Using Proper Context and Interpretation
In this chapter we will discuss the correct meaning of some passages of Scripture that the false teachers wrongly use to support their claims that God will make you rich, such as is Mark 11:23-24:
“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ if he doesn’t doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 That is why I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” (ESV)
This verse is supposed to mean that if you have enough faith, you can have anything you want, including a luxury home, sports cars, and gold jewelry. What nonsense! Jesus does not contradict himself. Just consider all the passages that describe the deceitfulness of riches and how we are not to have earthly treasure. This passage must be understood in the context of everything Jesus had taught his disciples.
For example; suppose your son has severe allergy and goes into convulsions every time he eats chocolate, and this condition has been present for five years. Then one day he asks, “What can I have for desert?” And you say, “Whatever you want.” Are you in fact telling your son that he can eat chocolate? Of course not, and he knows it. He knows he cannot eat chocolate, so when he hears that he can have whatever he wants he is not so stupid as to suppose that he now has permission to eat something that could kill him. It is ridiculous that you should have to tell him every single day, “You can have anything, except chocolate,” “…anything, except chocolate,” “… anything, except chocolate.” Jesus is not going to tell you in every chapter of the Bible not to commit adultery, because it is clearly stated in the Ten Commandments. So also Jesus does not expect to have to continually repeat himself for you to understand what he teaches about riches.
Then what is Jesus referring to? He is referring to whatever we ask that is according to the will of God for Christians, such as praying for healing, or other things we need; then you are asking rightly, especially if it includes feeding the poor, and preaching the Gospel. But if you are asking for money so you can buy a big house or a luxury car then you are not asking according to God’s will and you will not get what you ask for, as plainly seen already in James 4:1-3.
I hope this is becoming clear to you. Jesus was not saying that if you have enough faith that you can have something that is harmful to you or make you spiritually poor, blind, and naked; which is worldly wealth. The above verses must fit with everything else he taught in all four gospels.
“Truly, truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14) (ESV)
Is Jesus saying we can acquire “even greater” material wealth than he had? Of course not. The subject of this paragraph is the works of the Gospel; which are bringing people into the Kingdom, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and other works that bring glory to God. This passage has no connection with getting material goods from God that Jesus has already told us we should not have!
Driving a BMW while other Christians a few blocks away barely have enough to eat or are unable to pay their electric bill, does not bring glory to God. But if you ask God for the funds to pay their bill, that would bring glory to God, and it would also be asking according to God’s will. The next passage is much like the last one:
“If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you can ask for anything you want, and it will be yours. 8 This is how my Father is glorified, when you produce a lot of fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8) (ESV)
To bear fruit does not mean to get rich. This passage cannot correctly be made to refer to wealth. Jesus is saying that we can ask for what qualifies as bearing fruit. Fruit that will bring glory to God is not wealth, it is doing good works and preaching the Gospel. Living in a big house does not show people that you are a disciple of Jesus, but giving money to help the hurts of needy people does show people that you are his disciple.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) (ESV)
This is another verse the prosperity preachers use to support their claims that Christ wants us to have abundant possessions. But they disregard what Jesus said in Luke:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) (NIV)
Since Jesus does not contradict himself, there can be no question about it. Abundant life is not abundant possessions. And we should be careful least we start thinking that it is. Many people have been deceived by riches, they have been overcome by greed so much that they believe abundant life equals abundant possessions, or an abundance of money in the bank.
What’s more, in John 10, above, the Greek for “life” here is zoe (2222, Strong’s number), which relates to the spiritual life. Why didn’t Luke use bios (979), which refers to this physical world and is translated “possessions”? Because Jesus was not talking about material abundance but spiritual abundance. Bios is translated “possessions” in 1 John 3:17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need . . . ” (NIV). So when the Bible referred to this physical world, it used “bios,” which means Jesus was not referring to the material side of life when he said he came to give us abundant life. The Apostle John said:
“I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2) (KJV).
Other translations make the meaning more clear:
Beloved, in regard to all things, I pray for you to do well, and to be in health, as your soul does well. (LIT)
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (NIV)
These translations tell us that 3 John 2 does not say that we should become financially prosperous as our spirit grows in Christ, which is what the false teachers have told us. But it does say that the person John was addressing (Gaius) was doing well spiritually, and John prayed that Gaius would also do well or prosper in all other areas of his life, just as his soul was prospering, but that does not mean wealth. It should be clear by now that, in the Bible, to prosper does not mean to become rich. Jesus did not contradict himself and neither did his apostles contradict him. Here again we must look at the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as a whole. To prosper means to have all that you need in all areas of your life. It does not refer to having lots of unnecessary luxuries.
In the book of James we learn that some Christians were giving the best seats in church to rich people, so this proves there were rich church members there, right? Wrong.
Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes. 3 If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, “Have this best seat here,” but say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,” 4 then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives. (James 2:2-4) (GNB)
He said “Suppose” a rich man comes in and a poor man; the Greek literally says, “For if a gold-fingered man in splendid clothing comes into . . .” (LIT). This is not saying that there were rich church members as some preachers claim, but it is merely saying that if a rich man does come into the church, perhaps because a friend invited him, then he should not be given the best seat. The next passage proves that James did not think highly of those rich visitors:
Who are the ones who oppress you and drag you before the judges? The rich! 7 They are the ones who speak evil of that good name which has been given to you. 8 You will be doing the right thing if you obey the law of the Kingdom, which is found in the scripture, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 9 But if you treat people according to their outward appearance, you are guilty of sin, and the Law condemns you as a lawbreaker. (James 2: 6-9) (GNB)
It should be obvious to anyone with high school intelligence that James was coming down hard on the rich people who came to those church meetings; therefore, they were not Christian church members. Christians would not have been guilty of exploiting their fellow members, or having law suits against them, and even slandering Christ! But the rich in that community were guilty of those things. Such people should not be given the best seats if they happen to visit.
Here is another passage the false-gospel preachers use:
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) (NIV)
This is one of the favorite prosperity passages, because it seems to clearly show the prosperity message. As we have seen, Jesus does not contradict himself, so is he here telling us that when we give money to a preacher that we will get back a whole heap of cash? No. In context, Jesus was teaching reciprocity, as the verses just before that one show:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) (NIV)
Taking into consideration everything Jesus taught about money and giving, and the context of this verse, he was saying you reap what you sow. If you do good to others, good will happen to you. This is the basic philosophy that Jesus taught and the apostles taught. It does not refer to giving money to a preacher, but giving to others in general. It does not mean that if you sow money you get even more money, but it means if you give money, food, or clothing, to help people in need, when you are in need someone will help you. At the most, it could mean that you will not come into great need, but it does not mean you will get piles of money.
People who help other people are greatly loved, and those who are helped will do just about anything for them. This is one reason people who help other people will receive back in heaps. If you give generously to others, you will be given to. And if you find yourself in need there will be no lack of people willing to run to your aid. It makes no direct reference to sowing and reaping literal cash.
People who give gifts to other people at Christmas or birthdays are more likely to receive gifts from others at Christmas or birthdays. Giving generously to others should be a way of life, and if it is, then you will be given to just as generously as you gave to others; “with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
What about those verses which seem to say that God will supply our needs, and not just our needs, but far beyond our needs?
And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause. As the Scripture says, “He gives generously to the poor, His kindness lasts for ever.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-9) (GNB)
The “He” is God. God cares about the poor and gives generously to them. But what this verse says is that God gives to the poor through us by giving us more than we need so that we can give to good causes, like feeding the hungry. It is not promoting wealth-getting. God will give us more than we need so we can give generously to poor Christians down the street or in Asia. Stop listening to those who distort the truth of Scripture.
This passage goes right along with the story of Lazarus and the rich man. God wanted Lazarus to have his needs met by the rich man; but the rich man kept money for himself that should have gone to Lazarus and other poor people. So here is a clear picture of God expecting those with money to supply the needs of those who do not have enough to eat or enough to wear. The prosperity message says God gives to the poor directly, or through the angels; so you cannot expect a rich preacher, or other well-off Christians, to share their wealth with poor Christians, that’s communism!
The prosperity message says if you are poor you just need to give your last dollar to a rich preacher and God will meet your needs. But Paul said God will give us more than we need so we can give to meet the needs of those who are experiencing a drought and famine, or some other setback. The question is how much is more than enough? When is there extra money? In our materialistic society we never seem to have anything left over. Our lifestyle reflects our income. If your income increases, that is just more money to buy a bigger house, a motor home, and so on. Paul did not say that after you have everything you need to satisfy your fleshly lusts, then if there is anything left you can give it to the poor.
The problem with American Christians is they have been brought up to seek after the “American Dream.” They are climbing the ladder of success through ever increasing income, and view it as a reward for hard work. It just might be that the only reason your income has increased is so the additional amount can be given to provide for Christians in Indonesia who had their homes burned during an attack by Muslims. Hundreds of churches and homes have been destroyed by Muslim mobs in Indonesia in recent years, and many Christians had to flee to other areas with only what they could carry.
The Voice of the Martyrs helps persecuted Christians in Asia and Africa. VOM sends medical supplies, food, clothing, cooking utensils, etc. Giving to VOM is one of the ways to help poor Christians around the world.
Most well-off Christians are guilty of robbery because they have kept so much for themselves. Some of them give in offerings to the local church and even pay tithes, but that is not what Paul and God are talking about here; they are talking about giving a substantial portion to the needy because you earn more than you need, not more than you want. St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, said Christians can own things but should not possess them as their own, and should be willing to give them to others as needs arise: “In this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need… (1 Tim. 6:17, 18).”
Don Basham relates his experience with giving and receiving:
Some years ago I felt strongly urged by the Lord to give $150 to a fellow minister in need. I obeyed, even though at the time that $150 represented about 75 percent of my total financial resources. That simple act of doing what the Lord wanted was followed by months of unexpected prosperity.
A few years later, in a time of relative abundance, I gave $1,000 to another ministry I felt was worthy of support. But this time there was no flood of blessing in return. At first I felt resentful that God hadn’t been impressed by my generosity. But eventually, I acknowledged that the second gift had been my idea, not God’s. God let me give the gift, but He hadn’t told me to give it. (The Way I See It, p.106)
I can relate a similar story. One time God told me to give $25.00 to a particular evangelist, which was a lot of money to me, and within a month my income almost doubled, but even then it was still only about $300 per month. Does that mean every time I give $25, or an equal percentage of my present income, that I can expect my income to double? Not a chance.
The key here is that Don Basham and I had obeyed God when God told us to give. Obedience is better than sacrifice. The increase in income was not a sowing and reaping principle, it was a reward for obeying God. I had given more than that before to the same minister with no noticeable return. A passage from the Bible illustrates this point.
In 1 Kings 17, Elijah was living under a tree and being fed by ravens and a flowing stream, but because it stopped raining the stream dried up; so God told Elijah to go to a certain town where he would find a widow woman who would feed him. The widow was about to fix her last meal and die from the famine, but Elijah told her that God said if she fixed him a cake first, that her flour and oil would never run out during the famine, and she obeyed. This is not a prosperity gospel message, even though it is being twisted to be one; it is an example of Biblical prosperity, which is in having enough. She obeyed when God told her to give, then she received enough to supply all she and her son needed, and even enough for Elijah for the duration of the famine. She did not get rich and she would not have gotten anything had she merely chosen to give to Elijah in hopes of getting something back, before the famine. And how much was Elijah getting? Could he have built a big home from what she supplied? No, he was not actually getting any money at all, but only a place to sleep and food.
If God tells you to give money to someone you can be confident that you will be rewarded one way or another, because you obeyed, not because you sowed a seed. If God does not tell you to give, you will still be rewarded, but not to such an extent, and it may only be with heavenly reward. If God does not tell you to give you cannot expect a return because there is no sewing and reaping principle that works like the prosperity gospel says it does.
As further evidence for their teachings, the prosperity preachers point out that Abraham, Job, and Solomon were rich. But they fail to mention that Abraham did not live in luxury but lived in a tent; a tent that was not filled with “stuff” like our houses in America today. He had lots of sheep and cattle but he had few material possessions, so he cannot be compared to the wealthy preachers today who have huge mansions with crystal vases and marble floors.
Abraham also had many full-time employees; Genesis 14:14 says he had 318 trained fighting men, he also had many sheep herders plus all their wives and children. The total must have been several thousand which he fully supported. He did not pay them a low wage that cannot supply one person with housing and food. All his workers had all their needs met, of that I am sure. Also, it is likely that he did not live much better than his employees. Some rich Christians today are rich because they own businesses and pay their employees slave wages.
The prosperity preachers say, “Those who are against the prosperity message have never been dirt poor. If they had been, they would not be against prosperity.” The reason I am against the prosperity message is because the Bible is against it. Also, I have been hungry and homeless, but “Christians” treated me like I was just a lazy bum. I learned a lot about how much Christians do and don’t do when I was homeless. I saw the rich Christians drive passed me in their new cars on their way to church, while offering me no help.
The prosperity preachers like to talk about how wealthy the Israelites were when they left Egypt. They left with much of its wealth. What they fail to tell you is that God later asked them to give that wealth for the construction of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Even though they did not have to give it all, what good did the gold do them in the desert? They could not buy food or even clothing, so God had to provide them with manna and make their garments not wear out. It is clear that God did not give the Israelites the wealth of Egypt so they could live in luxury, but so they could give it to God, which did not include giving it directly to priests. The priests did not become wealthy.
The false prophets of materialism point out that Jacob reaped a hundred fold harvest during a famine. Yes, but they fail to mention that it only happened once, and that during another famine Jacob had to send his sons into Egypt to buy grain from pagans. Should we then expect pagans to be the source of supply during lean years? No, you cannot take something from the Old Testament that happened to one person one time and apply it to everyone today. The hundred-fold harvest was only an example of what is possible if God wills it, not what will happen every time if you have enough faith, or plant enough seed. Did Jacob lack faith during the second famine? No, it was simply God’s will for him to buy grain from Egypt so his family would move to Egypt where they would become slaves and be delivered by Moses.
The false teachers even use the fact that he had money to buy grain as an example of their prosperity message. In this famine there is a 99% likelihood that Jacob sold more sheep and cattle than he normally would have, because there was not enough water and grass for them all. This could have been the source of the money he used to buy grain, but even if he had enough money without selling any cattle or sheep, that is not evidence of wealth, only of having enough. If he did not have the money to buy the grain then he would have starved to death. Having enough money to buy what you need to eat is not wealth! Will the stupidity ever end?!
The prosperity preachers point out that the whole nation of Israel was sometimes extremely prosperous, but they fail to mention that the Israelites were very prosperous even while they were worshiping golden calves set up by Jeroboam. The southern kingdom of Judah was also prosperous while worshiping idols:
7 Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. 8 Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. (Isaiah 2:7-8) (ESV)
That passage could describe present-day America. The prosperity preachers fail to mention that throughout history there have been many nations that had great wealth. Consider the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamen that was filled with gold objects. Many of the Egyptian Pharaohs had great wealth as did the city-states of Babylon, Athens, and Rome. Are we to believe that these pagans were blessed by God for being pagans and giving to the pagan temples!
Consider this, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel he carried off all the gold that was in the temple. Here we have a case of God giving the wealth of Israel to a pagan king who used it to build a solid gold statue of himself. Why are the prosperity preachers not using this example as a teaching lesson? Maybe they are afraid God will send someone to carry off their gold because of their greed!
Israel’s watchmen are blind. None of them know anything. All of them are like dogs that are unable to bark. They lie around dreaming; they love to sleep. 11 These dogs have huge appetites. They are never full. They are the shepherds, but they don’t understand. All of them have turned to go their own ways. Each one seeks his own gain. (Isaiah 56:10-11) (GW)
The above verses are found in Isaiah, which is a book of prophecies; are they actually prophecies of ministers today?
A final story illustrates how these false ministers are going farther and farther into deception with magic and superstition like the New Age movement. The following was reported online by a person who attended a church conference in Tinley Park, Illinois. Z was teaching at the conference and revealed a couple of new scams which he uses to prey upon the gullible.
He used several Bible references about stones in the Bible that are said to speak, though it was metaphorical. But remember how stupid Z is, he gave magical properties to the stones. He even passed out a smooth stone to everyone in the audience who were instructed to rub their stone whenever they faced financial issues.
Later he presented more new insight on how to get rid of credit card debt. It seems you must give a huge gift on your credit card to him, and “something happens in the spirit world” which is supposed to out smart the credit lenders. To pay off your mortgage, just make a gift equal to your mortgage payment, and if you don’t own a home, then $500 will work against future debt. The people flocked to the front to give their credit card numbers and cash offerings. Everyone left that night a lot poorer than when they arrived, but with their lucky rubbing stones. (www.sliceoflaodicea.com/)