In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on April 5, 2017. -ed.
The prosperity gospel is neither a small nor isolated error. The fixation with money and material riches pervades the theology of its adherents, corrupting every aspect of their faith and doctrine. It is a comprehensive lie—one that skews the very nature of the gospel itself, distorting even the Person and work of Christ.
In particular, it assaults the nature of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf. Forgiveness of sins and imputed righteousness are of minor importance at best. Instead, prosperity preachers teach a version of the atonement that serves their material interests. And it all hinges on one verse: “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” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Here’s how TBN televangelist Joseph Prince explains it:
On the cross, Jesus bore the curse of poverty! That is what the Word of God declares: “For you know the grace [unmerited favor] 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.” Read 2 Corinthians 8 for yourself. The entire chapter is about money and being a blessing financially to those who are in need. So don’t let anyone tell you that the verse is referring to ‘spiritual’ riches.”  Joseph Prince, Unmerited Favor: Your Supernatural Advantage for a Successful Life (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010), 29.
Prince is partly right—2 Corinthians 8 is about blessing others financially. But his fixation with money forces him to overlook the obvious flaw in his argument—that Paul was exhorting the Corinthians to give for the sake of other Christians in need. Apparently they had not been—as Prince promised his readers—delivered from “the curse of poverty.”
In verse 1 Paul commends the Macedonian Christians for the “wealth of their liberality” that flowed out of their “deep poverty.” Likewise, in verse 7 Paul reminds the Corinthians of their own spiritual riches: “Just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious [giving] work also.” The Corinthians and Macedonians were wealthy in many ways, just not in the specific way Joseph Prince is.
Phil Pringle, another prosperity preacher and founder of the gigantic C3 Church in Sydney, Australia, leaves no doubt about his interpretation of 2 Corinthians 8:9—going so far as to offer his own paraphrase: “Jesus became poor regarding the wealth of this world on the cross, that those who receive Him may become rich with the wealth of this world.”  Phil Pringle, Dead for Nothing?: What the Cross Has Done for You (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2007), 58.
Such is the corruption and greed of men like Prince and Pringle, that no subject is off limits in their quest to sanitize and sanctify their perverse love of money. At best, they minimize the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness at the expense of physical health and material wealth. At worst, they do away with the spiritual components of Christ’s atoning work altogether.
That self-absorbed theology collapses under biblical scrutiny. John MacArthur points out the true nature of Christ’s earthly poverty:
This verse is not a commentary on Jesus’ economic status or the material circumstances of His life. . . . The Lord’s true impoverishment did not consist in the lowly circumstances in which He lived but in the reality that “although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7).  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2003), 291–92.
Christ was not a wealthy man, but He wasn’t especially poor, either. The poverty He endured was in contrast to the vast heavenly riches He willingly set aside during His incarnation:
Though as God, Jesus owns everything in heaven and on earth (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:14; Job 41:11; Psalm 24:1; 50:12; 1 Corinthians 10:26), His riches do not consist primarily of what is material. The riches in view here are those of Christ’s supernatural glory, His position as God the Son, and His eternal attributes. . . . As the eternal second person of the Trinity, Jesus is as rich as God the Father. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9), and “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Arguments for Christ’s eternity and deity are inseparable. Since the Scriptures reveal Him to be eternal, and only God can be eternal, Jesus must be God. Therefore, He owns the universe and everything in it, possesses all power and authority (Matthew 28:18), and is to be glorified and honored (John 5:23; Philippians 2:9–11). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians, 289–90.
Therefore, the riches Christ offers us surpass anything this world can offer. Material blessings don’t merely pale in comparison—they fade into oblivion when contrasted with the vast spiritual riches the Lord supplies. Justification, reconciliation, sanctification, and, eventually, glorification—the eternal benefits of salvation are beyond our comprehension. Peter described them as “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for [believers]” (1 Peter 1:4).
And as John MacArthur explains, these are the riches we most desperately require:
Sinners desperately need the riches of Christ because they are spiritually destitute. They are the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), beggars with nothing to commend themselves. But through salvation, believers are made “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), sharing His riches because they are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The ultimate goal of their salvation is to be made like Him (1 John 3:2), to reflect His glory in heaven, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians, 294.
Paul anticipated the lies of the prosperity gospel. In his letter to the Philippians, he described its promoters as “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). He charged the church to avoid such worldly distractions. Instead, Christians must fix their hearts on the eternal riches only Christ can provide.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
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