Prosperity teaching leans on Malachi 3 to cast God as a big piñata in the sky, chock-full of material wealth. This interpretation of the text is more about how to feed greed than glorify God.
Malachi 3:6–18 serves as the epicenter for prosperity theology.
Let me say what I appreciate about those who are dealing with issues of finances from this text. I might not agree with all their conclusions, but here’s what I appreciate: I appreciate the fact that they’re dealing with finances, wealth, and possessions.
Many times pastors are cowards when it comes to finances because they’re fearful of what people will think. God doesn’t have that kind of fear. God talks a lot about money, stewardship, and possessions. This is a major issue for him, not a minor one.
God is not a piñata
I appreciate that those who adhere to prosperity theology are willing to deal with finances. I appreciate that they’re even trying to teach from Malachi 3. What I disagree with is the insinuation that we give in order to get, which can feed greed. Teaching this passage in such a way turns God into a great big piñata who lives in the sky and is full of material wealth. Based upon this passage, some say that the reason this wealth hasn’t fallen down is because we haven’t tithed.
God talks a lot about money, stewardship, and possessions. This is a major issue for him, not a minor one.
Basically, they tell people to go get a stick (e.g., a tithe), give 10 percent to God the piñata, and shazam! He explodes and blessings rain down.
When Malachi 3 is taught like this, it’s about giving a little to the Lord to get a lot from the Lord. This is more of a Ponzi scheme than a worship act.
Sorcery and wealth
We need to look at this passage in Malachi in the context of the whole book of Malachi. In the verses prior, God says something very important: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers” (Mal. 3:5). God is saying that he is going to judge sorcery, and then he goes into finances. How do these go together?
Giving a little to the Lord in order to get a lot from the Lord is more like a carefully crafted Ponzi scheme than a worship act.
Here’s what sorcery is: trying to manipulate or control God. People who do this say things like, “I think I know what God is doing, and I don’t like it. I want God to do something else.” What their heart is saying is, “I need to change God. I need to manipulate God. I need to redirect God.” That is sorcery and paganism.
Non-Christian spirituality thinks that through karma you can control your future. Books like The Secret propose that, if you send out positive energy, then you’ll get a blessing in return. In a similar vein, Word-of-Faith teachers say in essence, “If you speak it, it will come back to you, and God will have to bring your words to pass because you have authority like he did in creation.”
Here’s what sorcery is: trying to manipulate or control God.
In response to this, God says, “I don’t agree with sorcery. In fact, I do not change” (cf. Mal. 3:6). We are not in authority over God; God is in authority over us. God doesn’t obey us; we obey God. We do not change God; God changes us.
Promise or principle
One thing that prosperity teachers say—some of whom are brothers and sisters in Christ and love Jesus—is, “This is the only time in the Bible that God says, ‘Test me.’ Let’s put God to the test.” But elsewhere in the Bible he says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16; Luke 4:12), so we have to be careful interpreting the Malachi passage as if God wanted everyone to do something that he says never to do.
We are not in authority over God; God is in authority over us.
Another point to keep in mind is that God makes his promise in Malachi 3:10 one time to one group of people, and he doesn’t say it again to anyone else, which suggests that this specific promise is a one-time deal, not an all-time promise for anyone, anywhere, at any time.
From Malachi 3, I believe we can conclude that this is a one-time promise with all-time principles. This was God’s interaction with his people and he made them a specific promise. For us, there are principles to be learned, but we should never turn God into a piñata.
This post was adapted from Pastor Mark’s sermon, “Will Man Rob God?“