In my last post, I Don’t Care What Your Business Card Says, Mr Apostle!, I touched on the theme of modern-day apostles and how just because one claims to be one, doesn’t mean they truly are. The same could go with any leadership title or five-fold ministry gift.
I just chose to start with apostle, but I wasn’t planning on going after each of the five-fold ministry gifts in separate posts. It’s just the disparity between an apostle then and an ‘apostle’ today is quite huge.
Interestingly enough, that post has had a relatively surprising number of shares and views since I published it. It appears to have struck a nerve! A good one, thankfully.
Believe it or not, I was actually sitting down the other day with the intention of this next blog post you’re about to read. I only meant to add what I did as a way of introduction or preface or at the very most, make it my first of a few points. But as I wrote it, I felt like the Lord was drawing more out of me, and eventually it turned into its own post. So it will help establish some of my thoughts.
I hope you have your cup of coffee ready.
I Wasn’t Railing Against Ministers Having An Income
One of my social media friends with a lot of followers shared the link and drove an avalanche of traffic here in the last couple of days. One of the comments it received was to the effect that there’s nothing wrong with ministers being wealthy because, as Christians, “we’re rich”. He went on to say that this mentality (whether it was directed at me or just the concept) comes from a theology that Christians should be poor.
In no way was that the framework I was writing with. In fact, from time to time I get accused of being sympathetic to the so-called “prosperity Gospel”. But pondering that comment helped springboard into today’s post.
To clarify: I don’t believe any spiritual leader is supposed to be poorly paid and over-worked, either. I remember reading many times throughout the late Kenneth Hagin’s books that he often thought his first two churches prayed of him “Lord, You keep him annointed, and we’ll keep him poor.” But likewise I don’t believe any member of the five-fold ministries were designed to exploit the sheep and become rich off of them.
I know a man of God who has three businesses, but most of the public only knows him as a mega church prosperity preacher. I know right now you’re trying to guess who I’m referring to, but I’d rather keep that to myself for today. In an interview I watched with him, he explained to the host that he actually makes quite a small honorarium from his church, but his “wealthy lifestyle” is largely funded by his three successful businesses.
Since he’s more well-known for being a prominent pastor, people automatically assume he’s rich from the tithes and offerings of his church. I have no problem with true pastors or apostles who truly are blessed and successful through enterprising or whatever their “tent-making” income is.
I have no problem with that when it has nothing to do with tithing schemes or convincing the flock, as some do, that God requires the man of God to live a lifestyle above them because he’s worth “double honor” or some crap like that. Again, like we discussed regarding the apostle, this particular leadership position of pastoring was also NOT originally designed, intended or even understood in the New Testament to be someone who was more important than the rest of the Body of Christ.
As Mike Breen states in his most recent book I’ve been reading, Family on Mission,
“What’s interesting about this is that of all the pictures of leadership in the New Testament, shepherd is probably the one with the least status in the minds of the people of the time. Shepherds were not held in high regard. The picture of a shepherd is the picture of the youngest in the family doing the most menial job. The youngest in the family has the lowest status, and therefore gets the lowest job anyone could think of: shepherd.” (Emphasis mine)
Do You Love Me More Than These?
In John 21 when Jesus re-instates Peter after he had denied Jesus three times, He tells Peter something interesting.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (verse 15)
In the prior verses, Peter and a few of the other disciples had decided to go fishing during the night. This was not really a big deal since it was the profession Peter gave up when he decided to follow Jesus. But in the days prior, their leader failed to fulfill their expectations and hopes of bringing a new kingdom to the earth and defeating their Roman conquerers when he was crucified.
Their hopes dashed, these disciples didn’t know what to do and decided to go back to life as they knew it before they met Jesus. Peter failed to catch anything that night, and in the morning Jesus appeared on the shore (unbeknownst to them that it was even Jesus) and suggested to him that he lower his net on the other side of his boat. When they did, they caught the mother load of fish.
Such a big catch that they couldn’t even contain it in the boat!
This being Peter’s livelihood, a lot of income was represented by this one catch. A night of catching nothing turned to an almost-sinking boat! When they realized it was Jesus, Peter jumped in the water and swam ashore, to find Jesus already had breakfast prepared for them.
It’s interesting to note that it was fish, of all things.
Jesus didn’t ask Peter to bring any of his abundant catch that Jesus Himself was responsible for them having caught, but He provided breakfast. But that’s for another post.
Some commentaries believe that when Jesus asked Peter “do you love me more than these”, that Jesus was in fact referring to the big pile of fish on the shore that Jesus had given Peter the word of wisdom which led to their catching. I’m not sure that interpretation is correct, since other translations of the Bible seem to indicate Jesus was asking if Peter loved him more than these other disciples present.
I personally believe Jesus was challenging Peter, asking Him: Do you love me because of what I can do for you?
Do you love me for more than just the sustenance I can help bless you with?
Or do you love me. Period?
It’s an interesting question, and it might not be the exact question Jesus was asking, but as Mike Breen again states later in the same book I mentioned a moment ago,
“Instead, Jesus reinstates Peter as the youngest son, testing his heart to see whether he will receive shepherd as his portfolio of leadership. Will you do the most menial task? Will you simply serve the people I love, even if you aren’t honoured for it? Jesus wants to know if Peter will do the most menial task out of love, or if he will be offended by the suggestion that he should do something as lowly as shepherding.”
Peter could make a lot of money fishing. Granted it’s not the same profession as being the founder of Facebook or Amazon, but he could have continued down the path he had taken of being a fisherman again, and Jesus could very well have blessed his business if he wanted to proceed with Plan B for his life and destiny.
Instead, Jesus was asking him not only if he loved Him, but if he’d take a pay cut and trust Him. I wonder when I see selfies of so-called apostles or pastors who are in their own private jets if it truly is necessary for their “global impact” for the Gospel. I’m not saying they’re devouring widow’s houses in order to live a luxurious lifestyle. But when that is truly the case, it’s outrageous. There’s nothing wrong with prosperity.
But there is definitely something wrong with exploiting the sheep for personal gain.
The Widow’s Mite
You have probably heard it taught that God loves it when we give sacrificially and appreciates it more than if we were giving out of our sustenance than out of our overflow. Though I believe this is true, I don’t believe the passage often cited is used correctly to show God’s heart in that.
The Scripture most commonly used to teach sacrificial giving when offerings are taken up in many of our church services is of the widow who had only two small copper coins to her name and that when she gave them, she was giving more than the pharisees and the rich people who gave larger sums out of their abundance.
You’ve heard that and know it almost by heart, don’t you?
Well let’s take a look at this passage. Especially the verses before it,
Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47, see Mark 12:38-40, emphasis mine)
As Jesus was telling his disciples this, they’re watching the rich make their offerings, and along comes the widow who puts in her offering:
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4, see Mark 12:41-44)
Why was it these mites were all she had?
Because of the hypocritical pharisees he mentioned just a moment earlier are exploiting such widows, and basically devouring their houses for their own gain.
When we ignore the subheadings in our Bibles, it’s easy to see the flow of thought and what events took place at the same time. The woman with barely anything to give was not meant as a lesson to us to give what little we have even if it’s sacrificial. Jesus’ words were an indictment on the pharisees and the scribes!
I believe Our Lord feels the same way today about those who makes themselves rich off of the Gospel while those funding them eat cat food.
If you love God, feed His sheep, don’t exploit them.