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. 

2 replies
  1. Mathew
    Mathew says:

    Greetings from India…
    Thankyou Bro. Costi for your ministry and it’s encouraging to read and hear you because it’s not about you and it’s about what Christ has done for us.
    This article came timely, so true how the false teachers have manipulated the true word of God and deciving common people. Keep up the good work Bro. Praying for you and your family while your serve the Lord.

    Reply
  2. John W Reed
    John W Reed says:

    2 Corinthians 8:9 tells me He became poor that I would become rich. He bore the curse. Poverty and lack and insufficiency are not a blessing. Are not something anyone wants in their life. You’re lying to yourself and others if you claim you don’t want a nice house to live in and a reliable means of transportation. The word rich in that passage simply means a full supply. God wants to supply our needs. He gives us wisdom to do so. He grants us favor. He grants us the leading of the Spirit. He grants us abilities to create, to invent, to work with our hands. He also though has given us promises of financial blessing in Him. Meaning we can pray for our needs to be met. That is not extreme. That is not excess. That’s a good Father. I am certain you don’t starve your own kids to make them better people.

    Reply

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