In prison, however, when I took time to study the meaning of Jesus' words in the original Greek language, I discovered that Jesus was not talking about camels walking on their knees at all. The word He used was one commonly used to describe a sewing needle, not an archway. In other words, the verse meant exactly what it said: It may not be impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, but apart from a miracle, he doesn't stand a chance!
In my cell, I studied the Bible long hours into the night. Often as the sun rose in the eastern sky, I was still poring over the Scriptures. The more I studied, the more I had to face the awful truth: I had been preaching false doctrine for years and hadn't even known it!
Tragically, too late, I recognized that at PTL I had been doing just the opposite of Jesus' words by teaching people to fall in love with money. Jesus never equated His blessings with material things, but I had done just that. I had laid so much emphasis upon material things, I was subtly encouraging people to put their hearts into things, rather than into Jesus.
Was Heritage USA of God? I believe it was; I believe the original concept was His and that He planted it in my heart. But as I said before, Heritage USA - with all its facilities and buildings - was the box, the package. The box was meant to enhance people's appreciation of the true gift, Jesus Christ, but before long, many people began to worship the box ... and I allowed them to do so; no, I encouraged them to do so by what I was teaching and by the manner in which I was living. I lived the prosperity message I was preaching. I should have taught people to fall in love with Jesus rather than the trappings.
I began to share some of the things I was learning with several of the Christian inmates with whom I often discussed the Bible. I was stunned by their responses. Rather than being excited that I had finally come to a knowledge of the truth, they were aghast that I was denying what they considered to be sound spiritual principles taught by sincere men and women of God.
"Yes, but doesn't Jesus also say that He came that we might have an abundant life?" asked David, an inmate whose background was steeped in the prosperity message. We turned to John 10:10 and read, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly" (KJV). It was a wonderful statement by Jesus Himself, so I could easily see how David had related it to material prosperity. As we looked up the words in a Greek-English dictionary, however, we found that the Greek word for "life" used in this verse was zoe, a word indicating "life in the spirit and soul" rather than the world bios which is used to refer to physical, material life. Of the two words, zoe is usually considered the more noble, higher word. Basically, Jesus was saying, "I want you to have an abundant life in the spirit, which is My highest and best for you."
"Hey, that verse doesn't have anything to do with material prosperity," David said, as the light turned on in his heart and mind. "If abundant life meant having houses, cars, riches, parties and entertainment, then I guess the world is experiencing abundant life. Yet we have more hatred, disease, and pain than ever." "Not only that, " piped up Jorge, a Spanish guy with a big smile who had walked into my cell and was leaning up against the bunks as he watched David and me searching through the Bible reference books, "but if you're figuring how much God loves you by how much money you have, or what kind of car you drive, or how big a house you live in, what happens when all that stuff is gone?" Jorge had hit the nail right on the head.
The next night after work, David and Jorge were back. David has talked to his Christian girlfriend on the telephone that afternoon and she had told him, "Of course God wants us to prosper, David. You know the Bible even says so in 3 John, verse two." I knew the verse well. It had been my favorite "prosperity verse" for years; it was the premier New Testament verse upon which I had built my prosperity message and lifestyle. The verse reads: "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (KJV).
I had preached on this verse for most of my ministry. It said exactly what I believed - that God wanted His people to prosper, and by that, I interpreted it to mean prosper financially and materially, in other words, to get rich. Again, I never really examined the true meaning of the text, nor did I ever seriously consider why this verse, on the surface anyhow, seemed to contradict so much of what the New Testament said in other places. I simply pulled this verse out of context and took it to the bank - literally!
"First of all, let's look at this verse, David," I said. "We have to take the whole counsel of God's Word, just like Jesus says in Matthew 4:4. 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'" We began going through the verse, word by word, deciphering the meaning from the Greek with the help of a few Bible reference books someone had sent me. I didn't tell David that I had been tearing this verse apart for nearly two years and trying to find where it fit with the message of Jesus.
It did not fit. No matter how hard I tried to make my former interpretation of 3 John 2 consistent with the words of Jesus, the verse as I had understood it simply did not make sense. How could John be saying, "above all things, I want you to prosper"? First, David and I looked up the meaning of the word prosper in a dictionary. The various forms of the word all had one common meaning: "to increase in wealth."
"David, tell me something," I said pausing and pointing to the Bible. "Jesus said that our number one concern was to love God supremely; after that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why, then, would John say that 'above all' I should have wealth?"
"I don't know, Jim," David replied. "What do you think?"
I ignored David's question and asked him another. "Do you think God wants you to have money above your soul's salvation?"
"No. Of course not!"
"Well, then let's find out what these words mean," I suggested. I suddenly remembered one of my Bible professors warning me never to look up Biblical words in an English dictionary, because the words might have a completely different meaning than in the original biblical languages. I pulled a Bible dictionary and Greek lexicon off the shelf.
(not finish, please continue reading the third part)