I recently heard a television preacher tell his congregation and TV audience that it is possible to tithe your way into the upper echelon of wealth. Those who don’t achieve financial wealth are either not tithing or not tithing in faith. Therefore, this preacher seems to believe that those who give away their money with faith will become rich. This idea is something that reminds me of a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers which says, “Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now!” I’m not sure as to the nature of his specific hermeneutic, but let me say one simple phrase about this type of theology: it is false.
There are numerous scriptures referring to sowing, reaping, prosperity, etc. Many of them from the Old Testament are used to promote a ‘health and wealth’ theology. Something each of these preachers fails to consider is the full context of the verses. They often examine one or a few verses, ignore the context, and build an entire doctrine on a misapplied verse. Some of the contexts ignored by these preachers, which have various levels of impact on the teaching of the text include:
- immediate context (the verses immediately before and after);
- broad context (the chapter and book in which the verse is contained);
- testamental context (the testament in which it’s found);
- biblical context (the entire Bible);
- authorial intent (the message the author desires to express in the entire writing);
- original listeners (the original audience).
Ignoring these contexts will result in a potentially false doctrine. One parable I’ve often heard used by many prosperity preachers is the parable of the four soils (Matt. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15). The preacher says that if you sow your financial seed in good soil and have enough faith (often directly relating the level of faith to the size of the seed) then you will received a 100-fold return from God. This is usually followed by a statement that their own ministry, or the ministry for which they want to raise funds, is that good soil.
Such a teaching ignores both context and Christ himself! I will use the Lukan text for my explanation. In Luke 8:11, Jesus says, “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God” (NKJV). If you read further, you will see the soils are not ministries, but are the hearts of those listening to the word of God (“ones who hear,” v. 12; “when they hear,” v. 13; “when they have heard,” v. 14; “those who, when they have heard the word,” v. 15). Jesus said the seed is the word of God that has been proclaimed for people to hear. It is not money. The sower is either God or God’s preacher or witness. The good soil is the soil that listens having been prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the word.
Many of these preachers say that those with faith will not be sick and will be wealthy. I would propose that the apostles’ own lives debunk that foolishness. Paul, John, Peter, and many others suffered, lost much, were imprisoned, and eventually were killed or died in prison. Paul mentioned a thorn in his side, which could have been a physical ailment (2 Cor. 12:7). None of these men obtained and kept great financial wealth. Rather, most lost much to all of the material wealth they possessed. So, would these health and wealth preachers say that John, Paul, Peter, and the others lacked faith or did not receive God’s full blessing? Far from it! The problem is not the apostles faith, but the incorrect theology of the health/wealth preachers.
God does have plans to prosper us, but it may not be material prosperity. The greatest prosperity anyone can receive is salvation. God never promises a complete lack of sickness (in fact, he said pestilences would come to the earth), everlasting financial riches (rather, riches from heaven, meaning, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and a mature relationship), or other worldly gains. Rather, God instructs us to not seek after the things of this world (1 John 2:15-17, Matt. 6:25-32) but to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33-34) because Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Christians are to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:2, Mark 16:15) and to make disciples, not millionaires (Matt. 28:18-20).
While some preachers encourage people to follow a ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers theology’ and give away all their money to that preacher’s ministry, God tells us that His gospel message is what we should always give away. While tithing is good, it is not a way to wealth. True wealth comes when a person gives away himself or herself to God and receives the most valuable gift ever: eternal life! Will you accept Jesus today? Will you admit you have sinned and are under judgment? Will you accept God’s free gift of salvation by believing Jesus died to forgive your sins? Will you let Jesus be lord of your life? Will you accept God’s love and forgiveness? Paul tells us “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9, NASB).
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I find it somewhat ironic that you mention considering the context of something, and fail to consider the context of salvation. Why is it that so many people believe that as long as you believe, you will be saved? James said that even demons believe, but are not saved. Baptism is an essential in salvation. I don’t remember the verses, but I think it is in one of the letters from Peter that he mentions we are saved as was Noah through water. I think it is Paul that mentions we are clothed with Christ through baptism, without baptism we are not brought into the body of Christ. Context, not a few verses, must dictate what we believe about baptism.