This commentary examines certain trends which have become predominant practices and now form a part of common doctrine in organisations and individuals, which profess Christ, and compares the observations with guidance from God’s word. We ask the fundamental question – are we aligned with what God expects of us, or have been overtaken by the traditions and intentions of men, with respect to financial accountability, in our delivery and communication of the gospel. Ultimately are there grounds to consider a change, to become more aligned with the spirit and letter of the recorded and revealed guidance from God? We anticipate that this article will promote reflection, that we may truly serve/love God and man.
JESUS and TEMPLE COMMERCE
Matthew – Chapter 21 – Verse 12 and 13 – from the King James edition
12And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
In the recorded account above, Christ Himself, gave vivid guidance by His unequivocal displeasure, with misplaced commercial activities, where these relate to serving God. In the aforementioned instance, merchants had taken advantage of the need for individuals to serve God, by providing services, and items for sale, at the temple, for profit, and turned it to a marketplace, which Jesus labelled “a den of thieves”.
This was the only time where Christ was recorded, to have performed an act that we may consider the use of physical personal force or violence. It certainly portrays a sense of His vehemence towards the evolution, of profit as a prior motive, instead of God as our central focus, a misappropriation that still occurs today, which I have entitled – Gospel Merchandise.
The import of appropriating finances properly is emphasized by two other accounts, where we see God’s wrath vividly expressed, in a manner that should lead us to exceptionally examine how we manage our relationship/response with/to God, in the area of finances. While the underlying deviation was from the love of God, these deviations came to the fore through the love of money, rather than God, which the bible describes as the “root of all evil”. Please note – money is not the evil, its the love of money, over and above God, that’s evil.
Judas Iscariot – a close associate of Jesus Christ, betrayed him, for money, and met a most gruesome end.
Ananias and Saphira also met a most inglorious death, through inappropriate perspectives on money/profit, where God was involved.
These examples demonstrate that it would be important that we appreciate how to relate with God, accurately and in love, where finances are concerned.
TODAY’s TEMPLE and MISUSE
It’s the year 2016 – when I write this, 2016 approximate years after Christ’s death, the temple no longer exists in the same form, as in the time of Jesus on the earth, (or should not exist in the same form), nevertheless we find today’s temples can and have suffered a similar inappropriate use by merchants.
Where is the temple of God today?
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 King James Version (KJV)
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in fulfillment of His promise to rebuild the temple, today’s temple is no longer the inanimate building, but the living building of saints, people in whom God dwells, or would dwell.
In the pursuit of ministering the gospel, with a significant number of people so eager and willing, in their justified love/reverence and rightful fear of God, many have been taken advantage of, by those who would wish to “sell” them God, and in particular the merchants priority is profit(not limited to money alone – but may include an increase in social status, recognition, fame or other advantages to the merchant).
It is inappropriate for merchants to consider people as a potential target, with the primary aim of making profit from them, in their pursuit of God.
Previous examples of this misuse of God’s people includes the practice of indulgences- where forgiveness of sins is “sold” to relatives of the deceased – for a fee.
The danger of such practices is to mislead people to think that the things of God can be acquired by money, or the possession of rights and privileges, enabled by money.
EXAMPLES OF MISUSE OF TODAY’s TEMPLES
The Gatherings/Merchandise at Gatherings :
John 4: 21-23
Jesus said unto her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither on this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
In spite of the clarification by Jesus, that real worship of God will no longer be about specific places, and gatherings, as were predominant in His time, with periodic assemblies at the temple in Jerusalem, we find that today’s believer has been drawn into a similar “reverence” for specific assemblies, as their meeting points with God, instead of what should be the norm which I sometimes summarise as 100% God, a faith that acknowledges that God is with us, in adequate measure – 100% of the time. Yes we assemble, Yes we are encouraged to gather amongst ourselves, but these gatherings do not take pre-eminence over the remaining aspects of our 100% relationship/dwelling with God, which occurs all the time.
The purpose of Jesus Christ, among other things was to become our Emmanuel – God with us, not only when we gather with others, where He is present, but also at all other times, when He remains present, including when we are on our own. – He is always with us.
Matthew 28: 16-20
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen
Have we oversold, the focus on meetings, activities and gatherings,and become the business of faith based meetings and events – pilgrimages, cruises, retreats, seminars, workshops, symposiums, crusades, festivals, conventions, with the associated commercial activities which run along side these activities – banners, T-shirts, stickers, books, videos, CD’s, (in the old days – tapes), and all manner of objects, for Christ, for profit, especially at the largest of these meetings. Have we lost our focus on the God of the temple, and fed the human affinity for that which is seen(in itself a form of idolatry), through tangible merchandise and activity in the temple from which a few profit? We now have Disney like “Christian” recreational parks, and Jesus Christ Superstar was a major money spinning theater production. At what point have we departed from ministry of the gospel, and we have now become Gospel Merchants, with one overriding motive – profit?
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
Have we re-introduced through these meetings, inadvertently or otherwise, a regression, to the notion of a God who is only present at certain times, and in certain places, or with certain people, of with certain actions and objects – the cloths, the oils, the waters, the crucifixes, the rosaries? Have we now constrained what should be an omnipotent, omnipresent experience in God, to these limited events/occasions in time and re-associated God with objects of man’s creation. Has the merchandising of God, had an opportunity to be amplified, by wrongly imposing these constrained perspectives of God.
The God who is with us everywhere, and available to everyone who seeks Him, for free – because Christ has already paid the price on the cross, through His death and resurrection, is an unlimited resource and has no commercial value. i.e. You cannot sell such a God.
To commercialize God, the merchants take advantage of limits placed on God to narrow perspectives to certain places/times/seasons/objects/people of authority and other limitations, reducing the supply, increasing the demand, and the opportunity for profit.
Jesus sent His disciples out, and asked us to take the gospel to every nook and cranny. We now do the opposite, and take pride in the large limited meetings, which have no parallels in the New Testament. Unique opportunities for the misuse of Gospel Merchandise.
I acknowledge that human beings are social and we enjoy our camaraderie, and the exclusivity of “belonging”, but we can so easily get to a point where the devotion to the events takes pre-eminence over our devotion to the God.
In a similar manner to presidents and significant individuals who profit from the books they write, church leaders and commentators, do the same : Prayer Guides, Commentaries, and all manner of books, and published opinions. I received an email recently from a very popular ministry in the former Soviet Union, asking me to buy a particular book, and support its attainment of the #1 spot on the bestsellers list. When did the publication of Christian commentaries begin to have competition and sales as targets? What’s our real objective – profit, fame, recognition, or salvation and the growth of the gospel – transformed people changed forever by our re-established relationship with God.
We can include all the electronic publication formats here also, including television, cable, web, etc, etc.
Christian Ministry :
The de-facto accepted norm I hear more often – is the term “my ministry” – which is an organisation or effort which has the founder’s objectives and some unique name, associated. Whose ministry is it – Christ’s or the earthly founder? It is also custom to read in the introduction of these “ministries”, the encomiums of the founder’s achievements. Is the achievement and reputation of Christ insufficient to advertise the ministry?
As the bible declares, should we not be ministers of Christ? We have no ministry in the gospel, except Christ.
Here’s how Paul, the apostle, advertises himself, and it’s very different from today’s ministries, no reference to his own achievements – none.
2nd Timothy 1:1-2 – from the New International Version of the Bible
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my dear son:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christian Music :
Christian oriented music is another key area, where we have to ask – for music that is intended to edify the Body, who gave the inspiration, who gave the ability, who gave the increase, is it valid that we follow the world’s example and sell such music, copyright it using the world’s laws, for profit? Is there now an exclusion in the use of music, to serve the Body, that justifies its use as a means of profit? Would it be right to sell prophecies and healings? – No. Is not the music and other edification intended for the Body, to be held in similar high value, and precious enough, as not to be subsumed by the world’s system, for profit? All things are lawful, nothing stops us from selling such music, but is it expedient?
Where is the line between a profession of faith(sharing and teaching and celebrating the gospel- Jesus), the believer who works for a living not dependent on income directly related to gospel activities, and the professional whose personal fortunes are significantly derived from the propagation of the faith.
Our challenge is that, like in the time of Jesus, some things have gone on for so long, they have become normal, no one see’s anything wrong with it. It nevertheless does not make it perfect, however long we have deviated from the ideal.
The challenge to Christian Musicians will be – How will I live and pay bills? This is similar to the challenge of all believers – will we do it God’s way or our way.
I will give a personal example. I made a commitment that – to certain types of businesses such as tobacco companies – I would never provide my personal services(over which I have full control). Yes this reduces my potential income, from a statistical perspective, but it is a price worth paying, for a clear conscience. There is no human law against working for a tobacco business, but I could not bring myself to do this, knowing that I was definitely not in line with God’s preferred intentions.
I have also made a similar commitment that I would never arrange to personally profit, from any music which I contribute to, which is intended to edify the Body of Christ.
God is able to make all things profitable to us in our personal economic activities, without us succumbing to the inappropriate use, with a premeditated purpose of personal gain, of the wealth which may lie within the delivery and propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where is the commitment to give freely that which we also received free from Christ. We compose a song for Christ, to propagate the gospel, yet want to profit from it. We learn from Christ, and then we publish the book, to earn an income from it. We hold a meeting, and memorabilia or related services, for profit, risks derailing our focus, from God, to personal gain. Is this valid?
Where do we draw the line between profiting – being a benefit to the gospel – the true endowment and growth of Christ in lives and souls, starting in this life, and leading unto eternal redemption, and the widespread observation that is all around us, the use, and misuse of the temple – the people for whom Christ died, for personal gain(including fame, financial security, status and other non-financial benefits)?
Are the blessings and revelations, and gifts, now for sale, at a price?
We paid no price, why must we now charge others to receive the benefits and good news, that we obtained freely?
Let us believe like Paul the tent maker, that God is able to provide for us, to prevent the gospel becoming an opportunity for misuse and inappropriate financial gain, and a burden to those whom Jesus would save.