Does the Bible teach prosperity giving?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I always hear preachers saying, "Give to God and he will bless you abundantly with 10 fold, 100 fold or 1000 fold..."  I am confused about this as it seems to conflict with the "daily bread" part of the Our Father prayer. On the other hand, I hear some preach that we should not pray for material things at all. But then I'll hear another quoting Malachi as the basis of reciprocal giving and receiving. What's your take on all this?

Answer: Thank you for asking such an important question. Your instincts are correct. It was Jesus Christ himself that used the term daily bread, and in so doing he set the tone for prayer. He also established some reasonable expectations for the Christian life. Let us look at his life for our answer.

We must remember that while Jesus Christ walked on this earth that he never accumulated money or goods. Even his miracles, although replete with heavenly provision, reflected his earthly poverty. He fed the multitudes by borrowing one lad’s lunch (John 6:9). He paid taxes through the supply from a fish, not a purse (Matthew 17:27). He rode into Jerusalem on another man’s mule (Matthew 21:2). He administered the Last Supper in someone else’s house (Matthew 26:17). He died on a foreign cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb (Matthew 27:60). Well! It seems to me that the Son of Man did not have much of a portfolio. But not only was poverty his example, it was also his teaching. He sent out his disciples instructing them to “…Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.” (Luke 9:3), and he declared the poor in spirit to be blessed — not deprived or cursed — but blessed! (Luke 6:20).

The Apostle Paul's example opposes prosperity teaching. He was content in his current state, which is another way of saying that he was not seeking advancement, and he taught Timothy to do the same. 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
(Philippians 4:11, ESV)  

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:6–11, ESV)  

In spite of the clear counsel of God’s word, you’ll hear an unfortunate amount of blather from false teachers who say that Jesus was rich or that God wants you rich. But as we can see, the Bible teaches just the opposite — both as instructions to believers and by the example of the Lord himself. Jesus used the goods and services of this world only as necessary to advance his Father’s will, and that's an attitude that we should both evaluate and imitate. But the biblical counsel of moderation-in-all-things is not just for the seekers of wealth. It is also for the seekers of poverty.

Yes, there are those who err in the other direction by pursuing poverty-on-purpose, even unto sequestering themselves from all of life's ostensive joys. First, let me be clear. That is their right — but that behavior is neither moderate nor biblical. Such a lifestyle "reads" as God-honoring, and putting away the things of this world to focus on God is indeed a sound biblical principle. But the Bible will have nothing to do with this type of separation, this monasticism. Christians are called to live in the world and among its people. We are kept separate while in their midst by the Holy Spirit of God, and yes, our lifestyles should reflect this, but we should not abandon our places in the world. They are a gift from God. Jesus will take us out in the fullness of time.

Furthermore, earthly deprivations are often fueled by aberrant theology. Many religious sects teach that punishing yourself while on the earth shall influence God for an entrance into heaven. This opposes the clear biblical teaching that receiving Jesus Christ as Savior is the only way to heaven. Therefore, such financial/social flagellation works just the opposite of its intention. These persons seek heaven but try to use their own sacrifices to get in… instead of the only acceptable sacrifice, Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. We should chase after neither riches nor poverty, but accept our reasonable sustenance from the hands of the Lord. Making ourselves poor for poverty’s sake insults God by refusing his provision. God gives us life and bread so that we may serve others.

Now, let us examine the famous Malachi 3:10 in context.

“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7–11, ESV)  

Preachers love that soaring verse ten… and how could they resist? It’s a command to tithe… and better yet, it’s linked to a promise of resultant prosperity! A simple view of the context, however, should serve to dampen any excitement. Why? Because although every word in the Bible is for us, not every word in the Bible is to us, and this passage in Malachi was written to some God-robbing Jews who lived over 2000 years ago. It was not written as a behavioral objective for today's Christians. Therefore, we cannot take its instructions as our commands. They are instructive for us but not binding to us.

Beware of any preachers who connect earthly returns with Christian giving. Terms like ten-fold, hundred-fold, thousand-fold return, are the inventions of man and not the revelation of God. Shun prosperity preachers. Shun the Word-Faith movement, its preaching and its literature. These spew doctrines which are, not only non-biblical but warped and evil.

In way of contrast, let us close with some quick observations on Jesus’ instructions to his disciples during the Lord’s prayer. First, hallow God. Begin prayer by acknowledging God’s holiness, by giving him (as much as is possible from us) the glory due to his name. Second, by asking for that which we commonly receive (daily bread), we show humility in not taking for granted the common mercies that flow unto us. Next, we should ask forgiveness for our many missteps, and ask God to help us remember others. Finally, we should ask God for protection from evil—and from Satan himself. Yes, we should also include the particular details of our lives, but our petitions have no reason to go beyond the simple. We should always make any petitions with humility, and we should keep our petitions within the bounds of Godly revelation.

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