a God of provision. He doesn't want us stressing out over where our next meal is coming from. He promises that if you put his kingdom and righteousness first, he will supply what you need (not necessarily what you want). We are not to go chasing after riches like the pagans do, making the accumulation of wealth the goal of our life.
Matthew 6:32 - So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Does this verse teach that God is going to make us millionaires, or supply all of our wants or desires? No, not at all. However, it does mean he will provide for our daily bread, our sustenance. If we have our basic needs met we should be grateful and content with that, not clamoring after riches. Paul made this very clear:
1 Timothy 6:8-9 "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." (see also Hebrews 13:5, Luke 12:15, Proverbs 30:8-9)
Still, prosperity preachers will go to great lengths to justify their lavish lifestyles and swollen bank accounts. They see no reason to be ashamed of their success, for in their minds that is the abundant life God promised.
Is it? Does God wish us to pile up obscene wealth, live in opulent mansions, fly private jets, and drive luxury automobiles - while at the same innocent children starve? Does such wealth come from God, or from fleecing those seeking God? It's not just TV Evangelists who follow the yellow brick road. “Avarice,” by Vatican reporter Emiliano Fittipaldiand, and "Merchants in the Temple" by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzirecently, recently added to the long list of books, movies, and documentaries exposing scandalous corruption in the Vatican.
Some point to Bible characters like Solomon to show that God does not object to wealth. I notice that they don't point to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Jews of Christ's day also believed that wealth was a sign of favor from God, so he told that parable to correct their misconceptions.
Be that as it may, it is not a sin to be wealthy and Solomon is a valid example of someone to whom God gave enormous wealth. However, it didn't turn out to be a blessing to him but an example of how wealth can become your undoing. Solomon used his great wealth to surround himself with beautiful women from foreign cultures (despite God's warning and his great gift of wisdom). He had a thousand wives and concubines, a harem of temptation no man of ordinary means could afford. They corrupted him and he ended up building shrines to their pagan Gods.
Job was also very wealthy, but God allowed the devil to take away all that he had, in order to test his faith. This raises enormous questions which cut to the very heart of the matter, to the very crux of the issue at hand. What is GOD trying to accomplish in us? How does HE measure success? What is it that GOD wants for us? The affliction of Job was for the same purpose as the affliction of Israel.
Isa. 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction.
Some people like to heap up teachers who will paint a rosy picture.They want a cosmic "Santa Claus" in place of God, who will give them everything they want, accept every behavior, and demand nothing difficult from them.
They seem to have forgotten that in response to the fall, God's desire is not for us to be spoiled and lavished with creature comforts. That's what the natural man wants, but is it what God wants for us?
God cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17) for man's sake because in our existential sufferings we learn lessons the ease of the garden of Eden couldn't teach us. Show me someone who has had ease, comfort, prosperity, and health all their life, and I'll show you someone whose self-indulgence has forged the spiritual mettle of a marshmallow. It's trials and tribulations that develop perseverance and proven character, not ease and luxury.
Romans 5:3-5 "...we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
Theologians frame this issue in terms of antecedent will versus consequent will. God would prefer to have us live in a garden of Eden, wallowing in eternal bliss. However, he created us with free will and we chose a path of sin and rebellion. He responded with a plan of salvation that involves faith, repentance, discipline, and a process of sanctification.
Consider God's discipline. A small boy may not understand why their Father disciplines them, or forces them to eat right and exercise, or doesn't allow them to go somewhere with their friends. Although the boy can't understand and resents his Father's discipline, it doesn't mean that his Father doesn't love him - correctly understood, it is evidence that he does love him.
Some teachers deny that God would ever bring affliction, or that suffering can be good for the soul. They promise only health, wealth, sunshine, and lollipops, but what does the word of God say?
Psalm 119:67 "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word."
Hebrews 12:10-11 "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against comfort, abundance, and provision. I'm not saying we should live in squalor, suffer the indignities of poverty, accept ill health, or go live on a mountaintop.
It's OK to want God to bless our finances, our health, our relationships, our circumstances. In the right hands, money can be a force for good. After all, the good Samaritan couldn't help his neighbor if he was in need himself, or home on a sick bed.
However, there is a reason we are given dire warnings about the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22), not to place our trust in them (1 Timothy 6:17), to guard against greed (Luke 12:15), NOT to live in luxury and self-indulgence (James 5: 1-6). Why did Christ pronounce woe to the rich (Luke 6:24), tell them to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21), and declare it was harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:25)?
We are warned because wealth is no substitute for the far greater blessing God is trying to produce in us! Worldly riches can actually be an impediment to obtaining spiritual riches. They can give us a false sense of security and attainment. What is the counsel Christ gives to believers who are deceived by wealth?
Revelation 3:17- 19 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire (faith), so you can become rich (spiritually); and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
There is a blessing that brings all other blessings in its train and God will go to great lengths to make sure you don't miss it. He may actually deprive you of your wealth (like Job), or allow various trials, to test your faith which is "more precious than gold" (1 Peter 1:7).
1 Peter 1:4-7 ...we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you... These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.
This agrees with what Paul said, that "our sufferings are achieving for us an eternal glory in heaven" (2 Cor. 4:17) "where eye has not seen, nor ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man what God has prepared" (1 Cor. 2:9).
So do not exchange your inheritance in heaven, for worldly treasures - that would be a fool's bargain. Ask God to increase your faith, even though it may bring you trials and hardships, not luxury.
Mark 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
It is true that God is the giver of every good gift. It's our perception of what is good for us, and how God should provide his gifts, that may be lacking.
Faith is good, but it needs to be refined in the furnace of affliction. Growth is good, but it comes with pruning. Correction is good, but it comes with discipline. Perseverance is good, but it comes through trials and tribulations. Promotion is good, but it is preceded by tests.
Physical health is good, but like the child who is upset when his Father forces him to eat vegetables (instead of junk food), and walk (not be driven) to the bus stop, we want spiritual health without the hardships that help produce it.
Consider the butterfly, it must go through a mighty and heart-rending struggle to escape from its cocoon. If you open the cocoon to make it easier, it will never be strong enough to fly. In the same way, we need the struggles and hardships of our lives to strengthen us spiritually. Lack of faith traps us in a cocoon of helplessness, but our struggles strengthen us so that we can one day soar with spiritual power.
That is the place of ultimate blessing that God would have us obtain. Like a refiner of silver, he holds us in the fire until he sees himself reflected in us. Then, when the dross is purged away, we are truly blessed and our passage through the flame seems but a light affliction compared to the glory wrought in us. True riches, eternal blessings, pleasures at his right hand forevermore. The worldly treasures men seek cannot compare.
Matthew 6:10 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.