But You Are Rich

Are you rich? I am not asking unbelievers but Christians. I ask because some Christians have either forgotten or adopted an unbiblical measure of what makes a person rich. This outcome is a consequence of a popular theology that has penetrated the Western church known by two names: word of faith or prosperity gospel. The doctrine essentially teaches God’s will for Christians always holds financial blessing and physical well-being. There is a dire need to purge this heretical teaching and false gospel everywhere it is proclaimed. Not only does it lead Christians into idolatry and spiritual malnourishment but also makes God a liar. I aim to shoot down this heretical doctrine with one verse and testimony in hope to redeem or remind Christians “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!” (1 Cor. 4:8).

Revelation 2:9

Kenneth Copeland, an adherer to the word of faith movement, said: “You get spiritually rich, and you’ll get financially rich!” In other words, once you become a Christian (spiritually rich) you will obtain an abundance of wealth (financially rich). Nowhere is Copeland’s doctrine found explicitly or implicitly in sacred Scripture. On the contrary, there is an abundance of explicit and implicit verses that attest to Christians living in persecution and poverty. For example: In Revelation 2:9, Jesus tells the Church of Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” Here we see Christians living (spiritually rich) all the while living in tribulation and poverty. From Genesis to Revelation, you will not find God saying, “You are poor and going through tribulation because you have not accepted Christ and believed in the promises of physical well-being and financial blessing.”

But it gets worse for Copeland: Not only does Jesus know that his chosen are in tribulation and poverty but he also tells them in the next verse, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you (Christians) into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death,”(Revelation 2:10 NASB). As former word of faith preacher John Samson said, “This doctrine of the word of faith cannot stand up to biblical scrutiny and biblical context.”

For Christians who follow the teaching of the word of faith movement or prosperity gospel, how do you reconcile Revelation 2:9 consistently? You cannot! One must begin mental gymnastics and twist Scripture in order to fit the heretical teaching consistently. For those who are not yet convinced by Scripture, here is some historical context that magnifies the Church of Smyrna’s exhaustive tribulation and poverty.

The Church of Smyrna

The city of Smyrna held deep loyalty to Rome – who was an enormous force of Christian persecution – and led many to the common practice of the emperor-worship cult.[1] A part of the practice was not only the demand to participate in the pagan practices but also to profess the words, “Caesar is Lord!” If people refused to make the profession, the consequence would result in being expelled from the guilds of the city.[2] Consequently, since guilds were such an essential feature in Roman economy, to be expelled from them was devastating for one’s life. Gerald. L. Stevens wrote, “To be shunned from a guild was a catastrophic life event. Not only would one face a lost social identity as a social outcast but a lost business income as well.”[3] Because Christians refused to succumb to the pagan Roman practice and profess Caesar as Lord, many have wondered exactly how many Christians were expelled from their guilds to be treated as outcasts and untouchables.[4] It is without a doubt that this persecution affected the church of Smyrna. In fact, the word “poverty” Jesus uses in Revelation 2:9 is no ordinary poverty. The Greek word for poverty used is ptōcheian,[5] meaning a poverty possessing absolutely nothing.[6]

Again, the doctrine of the word of faith movement and prosperity gospel is in tremendous error. Those who teach and believe it must repent. The incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ Jesus was not so that you could have fast cars and mansions but eternal life with the Triune God. A Christians riches are not to be found on Earth in this life but on Christ Jesus and the life to come. A perfect example of this can be found in the testimony and life of Tockichi Ichii who was hanged for murder in 1918.

Tokichi Ichii

Tokichi was sent twenty times to prison. Once, he refused to apologize for attacking a prison official even after being gagged, bounded, and suspended just enough for his toes to not reach the ground.[7]

Although he was notorious for being crueler than a tiger, the Lord called Tokichi to himself through a verse in a New Testament given to him by two missionaries. His attention fell upon Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”[8] He wrote:

“I stopped: I was stabbed to the heart, as if by a five-inch nail. What did the verse reveal to me? Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ? Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that with an unspeakably grateful heart I believed.”[9]

Tokichi accepted his death sentence as “the fair judgment of God.” Towards his last days, the two missionaries who had given him the New Testament directed him to 2 Corinthians 6:8-10 concerning the suffering of the righteous. It moved him deeply. He wrote.

“As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing.” People will say that I must have a very sorrowful heart because I am daily awaiting the execution of the death sentence. This is not the case. I feel neither sorrow nor distress nor any pain. Locked up in a prison cell six feet by nine in size I am infinitely happier than I was in the days of my sinning when I did not know God. Day and night… I am talking with Jesus Christ. As poor, yet making many rich.” This certainly does not apply to the evil life I led before I repented. But perhaps in the future, someone in the world may hear that the most desperate villain that ever lived repented of his sins and was saved by the power of Christ, and so may come to repent also. Then it may be that though I am poor myself, I shall be able to make many rich.”[10]

Christ Our Treasure

The Church of Smyrna and Tokichi understood that without Christ you are as poor as the dead in their grave – possessing absolutely nothing. Christ is the treasure that makes a man richer than kings and queens. We should understand this reality as the Apostle Paul did when he said, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,”(Eph. 3:8) and “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). In fact, the word “rubbish” used in many modern Bible translations should be more accurately translated to “dung” or “excrement.”[11] The Puritan Matthew Henry wrote on Philippians 3:8, “Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with Him.”[12]

Christian, is Christ your treasure? Do you view, as Paul did, everything as less valuable than Christ? The only one who knows the answer to those two important questions are God and you. The greatest treasure any man can receive is the gift of faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). This gift is the treasure that makes man truly rich. It is this gift that has enriched you with every spiritual blessing (1:3) and fills you in Christ (Col. 2:10). It is through God’s gift of faith that we are given the crown of life (Rev. 2:10), which saves us from the second death (Rev. 2:11; 21:8). It is because of the work, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we will be raised with him to live for eternity in the presence of the Triune God (Revelation 21). Because of our Savior, we can say, “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”(1 Corinthians 15:55). Christian, when you have fallen into the lie that you are poor remember the words of Christ: “But you are rich!” (Revelation 2:9).


[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2005), p. 1996

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament Volume II (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook. 2008), p. 573

[3] Gerald L. Stevens, Revelation: The Past and Future of John’s Apocalypse (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. 2014), p. 322

[4] Larry R. Helyer, PhD, and Richard Wagner, The Book of Revelation For Dummies. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2008), p. 130

[5] ptōcheian in contrast with penia, the ordinary word for poverty.

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament Volume II, p. 573

[7] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (United States: Multnomah, 2017), p.147

[8] Ibid. p. 147

[9] From a letter cited in Norman Anderson, God’s Word for God’s World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981, p. 38-41

[10] Ibid

[11] Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.) p. 367

[12] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary Acts to Revelation vol. VI. (Mc Lean. VA: Mac Donald Publishing Company, p. 739

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