Give your money to God, and He will return it many times; have you ever heard that message or some variation of it preached? Do you believe it? In many churches, that belief is close to being the eleventh commandment. It’s often implied as give God a dollar, and he will give you back ten.
That’s the prosperity gospel, and it’s preached in many TV ministries as well as more than a few local churches.
Feel free to disagree, but I think that this teaching if flawed on a number of fronts.
The “Return” On Giving Isn’t Usually Monetary
Malachi 3:10 is often cited as the source verse for the prosperity gospel. In it, God tells the Israelites to “test him” in the matter of tithes. The “reward” God provides for faithful tithing is widely interpreted by the believers in the prosperity gospel to be money, but is it? Let’s examine that assumption.
”Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”—Malachi 3:10
Notice that there’s no promise of monetary reward. Instead, God promises to “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing”. While a blessing can be financial, it’s actually a much broader word. Blessing can be any one of dozens of benefits, most of which having nothing to do with money.
It’s unquestionable that God can and does multiply our generosity, but not usually in ways that we think. He can, for example, use a $100 gift from one person to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ten other people. Even though the giver never sees any financial gain as a result of his or her gift, that gift has nonetheless been multiplied.
In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:34-40), when Jesus commends the righteous, they aren’t even fully aware of the good work they have done: ”Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? The good work they did was done with no expectation of reward!
Personally, I believe that God does bless our giving, but not usually in the ways we think. It’s usually not monetary, and there’s certainly no mathematical return to it. Not ten-to-one, or any other type of ratio.
We Need To Support The Church
Before we go any further, I want to make clear the obvious fact that we do have a Biblical requirement to support the Church. But that support must be done with an open heart and no expectation of any sort of earthly benefit as a result of doing so. If there were an earthly benefit, we would be doing it for the reward, and not out of love for God for what he’s already done for us.
Where Does The Prosperity Gospel Come From?
There are at least two sources:
Our own hearts. We can easily support the idea of something like a ten-to-one monetary return in our human desire for riches. Attaching some sort of heavenly stamp of approval/partnership with God message to it gives it a higher purpose.
From the pulpit. Too many Christians get their “Scripture” from other people, rather than from the Bible. We hold pastors and preachers in high esteem and assume that they’ve done the job of studying the Word of God for us. Chances are, if your pastor or favorite TV preacher believes in the prosperity gospel, then you will too.
The only way to know the truth of God’s Word is by studying it ourselves, and praying and meditating over it. Any time we accept the interpretations of others, we’re leaving ourselves open to false doctrines.
The Anti-Prosperity Message Of The New Testament
If we compare the prosperity gospel to the teachings of the Bible, we find little support for it. In fact, in the New Testament, we see example after example of quite the opposite. Consider the following verses:
”For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”—1 Timothy 6:10
”It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”—Mark 10:25
“Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”—Acts 8:20
The prosperity gospel seeks to enter into something like a business deal with God, and we can see from these verses—and so many others—that that isn’t a true relationship with God.
Jesus Had No Money, And Accepted No Money
We have no evidence from the Bible that Jesus ever collected money from anyone. In fact, in the exact opposite direction, Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple accusing them of making it a “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12).
Meanwhile He counted himself among the poor. In Matthew 8:20 Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Based on these facts, can we believe that Jesus Christ—the figure at the very heart and soul of the Christian faith—would somehow advocate anything resembling the prosperity gospel?
Attaining Prosperity Through Giving Focuses Completely On The Self
For me, this is the point that makes the strongest case against the prosperity gospel. If we give based on the assumption that we’ll be financially blessed, then we aren’t giving out of a pure heart. We’re giving based on the expectation of a return on our gifts. That really turns gifts into investments, and that can’t be true.
If we’re giving with the expectation of a financial reward, then the giving isn’t about God or the people we’re giving to. It’s really about our attempt to improve our lot in life through an implied financial alliance with God—and that’s really all about us.
From a Biblical perspective, if anything we do is about us, it isn’t about God, and we shouldn’t expect to be blessed for doing it.
What to you think about the prosperity gospel? I know some people swear by it, but from where I sit, it doesn’t fit with Scripture. Feel free to disagree!
photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net