The Bankruptcy of Prosperity Preaching, part 1

What does the good news of the gospel offer us? Why is it good news? The answer to that question may not seem illusive or difficult. Certainly we recognize the blessings of reconciliation, redemption and forgiveness of sins as the focus of God’s message and the true benefit of Calvary for each of us.

Over the years, however, a much different answer has been preached in churches throughout the land. Many popular preachers are proclaiming that God’s work on the cross was designed to provide material prosperity and physical health. They unashamedly declare that God wants all of his children to be financially wealthy.

  • Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of the prosperity gospel’s most well-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word [of God], not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”
  • One contemporary representative simply states, “God desires us to become wealthy for him.” (Tecoy Porter, Releasing Your Inner Treasure: 8 Kingdom Keys to Unlocking the Wealth Within You, xxvi).
  • God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us. – Joel Osteen
  • This gospel has been ascribed many names, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”  Popular preachers such as Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland have promoted this teaching into one of the most prominent of our day.
  • God is truly a God of blessing. His promises are extant and relevant to life here and now as well as life to come.  Does God, then, promise material riches and good health to all those who serve Him?  Is suffering, sickness, and poverty a sign of a weak faith?
  • Our scripture of the month in Hebrews 11 confronts this question. Last week we noticed that the suffering of the faithful is clearly pictured in Hebrews 11:35-40Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented —  38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. They suffered because they had faith, not because they lacked it.

I.    The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel – It is not surprising that “prosperity theology” would be so popular in a culture of selfish ambition and secular materialism. The problem with this doctrine goes far beyond just a misinterpretation of a few scriptures. It is another gospel. Those who preach it rob the words of the Bible of their true power to transform the sinner and they secularize and minimize the importance of the cross.  Jesus did not die to make me financially successful. He died to save me from the spiritual consequence of my sin. Prosperity preaching is the product of faulty interpretation of scripture. Those who teach it frequently misapply a few key passages.

A.  Prosperity preaching and the Covenant of Abraham. Gal 3:13-14Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Prosperity preachers hold that the Abrahamic covenant included material blessings to all of God’s people. Of course, this covenant is central to the blessings that Christ provides, but these folks have misinterpreted its purpose and fulfillment. In explaining the prosperity approach, one writer states… “Christians are Abraham’s spiritual children and heirs to the blessings of faith…. This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.” (Edward Pousson)   In other words, according to the prosperity gospel, the primary purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was for God to bless Abraham materially. Since believers are now “Abraham’s spiritual children,” they consequently have inherited these financial blessings of the covenant.  Prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland wrote, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”  Referring to the prosperity theology of Kenneth Hagin, author Harvey Cox wrote, “Through the crucifixion of Christ, Christians have inherited all the promises made to Abraham, and these include both spiritual and material well-being. There is simply no Biblical basis for such a view.

1.  The ultimate fulfillment of the promise and subsequent covenant with Abraham was spiritual, not physical. Both the land and nation element of the promise were fulfilled to Israel, as Abraham’s children,in the O.T.   As Paul points out in Galatians and Romans, the blessing promised to the Gentiles was justification from sin. The “curse of the law” that Paul mentions in Gal. 3 is not poverty, but the condemnation and punishment of sin that the law demands. In Romans 4 Paul declares that it was not just the circumcised (Jews) who were to receive the benefits of the promises made to Abraham, but the uncircumcised (Gentiles) who had the faith of Abraham as well (Rom. 4:16).  What did they receive by faith?  Paul says “righteousness” was the fruit of Abraham’s faith, and is the fruit of our faith as well. (4:21-24) Consider Paul’s statements in:

  • Romans 5:1-55 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
    • The blessing is spiritual justification, (peace) not material prosperity.
    • In addition, Paul says that Abraham’s children glory in tribulations, not financial success.

B.  Prosperity Preaching and the Atonement: Another major misinterpretation of the prosperity preachers concerns the effects of Jesus’ atoning death. The prosperity gospel claims that both physical healing and financial prosperity have been provided for in the Atonement.

  • Kenneth Copeland states… “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” They view the healings of Jesus’ ministry as precursors to the full effect of the atonement. Kenneth Hagin says it is God’s plan that no believer should ever be sick.  Again they misinterpret the scriptures:

1. 2 Corinthians 8:99 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. It seems obvious from the context that Paul is not promising material wealth. It is easy to recognize that Jesus was not rich materially, but in His relationship with the Father in Heaven. He gave up that “wealthy” position to become poor. This voluntary poorness is not referring to His physical poverty (although He was not physically wealthy) but to His life was a human, being a servant (Phil 2.) He left heaven (rich) became a man (poor) that we being poor (humans) might be rich (go to heaven). The picture is spiritual.

a.   Another problem with the prosperity preachers’ interpretation is that in this verse Paul was actually teaching the exact opposite principle they propose.  Contextually, it is clear that Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much spiritually for them through the Atonement, they should be willing to become poor by giving away their physical wealth to help needy Christians elsewhere – “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack.

2. Isaiah 53:5 – 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. This is another favorite passage. Does this passage teach that physical healing is a part of the atoning death (stripes) of Jesus?  Scores of texts explicitly point to a spiritual healing of sin as the result of Jesus death. No text explicitly says the same about physical healing. Mathew’s quotation of Isaiah 53 was a clear reference to Jesus’ healing ministry, not the to effects of the atonement.

  • How did Peter view Isaiah’s prophecy? 1 Peter 2:2424 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. If physical healing is in the atonement, why are not all Christians free from sickness?  Did the blood fail?

3. 3 John 2 – 2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. The prosperity preachers would have us believe that John’s opening greeting is a declaration of the laws of material prosperity. Kenneth Copeland explains this verse this way… “You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper. This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it”.

  • The Greek word translated “prosper” in the KJV means “to go well with someone“. This wish for “things to go well” and for “good health” was the standard form of greeting in personal letter of antiquity, just as a friend today might say, “I hope this letter finds you all well”.
  • John later states that he is joyful because they are walking in the truth (v. 4) not because they are physically prospering.

Conclusion: Kenneth Hagin has written a little booklet entitled, “How to write your own ticket with God“.  Many in the prosperity gospel movement visualize a God who resembles a vending machine. You put in faith, and out come material blessings. It is not God’s purpose to do our bidding, but rather our purpose to do His.

  • Charles Fillmore of Unity School of Christianity recorded a rendition of the 23rd Psalm:  “The Lord is may banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance; He giveth me the key to His strong box; He restoreth my faith in His riches; He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector; Thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.”
  • I am convinced that the spirit behind this interpretation of the gospel is not from God. The gospel transcends the hope and aspirations of the prosperity gospel in every way.
  • Tonight we will look closer at the relationship between the true Gospel and material blessings.

  • What does the true Gospel offer us? Let the apostle Paul tell us… Rom 8:12-18 – 2 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out,”Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. From Suffering to Glory 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
  • Rom 8:28-34 – And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. God’s Everlasting Love 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
  • Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be enlightened so they could understand the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints. (Eph. 1:18). He then went on to describe those riches:
    • Eph 2:7-10the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
    • Are you rich in Christ? Have you been baptized into His death?