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On “Seed-Faith Giving”

Aug 15, 2013

The prosperity gospel is notorious for bad theology, shocking exegesis (or lack thereof), loopy logic, and dodgy hermeneutics. This is certainly the case with their teaching about “seed-faith giving”. And this is often tied in with positive confession teaching.

For example Don Gossett puts it this way: “If you continue to talk poverty, you will get poverty. If you talk prosperity – and you have done your part according to God’s principles of giving – then prosperity is what you will get.” This fuzzy thinking appears frequently in the writings of the prosperity teachers. Indeed whole books have been written on the subject.

As just one example, see the 1989 volume by John Avanzini: 30, 60, Hundredfold: Your Financial Harvest Released. A number of biblical passages that have to do with giving are appealed to by these teachers. One such passage is Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

Prosperity preachers claim that this means when we give (especially to them and their ministries) God will of necessity give back to us. But is that what this passage is teaching? The immediate context of this verse (6:37-42) is judging others and forgiveness. Thus giving in the sense of extending mercy may be in mind here as much as any consideration of material giving.

And the wider context of this passage (6:27-36, love your enemies) makes it clear that we should do what is right regardless of any hope for a reward (v. 35a: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back”).

True, v. 35b goes on to say, “Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked”. But the reward spoken of here is not some quid pro quo material compensation, but the recognition and blessing of God. As John Nolland comments:

“The reward language suppressed in vv 32-34 surfaces now in a form reminiscent of v 23: Luke is quite emphatic that goodness has its reward from God, but in vv 32-34 he is careful to avoid any suggestion of an alternative self-serving ethic based upon a reckoning into the equation of the divine recompense. Reward is not payment: it is the concrete form of God’s approval.”

Thus this passage cannot be used in the way the prosperity gospellers do, since their whole emphasis is on giving so that God can give back to you even more. We might get a material return on our acts of kindness, but our eternal reward should be a sufficient motivation.

Another passage often appealed to is 2 Corinthians 9:6: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”. The context is the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 8-9). Paul is here urging the Corinthian saints to fulfill their promise to assist the poor in Judea. Three things can be noted in this verse (and the verses that follow it).

One, poverty can be the lot of Christians, even faith-filled Christians, as the Jerusalem believers undoubtedly were. Two, God expects wealthier saints to help their poorer brothers. Three, God does not promise to give to us to satisfy our greed, but to meet the needs of others.

Philip Hughes reminds us that “as the whole context shows, the Apostle is speaking of the quality, not the quantity, of giving. The source of the giving is not the purse, but the heart, as the next verse makes clear.” Given the emphases of the seed-faith theology in particular, and the prosperity gospel in general, what Hughes goes on to say is especially relevant:

“Goodness brings its own reward and indeed leads to an increase of goodness. Nowhere, however, does Scripture propose the gaining of rewards as a motive for goodness. Giving for the sake of gain ceases to be goodness flowing from a simple and unselfish heart; it is then that very form of giving which the Apostle deprecates here – giving which is governed by covetousness.”

Or as Ralph Martin comments: “The appeal is to a motive which is not one of reward so much as a disinterested concern to reach out to the Jerusalem saints in need, and the issue is not the amount of the gift so much as the involvement it reflects (8:12).” Yet it is exactly this “giving for the sake of gain” which seems to come across so strongly and so persistently in the teachings of the prosperity gospellers.

Verse 11 of chapter nine is also appealed to: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God”. While the immediate context is again that of material giving, the wider context refers to the riches of God’s grace.

Says Martin, “‘You will be made rich’ … recalls 6:10 and 8:9. Indeed, it fixes the meaning of these references as Paul’s talking of God’s enrichments of grace, not material prosperity per se.” Or as Paul Barnett remarks, “There is no hint of a ‘prosperity theology.’ Enrichment, like ‘overflowing’ (v. 8), is metaphorical, and is not at all motivated by self-interest.”

Related to this passage is 2 Cor. 8:9, often appealed to in the prosperity literature: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Much of what was said above applies here also. Once again the context is the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. The riches promised in “this highly figurative statement” as Barnett says, appear to be metaphorical/spiritual in nature. They speak of the riches of salvation, righteousness and the spiritual gifts Paul has been discussing throughout the epistle.

As Scott Hafemann puts it, “Paul’s references to Jesus’ being ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ do not signify his economic status, but his pre-existence with the Father (cf. Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6) and his entering into the humble circumstances of this world, including death (cf. Rom.15:3; Phil. 2:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:16).”

No serious commentator takes this verse to mean a simple promise of material wealth. The theological message is much more important and much weightier. In a few brief words, the pre-existence of Christ is here declared (but not defined), his incarnation and messianic task is set out, the matchless grace of God is exhibited, and the example set for believers is given. Such great and rich spiritual truths should not be watered down by such questionable interpretations.

“There is no question,” says Murray Harris, that the Greek term in question “refers to believers’ spiritual enrichment, not their economic wealth or security. It denotes their participation, now and in the future, in the benefits of the salvation secured by Christ, including such benefits as forgiveness (5:19), restoration to right relations with God (5:18), and receipt of the Spirit (1:22; 5:5).”

Galatians 6:7 is often appealed to as well. In the KJV the passage reads, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”. This is how one prosperity teacher explains this verse: “Sow tomato seeds, and God’s law of the harvest guarantees you will reap tomatoes. Sow bean seeds, and God’s law of the harvest guarantees you will reap beans. Sow money seeds, and God’s law of the harvest guarantees you will reap money.”

However, the immediate context of the verse (vv. 7-10) has to do with sowing to the flesh or to the spirit. The struggle of spirit versus flesh has been a sub-theme running throughout Galatians, but is especially in focus in 5:13-6:10. Thus these four verses “are best understood as Paul’s bringing to conclusion the argument that began at 5:13” as Gordon Fee explains.

The purpose of these verses then is to summarise the instructions that have gone before. That is, in “6:1-10 Paul gives a series of instructions that spell out in practical terms what it means for his Galatian converts to ‘live by the Spirit’ (5:16, 25a), to ‘be led by the Spirit’ (5:18), and so to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (5:25b)” as Richard Longenecker writes. Money is hardly the focus of this passage.

Philippians 4:19 is another such text: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”. A simple reading of this text should be sufficient to answer the prosperity teachers. The meeting of need is promised here, not riches and wealth. As Curtis Crenshaw puts it, “God will grant all our needs – not all our greeds.” What we need will be provided for out of God’s riches.

Moreover, the context of this passage (4:10-20) undermines the whole prosperity doctrine. The context shows that Paul was in financial need, and it was only by the gifts of the Philippians that he was able to get through this testing time. According to the prosperity teaching, if Paul really had faith, he never should have been poor in the first place.

But he clearly was. Not only that, but even in that poverty and hardship, he was content (and presumably fully in the will of God!): “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:12). Our position in Christ, not in the social ladder, is what matters.

As Alec Motyer states: “Because [Paul] had freed himself from the covetous spirit, he was able to ‘ride’ every sort of circumstance (verses 11-12). David of old, great man though he was, fell before the temptations of hardship and prosperity alike. Joseph, earlier on, had triumphed in each arena. Paul was in the line of Joseph. Circumstances no longer had power to touch him, for he was content.”

But according to many prosperity teachers, it is nearly heretical (or at least a bad case of negative confession) to say we can be content in our poverty. They insist that we be rich and live lavish lifestyles, as a proof that we are really “king’s kids”.

The truth is, the prosperity gospel is little more than a damnable heresy. It is exactly what Jesus warned against so often: the love of money and its dangers. One of the major sins Jesus and the Bible continually warn against – loving riches more than God – is of course the biggest problem plaguing the West and Western churches.

Millions of so-called Christians are slaves to wealth, and are heading to a lost eternity – just as Jesus so often warned about. We do not need to hear more sermons about getting rich; we need to hear about the radical generosity, self-abasement and self-sacrifice that Jesus and the early church preached and so vividly exemplified.

[1928 words]

11 Responses to On “Seed-Faith Giving”

  • Thank you for addressing this subject, I`d be too careful. It has to be one of the hardest Christian topics to teach on without succumbing to opinion, well done Bill. It can also be one of the easiest ways to get bums on seats, offering plates filled and hope raised by preaching Financial Prosperity, sadly with the wrong emphasis, false hope.

    Johannes Archer

  • Great article Bill
    I grew up watching these prosperity preachers and their “shows”, Its a shame that they are completely misguided and so deep in their beliefs that they threaten people’s salvation. So ignorant and blind, we should still pray that our Father will break down the walls of ignorance and bring true revival to them, their families and their churches.
    Godbless
    Pita Lino

  • Bill, first let me say that I’m a fan of your articles, your erudite commentary and explanations and the heart with which you write them, however, in respect to this article I’m not such a fan.

    Firstly, it’s good that all teaching be critiqued, and brought into line with God’s word, and, no doubt there has been errors in those preaching about material prosperity for His people. However, what appears in this article is an ‘over correction’ evidenced by some sort of bias against Christians believing for anything relating to money or material things, appearing as early as your third and fourth paragraphs.

    There, you state that, with respect to Luke 6:38 “The immediate context of this verse (6:37-42) is judging others and forgiveness. Thus giving in the sense of extending mercy may be in mind here as much as any consideration of material giving”. This is a highly selective and distorted rendering of the use of ‘context’, and one which I find instructive and revealing as to the direction of the article, right from the outset. There’s no question the verse immediately before v38 speaks of judging others, and, equally there is no doubt that Jesus is referring to material matters as far back as v27 onwards, where He begins his summation of the prior verses…a point where the true context can only be given of v38. However, to structure your argument this way, should not leave in the mind of the reader (as this is intended do) that those preaching on this verse are necessarily excluding these other non-monetary matters of equal importance. Sometimes people only hear so called prosperity teaching because that’s ALL that they hear.

    Jesus defined what the ‘gospel’ was in Matthew 11:5 and, suffixed it in verse 6 with, what appears, a warning to those who would later attempt to ‘water it down’. In contemplating what Jesus said, who He said it to and why, it seems clear just exactly what ‘good news’ was and is in His mind. What is good news to a blind person, Bill? Not being physically blind. What’s good news to a lame person? Not being lame. What’s good news to a leper? No leprousy. What’s good news to a deaf person? Not being deaf. What’s good news to a dead person (and their loved ones and friends)? Life…not dead. So, what’s good news to a poor person? Not being poor. (And the context is plain enough to indicate he was referring to material poverty – Matthew 6:33). All very physcial and material stuff this good news seems. It would be bordering on blasphemy to ascribe to our Maker, therefore that He wants His children, sick, dead and in poverty. What earthly parent does, much less our heavenly Father. (Luke 11) That said, It’s equally clear he doesn’t want his children covetous nor enslaved by riches and the cares of this world (Matt 6:24,33) – again an equally desirous outcome for any parent. But to suggest, as this article clearly does, that there is no place for believing for the Lord’s provision of whatever dimensions, within the scope and operational conditions of our Father’s kingdom, is also of itself “notorious for bad theology, shocking exegesis (or lack thereof), loopy logic, and dodgy hermeneutics”.

    How much ‘not poor’ seems to be the question (referring to material/money matters). Just enough? Enough for your own needs? Enough for your needs and others? Well off? Very well off? Wealthy? Very wealthy? Rich? Abraham rich? Solomon rich? Far be it from Father to limit anyone nor any nation’s potential in Him, particularly as His children. His only proviso would seem to be to love Him with all the heart and all the soul and all the mind and our neighbour as ourself. The potential in that kind of love seems limitless to me. In truth then, what did Jesus mean was really possible when He almost seemed to frivolously curse the fig tree in Mark 11 and then explained the potential of ones faith in God, IF one simply believed. The fig tree was quite a material thing…so’s a mountain for that matter. He turned water into wine, multiplied fishes and loaves, produced tax monies from the mouth of a fish. I’m just wondering where this material and very physical provision ends. I know where it begins…in love and surrender to Him, but that’s the ONLY proviso.

    With all due respect, Bill, the gospel of Jesus is ALL about prosperity…for your spirit, soul AND body, in that order. He came that we might have life and life more abundantly. The fact that a few teachers get it wrong does not extinguish the principles, promises or truths Jesus gave to those rooted and grounded in love and that dare to believe that all things are possible to them that believe.

    After my examination of the scriptures, I remain with only one disturbing question. Why are there so many poor Christians, of all three categories? Because of a beggarly and myopic view of our heavenly Father and articles like this that quench smoking flax rather than explore righteously and diligently all the counsel of our Father on the matter.

    All that said Bill, keep up the good work. You’re ‘voice’ for Him is appreciated amongst the clutter of this world. I encourage you to expect more (in all areas of your life) from so costly a salvation.

    Joseph Simard

  • I believe the biblical appeal to giving is always connected with a corresponding tangible need and I am sure Paul says somewhere that we are only asked to give according to what we have and not according to what we do not have. I believe some people even go into debt in order to give to these prosperity preachers or they at least give their last few Dollars that were to secure their families bread and milk for the next day as I have seen happen myself. How much of this money asked for and given as you so well put it Bill by “given governed by covetousness” ends up helping to relieve true poverty?

    Faith is often referred to as the required ingredient to receiving this prosperity from God, but when you look at Heb 11, the chapter on the heroes of faith, you see quite a different story. No Sunday picnic or life of ease there.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Thanks Joseph

    “With all due respect, Bill, the gospel of Jesus is ALL about prosperity”. Umm no, not at all. The gospel is all about the fact that we are sinners going to hell, that Jesus died on a cross so that we might find redemption through repentance, and that we might be his disciples, living a life of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and cross carrying. The NT gospel knows nothing about opulence, lavish lifestyles, greed and avarice. It is all about becoming a servant/slave of Christ for the sake of others, just as he gave up everything and became a servant/slave for our sakes.

    And I carefully deal with the dodgy way people twist 3 John 1:2 elsewhere: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/17/the-prosperity-gospel/

    God may of course call some believers to be wealthy, if he knows they can be trusted with wealth. But probably most cannot, which is why the NT is saturated with warnings about the dangers of wealth and how it so easily can take us away from God. The Western church has simply stopped listening to these warnings, and has become hardened to them, as it moves in a life of opulence and decadence, while brothers and sisters all over the world are dying for lack of food and water and basic shelter.

    Please spare us this silliness about my “beggarly and myopic view of our heavenly Father”. We don’t dare turn the riches of his mercy and grace into a cheap and tawdry call for everyone to live the good life, complete with chandeliers and BMWs. Talk about distorting and twisting the Word of God for our own selfish ends. Paul said he was content in any and all circumstances, and that should be our attitude as well – not demanding more and more stuff and money, to consume on our own lusts.

    And no, my articles are not quenching anything as you rather nastily and un-Christianly suggest. The warnings against wealth and the love of money are everywhere found in the Bible, and it is one of the messages most needed for the Western church today which is overwhelmingly addicted to and obsessed with possessions, consumerism, materialism and greed. We simply do not need more messages telling us to love money and stuff more. You might as well tell porn-addicts they need to hear more about how neat porn is.

    If you want to pimp the prosperity baloney, you can do it elsewhere thanks. I will stick to the clear teachings of Jesus and the Word of God and its clear warnings about just how dangerous wealth so often can be to the life of the church and the believer.

    As to your other objections, including those about healing, etc., I am not going to repeat myself here. I have already covered in great detail your complaints and more in the 32 articles I have already written on this topic. See here if you want to view more closely how I deal with them:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/

    If you have a look at those articles and still have queries, then we can discuss these things further. But thanks for your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Gary Whetstone July 15-21, 2013 on Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural talks about the “false gospel of money” in USA.

    Keith Brookes

  • Wow! you give as good as you get..and then some. Onya Bill. Your comments have been incredibly instructive. Thanks. Apologies for any offence caused. The Lord bless your going out and coming in.
    Joseph Simard

  • Blessings to you too Joseph.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I also want to say thanks for a brilliant exposition of the so-called prosperity view of the bible by some modern thinkers. And the repartee by Bill and Joseph on the pros and cons of the prosperity outlook was also enjoyed by me. Personally, I’d go with the Mother Teresa approach of give all you have in love and feel rich anyhow.

    Danuta Glendenning

  • Thanks, Bill,

    Christians need to be incredibly discerning about what they read/listen to/watch for all the reasons you stated.

    When we were relatively new Christians, we attended a “faith” church for several years, and were exposed to all the “name it and claim it” teachers, with their teachings extolling us to “move the hand of God” – a Christianese way of saying “twist God’s arm up his back”. The book which really changed things for me was “A Different Gospel” by D.R. McConnell. In it he clearly lays out the very UN-christian roots of the “faith” movement, based largely on the plagiarised works of a noted spiritualist. We bought some of the works cited to check the claims for ourselves and found them to be accurate.

    I guess my biggest issue is this, if this whole movement is based on lies, how can it really be truth?

    Nicola Saad

  • Sadly the doctrine is “If you have a need, sow a seed, to feed my greed.” This is true of most of the Media Ministries, as well as the so-called St. Matthews’ Churches scam. It is all about feeding the greed of these false shepherds. God is certainly able to meet our needs. He does not have to be bribed to do so! Judas received 30 pieces of silver for selling out Christ. How much are they receiving? There is nothing wrong with being prosperous if that prosperity comes through means which are honorable to God. Exploiting the poor, the sick, and the needy is an abomination in God’s sight. (Read Matthew 25).
    The Rev. Wayne C. Paul, Mdiv.

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