Understanding the 40 Parables of Jesus Christ: Learn from the greatest teacher Jesus Christ. The gospel taught in stories.

The Prosperity Gospel: Tithing and Televangelists

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"Pay money for your healing, for the currency of heaven is money."

That sounds like it came from the Bible, right?

Or was it more like:

"Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give." (Matthew 10:8 WEB)

Televangelists' Message of Tithing: Are We to Rob God?

The message of many televangelist revolves around the concept of seed faith, in which money is the seed for your faith. By donating money to these televangelists, you are showing your faith to God. They highly stress tithes, even saying that not tithing is equivalent to robing God.

One famous televangelist said, "I must warn you not to rob God with your tithes and offerings."

However, how can we rob God? With money? In Luke 12:17-23, Jesus tells of a man who produced more crops than he had room to store. This man decided to build bigger barns in order to store his crops so that he didn't have to worry about the future, but God says to him "You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared – whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20 WEB)

Jesus then explains the point of his message: "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21 WEB)

Was this man's error that he didn't tithe? Is that what Jesus is saying? On the contrary, let's look at why Jesus told this story in the first place. In Luke 12:13-15 a man says to Jesus, "'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?' Then [Jesus] said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'" (NIV)

Jesus then makes this same point again after telling this story, saying, "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God...Therefore I tell you, don't be anxious for your life...Life is more than food, and the body than clothing." (Luke 12:21-23 WEB)

All this man wanted was for his brother to be fair and split the inheritance with him, yet Jesus says, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed..." (Luke 12:15 NIV)

Yet still there are those who will take this verse out-of-context and insist that this man's error was that he didn't tithe. So let's talk about tithing and giving to God.

What Does Jesus Say about Giving to God?

Jesus said to those asking about taxation, "'Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?' They answered, 'Caesar's.' He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" (Luke 20:24-25 WEB; also in Matthew 22:20-21 and Mark 12:14-17)

The unasked question here would have been plainly understood by all Jews who were raised with a particular concept ingrained in their minds:
What bears the image of God?

Or rather: Who bears the image of God? Whose image and inscription do we bear?

These men wanted to question Jesus about money, and Jesus revealed to them that money is not what is important, but repentance: 'And who bears the image of God? Give to God the things that are God's.'

This is the reason why the crowds marveled at his answer. Because these men were greedy and wanted to talk about money, but the kingdom of God is not concerned about money. In fact, money IS AGAINST the kingdom of God. According to Jesus, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Luke 16:13 NIV)

And while televangelists may use this verse to tell you to give more in order to show that you don't love money, the issue here is that these televangelists are manipulating people into giving them money because THEY love money. And they show their love for money and material goods by buying 10 million dollar homes and 60 million dollar jets for personal use (although some claim it's for use by the "church").

Jesus says you will know them by their actions. These prosperity gospel televangelists are false prophets. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree brings forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit." (Matthew 7:15-17 WEB)

Now, the above mentioned televangelist's comment does have roots in the Bible. "I must warn you not to rob God with your tithes and offerings."

It comes from Malachi 3:8-10 in which God's people are accused of robbing God by neglecting their tithes and offerings. However, there's one major problem: Old Testament tithing was never about money.

Old Testament Tithing was Never About Money

Money was rarely the thing that was tithed in the Old Testament, typically it was food, and tithing was always land-based rather than income-based. Now, while it is not too far of a stretch to go from land-based to income-based tithing, it is important to note that tithing was not even mandatory – rather it was profit based. If you had no profit, then you were not obligated to tithe. Furthermore, mandated tithing is not a true tithe, but rather a TAX – this is part of where the confusion comes in, with taxation being confused with tithing.

In the Old Testament, the mandatory tithe was called the temple tax (this was not the same as the profit-based tithing the Bible frequently speaks of), "After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, 'Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?' 'Yes, he does,' he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. 'What do you think, Simon?' he asked. 'From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?' 'From others,' Peter answered. 'Then the children are exempt,' Jesus said to him." (Matthew 17:25-27 WEB)

The important point here is that the Old Testament tithing was about having literal food available for the priests and those in need in God's temple. Old Testament tithing was about providing for the poor.

"When you have made an end of tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the sojourner, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled." (Deuteronomy 26:12 WEB)

Tithing was meant to feed those in need, not to pay massive salaries to pastors or priests.

Let's look at that passage in Malachi, "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me! But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with the curse; for you rob me, even this whole nation. Bring the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in my house..." (Malachi 3:8-10 WEB)

Why tithe? So there may be food in the house of God...for the poor.

The only time that Paul requested that a tithe be made was when he was planning on making a collection for the saints in Jerusalem who could not find work, being viewed as heretics by the Jews. Paul instructs the Corinthians, saying, "On the first day of the week, let each one of you save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come." (1 Corinthians 16:2 WEB)

Paul told them to save money based on what they could afford to give. Furthermore, he instructed each person to save it individually, so that they had a large tithe ready to give. The Corinthians did not donate the tithe to the synagogue to hold it until Paul came. Instead, they each saved up money in preparation for donating a large sum to a particular need in the Christian community.

And according to Acts, "The disciples, as anyone had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea..." (Acts 11:29 WEB)

Tithing was used to help the poor and those in need.

Imagine if we still did food tithing and the pastor sold most of the food for the poor in order to purchase a mansion or plane?

Who is really robbing God?

According to James, "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27 WEB)

James also says, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled;' and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself." (James 2:14-17 WEB)

The Biblical message about tithing and caring for the poor is clear. Furthermore, when we give money to churches, isn't that now God's money? Then why is it okay for televangelists to use large amounts of this money to make personal purchases costing millions?

Jesus told the Pharisees, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone." (Matthew 23:23 WEB)

Again, food tithing, the Pharisees tithed spices (mint, dill, and cumin), which would have been an exceptional tithe by human standards, yet they are criticized for not having justice, mercy, and faith which are more important.

Tithing and the Favor of God

Prosperity gospel televangelists also teach that people will receive the favor of God by tithing. However, not only is tithing not used to receive favor with God, favoritism is actually the opposite of the Biblical truth. Tithing is actually only meant to honor God, and to provide for the poor.

According to the Bible, God does not show favoritism: "Peter opened his mouth and said, 'Truly I perceive that God doesn't show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.'" (Acts 10:34-35 WEB)

And what does Paul say about favoritism?

"For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:11 WEB)

As Jesus illustrates in the parable of the rich man, having prosperity in this life does not equate to God's favor.

In fact, the poor man Lazarus is the one who goes to heaven while the rich man goes to hell.

Jesus repeatedly teaches that life does not consist of the possession of things (Luke 12:15).

The Prosperity Gospel and Seed Faith

The way these televangelists describe seed faith is not a legitimate concept in the kingdom of God. Rather, it is a worldly and greedy concept. All the verses that speak of a multiplying harvest are talking about souls being saved or the word of God spreading.

For example, in Matthew 13 Jesus says, "...and others fell on good soil, and yielded fruit: some one hundred times, some sixty, and some thirty." (Matthew 13:7-8 WEB)

Jesus then explains shortly afterwards, saying, "The farmer sows the word..." (Mark 4:14 WEB)

"What was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it, who most assuredly bears fruit, and brings forth, some one hundred times, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:22-23 WEB)

Furthermore, God is not impressed by large donations. "[Jesus] looked up, and saw the rich people who were putting their gifts into the treasury. He saw a certain poor widow casting in two lepta (pennies). He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for all these put in gifts for God from their abundance, but she, out of her lack, put in all that she had to live on.'" (Luke 21:1-4 WEB)

While this may seem like this poor widow was sowing a seed of faith, in fact she was actually not doing so. Widows were supported by the community, since women were not allowed to work in most cases in the Jewish community.

Therefore, these two pennies were money that she truly owned, rather than the support she had. So by donating her two pennies to God, simply as an act of worship – not expecting anything in return, she donated her profit just like everyone else who donated larger amounts from their abundance.

The difference is that she donated all of her profitable excess, whereas these people donated only a portion. However, she would have still had her basic needs met from the support of the community. She was not donating her livelihood away, only the small amount of money she truly owned as an excess to basic needs.

Nevertheless, the main point here is that God is not impressed by the size of a donation or by the frequency. However, prosperity gospel televangelists are impressed by the size of your donation, because it is going directly into their pockets to buy their mansion and jet plane.

Frequency of donating is also not important to God. Consider this: Who gives more? The woman who donated $100 one time or the man who tithes $1 every week? It would take at least 100 weeks (almost 2 years) to match the woman's donation. In the eyes of people, the man who donates every week is viewed as the more religious one (speaking of frequency), just as the men in Jesus story were viewed as more religious for their large donations (speaking of amount).

Seed Faith is Witchcraft?

Seed faith is also used as a method of purchasing miracles. While these televangelists are very careful (most of the time) about how they articulate this concept, in order to hide what they are really teaching, ultimately they are claiming that if you just donate enough then your miracle will come true.

This is the literal definition of witchcraft.

Witchcraft and sorcery are the manipulation of spirits. Prosperity gospel televangelists claim that you can manipulate the Holy Spirit into answering your prayers by donating money, which is witchcraft of the worst kind.

Real witchcraft (not pretend magic spells, but actual attempts to manipulate spirits) is a sin.

Many of these televangelists even teach that you will be under a financial curse unless you tithe, further preying on those who are financially unstable or poor. This is also not Biblical; otherwise does it make sense that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ only saves us, but does nothing to prevent a financial curse?

Debt giving is also not biblical. Again, tithing was profit-based, so if you have no profit then you have no tithe. Furthermore, the Bible actually stresses avoidance of being in debt long-term. The Old Testament had laws for debt being forgiven after a certain period of time (example: Deuteronomy 15:1).

And Paul says, "Owe no one anything, except to love one another..." (Romans 13:8 WEB)

Prosperity Gospel Televangelists Manipulate the Poor

When prosperity gospel televangelists speak about tithing, they passively (and sometimes aggressively) attempt to manipulate their viewers into feeling bad about not tithing. They may make statements that imply:

  • You are a bad Christian by not tithing.
  • You are not being healed because you haven't given enough.
  • You would receive God's financial favor if you only give enough.

All of these (and many more) teachings are manipulation techniques used to make these televangelist more wealthy. The more you give to their ministry, the more wealthy they become since they keep most of the donations for themselves.

One verse sometimes used to glorify tithing is, "I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I get." (Luke 18:12 WEB)

The problem with using this verse is that Jesus is actually disapproving of this man in his story. He compares this prideful man who tithes to a tax collector who would have been viewed as a sinner by many, "But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:12-14 WEB)

God is not a manipulator. He wants cheerful and voluntary tithes (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ironically, this verse is also used to manipulate. First, these televangelists make you feel bad about not tithing, and then they tell you that you should be cheerful about this obligation.

If someone is making you feel bad about not tithing, or even claiming that you are sinning, or that your lack of tithing is why you are not being healed, then it is manipulation.

Financially Supporting Your Local Church is Biblical

Supporting your local church is definitely biblical, but it is important to choose who you support wisely. What is the organization doing with your donation? Are they using it to fund ministries that help the weak, poor, and needy? Are they using it to spread the gospel in a meaningful way? Or are they using it to pay their staff salaries that well exceed the average member of the congregation?

God would be more pleased with a donation to a non-Christian organization that uses the majority of its funds to help those in need, than with a donation to a church that uses most of the donations to pay for staff salaries and expenses.

Greed has become commonplace in many churches, so it's important to donate wisely. Don't be fooled by ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing.

Note: Not all televangelists are false prophets. The focus of this sermon is on those who teach the prosperity gospel.

Verse of the Week

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15 NIV)

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