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The Prosperity Gospel’s Slam-Dunk Verse?

Prosperity-gospel preachers are notorious for taking Scripture out of context and misapplying it. The passages they twist are primarily used as proof-texts to back up their claim that God’s will for every Christian is that they be rich, rich, rich! They promise that with enough faith (and a big enough offering), you can hit the divine jackpot. It all seems too good to be true; and on this side of heaven, many would argue it is.

But are they completely wrong? Could it be that there is one “slam dunk” passage that gives credence to their health-and-wealth scheme? If so, it’s undoubtedly 2 Corinthians 8:9, where Paul declares:

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 by his poverty might become rich.

There it is! Jesus became “poor” so you could become “rich”! Time to cash in, right? Not so fast. As with all sound interpretation, we must begin by looking at the context.

Beautiful Picture of Generous Grace

To overlook the beautiful picture that Paul is painting in this chapter is to miss his entire point. Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes God’s grace as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches. Nothing about this passage focuses on what we can get, but rather, on what we can give. And what should motivate us to give generously and care for others? God’s grace.

Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes the grace of God as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches.

Look at some of the key phrases in the verses leading up to our passage in question:

8:1 — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God

8:2 — “. . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”

8:4 — “. . . for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints

8:6 — “. . . this act of grace

8:7 — “But as you excel in everything . . . see that you excel in this act of grace also”

8:8 — “. . . your love is also genuine”

8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

When we let the text do the talking this isn’t a “get rich” strategy, but a call for sacrificial generosity like the “churches of Macedonia” (8:1), who gave generously even when living in poverty (8:2). Did Paul declare them healthy and wealthy because they filled the offering buckets? Not in the least. Instead, he praised them for modeling the true heart of Christian giving: non-transactional love for others and a desire to see the church cared for.

Using Jesus as the original model for sacrifice, this passage calls us to remember how generous God has been with us, and to do likewise.

When we let the text do the talking this is not a ‘get rich’ strategy, but a call for sacrificial, unconditional generosity.

Christ came to earth, left his seat at the right hand of God’s throne, humbled himself by taking on flesh, and gave himself as a ransom for broken sinners (John 1:1; Phil. 2:7–8; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). He possessed heaven’s riches and celestial glories this world has never seen, yet he came to earth, became poor both spiritually and physically in comparison to his eternal dwelling place, in order to die to die for undeserving sinners like us. Because of him, we who are in Christ have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3), and we now possess an eternally abundant life (John 10:10).

Regardless of how much (or little) you have in the bank right now, your net worth on earth is temporary, but your true riches in heaven are eternal because of Jesus. What could be more generous than that?

Putting God’s Generous Grace into Practice

Understanding a passage is one thing; living it is another. Here are three key principles you can begin putting into practice today.

1. Commit to giving generously regardless of your financial situation.

The Macedonians were poor, yet they were “begging” to help in the “relief of the saints” (8:4). It could be one dollar or it could be a million, but if we’re not giving, we should start somewhere today. God isn’t interested in amounts; he’s after your heart.

Are you clinging tightly to what he’s given you? Do you sometimes forget that he has blessed you to be a blessing to others? Maybe it’s time to start following the example of the Macedonians and, ultimately, of the Messiah.

2. Consider giving as a means of God’s grace.

It can feel loathsome to give, but Christians are called to see it as a privilege. When you give to others, God is literally pouring out his grace on their life through you. Is there any other purpose for which we live than to be God-glorifying conduits of his grace?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

3. Carefully examine where you’re giving what God has given you.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Simply put, it matters where your money goes—and that includes what ministries you give to. God owns all. We’re simply managers of what he’s entrusted us.

Show me where you spend your paychecks, and I’ll show you your priorities. Does your giving reflect God’s will? Do you partner with trusted and proven ministries? Are the priorities of family care, needy souls, the poor, and missional efforts easy to see on your bank statements? Is materialism in check?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

Final Word

Absolutely nothing about 2 Corinthians 8:9 and the surrounding context teaches or affirms the prosperity gospel. If anything, one could argue that this passage would demand prosperity preachers empty their coffers and follow Christ’s example—generously becoming “poor” so that others could become “rich.”

Surely, if even the impoverished Macedonians could eagerly care for others as a means of God’s grace, we all can as well.

***This article was originally published on March 9th, 2020 as a part of TGC’s “Read the Bible in a Year” initiative. 

Signs of Christian Maturity

Some of the most important questions that arise in a Christian’s mind will (and should) have to do with spiritual maturity.

Am I growing? How am I growing? Is “maturity” evident in my life? Have I been consistently (even if slowly) become more like Jesus?

The Bible repeatedly teaches that Christians are supposed to be maturing in many ways — all of which enable us to bring glory to God and fulfill our purpose on earth (Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, “cruise control” Christianity is not genuine Christianity. Salvation is not merely eternal life insurance. Salvation is not a get-rich, get-healed, get-famous formula either. Scripture teaches that once we are saved, Christians are to be imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), loving others like Christ (1 John 4:7), giving themselves up like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), keeping the commandments of Christ (John 14:15), growing in holiness like Christ (1 Peter 1:16), and even suffering like Christ (1 Peter 2:21).

The question begs: By the grace of God are you seeing signs of Christian maturity in your life?

Here are four signs that can help you make a prayerful assessment:

1. You see trials as training
This one is not fun. But since when is growth ever painless? In the gym, athletes hire trainers who “make them sore,” push their limits and provide resistance so they grow stronger. So it is in the Christian life when it comes to trials.

A mature Christian has natural feelings just like anyone else, but those feelings follow faith — they don’t lead it.

Do you see trials as cosmic abuse? Do you shake your fist at God; demanding He does what you are commanding? Have you come to rest in His sovereignty even when your life takes an unexpected turn into trial and suffering? Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

For the Christian, trials equal training.

2. You pray with a wide perspective
Prayer can be a sensitive subject for many Christians because they view it as personal and outside of anyone else’s opinion. It’s my prayer life.
However, we must sober up to the reality that God’s divine opinion matters when it comes to your prayer life. Your prayer life is also a significant indicator of maturity. For example, our physical and emotional needs are incredibly important to God (Matthews 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; 1 Peter 5:7), but there is so much more to prayer than simply asking God to do everything we want.

I recently completed a study on forty-one prayers or statements of prayer by the apostle Paul in an effort to see the kind of prayer life he fostered. It was eye-opening to see how most of his written prayers were focused on the salvation of souls, freedom from sin, open doors for the gospel, Christ-centered peace, joy in trials, and thanksgiving to God for all that He was doing in the hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; Philemon 4-7).

Does your prayer life resemble Paul’s? Do you adore God in prayer like David repeatedly extols Him in the Psalms? Are you actively surrendering your will to His as Jesus did on the way to the cross?

Yes, pray for physical and emotional needs. But, seek a wider perspective than your own temporal needs.

3. You respond to rebuke with receptivity
When people play offense, we have a tendency to play defense. It is innate. It can also be a sign of spiritual immaturity.

Maturity is the antidote to the type of pride that always assumes it is right and reacts to being called out on sin. Proverbs offers convicting insight asking, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Sometimes our immaturity rears its ugly head when we react defensively (and even aggressively) to someone lovingly pointing out our need for repentance.

Do you freely admit that you very likely could be the problem in some scenarios? Are you open to others shining the light of truth on your darkened blind spots? Christian maturity reflects the heart of Psalm 51:17 with the kind of brokenness and contrite response that “the Lord will not despise.”

4. Habitual sins are fading
Nobody is called to perfection, but every Christian is called to progression. The plain truth is, putting off the old self and being renewed by the Holy Spirit is going to transform you (Ephesians 4:22-24). Even if it seems agonizingly slow sometimes.

By the grace of God, certain sins like unbelief, addiction, or hatred may be shattered upon conversion, while the habitual cycle of other sins may fade over time as you saturated your mind with God’s word (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16). The Lord may use counseling, accountability, preaching, and prayer as a means of grace by which certain nagging sins get addressed. When it comes to sin and temptation, God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), and a Christian is — without question — implored to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). All the while, a mature Christian trusts in the power of grace that is greater than all sin, knowing that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Are you confessing sin (1 John 1:9)? Do you see a pattern of holiness growing in your life and the flippant, habitual practice of sin decreasing (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 3:6)?

As you strive by grace to grow in your faith, be encouraged by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…”