My subject today is a touchy one: money. Where ministry and financial support is concerned it is difficult to know just when “the traditions of men” began to take their toll, but my thesis today is that the issue of money has become a problem — and became one early on in the Early Church.
It is very difficult to know just where to begin what I am about to share. Certainly the strongholds of “Christian faith and practice” are so formidable that only the weapons made powerful by the Spirit of God Himself have any possibility of tearing them down. God help us!
Here goes from the Word of God: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” 1st Corinthians 7:29-31 NIV
This was clearly good advice when Paul wrote it to the Corinthians, but so much the more it remains good advice, even critically important advice for those of our own day. Whether as pertains to world and national economies or to the economy of what has been calling itself church for the past 2000 years or so, the world as we have known it is passing away.
When Jesus said that the Word of God could be invalidated by the traditions of men He was saying that the traditions of men have the ability to invalidate or “nullify” the Word of God or “Sword of the Spirit.” Perhaps nowhere has this been more true than the traditions of men where ministry, and ministry finance is concerned. We have to recognize the power of man’s tradition to kill any Spiritual understanding of the Scriptures.
Let’s begin with a visit to 1st Corinthians 9:7-14. Actually I would rather not include this text here, because this is the text, so well known and quoted by the professionals that by now seems to be beyond our ability to understand any longer, especially in context. This text has been made of “no effect” by the vain tradition of the professionals. By now, this text as it has been practiced does not need a defense – it does not need an “apologetic” – it needs an apology.
Where 1st Corinthians 9:7-14 is concerned, it is past time to put some genuine apology into Christian apologetics. Rationalizing a Word made of no effect by the traditions of Christian professionals has got to stop. It is repentance that is needed, not more presumption.
Lest we think it a small thing to come up against religious tradition, listen please to something Jesus said when He replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Matthew 15:3-9
If we are going to proceed undeterred or confused by the traditions of men, we need to suit-up, so to speak, with the power of the Spirit to open or keep our eyes open for the truth as it comes down from heaven. Just to be clear as to what we are speaking about here: Jesus said in John 6:63, “…the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Somewhere else it is written: “… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17, and to be sure we are clear about the Word of God, and how It is meant to communicate to us: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Paul certainly understood this when he wrote: “… which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” 1st Corinthians 2:13, 14.
Where money is concerned, it goes without saying that the Early Church was composed of human beings, which means they had the same problem with their “earthen vessels” that we do. They had the same need to learn and come to maturity that we do.
In tracing the development of Paul’s understanding on the subject of ministry support, we will have to go back to an earlier time in his ministry, but for now, let’s begin with what he writes to the Corinthians: “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?” 1 Corinthians 9:5. “The other apostles,” even “the Lord’s brothers and Cephas” were on an obvious learning curve over the period covered by New Testament writing, and we believe that Paul’s learning curve is also made evident over more or less that same period of time. For instance, learning to recognize his own spiritual fatherhood took some time.
According to the “church” history experts by the time Paul wrote 1st Corinthians, approximately 24 years had passed since Pentecost, the day we could say that Christian ministry began, or, at least Christian apostolic ministry began. That’s plenty of time for financial traditions to take root. From what Paul writes at that time, it is clear that the tradition had become not working for a living, and taking wives along.
Assuming that Paul was current on the financial practices of the Jerusalem leadership when he wrote 1st Corinthians 9, it is clear that he was not happy about the contrast between their practice and his own. In fact there were a lot of beliefs, priorities, practices, and prejudices of the Jerusalem leadership that didn’t make Paul very happy. Most all of them were finally resolved in favor of Paul’s understanding and comfort zone. He seems to have been brought in by The Lord late in the game to “bat clean-up” so to speak.
There’s not much evidence that Paul was thinking in terms of spiritual fatherhood when he took off on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and Mark. At some point after meeting Timothy, however, he came to see himself as a father in some kind of general sense, where the Corinthians were concerned. He even used that understanding to increase the authority of some of the things that he needed to communicate to the Corinthians,1st Corinthians 4:14-17. He was beginning to get comfortable with being a personal father to Timothy, but had not yet fully grasped all the implications of that for the gospel.
By the time we get to Philippians 2 we see that that Paul and Timothy’s father/son spiritual relationship has become some kind of “proof.” That is very big!
But on the way to that understanding, Paul is giving the Corinthians the financial party line: 1st Corinthians 9. He is clearly not very comfortable with it as indicated by his bait and switch, in verses 9:5, 6: he begins with the “right” to take a believing wife along, and switches to the real object of his concern, the need to “work for a living.”
How do you think Paul was feeling about that in the context of 1st Corinthians 9? Was he putting down the others, as he seems to have done a little later, Galatians 2:1-10? Was he feeling superior or trying to take the higher ground? The growth in his understanding of authentic apostolic fathering where finance or ”earning a living” was concerned, doesn’t seem to have come into the full until we get to 2nd Corinthians 14: “After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”
But even before he gets that far, it becomes very clear how he is feeling about the practice of the “others,” now labeling them “super-apostles.” This is certainly not an expression of high esteem at that point – no more so than when he was talking that way in Galatians 2:6: “As for those who seemed to be important–whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance–those men added nothing to my message.”
All right, now let’s look at this from the vantage point of 2nd Corinthians: “I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle–signs, wonders and miracles–were done among you with great perseverance. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.” 2 Corinthians 11-21 NIV
Here we have not only the confirming word of one who now understands himself to be a spiritual father in connection with the flow of funds, but also a glimpse into his continuing concern for the sexual immorality that was going on among his spiritual children.
When Paul wrote: 2 Corinthians 5:16, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer,” was it possible that he had “the Lord’s brothers,” and especially James in view?
Why was Paul so upset with John Mark’s departure? What evidence do we have to suggest a reason or reasons? We know that John Mark was the spiritual son of Cephas, not Paul. We know that the proof of Timothy stands in stark contrast to his experience with or of John Mark. About Timothy, Paul said, “I have no one else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare…”
By the time Paul wrote 2nd Timothy, Paul commended John Mark as being “helpful/profitable” to him, 2nd Timothy 4:11. Probably Paul wasn’t feeling that way when he and Barnabas went their separate ways over the matter John Mark, Acts 15:39. Experience/life in The Lord has taught me over many years that taking along someone with a merchant’s agenda, so far from being helpful, useful, or profitable, is destructive, useless, and very unprofitable where the authentic gospel is concerned.
What was the fruit of the Expense Account Camp as compared to that of Paul? When Paul says of Timothy, “The proof is as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel,” How is it between and a son and a father? It’s probably not about employment. What are some of the things that make our interest in others not so genuine or tainted by agenda? Top of the list: probably the love of preeminence, but certainly number 2 is Money!
If we don’t learn about the invisible things of God from the things created, then we are “without excuse.” It’s one thing not to get God from His Word – as we have seen, His Word can be made of no effect by our vain traditions. Vain traditions are perhaps best recognized by their lack of good fruit. Have you looked out the window lately? Where is the good fruit from what we have been calling “the ministry,” and “church”?
The fruit of financial tradition where ministry is concerned is the division of the body of Christ.
In short, where finances are concerned, it’s way past time for those who claim to be apostolic fathers to err, not on the side of the traditions of men so well entrenched even in Paul’s day, but to err on the side of Paul. The fruit of professional Christianity is clearly the product of the Word of God mixed with the vain traditions of religious experts.
Enough is enough!
In Love and Sincerity!