Published on: Aug 15, 2008
This is a subject matter that I have wrestled with for many years. Quite frankly, I would love to be paid for expressing my opinions. I love to talk and I love to write.
Back in the spring of 1990 the Lord put it in my heart to go to Bible School, specifically Christ for the Nations in Dallas. I wanted to go so that I may become a professional minister and get paid for preaching the gospel. At one point during the summer I thought about going to a publishing school in Wisconsin since they had an internship that paid for my schooling in Christian publishing. But the Lord let me know that He wanted me at CFNI. I took every class in every topic I could since I wanted to be able to pastor and run the whole show.
Then I found Watchman Nee’s book, “The Spiritual Man” in their book store. When I finished the book I realized that anything that I did without the leading of the Spirit was a work of the flesh. I knew that God had sent me to CFNI, but I never heard the Lord tell me that He wanted me in the paid clergy.
Scandals Rock the Church
When I gave my life to Christ on August 18th, 1985 I attended the First Assembly of God congregation on Airline Highway in Metairie, LA pastored by Marvin Gormann where the brother who led me to Christ was attending. Six months later the scandal had broken out that Marvin Gormann was having an affair with another pastor’s wife. A scandal that was exposed by Jimmy Swaggart in Baton Rouge. Then in 1987 Swaggart exposed televangelist Jim Baker of sexual immorality. Marvin Gormann, to get even, hired a private detective to follow Jimmy Swaggart who photographed him with a prostitute in a motel on Airline Highway. In 1988 Swaggart was shut down. So I move to Dallas in 1990, and lo and behold, in 1991 Robert Tilton in Farmers Branch just north of Dallas was exposed for taking money for prayer requests that were thrown away and not even looked at. The world mocks the church for this sanctified begging. Even they know that it is sponging off of other people.
I knew then that I could not be another man in professional ministry who was operating in the flesh and bringing untold harm, that only God knows, to many people who believed in them and supported them. So, even though I graduated and was ordained for the ministry, I abandoned that dream and went back to coaching gymnastics. As an aside, during all these scandals, I marvelled at how many people walked away from Christ because of these abuses. Someone once asked me why I did not forsake the faith? Why should I? Those guys didn’t die for me. Jesus is my savior, not them. I suspect that these things produced in me a gratefully disillusioned attitude towards all of the church system for professional ministry.
Which gets me to the subject of this blog. Does God sanctify begging for His children? Is that the spirit of Christ and the Scriptures? Where do they get their justification for living off the gospel? There are verses in the Bible that are used to justify such a lifestyle, but I do not think they reflect the Spirit of the Lord. Let’s start with Jesus.
The Ministry of Jesus
The Bible tells us that during the three and a half years that Jesus had His public ministry that he was supported by the women that were close to Him (Luke 8:2-3). And we know that Judas Iscariot was given the money bag (John 13:29) even though he was a thief. If you read that verse, it says to “Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. ” the money was for the feast or for the poor. Two points are worth noting. First, the money was used for all to eat, not one person or for poor people. The second point is that no indication is given how the money was given. Knowing the Spirit of God, I believe that the money was given spontaneously from the love of their hearts to support Jesus and the ministry without request on their part. There is no mention in the gospels of anyone asking for money. Another point worth noting is that the support for Jesus was for three and a half years, not his entire adult life. It was for a season. Up until He was thirty, Jesus worked for a living just like everybody else as a carpenter. Certainly His example does not justify a lifetime of begging for a living.
I used to think that the example in Acts was a good justification for living off the gospel. In Acts chapter 6 the Hellenistic Jews complained their widows were being neglected in the daily ministrations. So seven men “full of the Holy Ghost” were appointed to take care of them. Meanwhile the twelve apostles wanted to give themselves “continually to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). That verse seemed to justify a lifestyle of praying and talking about God, to me, when I first read it. But knowing human nature and the stark honesty of the Bible, I now believe it was a selfish cop out on their part. Even pride in their being the “apostles”. But they, and many others, did live off the gospel.
In fact, collecting money by the apostles for their own support seems to have been a “mark” of an apostle. Paul in arguing that he was an apostle too, told the Corinthians,
1 Cor 9:2-6
2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.
4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink?
5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? (NIV)
So why did Paul and Barnabas work for a living instead of asking for donations, too? He tells us. First, he defends the apostles living off the gospel in verses 7-14, but he says
1 Cor 9:15-18
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.
16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. (NIV)
1 Cor 9:23
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (NIV)
The Spirit of Christ
Paul told the Corinthians a little later in the letter,
1 Cor 10:23
23 “Everything is permissible”– but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”– but not everything is constructive. (NIV)
1 Cor 10:32
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– (NIV)
And here is where I stand. God gave life to everyone. It was a free gift in creation. Then Jesus died so that all may have salvation if they accept the gift. Everyone who has heard the gospel realizes this. There is a disconnect in everyone’s mind. If God gave it free, why are we being charged for it? It creates a stumbling block. Then why did God give the apostles (or anyone else in the church, for that matter) the “right” to live off the gospel? For the same reason Moses gave the right of the bill of divorce (Matt. 19:7), because of the hardness of our hearts (Matt. 19:8). I know we are new creatures in Christ, but our hearts have the ability to be hardened again after salvation. All of us have fallen into some kind of carnality because of hardness of heart. Paul chose not to live of the gospel to remove that temptation from himself, and to make the most of sharing the gospel that he could (1 Cor. 9:19-22).
What about collecting money for the poor? That did happen. The question is, “How did they obtain the money?” They certainly asked, but were there any guilt trips laid upon anyone? No. For Paul said,
2 Cor 9:7
7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (NIV)
Neither was the collection year round, only when the need actually arose.
Freely Give, Freely Receive
Living by faith does not mean you only look at the paycheck that your job provides. We are told to work with our hands (1 Thes. 4:11) but we are not in bondage. As I said regarding Jesus and His ministry, He accepted the love offerings that were given Him, but I doubt that He asked for them. Watchman Nee discusses this issue of living by the gospel. He points out that living by faith means accepting those gifts that are given freely, but discourages accepting a paid salary as a minister in a congregation. Accepting that salary undermines faith in God’s provision when one gets used to a regular check. I think this holds true for all of us who have jobs. The job came from God, but God is not limited by the job.
I am convinced that much of the begging in the government churches as well as for all of us as individuals who may want to go on mission trips, or participate in some kind of organized ministry, is because the activity or project pursued was never a leading of the Holy Spirit in the first place. Before I left New Orleans to attend Christ for the Nations in Dallas, I never asked anyone for any money to help me go to school, although most knew I was going. Three days before I left people started handing me money. Five dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars. When I left in my car, I had $1,000 cash, which I needed, even though I did not know it, for the first semester tuition. It is a tried and true saying, “Where God guides, He provides.”
I am still building my gymnastics business, but I have paid for this website. I have now added Google adsense to pay for my site. I intend to write some blogs where I will get paid for blogging, as well. These posts will have a disclaimer on the post so the readers are aware that they are paid endorsements, and not one of the original posts.
I received the gospel freely, and I intend to keep giving it freely.
Comments to Original Post
Submitted on 08/16/2008
Great blog. Thanks for sharing more specific details of your life in regards to your Bible Education, and afterwards. Shesh, you sure did witness some pretty awful stuff. I’m glad your faith stood solid, as you said, “Jesus is my Savior, not them.”
I agree with you. When we give money now, it’s for a completely different reason than Old Testament times. We should give spontaneously from the love of our hearts to support those whom the Spirit nudges us to.
As well, love the importance of what you pointed out that in Jesus’ ministry nobody requested of anyone asking for money.
In a recent Podcast I heard, I loved the specific terms used to talk about the difference between OT tithing and NT giving. In OT times, they PAID their tithe, meaning they were pretty much required to. But, now in NT times, we are encouraged to GIVE gift offerings (voluntarily, and from our hearts).
As well, verse 18 of 1 Cor. 9:15-18 is significant: “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.”
…as well as 1 Cor.10:23, both of which you included.
Lastly, I love the last paragraph. Amen to “Where God guides, He provides. I think giving from the heart must originate from the leading of the Holy Spirit. It’s a matter of listening first…then heeding.
P.S. Have you had a chance to check out my new Blog-page?
Submitted on 08/17/2008
Amy, Thanks for your continued encouragement. And thank you for letting me know about your new blog spot. I had commented on your Bare Blogging, but did not know that you had set up your own blogsite. It is beautiful. Very feminine. You are one hard working girl. I am looking forward to reading your new posts.