By Zac Poonen
Jesus has given us an example in money-matters that all who serve Him and all churches must follow.
When Jesus worked as a carpenter, upto the age of 30, He earned his living – honestly, without ever cheating anyone and without ever getting into debt.
Thereafter, He was in full-time ministry for the next 3½ years. During this period, He had some strict principles in financial matters. His apostles followed those principles exactly and rigidly. The church is the Body of Christ and therefore it must follow the same principles that the first Body of Christ (Jesus Himself) followed. All churches and all who are engaged in Christian work must follow those same principles.
What were those principles?
First and foremost, since Jesus was a servant of His Father, He trusted His Father alone to provide all His earthly needs – just like anyone working for a company would expect that company to take care of his financial needs. So Jesus neverever told anyone other than His Father about His financial needs. He never advertised His ministry anywhere and He never gave any reports about His work to anyone to get their support. God Himself directly prompted some people to give gifts to Jesus voluntarily – and He accepted such gifts. Jesus appointed a treasurer (Judas) to keep the money that He thus received.
See Luke 8:2,3: “Mary Magdalene and Joanna (the wife of Chuza, Herod’s palace-manager), and Susanna, and many others contributed to the support of Jesus and the 12 disciples, out of their private means”. And Jesus accepted their gifts.
Secondly, Jesus was very careful about how He spent the money He received. John 13:29 gives us an indication of how Jesus spent His money. When Jesus gave some instructions to Judas there, the other apostles thought that He was directing Judas to spend the money as Jesus had always spent His money. That is: (1) To buy what was needed; and (2) To give to the poor”. This must be our guideline always, in the way we spend our money.
The apostles followed Jesus’ example exactly. They also trusted their heavenly Father to provide all their needs. So they never told anyone about their personal needs or the needs of their ministry – either verbally or by letter (for that would have amounted to indirectly hinting about their need for money). Whenever the apostles urged the churches to take a collection of money, it was always for distribution to the poor believers – and never for any other purpose (See 2 Cor.8 and 9 and 1 Cor.16:1-3).
Some people misquote 1 Timothy 5:17, 18 and teach that pastors and Christian workers must be paid a good salary. But what do those verses actually say?
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of DOUBLE HONOUR, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’, and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages'”.
Those verses do not say anything about money at all, They only teach that elders who work hard at preaching must be given double honour by their flock. If this verse were referring to money, then it would mean that God was commanding churches to pay their leaders double the salary that others in the church get!! That is ridiculous! Paul was actually teaching believers here to appreciate and respect the elders of their churches. He was saying, “Give them due honor, just like you allow your ox to eat the grain that it is threshing”. So we see that an elder’s primary wages are honour (appreciation and gratitude) from his flock – and not money.
This is similar to the exhortation Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 “Honor your leaders who work so hard for you….overwhelm them with appreciation and love”(Message Paraphrase).
Paul does however speak about the financial support of Christian workers in 1 Corinthians 9:7-18. There he says:“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
But Paul then continues, to say, “Nevertheless, we did not use this right , but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. It is true that the Lord has directed that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. It would be better for me to die than to have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I still have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward (my salary)? Just this, that, when I preach the gospel, I can offer it without charge to everyone. So I do not make use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.”
So Paul never preached for a salary or for gifts, but because he was “compelled by his love for Christ” and because “God had committed the stewardship of the gospel to him”. He wanted to give the gospel freely to others, without any charge, lest it appear as though God were charging people money for hearing the gospel. And he asked others to follow his example (See 1 Cor.11:1 and Phil.3:17).
So we see that the New Testament does teach that a servant of the Lord can receive gifts for his support (as Jesus Himself did). But at the same time, we also see that:
(1) No Christian worker was ever paid a monthly salary. Jesus never promised His disciples a salary. The apostles never received a salary. They trusted their heavenly Father to move people’s hearts to support them financially (just as in Jesus’ case). Such a life of faith was essential for them if they were to have power in their ministry. It also protected them from covetousness.
(2) In situations where Paul saw that this provision of support was being abused by preachers, he decided not to take any money from anyone but to support himself, so as to protect the testimony of the gospel that he was preaching. He says in 2 Cor.11:7-13 (Living): “I preached God’s Good News to you without charging you anything. I didn’t ask you for anything, for the Christians from Macedonia brought me another gift. strong> I have never yet asked you for one cent, and I never will. And I will tell everyone about it! I do this because I want to cut out the ground from under the feet of those who boast that they are doing God’s work in just the same way we are . God never sent those men at all; they are “phonies” who have fooled you into thinking they are Christ’s apostles.”
We see here that Paul did receive gifts occasionally – when the Christians in Macedonia (Philippi) voluntarily sent him some money. But he never took any money from the Corinthian Christians (as we see above), because he wanted to show them that he was different from the fake Christian preachers in that place. Paul never ever asked anyone for financial support at any time – and he never hinted about his financial needs either.
Paul did not take any money from the Thessalonian Christians either. He says in 2 Thess.3:8-10:“We never accepted food from anyone of you without paying for it; we worked hard day and night for the money we needed to live on, in order that we would not be a burden to any of you. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to show you firsthand how you should work for your living” .
Paul did not take any money from the Ephesian Christians either. He says in Acts 20:31-35: “All these three years I was with you, I did not seek for anyone’s money or clothes. You know how I worked with my own hands to support myself and the men who were with me. I showed you by working hard in this way, that we must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus that, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “
Every servant of the Lord must ensure that he manifests the attitude of Christ in relation to money, as Paul did.
In every one of our CFC churches that God has planted, all the (more than) 150 leaders/elders support themselves. None of them has ever received a salary. This new-covenant pattern has worked perfectly for us for 45 years now (from 1975 when the first CFC church was started, and right upto now – 2020) – both in large cities around the world as well as in the poorest villages in India. This stand of ours has saved us from being infiltrated by covetous preachers who quote Scripture and exploit people for their money.
The above is the stand that all of the Lord’s servants took in New Testament times. But Christendom has drifted away from this standard through the centuries. Today, many pastors and preachers keep urging people to give them money and write moving letters to their sponsors (often with false statistics about conversions) expecting more and more financial support
Because of this wrong attitude to money found among Christian leaders, God’s anointing is missing from most of Christian ministry today and there is no revelation from heaven in the ministry of most preachers. No-one can serve God and money (Luke 16:13).
The Lord said that only one those who are faithful in money-matters would be given the true riches (Luke 16:11) – the riches of Divine revelation and the anointing of the Spirit.
There is yet another important principle that we must bear in mind: A servant of the Lord must never receive money as a gift from unbelievers or from anyone who is poorer than him. Any gift given by a poorer person must always be put into the church’s offering box and never used for oneself.
Here is a checklist that we have placed on top of our offering boxes in CFC Bangalore:
Before you give your money, please check:
1. Are you a born-again child of God?
2. Do you have enough for your family’s needs?
3. Are you free from debt (other than house-loans)?
4. Are you reconciled with all people?
5. Are you giving cheerfully?
You can go to the following link to see the Scriptural basis for the above standards:
We don’t judge other churches or preachers who do things differently from us, in this area. That would make us Pharisees. But we ourselves seek to strictly preserve the standards that we see in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the apostles.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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