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― 2 Corinthians 9: 6, 7 ―
THE QUEST FOR WEALTH has during the past half-century dug its roots deeply into the soil ― and into the soul ― of mainstream Christianity. The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is based on the idea that God bestows material blessings on those He favours, and His favour is sought by the confession of faith and the payment of tithes or other offerings for the support of the gospel ministry. There is no defined ‘Prosperity’ denomination, but the belief has been embraced by the Pentecostal Churches and by many other charismatic and mainstream evangelical churches. Originating in the United States, the doctrine has permeated Christianity worldwide, with varying intensity.
The rampant materialism of today’s secular society is a threat to multitudes of well-meaning Christian believers. Prosperity Gospel teaching promotes the conviction that God heartily approves of material wealth for those who please Him, and they are lured into joining the unbelieving world in its quest for wealth. The serious risk then is the contracting of a condition described as ‘affluenza’, the disease of greed. This arises from the ambition to be more wealthy, successful, socially admired, affluent – aims that are never satisfied and which leave their victims always wanting more.
Supporters of the Prosperity doctrine claim that their primary purpose is to further evangelism and charitable works worldwide, though critics argue that the accumulation of great wealth has never succeeded in such a mission. Zeal for the Gospel and compassion for the world’s afflicted has certainly motivated many Christians to donate generously. Funds have without doubt been used conscientiously in the majority of cases, and a reflex response may well be the pleasing sense of involvement on the part of those donating. But on the other hand, the goad, the spur, to generous giving, is often the hope of financial gain as a major evidence of the Lord’s approval.
Does the Bible Teach Such a Concept?
There are some scriptures that on the surface appear to support Prosperity doctrine. The Old Testament records that faithful Abraham was ‘very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold’ (Genesis 13: 2).
Malachi 3: 10 appears to promise a reward for generous giving: “‘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 you will not have room enough for it’.”
Evidently God does not in principle condemn the acquisition of wealth. His promises to Israel under their Law Covenant assured them of national prosperity, security and abundance, provided they remained faithful to the conditions of that Covenant. Tithing was the one-tenth of the produce of the earth and of the increase of livestock, consecrated and set apart for special purposes. At that time the theocratic government was also the civil government, so the tithes might be regarded somewhat in the nature of civil taxes, as well as being contributions to the religious requirements under the Mosaic Covenant. The priestly tribe of Levi, owning no land or livestock, were supported by the tithes of the other tribes, the Priests and Levites ministering in the observance of religious worship and ritual, and also serving as instructors of the people as to the complexities of the Law.
The New Testament has little to say specifically about tithing. While the Law Covenant continued to be binding upon the Jews during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and He castigated the teachers of the Law for their failure to observe it sincerely (Matthew 23: 23), He did not teach His disciples that observance of that Law was vital to their salvation. They would learn very soon that a new covenant [fn1] was to be inaugurated, first intimated at the Last Supper, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22: 20). And Paul clearly states that ‘we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (Romans 7: 6).
It is clear that those Jewish men and women who recognised Jesus as their promised Messiah were released from the strictures of the law of Moses. It was these that had kept the spirit of that law ― justice and mercy and faithfulness. The Apostle Paul taught his compatriots that ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster’ (Galatians 3: 24, 25, King James Version).
As Jewish Christians, the early disciples knew that they were no longer obligated to pay tithes. And as the gospel spread throughout the Gentile world, under no Divine mandate of tithing, the idea became irrelevant. But the New Testament is by no means silent on the subject of giving. No fixed percentage is set, but all are exhorted to give according to their ability, not grudgingly, but from a pure desire to support the work of God and the needs of others less fortunate than themselves. A rich Christian might give 10% of his income, yet suffer no personal sacrifice, while the poor might struggle to give the equivalent of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41–44).
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything ― all she had to live on.’
At whatever level, our giving must be at our personal cost. We are not permitted to sacrifice what rightfully belongs to others, for as the Apostle Paul declared: ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Timothy 5: 8).
Jesus did not condemn wealth as such, but He knew how easily it can become the obsession of weak human nature, and many of His parables deal with the problem of money and worldly possessions. The preoccupation with material wealth is a serious hindrance to spiritual growth and well-being. For while it is proper to provide things decent in the sight of all people, the critical issue is how we use the money and means we hold in trust, as agents of the Lord in the furtherance of His purposes.
Christians, like unbelievers, are assailed by multitudes of advertisements designed to stimulate their acquisitive tendencies: the latest iPod, the newest fashions, a replacement for your ten-year-old kitchen, an update to your decor, the addition of a sun room – or impress your neighbors with a 4x4 in the driveway. The materialist culture has a vested interest in ensuring that its victims always want more. Even young children learn to demand whatever takes their fancy and they are usually obeyed by their elders.
Many of the Lord’s people trapped on such a materialistic treadmill are gambling the family finances, pouring their tithes into the coffers of lucrative television ‘gospel-ministries’, hoping that their giving will reward them with a financial miracle. Sometimes that appears to happen, though the reality of the matter may be unproven. But the vast majority of Christians experience no miracle, for if the Prosperity Gospel fulfilled its promises the evangelical world would be peopled by millions of millionaires!
Acquisitiveness even in small ways is unbecoming in the Lord’s people. Gaming machines, dice and card games, bingo, raffles, betting and lotteries all titillate the hope for gain. If some such activities have a charitable purpose it is quite reasonable to donate to the cause but skip the gambling. We are being observed, and Jesus cautions us to ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ (Luke 12: 15).
It is our hearts, our time, our talents, that the Lord desires. We consecrate not merely a tenth, but our all to His service. That ‘all’ does, of course, include our money and as faithful stewards we undertake to use it wisely in our Master’s interests.
Our local churches may deserve financial support, and likewise Christian schools, care homes and hospices and refuges for the destitute. Many charities are worthy of support, and even some humanitarian organisations dedicated to the welfare of the world’s suffering millions. Many good causes are served by men and women who, without knowing it, are keeping the second part of God’s Law: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22: 39).
And we have a moral obligation to support those who feed us spiritually, those whose lives are totally devoted to the ministry of the Gospel. The seventy evangelists sent out by the Lord Jesus were dependent on the generosity of those to whom they ministered. The Apostle Paul, in defending his status as an Apostle, reminded the church of his right to be supported with the necessities of life. But he made an important point when he asked ― and answered ― the question: ‘What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it’ (1 Corinthians 9: 18).
And our reward? What greater joy and satisfaction could there be than collaborating with our Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingdom work of blessing all families of the earth? And when the true Prosperity Gospel is preached in those days, we shall echo the words of the psalmist (Psalm 98: 2, 3):
[fn1] The ‘new covenant’ here ought not to be confused with that ‘New Covenant’ which will come into operation during Christ’s Kingdom on earth, and which is identified in Jeremiah 31: 31-34.
Scriptures cited but not quoted
Job 1: 3: ‘and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.’
Job 42: 12: ‘The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.’
Matthew 23: 23: ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.’
Copyright August 2010 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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