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When it comes to the mixing of gospel ministry and money, we who are leaders of churches or their ancillary ministries must have the fear of God struck into us. Heaven and hell are at stake in how we raise, spend, and reserve money — because the way we handle money either adorns or obscures the gospel.
The love of money really takes it on the chin in the New Testament. Jesus and the apostles have mostly negative things to say about wealth, unless it’s being given away. In the Gospels, Jesus is relentlessly hard on wealth in both His teachings and His discipleship calls. In Acts and the Epistles, we are repeatedly warned against, and given sad examples of, the love of money, which “is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10).
There’s very good reason for this. Money can be a rival with God for our affections. Jesus put it bluntly: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). Both make promises to us and both lay claims on us. We will love one and hate the other. We can have only one true love. Lips can lie. But affections never do. Our heart is always with our treasure.
This is why when Jesus called people to follow Him, it often included sacrificing their financial security. It was a call to give God the place wealth had occupied in their hearts. Jesus was not glorifying poverty. He was offering a far more superior, satisfying treasure: God Himself and all of the mind-blowing joy and pleasures of His presence (Ps. 16:11).
It’s also why when Jesus first sent out His disciples to proclaim the gospel, He instructed them not to charge money to either preach or mediate kingdom power. “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matt. 10:8). His purpose was not only to train the disciples to live by faith in God’s provision, but that their presentation of the gospel might be a reflection of the gospel to the people to whom they preached.
The gospel that Jesus’ disciples were to proclaim was the offer of the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life, all through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law or any other kind of payment to God (Rom. 3:28). It was all designed to magnify the glory of God’s free grace. Therefore, payment of any kind to hear the gospel or receive kingdom benefits would completely distort the gospel. It would shortly turn the church into a den of thieves. It was crucial that the medium also be the message.
This is precisely why Paul worked so hard to make the presentation of the gospel free to his hearers. He had to fight the gospel distorters, the “peddlers of God’s word” (2 Cor. 2:17) who had figured out how to make godliness a means of great gain (1 Tim. 6:5). He even decided to forgo legitimate ways of making a living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14) in order to prevent any misconstruing of his motives. He resolved to “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12).
If peddling God’s gospel was a problem in Paul’s day, it is an epidemic in ours, especially in the affluent church of the West. We are a multi-billion dollar market. There is serious money to be made. And that is dangerous to the gospel.
And that is why those of us who lead evangelical churches and ministries must give much prayerful reflection to and take extraordinary care in all the ways we talk about, manage, and personally use money. So much more is at stake than what is merely lawful or ethical. It’s the gospel that’s at stake.
So for the sake of the gospel, let us join the Lord Jesus and the apostles in the following resolutions:
Let us resolve to show by our lifestyles that God is our treasure and not money. The medium as message begins with us. There is no formula for this. It looks different in every organization and life. We will not judge one another (Rom. 14:4). But let our lives themselves demonstrate that we seek the kingdom first.
Let us resolve to be ruthlessly transparent in our financial dealings. Let there be no hint that we may be concealing anything.
Let us resolve to endure anything in order to remove obstacles to the gospel. And since the love of money has shown itself in the New Testament and throughout the church age to be a deadly obstacle, let us seek as much as possible to make the gospel free to the world. Let us not ask: “What is our right?” or “What is lawful?” But let us say with Paul: “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:18).
It is a wonderful work of the Spirit in our day that the message of the gospel is being clarified again and loved and defended. It is another glorious reforming of the church. And as this happens, let us pray and vigorously work to make sure that the role money plays in our presentations of this priceless message also points to the glorious free grace of God.