James 1:9-11 “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”
The gospel is good news to the poor primarily because it proclaims that material wealth doesn’t determine your standing with God! This so contrasts with the Jewish cultural mentality that “gain is godliness.” The Jews saw wealth as a sign that a person was accepted by God, and poverty as a sign that a person was a sinner and not accepted by God.
Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler? Jesus told him to give away all he had if he wanted to gain eternal life. Bertie Brits points out that the Jews of that time thought a poor person was headed to hell. Jesus was not teaching that poverty was desirable or more spiritual than riches. He was dealing with the thing that the rich young ruler was relying on for justification instead of on God’s grace!
Probably nothing has done more to promote the “gain is godliness” mentality in the church today than the modern tithe tradition. With that tithe tradition come the promises of gain for the tither and the threats of financial disaster for the non-tither. This subtle deception culminates with people basing their status with God on how much money they have rather than by what Jesus has done.
The gospel exalts everyone who receives it to a high position, even those in humble circumstances! But the rich must take pride in their humble position of dependence on Christ, remembering that money is not true riches and it soon passes away.
Many believers who have followed the give-to-get tithe teachings and find themselves in humble circumstances, wonder what they are doing wrong. They should rather exalt in their high position! There is story after story of Christians becoming mired in guilt and condemnation; confused, and wondering if they weren’t giving enough on top of their tithe; or tithing cheerfully enough, or tithing in faith when they found themselves in humble circumstances. On the other hand, how many tithers have we heard boasting in their current plentiful circumstances and how their tithes “worked” for them rather than boasting in Christ?
Yet we do see financial prosperity in scripture as a manifestation of God’s blessing. As I stated, I hold to a full-gospel position. How can I see prosperity as a part of the gospel, yet recognize James’ statement that many who are poor are rich in faith? Those are questions I’ve wrestled with, and I think I can provide some insight on the matter.
Although prosperity can manifest financially, the essence of prosperity cannot be defined as “having lots of money.” According to Jesus, money isn’t “true riches.” Prosperity is having abundance, much more than only what is required to supply your own need. When I was in financial straits after the IRS put a lien on my house, I still felt like the richest person in the world as I saw surgeries cancelled and people healed. I was distributing an endless supply of heavenly riches! Abundance is so much more than just money. In fact, some people have plenty of money but have anything but abundance.
I recently read a widely-acclaimed book on poverty alleviation, called “When Helping Hurts.” Chapter two discusses how many of us have defined poverty in material terms. This has actually caused us to do harm to ourselves and to the poor in our efforts to alleviate poverty. The poor themselves tend to describe poverty with much more psychological and social terms.
“Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness. North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things…”
According to Bryant Myers, God established four fundamental relationships for each person before the fall; a relationship with God, with self, with others, and the rest of creation. We experience the fullness of life as God intended it when these relationships are functioning properly.
Brokenness in any of these areas may manifest in material poverty. For example, many poor people in the third world spend a great deal on sacrifices to idols, trying to mend a broken relationship with God. A broken relationship with self hinders confidence to overcome obstacles and manifests in choices that bring poor economic outcomes. Broken relationship with others includes divorce, which brings many to poverty, and also leads to injustice in society. Broken relationship with creation includes the failure to wisely steward natural resources. Broken relationships in general often manifest in addiction and substance abuse, which have serious economic consequences.
Myers says “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”
These comments provide insight on how the gospel touches the issue of poverty. They clarify how we can hold a full-gospel position without judging people’s spirituality by financial standing. Bringing reconciliation to the four relationships, the gospel carries prosperity to many once-impoverished households and societies.
Many who teach tithing treat poverty as a manifestation of a broken relationship with God, and they promote tithing as the way to remedy that. By doing so, they obscure the message of the gospel! Poverty can have roots in any of these four broken relationships, but for many people, the primary cause of material poverty is societal injustice. This has no reflection on the spiritual state of the individual.
We should note that the same gospel which mends relationship also brings division. The same gospel which lifts people out of material poverty can result in material poverty for others. Yet the one who is walking with Christ is rich no matter how much money they have. Jesus said:
Matthew 10:34-36 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
Thousands of Christians live in the context of heavy religious persecution. For them, following Christ means being rejected by families and society at large. Sometimes it even means being enslaved. They are experiencing material poverty at the moment due to injustice, but they are rich!
Hebrews 10:34 “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
We may have heard of certain people having a “poverty spirit.” Certainly, there are patterns of thinking and habits that keep people struggling financially. However, there are sometimes erroneous judgments about who is operating in a “poverty spirit.” Even ministers who shun using pressure to bring in money or who are employed part time may get labeled as having a “poverty spirit!” Yet Paul had the same attitude, and he certainly didn’t operate under a “poverty spirit.” He quoted Jesus’s words “It is more blessed to give than to receive” in the context of paying his own way as he did apostolic ministry!
The person who doesn’t have money yet is full of joy and always giving away God’s riches is moving in prosperity. We can’t define a prosperous mindset or “poverty spirit” in financial terms. We must define them in terms of heavenly riches, which Jesus called “true riches.” Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom were moving in prosperity even as they wore rags in a communist concentration camp, and experienced supernatural multiplication of vitamin drops as they gave them away!
Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.
Being content doesn’t mean that you don’t want to improve your financial situation. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to prosper and have money. Rather, contentment means this: you are in God’s presence now and because of that, you have fullness of joy, no matter what the circumstances. You can say “Thank you God that you’re with me, you’re for me, and you’ll never leave me! Thank you, God, that you’ve cleansed me from sin, made me righteous, and given me the Holy Spirit and the privilege of representing you to the world!” You know that you’re immeasurably rich with heavenly riches, and always have something to give by the Spirit of God to those around you.
As soon as our joy is hinged on how much we have or the circumstances we face, we have fallen to idolatry. We must learn to be subject to the heavenly reality that is in God’s presence. Who he is determines how I’m doing! Like the apostle Paul, even in times of hardship, don’t let your face stop glowing with God’s love and glory. Don’t become subject to mammon.
The person whose joy is not altered by finances is truly rich and walking in prosperity. The rich man who is suicidal is walking in a poverty spirit. The penniless one who is full of joy and giving away God’s riches, is not walking in a poverty spirit. Although walking in a prosperity mindset can certainly result in financial miracles and material blessing, it cannot be defined by these things.
Mammon, not being true riches, can never satisfy our souls. Seeking satisfaction for our souls in mammon is a manifestation of a poverty mindset.
When we identify poverty’s root issue as broken relationships, we can see how tithe teachings can promote a poverty spirit. As we’ve seen, tithe teaching encourages people to judge their relationship with God by financial status. It disqualifies church people who can’t fully support their families and pay a tithe. These teachings undermine the family model that Jesus taught for his church. They apply shame and the fear of punishment as motivations for so-called “giving,” and shame (a result of broken relationships) is a manifestation of poverty!
Dr. Abel Damina, the African preacher mentioned earlier who repented from the give-to-get teaching he once espoused, confessed how miserable he was as he taught that doctrine. He didn’t even have an assurance of salvation! He had plenty of money, but he was walking in a poverty spirit!
Tithing and any other form of “give to get” teaching is rooted in a poverty mindset of lack. The prosperity mindset says “I have all I need in Christ!” It is focused on releasing God’s riches to the world. Financial giving from a prosperity mindset is simply about helping other people, because I have all I need!
We’ve shared stories of people who are tithing and not properly caring for their families. If that is happening so often in the United States, how much more is it happening in third-world countries influenced by our tithe teachings and give-to-get theology? Currently, this is a big issue of in African nations like Nigeria. Elderly parents in much of the world rarely have savings or investments and therefore rely on their children to sustain them. An African brother recently complained of many people tithing to get God’s blessing, yet neglecting to care for aging parents! This surely does not reflect God’s heart, nor does it reflect what “kingdom prosperity” is supposed to look like. All too often Christians whom the early church would have assisted are instead told to tithe in order to resolve their financial situation!
So many people with money wrongly think they are walking in prosperity. Maybe they are giving generously to the church (because of course they think they’ll get a financial return from it), but they sure aren’t treating employees very well. They are still operating in a mindset of lack. Consider the business woman mentioned earlier whose salespeople we caught in various lies and whose business wiped out our operating capital through gross negligence; when confronted with proof of these injustices she concluded that we must not be tithing like she was! She was walking in a poverty spirit! Her wisdom was corrupted by mammon.
We’ve examined the broken foundations of corrupted wisdom that seek justification to support tithing. Such faulty reasoning applies a “logic” we would not apply to any other issue. This irrationality extends to the point of inventing reasoning like, “Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden was failing to tithe.” We’ve noted that when the arguments are examined, the issue boils down not to “Does the Bible teach tithing?” but “How would we support our church without this?” The root issue is that “we need to teach tithing because we are afraid that not enough money would come in if we didn’t.”
If we corrupt our wisdom and lose our integrity over a perception of lack, then we walk in a poverty spirit and not a prosperity mindset! Can we not trust the Holy Spirit to lead God’s people to give? Can we believe that the love of God shed abroad in our hearts is what motivates us to give? Instead of using external compulsion, let us teach people to walk in communion with the Holy Spirit, so that the things which move God’s heart will move theirs! God is a radical giver, and the gospel unites us with him in Spirit! Giving is an aspect of God’s grace and can be a thrilling journey as we grow in faith and believe God for seed to sow.
Isaiah 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
This is Isaiah proclaiming the gospel! Doesn’t it seem strange that we could readily pay so much attention to a scripture from the law given on Mount Sinai saying “Nobody shall come before me empty-handed” yet not notice how great the contrast with the gospel scripture “You who have no money, come, buy, and eat!”
Galatians 4:21-31 “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”
The law given on Sinai said “Nobody shall come empty-handed” but the gospel says “Come, all you who have no money!” Which message are we getting across to the world? Have we come to Sinai, or to the heavenly Jerusalem? Will we lead people into slavery or into freedom? Are we going to operate according to the flesh or by the power of the Spirit? The gospel is good news for the poor, but the law isn’t good news for anybody, for “by the works of the law no man shall be justified!”
When we minister healing to people, there are some whose line of thinking goes “I don’t deserve healing” or “that person deserves healing.” Either attitude is pride. Humility comes with empty hands to receive, not based on any of our merit of lack thereof, but on what Jesus has done. I recently heard the Lord shouting “Come to me with empty hands” as God opened up the scriptures to me contrasting the law given on Sinai with the gospel. The glory I felt as my understanding was opening to this was so strong that I fell back in my seat. A pure gospel message brings a manifestation of God’s glory, often with people weeping, feeling the weight of God’s glory, or being healed as they listen.
When “Come you who have no money” becomes “Don’t come without your tithes and offerings,” we no longer have a pure gospel message. I’ve seen God’s glory and I’ve seen people weep as they received his grace. I don’t have time to waste with powerless religion. I want the pure message that manifests in power to transform people.
Now, of course by saying “Come to God empty handed,” I’m not saying “Don’t bring money to church!” I’m saying yes, participate in giving, but don’t hold that in your hand as something of merit with which you approach God in order to receive his grace. Come in humility with your eyes on who God is rather than the proud, self-centered attitudes of “I deserve something from God” or “I don’t deserve anything from God.” Those who approach God in humility will receive grace.
1] Mark 10:17-27
 Brits, Bertie. Jesus Is the Tithe: the Message of God. South Africa: Bertie Brits, 2019. Kindle Location 714
 Corbett, Steve, Brian Fikkert, John Perkins, and David Platt. When Helping Hurts How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.Page 51
 Corbett, Steve, Brian Fikkert, John Perkins, and David Platt. When Helping Hurts How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.Page 54
 Bryant L. Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1999)
 Acts 20:35
 Boom, Corrie Ten; Elizabeth Sherrill; John Sherrill (2006-01-01). The Hiding Place (p. 213-214). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Online:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVZZDsfuTiA&fbclid=IwAR2WOwUeALcBhP1ZPo4M9N3lM8CoDFByLMKpWwTNR4AeFveJ613QM_g2-Ws Accessed August 2nd, 2019
 1 Corinthians 6:17
 Exodus 23:15
 Galatians 2:16
 James 4:6