One of the most common verses quoted by TV Preachers today is Proverbs 23:7. The idea which is generally conveyed is that since “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he” all you have to do is think happy thoughts about yourself and they become a reality.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the power of positive thinking with regards to psychology or personal/professional motivation. But the Bible doesn’t teach that your happy thoughts will make you rich or successful. You’re not that powerful, and Peter Pan theology isn’t a thing. That said, let’s take a look at the verse.
Not only does the above verse read differently than it is quoted, but it’s not teaching magic powers at all. Notice that they only paraphrase the portion before the colon, the rest is generally left out. Just to be on the safe side though let’s put this verse back in context and see what we get.
Well that’s easy, simply checking local context reveals that the referent to “he” in verse 7 is the guy we are being warned about in verse 6. Essentially what you have here is a passage from one of the books of wisedom teaching you not to trust someone that is trying to bribe or cheat you.
That’s really good advice, and this is the kind of stuff you get from proverbs. It is important to keep in mind the genre you are reading. Too many use proverbs as a book of extra law, but that’s not what it is. Proverbs is a book of wisedom, and it is wise to not trust people you know are manipulating you.
Although this passage is just fine in the King James as far as I am concerned, some find it helpful to read it in the ESV, or any other modern version. Let’s take a look:
“6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;do not desire his delicacies,7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.“Eat and drink!” he says to you,but his heart is not with you.” Proverbs 23:6-7 ESV
There you have it, the ESV renders the section in question as “one who is inwardly calculating”. The King James is a great version and a true Christian treasure, but if you’re going to read it do take the effort to understand the old english. In this case, being inwardly calculating is a modern way of saying “as one thinketh in his heart so is he”. It’s not magical happy thought powers. It’s simply referring to a deceptive person plotting evil things in their mind.
At the end of the day, all you really have to do is to put the verse back in context. I say this sparingly, I am aware that many cultists like to use the phrase “put it back in context”. It’s as if the Devil has caught on to the catch phrase and twisted it to suit his own purposes. So let me be clear, when I say put it back in context, what I mean is read enough of the surrounding text so that you understand the full scope and meaning of what is being taught.
I am convinced that any prosperity gospel proof-text is very easily handled by doing just that. Generally a comprehensive analysis isn’t even required, sometimes simply reading the verse before it does the trick. When it comes to the prosperity gospel though I get the impression that the leaders don’t expect their followers to ever double check them. And that is how it goes when you are stuck in a cult is it not?
What does Proverbs actually teach then?
Since proverbs doesn’t teach the cosmic power of personal reflection, what does it teach? Does it give any advice on improving our lives and relationships? Well of course it does, that is the point of a book of wisedom, you gain understanding on the world around you.
Above is a sample of passages from proverbs teaching that gain is bought by hard work. This is true, but as one would expect from a book of wisedom it is not comprehensive. For example, even King Solomon would have been aware of people who are born into riches and are incredibly lazy. It’s also true that sometimes people work hard and end up gaining nothing. But is it not good advice in a general sense to work hard for a good living? Of course it is!
This is the right way to understand a book of wisedom, it is not a tome of extra laws or shortcuts, it is good advise. You gain knowledge and perspective directly from the mouth of God.
Next time someone gets you to listen to Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, or any of these TV Preachers try some of these tricks yourself. Put the verse back in context, and consider the genre at hand. This will work out for you and resolve 99% of the false teaching you come across.