Staples of Christmastime: Prosperity

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I don't throw a lot of bones to those hardcore 5-Pointers over at Fide-O, but they bring up another issue that troubles me: whether or not we receive payback for tithing.

If you've been around here long enough, you know that I don't support a ten percent New Testament tithe. I believe the Lord asks us to put everything we have and are into a real NT tithe. Ten percent is easy. PearlsDying to self is another thing altogether, and that "all in" kind of tithe better represents the truth that we've been bought with a price and are not even our own.

So when I read the Fide-O article about a church that's promising blessings out of tithing "or your money back," I squirm a little. (The snarky comments at Fide-O, don't help, either.)

Last week, I wrote what's turned out to be an incredibly popular post, "We Need a Gospel That Speaks to Failure." In that post, I discussed the widow Jesus lauded for giving God her last two coins.

While I wrote that the Bible gives us no assurance that the widow went home and on the way somehow got more in return than what she put in, I really want to believe she did. I REALLY want to believe that because it speaks to the character of God to give out of His abundance to those who hold on loosely to the things of this world. Shouldn't generosity be rewarded?

The two schools of thought on this starkly contrast, and the Bible isn't definitively in one corner or the other:

Pro-Prosperity:

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
—Ecclesiastes 11:1 ESV

Bring the full tithes 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.
—Malachi 3:10 ESV

"Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
—Luke 6:38 ESV

Anti-Prosperity:

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry."
—Luke 6:24-25a ESV

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
—1 Corinthians 4:11-13 ESV

But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
—2 Corinthians 6:4-10 ESV 

Back in March, I asked readers to respond to a set of employment and tithing survey questions. One of those questions was…

Have you personally seen that giving more money in tithing resulted in more coming back?

No question I asked got a more negative response than that one. Probably 9:1 against.

What then to make of those people who do give away ridiculous amounts of money, yet see even more ridiculous amounts coming back? Going to a Pentecostal church, as I do, it's practically carved into stone that the more you give the more you'll receive in return. And I'll be the first to admit that for some people, it sure appears that's true.

But what explains the many readers who don't see that work in their lives, even when they're being more than generous in their giving?

Some good Christians give and receive even more in return. Some good Christians give and give and give, but don't see that return–at least not this side of heaven.

So, readers, which is God's way? And what explains the disparity? 

19 thoughts on “Staples of Christmastime: Prosperity

  1. Dan,

    I agree with your point about tithing being an Old Testament concept. I too believe that the NT teaching is that all our possessions belong to God. The NT does teach proportional giving. And there does seem to be something significant about 10%.

    But to the point of your post: The short answer is that this is the wrong question.

    The long answer starts with “a man’s life does not consists in his possessions.” Then it covers all the stuff about materialism. And it ends with a statement that a true disciple does not find either outcome as necessarily superior to the other.

    If someone is giving in order to get something back, then he is not giving. He’s making an investment.

    Possessions really can become (almost always are) a barrier to grace. When we truly trust Christ, financial abundance loses its appeal. We can and should enjoy the blessings God showers upon us, but we should never hoard them.

    There is no virtue in being poor, however. But preoccupation with money is essentially idolatry. Few are able to hold significant wealth without spiritual harm.

    Good post,

    Rod

    • Rod, et al.,

      I believe that the NT teaches in Acts that we give until there is no more need among us. That’s probably more than 10%. We have to remember that people sold off entire assets to give to the disciples; we don’t tend to think that way, either.

      There might be some virtue in being poor. The poor seem to be praised by Christ more than the rich. I think poor people remember the Lord more and are more thankful to Him than the rich.

      I’m not against the idea of “investing in the Kingdom.” I think the Bible more than makes that point. The question is what we should expect back this side of heaven.

  2. And it also assumes that getting back great wealth when you give really is a blessing. I’ve seen a lot of families and people destroyed by such “blessing”. Maybe, big surprise, God not only knows the hearts of the givers (as Rod distinguished between giving and merely investing) but he’s also loving enough to not treat us all equally in how he blesses us, kinowing beforehand, how some of us will be corrupted by wealth more easily than others. God’s not like a pipe organ in that if you push a button you’ll always get the same sound.

    Good post!

  3. Hi all. This is my first comment here, but here are my thoughts:

    Tithe means “tenth” so you cannot tithe more or tithe less – you either tithe or you don’t

    The tithe belongs to God, so strictly speaking you don’t give it, you bring it. Not bringing it is robbing God.

    The tithe is not nullified by being an OT command, so is “Thou shalt not kill”. The transfer between Old and New is Christ himself as the fulfilment of the Law. He did not set aside the law, but fulfilled it. So those who hold that the tithe is no longer valid must demonstrate how Christ fulfilled it.

    The tithe is not nullified because all things belong to God. If that were so, giving him everything would also be mute.

    Tithing should be an act of obedience and faith in response to a command of God. I don’t see how it is effected by whether one holds a prosperity position or not. Either it is a command of God or it is not. The fact that the “prosperity” folks teach it is ad-hominem.

    Those who believe in prosperity and the abundant provision of God may tithe expectant of God’s generous provision. But equally for those who hold that we should not be caught up with money… surely they should find tithing no trouble.

    • Chris,

      You’re right. Giving isn’t nullified. In fact, I think the NT standard asks even more! That’s why I don’t believe in a NT tithe. The NT standard is to give until there is no more need among us. We do whatever it takes to make that happen, even if that means we give 50% or more.

  4. Chris,

    Etymology is not definitive, nor especially helpful. In practice it worked out to be more than a tenth in the OT.

    You state your position about the status of the Law as if it is the ultimate truth. Some people share your view, but it is far from universally held. I don’t want to get into a long discussion about this, but that view has serious logical inconsistencies, in my opinion.

    Anyone who gives out of mere obedience has missed the point of the NT view of giving.

    Rod

    • I heard a sermon once that if you adhered strictly to what Israel was required to give, it worked out to around 23% or something like that. Now, I’m pulling this out of the way-back annals of memory, so I could be totally off.

    • Rod,

      I don’t believe that the Law is the ultimate truth. Christ is. But the word of God is eternal, and Christ is for us the fulfilment of the law. The reason we do not need sacrifices is because Christ is our sacrifice once and for all. The reason we do not need to be circumcised is because we were circumcised in Christ by a circumcision of the Spirit. These are clear New Testament teachings. To throw all the commands of God out the window because they were given prior to Christ’s incarnation is not.

      The New Testament realities in Christ do not give us licence to ignore or interpret the Old Testament as we see fit, but they must be in line with the realities revealed in Christ, and expounded in the New Testament itself.

      What New Testament teaching can you point to, to show that the tithe has been superseded by a reality found in Christ, or that it was fulfilled by Christ’s work on our behalf?

      • Chris,

        I see the ambiguity in my statement. My point was that you state your view as if your view is the ultimate truth. I don’t accept your assumption that the Law is binding upon participants in the New Covenant unless otherwise indicated. This is the position that I see as logically inconsistent.

        In the Old Covenant, God said, “Keep my Law, and I will make you prosperous.” The New Covenant is something else entirely: “Place your complete trust in Christ, and you will enjoy an eternal kind of life that never ends.”

        The confusion between these two covenants is what leads to the so-called prosperity gospel.

        I know that we see this differently. I believe my view is more consistent, but I understand that you feel the same way about yours.

        Rod

        • Rod, thanks for the clarification 🙂

          I guess it depends what you mean by binding. Are they necessary for salvation: no. But are we free to ignore them: no.. . or as Paul would say, “By no means!”

          We do indeed have a new and better covenant in the New. And not to recognise this is indeed a source of grave error. But the words spoken by God in the Old Testament are still the words of one who is eternal and true, who does not lie or change his mind, and whose word does not return to him void.

          No command of God can simply “expire”, it can only be fulfilled. If it were not so, Christ would not have to have died.

          Our faith in Christ is not a substitute for obedience, rather it is what enables us to obey – Ro 3:31

  5. We are no longer held to Old testament law. If the argument for tithing held, then we would still also teach circumcision, which I think is clear from Galatians we shouldn’t do.

    That aside, I”ve personally found that when I give, I don’t normally get back anything in particular. I think teaching that we should expect more money back is harmful and leaves us expecting and even demanding that God comply to our desires–we think he owes us something we’ve earned (legalism). The New Covenant is not a formula where we obey then receive, but rather a Christ obeyed we receive formula. We only believe and allow the Holy Spirit to live the life of Christ in us. Much better deal. God is obligated to pour out blessing upon blessing on Christ, but is obligated to pour out wrath and judgement on us outside of Christ.

    I think if we live according to the Spirit we can trust him to direct us to give what we should when we should. Of course I’m in agreement with regular giving to support the church we’re a part of. If we live in true loving community, giving will only be a complete joy and privilege. Do we begrudge the gifts we give our family–spouse, children, parents, ect…? So it should be with our hearts toward the family of God.

  6. Hee hee, nothing like a broadside to the waterline of American Christian culture. The funny thing is, it is true in most every religion, that the popular definition of this discussion is “Do good, get good” and “get good” is always monetary.

    God wants us to loosen our hold on our possessions, no doubt, and literally begs us to be open in our giving. He will bless us. The burning question, of course, is that blessing going to be monetary? If we desire monetary or even physical blessing, then we have missed the point. If we desire anything but God’s very real presence in our lives, then we have missed the point. Of course God will take care of our physical bodies according to our physical needs. We don’t have to tithe for that. What He wants is to bless our spiritual bodies and meet our spiritual needs. Because that is what we are. To quote Yoda: “Beings of light are we, not this crude matter.” (Sorry, had to throw that in…)

    In western society, it is very hard to find real need. So much so that we have a hard time defining need. How many of the poorest of us have skeletal children, hair falling out in tufts, and upper arms you could wrap a thumb and finger around? How many of us live out in the open, burnt by the sun by day and freezing at night? How many of us die of exposure in 50 degree temperatures? For most of us, our “needs” are met, and our cup is indeed overflowing. What we have are unmet wants, worries and fears we do not lay at God’s throne, or concerns and questions we can’t let go.

    If we let go of our possessions, give up our hold on what we think we “need” and remember who fulfills our every need, we are blessed indeed, because 90% of what keeps us up at night is no longer important. Our weakness is the physical twisty-tie of “want” that keeps our spiritual being bound to our physical being. God wants to remove that, and tithing is the method of choice. Why? Because it is so hard to do. Look at the rich young ruler. “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. That one thing was not giving all he had to the poor. The one thing he lacked was the willingness to stop relying on his own abilities and strength. Relying on God would be manifested in giving all he had to the poor, just as the widows mite was evidence of her dependence on God.

    Like you, Dan, I want to believe her willing spirit was rewarded. But it probably wasn’t, not in the way we think. She probably kept living a spirit-filled life of praise, not complaining, “as patient as Job,” and blessing people around her. One day she died, as poor as the day she was born, and was ushered into the presence of God by Christ Himself.

    What on this earth could be better?

  7. David,

    I don’t want to dominate Dan’s blog, but I want to respond to one of your points.

    I certainly agree with the general thrust of your argument. However, you seem to indicate that our “true” existence is purely spiritual. As I read the Bible, it teaches that we are spiritual and physical beings. Our bodies will not be discarded, but redeemed and glorified.

    With this one quibble, I found your post dead on. You make several excellent points.

    Rod

    • Ya, I thought of that as I was reading through it…That and “tithing” being the method of choice…It should actually be “giving”. I don’t think we are bound by a %, unless it is led by 100.

  8. A friend once complained that you work all of your life, save all of your money, and then die before you can enjoy any of it. I said, no, it is worse than that. You work all of your life, save all of your money, get sick, spend all of your money trying to get well, and then die.

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