The Church: A Business?
The church is called many things in the New Testament: a kingdom, a vineyard, an army, a bride, a temple, and a body. Interestingly, one of the things it is never explicitly identified with is a business.
It is unfortunate then that so many in the modern church,when they think of the body of Christ, they think of it in terms of a business. Though intellectually we know that Christ changed the money-changers and the sellers of livestock out of the temple of God, for some reason there are those who still think God is going to be pleased with us if we develop the same mentality as those wicked Jews who saw the worship of God as a thing to be monetized and profited from.
Now, in fairness, most brethren who fall into this trap are likely not doing so for the explicit purpose of lining their own pockets; however, there is a very real spiritual danger in putting the things of the world (money), ahead of the things of the Spirit (souls). We cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Nor is there any text of scripture which teaches God is honored by a well-managed bank account. Still, there are many in the church who think that the church should be run like a business and who sincerely belief the good stewardship is synonymous with sound money management.
Consider some of the evidences of this belief. There are those members who think of preachers as “employees” of the church, and, when confronted with a minister who does not toe the line they think he should, believe the act of giving him money makes them the boss, able to dictate what and how he teaches. We see evidence of this in those preacher-searches where the congregation’s first priority is finding a man with the right diplomas and credentials. We see evidence of this mind-set in those who, when speaking of spending money on missions, charity, or other works, talk about cost-benefit ratios, or, “getting the most bang for the buck.” We see evidence of this attitude in those who want the church to grow numerically so that the congregation’s expenses can be better met.
Pointedly, there are examples in Scripture of men who made similar mistakes. Jesus himself addressed such mentalities.
The Rich Fool, immortalized by Jesus in parable, was a sound money manager. He spent his time preoccupied with how to financially secure his future, only to die and be called to account. Jesus’ attitude towards the man was not good, calling him a fool, and deriding the man for not having been rich towards God. (cf. Luke 12:14-21)
Likewise, the Wicked Servant who buried his talent did so because he was afraid of losing His lord’s money. He was afraid of his master’s anger if he made a mistake with that which was given to him, only to discover that the very wrath he wanted to avoid was directed at him for not doing anything with the money. Any return on the investment would have been preferable to the lord than no return at all. (cf. Matthew 25:24-28) His thrift was his undoing.
The Pharisees, who we are told, were lovers of money, mocked Jesus for His teachings on such things. (cf. Luke 16:13-14) Jesus would have none of it, proclaiming, “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) It is a hard lesson for some, but what men consider good stewardship of money and what God considers good stewardship of money are two very different things. The man who buried his money, fearful, was exhibiting fear borne out of worldly wisdom: he was afraid of being called account for bad choices and so made no choices at all. The Rich Fool, who planned for financial ease, was exhibiting worldly wisdom, but such thinking led him to misuse what God had given him.
One other individual who manifested a worldly wisdom towards money, and was subsequently rebuked by Jesus, was Judas Iscariot. When Judas witnessed Mary “wasting” her money by pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, he complained that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. (cf. John 12:3-5) Brethren who begin to complain about how money could have been spent better should make sure they are not falling into the mindset that earned Judas his rebuke from our Lord.
Congregations and Christians who fret and fear over “wasting” the Lord’s money, or who think that the best thing they can do with their money is put it aside for a “rainy day,”are in real danger of letting the wisdom of the world prevent them from doing the actual work God wants them to be doing. The church is not a business, and, while money plays a part in the work of the church, we need to understand that what is highly esteemed by men concerning finances is frequently nothing less than an abomination in the sight of God. God does not look upon these things the way most men do.
So, what does God tell us to do with our money?
Let us first notice that there are indeed some ways in which we can misuse the funds God has given us. We should not think that there are not bad choices that can be made, but these bad choices are not what most would think them to be.
First, we can misuse the Lord’s monies by doing nothing with them; burying them just as the Wicked Servant buried the talent given to him.
Second, we can misuse the Lord’s money by using it to promote false doctrine, error and wickedness. This is what is meant when the Spirit teaches us, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 10-11; NKJV) God is not telling us that we can’t even say hello to a false teacher, but we most certainly should not be giving them financial support.
Finally, God teaches us that we can be poor stewards of our money by spending it all on ourselves. Thus, James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spendit on your pleasures. Adulterers andadulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friendof the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:3-4; NKJV) Let us note the connection between thinking only of our own pleasures and desires, and “friendship with the world.” Such thinking may be highly esteemed among men, but it is an abomination to God.
So, again, what does God want the church doing with His money? Let us look at a few passages that reference money and see if we can detect a common thread.
There was a rich young ruler who came to Jesus, wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus, full of love for the young man, told him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21b; NKJV)Relatedly, Jesus taught all of his followers not to lay up treasures on earth, but instead to lay up treasures in heaven. It was in that context that Jesus warned against trying to serve both God and money. (cf. Matthew 6:19-21, 24)The rich young ruler was to lay up treasures in heaven by giving to the poor, by using his wealth generously to do good. He had to decide if he was going to serve God, or serve his own financial self-interests. Serving God required using the money God had blessed him with by giving it away.
Concerning the conduct and attitude of those Christians blessed with money, the inspired apostle wrote: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19; NKJV)
Let us notice again the connection, biblically, between giving away our money and laying a good foundation. How does God tell those who are rich to use their money? What is their attitude to be? They are to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.
This is not an attitude that only the “rich” are to have. (Though most Americans who thinks they are poor should take some time to visit places in the world where there is genuine poverty.) Thus, the Scriptures teach us, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28; NKJV) Why should you work? So you will have money, of course. What should you do with that money? “Give him who has need.”
One more passage along this same line of thought.
This particular passage is about “paying” the preacher for the work of preaching the truth,but let us notice the same similarity of attitude we are commanded to cultivate about money.
“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:6-10)
Does God want the church to financially support the preacher? Yes! He most certainly does.
But not as a business transaction. Rather, such support is to be done as an act of doing good, especially to one who is of the household of faith, in the support of the good things being taught. To think otherwise is to sow to the flesh.
You can use your money to sow spiritual seeds. But only if you are giving it away, doing good with it, caring for the poor, financing the spread of the gospel, and meeting the needs of others, both physical and spiritual. This is how you lay up treasures in heaven.
God gives us money. In part this is to provide for our physical needs. (cf. Matthew 6:25-30) But more importantly, He gives us money, as individuals, and in the church, as the means by which we can sow spiritual seeds, doing good, and laying up a good foundation in eternity. To put it bluntly, God gives us money above what we need for our immediate needs so that we can give it away. Does the church have money? If so, there is an expectation by the one who gives seeds to the sower that such money will be planted as spiritual seeds in the vineyard of the Lord.
But what of the matter of “good stewardship,” in relation to making sure we do the most good possible with the money that we have in the time that we have?
Let us make two points about such thinking.
First, if we search the whole of the Gospel of Christ, there is no evidence that God views the matter in this light.
Is it possible to spend too much to save a single soul? If God was not willing to spare His own Son (while we were still sinners) in the hope of saving sinful men, why should we think He would count the cost in dollars? Are we not rather taught that God is willing to give all things to those He loves? (cf. Romans 8:31-32) When we, having this world’s goods in hand, look at the need of our fellow man, whether a physical need, or a spiritual need, and we close our hands, and say, “I might be able to do more good with it elsewhere,” then how does the love of God abide in us? Should we not rather have the attitude, learned from Christ, that we are willing to lay down our very lives for them if necessary? (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) And when we think differently, have we not rather become lovers of money and friends of this world?
In the book of Acts, we read of the work of the evangelist, Philip. Philip, who had been one of the seven men appointed by the Jerusalem church, went into Samaria and had a great work there. Multitudes of the Samaritans were converted by Philips preaching and teaching concerning Jesus. (cf. Acts 8:5-6) Then, in the second half of the same chapter, God has another work for Philip. God sends Philip on a missionary trip into the desert, where Philip meets with a solitary traveler, an Ethiopian Eunuch, to whom Peter preaches Jesus, converting the man. (cf. Acts 8:26-27)
Which work was more important to God? Was the conversion of the multitudes more important to the Lord than the conversion of the single Ethiopian? Surely not. The question itself is misguided. There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over each single soul that is saved, and it is God’s intention that each person repent. “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14; cf. Luke 15:7, 10; 2 Peter 3:9) Sometimes this requires preaching to the multitudes. Sometimes it requires teaching one person at a time. Both are equally valid and worthy works.
The Bible does not tell us how much it cost for Philip to journey to Samaria to preach. It further doesn’t tell us how much it cost to journey south into the desert in order to teach the Eunuch. Could it be that God didn’t care about the cost? Could it be that He only cared about the work being done? It is not entirely implausible that preaching to the Eunuch required a greater financial outlay on the part of Philip and other individuals than the preaching in Samaria. We cannot know, one way or the other, but we do know that God wanted both done, regardless of cost.
When the church is given a door of opportunity to do good with money that God has given them, worrying about a “cost-benefit,” when souls are involved, is to be thinking in worldly terms. When we do so, we must ask, are we not making ourselves a friend of the world with such thinking? Did God count the cost too dear when He gave His only Son on our behalf?
When Jesus recommended that we “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:28), He was not directing us to hire accountants to make sure this or that soul was worth the price being paid. Rather, He was directing us to make sure our hearts were truly committed to doing all the work needed. Ironically, when we count the pennies to make sure this good work or that good work is paying proper dividends, chances are good that we, having put our hands to a spiritual plow, are looking back wistfully at the things of the world.
These are spiritual truths we do well to think upon, as we seek to lay up treasures in heaven,
A second point about thinking that “good stewardship” of God’s money requires us to be “thrifty,” is this: we might plant, we might even water, but when we sow spiritual seeds it is God who gives the increase. (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8) To think otherwise is foolish pride.
We cannot foresee the good that our planted seeds will do in this heart or that, as we scatter abroad. Some may land on good soil, some on bad, but who are we to judge the hearts of men?
There was, we are told, a vibrant church in Ethiopia sometime in the first century. Could the preaching of the Gospel to a single prominent Ethiopian have brought that about? Quite possibly. Let us be thankful that Philip, having preached to multitudes, was not too proud to allow himself to go in search of a single soul God would lead him to, regardless of cost or time.
When we think to ourselves, this good work is more worthy than that good work, we are having the wrong attitude. The right attitude should be sorrow that we can’t always do it all. And it is true, we can’t, of ourselves, always do it all. And we must each use our own God-given wisdom and discernment when deciding between two equally worthy endeavors. But God be merciful to us if we start making decisions based on which one will leave us with more money in our pockets. When we make such decisions, we should do so with a righteous judgment, not according to appearances or carnal expectations.
Do we truly believe that, on judgment day, God is going to berate us because we spent too much time or effort on saving any particular soul? Do we truly believe that God is going to tell us that we were in error when He gave us money and we gave it all away to help the poor, feed the hungry and send missionaries throughout the world? Will He not rather rejoice that we laid up spiritual treasures with the physical goods He gave us.
Sometimes the seed that we sow will fall by the wayside. This does not make the labor unworthy, nor foolish. God gives the increase. All we can do is take what He gives us and distribute it freely and generously. “Freely you have received, freely give,” is the attitude Jesus teaches us to have. (cf. Matthew 10:8b) The Bible teaches that God loves a cheerful giver. It does not say that He loves a thrifty giver. (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7)
We should be glad that God does not give to us with the same tight-fisted attitude with which we often give to others. Rather, He freely sends rain and sun on all men alike, blessing them with the bounties of His creation. Rather, He freely gave us His Son that we might have eternal life. And He does all this knowing that some people will not appreciate any of His gifts. But He continues to give, and He teaches us to do the same. (cf. Matthew 5:44-48; John 3:16)