Money and Ministry
DO YOU WANT TO BE BLESSED AND SUCCESSFUL?
In Acts 3:6 we read something very wonderful. Peter and John are going to the Temple to pray and they meet a man who is lame. He is begging and expecting some money from them but the apostle Peter says these remarkable words, “Silver and gold have I none…”. How many men today who call themselves apostles, or prophets, or even pastors in big cities, are able to say these words with any degree of truth? For Peter and John these words were a statement of truth concerning their own situation. And it is truly remarkable when we think about the way some men today, who say they serve as apostles, prophets or pastor’s, accumulate much wealth for themselves through the ministry. But it was not like this for the apostles in the new Testament. They did not accumulate wealth for themselves or make themselves rich through the ministry which God had given them. We read in the acts of the apostles in chapters 2 and 4 that the new believers sold houses and possessions and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. The apostles must have received huge amounts of money! What did they do with this money? How much did they take for themselves? From what Peter said to the lame man it is clear that the apostles took no money for themselves! It says in Acts 2:44,45 and 4:34,35, that the money was distributed to the poor, according to their need. Listen to what the apostle Paul says after many years of ministry, in Acts 20:33 he says to those he has ministered among, “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothes…” What a wonderful word is this! This is a manifestation and a practical demonstration, in the church and in the world, of the nature of Jesus Christ through a man’s life!
Not only did the apostles in the new Testament not make themselves rich with money, big houses and fine clothes, they didn’t even desire the money of the people they were serving! How wonderful is this! These are true servants of God. They don’t seek their own but the things that are of Jesus Christ and of his church! The apostle Paul says something very remarkable in Philippians chapter 2. He says, “…all seek their own not the things which are Jesus Christ’s”. This is what he experienced in his time and no doubt it saddened his heart greatly, so we should not be surprised if today similar things happen among us, that is, that there are those who use the ministry for their own profit, to accumulate money, houses, fine expensive clothes and cars. Paul says in the same chapter that he has no one who will genuinely care for them like Timothy. And is this not a great need today, that we should have men who seek not their own profit, who seek not to build up their own ministry to accumulate wealth for themselves, but men who will give themselves to the work of the Lord, to the Lord’s people for their benefit, and for their benefit only!
There are men today who use the ministry to build great church buildings for themselves, they dress in the finest and most expensive clothes because they mistakenly think that this represents the blessing of God and that it is a sign of a successful spiritual life! And they try to deceive others into thinking this way. One such man, from the United States, asked his followers and other believers to donate millions of dollars so that he could buy a jet to help him travel around the world more easily to the places where he wanted to minister. Another man, from Kenya, travelled in a procession of very expensive cars with a large band playing in front of him; thousands people were lining the streets and cheering; he made his way to a big field where thousands were waiting; he stepped out of his expensive car with his security men around him and you could have thought he was the president of the country! He had made himself important, exalted himself! He calls himself a prophet but we read nothing like this in the new Testament! Can you imagine Paul or Peter behaving like this? Another man, from Nigeria, says he has special miracle water that is able to heal people and to cast out evil spirits. This man tries to justify his action by referring to the apostle Paul from whom handkerchiefs were taken and distributed to people who were ill. But the apostle Paul never made any profit from this; he didn’t ask money for these handkerchiefs; the handkerchiefs were taken to anyone who had need; it was not necessary for the needy to attend Paul’s meetings to obtain these handkerchiefs! But with this man all these things have been true! This water is used to promote his ministry. At times money has been asked; at other times you could only get the water by attending the meetings of this man’s ministry or by buying one of his other products! This is business. This is not ministry. This is making a profit for yourself, it is not serving God’s people. In Acts chapter 8 a man called Simon thought that God’s gift could be bought with money. This is what the apostle Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money…your heart is not right in the sight of God” ( Acts 8:20-21). Our hearts are also not right before God if we think that God’s blessing can be bought with money! Another man with an international ministry came to Dar Es Salaam and at the end of the evening’s teaching and prayers for the sick, he put pressure on people to give money to support his ministry. He told the thousands that were gathered there that God didn’t want their coins but their notes! This is why Paul said that all seek their own and not the things of Christ! A Tanzanian friend of mine told me that he ran out of the meeting because he didn’t have any notes to give and he thought that this was a man of God speaking the words of God, so he was afraid because he didn’t have any notes to give for this man’s ministry! Any man who says or maybe shouts at you when there is a collection that God is not interested in you giving your coins but in you giving notes, does not represent Jesus Christ and he is not serving Jesus Christ; he is serving himself. How can a man who comes from America put pressure on poor people in Tanzania, many of whom have little or no money, to support his ministry with notes from each of their pockets? This is business and deception; it is not the ministry of Jesus Christ!
Of course we may support ministry and give money to those who do the Lord’s work. It is a righteous thing to voluntarily give to those who have no work because they are involved in the Lord’s ministry and genuinely serve and care for the Lord’s people. We read in the new Testament that Paul received such voluntary giving from other believers. But this giving was for his basic needs regarding food and shelter; it was not to make him rich so that he could buy expensive clothes and live in a luxury home or anything like that! Nor did Paul put pressure on anyone to give him money to support him or his ministry. Remember, Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none…”, and Paul said, “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothes.” Paul further tells us in Acts and in 1 Corinthians that he worked with his own hands to support himself so that he could make the gospel free to all people! How different is that to so many men today who want to build a position for themselves, a national and international reputation for themselves, who build a kingdom for themselves through their ministry, through a large church building, while they live in a large expensive house and drive expensive cars and where the finest of clothes. We read nothing like this in the new Testament, except regarding those who turned their back on the Lord and run after fame and money (2 Tim.4:10). But as it was in Paul’s day so it is today. Not only are they false ministers and prophets who deceive others, but there are those who love to be deceived because they love the wrong things!
Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:20, “For ye suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.” The apostle Paul is telling the Corinthian believers that they have a completely wrong attitude. Their thinking was worldly and carnal! They thought that if someone is an apostle or prophet then he is an ‘important man of God’ who has power over them, and who deserves praise, and who deserves money and who can rule over them as he likes – because he is ‘a man of God’! The problem was that their idea of a man of God was totally wrong! Jesus taught that he that wants to be first among you should be the servant of all – not rule over all! Some of the Corinthians didn’t recognise Paul as an apostle only because he hadn’t demanded money from them! He asked them this question in 2 Corinthians 11:7, “Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?” Can you imagine that? People doubting that someone is an apostle just because he doesn’t ask for money from them! But it was just like that in the Corinthian church and it is just like that among some today! The thinking and the motivation of some of the Corinthians was completely wrong. They loved ‘position’; they loved ‘power’; they loved the idea of ‘success’. So they loved, accepted and listened to men who exalted themselves and who exalted their position, and who seemed to be successful and who demanded money from the people they ministered to.
It is exactly the same today in many places around the world! Paul tells some of the Corinthians that they are deceived and that he is afraid for them. He warns them that because they love the wrong things the devil has opportunity to deceive them! He tells them in 2 Corinthians 11 that they are ready, because of their wrong disposition, to receive a different Jesus, a different spirit and a different gospel! This is a very serious warning that he is giving them. Their love for success and for what they think is a powerful ministry is excessive and it is deceiving them. And what does Paul say in this same chapter about men who exalted themselves in this way? He says, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). This is very serious! It couldn’t be more serious. The devil deceiving Christians – deceiving both the preacher and the listener – because of their wrong motivation and their wrong thinking. These people’s thinking was shaped by their wrong desires and by their wrong attitudes, and not by the word of God, not by the scriptures! I saw a video of a man with a large church in South Africa. He wore the most expensive clothes and drove around in very expensive cars and he had bodyguards around him. He sold products in his church and people believed they would be blessed if they bought his products, such as items of clothing or household products. If you buy any product because you think it will bless you, then you are deceived and you are also sinning. It is one thing to buy a Christian book or a Christian CD message, which might indeed bless you through reading it or listening to it. But it is quite another thing to buy an item of clothing or a household product just because it is sold by what you think is a man of God and that therefore you think using this product will bring blessing on your life! Such a man is doing business and making a profit out of you and you are being deceived and sinning because you think that God’s blessing can be bought with money! On this video, one of the members of this man’s church said that she wanted to follow a preacher who was successful, who has made a lot of money, who wears expensive clothes and drives an expensive cars. She said that she wanted to follow someone who has made something of his life, because she also wanted to make something of her life and be successful! She didn’t want to follow someone who lived in just an ordinary way. She wanted to be successful, so how could someone who lived in an ordinary way helper progress in her life! She talked as though she had never read the Bible. She certainly talked in a way that showed that she did not understand the teaching of the new Testament. But this misunderstanding and self-deception comes not from a lack of education, it comes from the wrong desires of our own hearts! Listen to what Paul says, “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Tim.6:5-11).
The apostle Peter says, “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (2 Peter 2:3). But the disposition of Paul was so different! Listen to what he says, “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you… (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Paul was never after people’s money or their praise. He gave himself for the benefit of God’s people, whom he loved, however they treated him!
As it was in the Corinthian church in the days of Paul, so it is today. Many Christians will believe almost anything a preacher says if he can seem to do miracles. However, the lifestyle of the preacher is more important than the miracles he seems to perform. This is confirmed by the Son of God when he said, “ Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23). Just because someone seems to be able to do miracles doesn’t mean that he is a man of God or that you should follow him. If such a man is accumulating to himself private wealth and is seeking to exalt his reputation before men and to build his own ‘kingdom’, then he is not representing Jesus Christ. Some of the Corinthians loved to see the supernatural, the extra- ordinary and the miraculous, but the excessive desire for such things caused their hearts to go wrong and gave the devil opportunity to deceive them!
Don’t follow such preachers if you value your own soul before God. Remember that Jesus said, “God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). Read God’s word; follow God’s word; love God’s word; listen to men who preach God’s word and God’s word only; listen to men who only preach Christ and him crucified! Listen to men like Timothy, who genuinely care for your soul and do not seek to make a profit out of you – even if such a man is only to be found in a mud hut, follow such a man who preaches Christ and lives Christ!
Of course we thank God for healings and for miracles, but don’t let your love for such things make you forget or ignore the things that the Bible so clearly teaches, otherwise you too might be deceived and led astray.
Especially in poorer countries, where life is difficult, these false teachers and preachers stir people up to believe in false hopes make false promises using the scriptures wrongly so that they can gain followers and make a profit from these followers. They preach a kind of positive thinking and get the congregation to repeat positive statements about their present and future situations; they misuse Scripture to teach people how they can be successful in their lives, encouraging them to believe that they will have successful businesses and that they will meet the right contacts to help them progress in their lives. During such preaching the speaker stirs up the people’s emotions and hopes, so that many times the listeners stand up spontaneously and shout and wave their arms because they believe, or are trying to believe that God will lift them out of their situation or make them successful in their lives.
You don’t need false teachers. Jesus said that if you seek first the kingdom of God everything you truly need shall be given to you. But it seems many want more than what Jesus taught!
In Philippians 4:13 the apostle Paul says that ‘he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him!’ This is a wonderful statement! Do you believe what Paul says? Do you believe it for yourself? Listen to what he says in the previous verse, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” It is these things that Paul can do through Christ! What about you and me? Or do you want some preacher to tell you how successful you can be; to tell you how successful your business can be; to tell you that you are going places in your life and that things will only get better in your circumstances? If so, then you don’t understand the words of the apostle Paul nor the nature of Jesus Christ. Do you think that the apostle Paul followed ‘success’? If we follow success, we are not following Jesus. It is one thing to be enthusiastic about Jesus because you believe he will bless you in this situation or that situation. It is another thing to deny yourself and follow Jesus and leave your future in his hands completely! The word of God teaches us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
If you follow your dreams, you are pleasing yourself. If you follow Jesus, you will please him. If you follow your dreams, you are serving yourself. If you follow Jesus, you will serve him and his church. If you follow your dreams, you are preparing away for yourself. If you follow Jesus, he will prepare the way for you.
As I have already mentioned above, of course we can give money to those who are genuinely serving the Lord and his people. Such giving should be completely voluntary, from the heart, and without any pressure from the outside! In the new Testament we find that the apostle Paul was helped in this way by other Christians at various times. But he never asked for such giving and he certainly never put pressure on believers to support him financially. He makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 9.
In the new Testament we read that nearly all the money that was collected from the believers in the churches was distributed among the poor believers. In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul mentions that the believers are to lay aside money according to how God has prospered them on the first day of the week (that was Sunday), and he says very clearly that this money is for the poor believers. It was not for the pastor. Of course a church may decide to support their pastor with regard to his basic needs if he has no work, but such giving should not be used to make the pastor rich or richer than his congregation. And also such giving should be voluntary and from the heart. No man has the right to take the Sunday collection and claim it for himself! Such a man is making a business out of the church and exploiting the people of God.
As I said, in the new Testament, both by way of teaching and of example, the Christians in the early church collected money in order to support poor believers. Acts 2:44,45; 4:34,35; 11:29,30; 20:33-35; Romans 12:13; 15:35,26; 1 Corinthians 16:1,2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 9:1,2; 1 John 3:17.
Yes, we can support those who labour for the Lord in his work, and we should not let a pastor that serves us well in the Lord to suffer need in the basic things of life, but let us recognise and remember that the main burden in the churches of the new Testament was to support the poorest believers among them who are struggling even to get the most basic things needed for living. According to the new Testament this is where the main part of our regular giving should be directed. May the Lord direct our hearts in these things so that we give willingly and with a cheerful heart and help those believers who really need our help.