About the time of my parole hearing (1993), I completed my study of all the words of Jesus in the New Testament. To my surprise, after months of studying Jesus, I concluded that He did not have one good thing to say about money. Most of Jesus' statements about riches, wealth, and material gain were in a negative context.
Even "The Prodigal Son," one of my favorite stories told by Jesus, took on new meaning as I read it again for the first time with an overview of Scripture in mind. I quickly noticed that the story began with the younger brother saying to the father, "Give me! Give me my part of the inheritance" (Luke 15:12). He didn't even say, "Please give me." He simply demanded. Before long, that young man landed in the pigpen. I began to see that the fastest way to the pigpen begins with "Give me" ... and the fastest route to the "big pen," the federal penitentiary, often begins with the same phrase, "Give me!"
I was amazed at this "new" revelation, but beyond that, I was deeply concerned. As the true impact of Jesus' words regarding money impacted my heart and mind, I became physically nauseated. I was wrong. I was wrong! Wrong in my lifestyle, certainly, but even more fundamentally, wrong in my understanding of the Bible's true message. Not only was I wrong, but I was teaching the opposite of what Jesus had said. That is what broke my heart; when I came to the awareness that I had actually been contradicting Christ, I was horrified.
For years I had embraced and espoused a gospel that some skeptics had branded a "prosperity gospel." I didn't mind the label; on the contrary, I was proud of it. "You're absolutely right!" I'd say to critics and friends alike. "I preach it and live it! I believe in a God who wants to bless His people. Look at all the rich saints in the Old Testament. And the New Testament clearly say that above all, God wants us to prosper even as our souls prosper. If your soul is prospering, you should be prospering materially as well!"
I even got to the point where I was teaching people at PTL. "Don't pray, 'God, Your will be done,' when you're praying for health or wealth. You already know it is God's will for you to have those things! To ask God to confirm His will when He has already told you what His will is in a matter is an insult to God. It is as though you don't really trust Him or believe that He is as good as His Word. Instead of praying 'Thy will be done' when you want a new car, just claim it. Pray specifically and tell God what kind you want. Be sure to specify which options and what color you want too."
Such arrogance! Such foolishness! Such sin! The Bible says we are not to presume upon God, but we should say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:15).
I may not always have been so blatant about it, but I often preached a prosperity message at Heritage USA and on our PTL television programs. But when I began to study the Scriptures in depth while in prison, something I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I rarely took time to do during the hectic years of constant building and ministering at PTL, I was very distressed at what I discovered. I realized that for years I helped propagate an impostor, not a true gospel, but another gospel - a gospel that stated "God wants you to be rich!" Christians should have the best because we are children of God, "King's Kids," as I often put it.
And shouldn't the King's kids have the best this world had to offer?
The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet!
How could I have taught and even written books on the subject of "how to get rich" when Jesus spoke so clearly about the dangers of earthly riches? One of the statements of Jesus that kept echoing in my head and heart was in the parable of the sower, where Jesus said that "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Mark 4:19). The deceitfulness of riches. The more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that I had fallen into that snare. I had allowed the quest for material possessions and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts for other things to choke the Word of God in my own life and in the lives of my family members and coworkers. As PTL grew larger and our ministry more widespread, I had a financial tiger by the tail, and just coming up with enough money to meet the daily budgets dominated my thoughts and my time.
In prison, I decided to dig into the Scriptures further to see what else Jesus had to say about money. I noticed that He said, Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21 NIV)
Another Scripture that seared into my heart was Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot sere both God and Money" (NIV). In that same passage, I discovered that God's priorities were much different from what mine had been.
Jesus said, Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? .. So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:25, 31-33 NIV)
Other teachings of Jesus scored direct hits upon my heart, as well: "But woe unto you who are rich, / for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:24 NIV). "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Matt. 16:24 NIV). This verse dramatically illustrated the stark contrast between what Jesus taught and what I had been teaching. I had taught that Christians could have the best of both worlds, the best that this world had to offer and heaven too. Jesus said, "Deny yourself."
Jesus taught, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:24 NIV). Unwittingly, I had tried to explain this verse away with the help of modern scholarship. I had taught people that the "eye of the needle" of what Jesus spoke of was a low arch in the Holy Land. Supposedly, a camel carrying a heavy load had to get down on its knees to slip through the "eye of the needle." This was the explanation that I had heard from other prosperity teachers whom I had admired and respected, so I simply passed on their explanation as fact without really examining the verse carefully, especially in the original Greek. Nor had I consulted any Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias. If I had done so, I might have found that not a shred of reputable archaeological or historic evidence supports the came-through-the-arch theory.
(not finish,please continue with the second part)
(Publisher of Autobiography: Thomas Nelson Publishing)