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.