- 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (Malachi 3:10)
Malachi 3:10 above is the one place in the bible where God says to test him to see if he will reward you. This lies at the heart of American Evangelical Prosperity theology. The Prosperity gospel is basically the idea that we should test God with our tithes and offerings to see him bless us abundantly in return in terms of health, finances, etc. Megachurch pastors like Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar have gotten very wealthy selling this “sowing a financial seed” interpretation of Jesus’ message, but is it biblical?
Matthew says the message is actually about thinking of others as more important than ourselves, not increasing our bank account:
- 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matt 5:39) … 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)
Part of this message of the primacy of the other is to give what you have to the needy, not hoard it yourself:
- 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not defraud. Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:19-22) … 25 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)
Paul speaks of daily self-denial and crucifying the flesh. The goal is to systematically self-deny, not self-indulge. For example, one commentary says
- Fasting is one of the disciplines of self-denial that Jesus practiced Himself (Matthew 4:1–2). Giving to the poor and needy is a form of self-denial that Jesus encouraged (Matthew 5:42; Luke 11:41). Watching in prayer is another way to deny yourself in service to God, as Jesus demonstrated (Matthew 14:23; 26:41). Likewise, living modestly rather than indulging in excessive luxury is an area in which believers can exercise self-denial (Matthew 8:20; 10:10; 1 Timothy 2:9). Denying yourself means seeking the good of others before looking out for yourself (1 Corinthians 10:24). When Ruth followed Naomi, she practiced self-denial for the benefit of her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:11). When Esther put her life at risk to save her people, she demonstrated self-denial (Esther 4:16). Scripture teaches us to deny ourselves for the sake of those who are weak in the faith (Romans 14:21; 15:1–3; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 9:23). When you are willing to sacrifice your time, energy, rights, position, reputation, privileges, comforts, and even your very life for the sake of Christ, you exemplify what it means to deny yourself: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39; see also John 12:24–26; 2 Corinthians 6:4–5).
Matthew even calls for people to become Eunuchs if they have the strength to focus completely on others rather than self: a powerful kind of self-denial:
- 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:12)
The most important prayer from Jesus is not praying for ourselves, but for others, even enemies: “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” So we have the idea of praying for others, most especially our enemies: 27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; 28 bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28).
Prosperity theology preaches to some of our lowests desires and moods: greed and desperation. You put in your coin and hope:
But really, is a Christian who tithes expecting to receive back tenfold more moral than an atheist who acts altruistically out of a sense of duty rather than a “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours mentality?” Prosperity theology envisions the believer as a kid doing chores because his parent will give him an allowance. Take the carrot away and see if the donkey will keep moving.
This is an interpretation of Christianity that is hyper-individualistic, and feeds into the egotism we see so prevalent in the Christian Right today, such as Trump friend and pundit Nick Adams below: