by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, November 30, 2007
"We have become so engrossed in the work of the Lord that we have forgotten the Lord of the work."
Men discovered long ago that religion can be big business. The Bible and history are replete with stories of presumptuous hustlers, claiming to represent God and to know His will as a means to gain fortune or influence. Balaam made his living by entreating the "gods" (demons) to bless or curse on behalf of his paying customers (Numbers 22-23). Simon Magus viewed the Holy Spirit as a commodity that could be purchased—and had he been successful, he likely would have used it to make money (Acts 8:9-24). In contrast, when sending out His disciples, Jesus Christ reminds them that their authority to heal and cast out demons had been given freely—and they were to give freely of these gifts in service to others (Matthew 10:9-10).
In modern times, it took only a short while after its invention for the television to became a primary medium for preachers to solicit money. This solicitation is typically done under the guise of "supporting" this or that ministry, or helping to preach the gospel to the "unsaved." But, to be blunt, much of it is just a pious pyramid scheme, focused on gaining more supporters so it can have the resources to . . . gain more supporters. But to what end?
Today, some religious hucksters even make guarantees to followers (and potential followers) that, essentially, God will protect them during the Tribulation if they become loyal tithe-payers. Selling their houses and sending in the profits, they add, would probably please God even more. In reality, this practice is little different from the Papal indulgences of yore: a claim to have the standing with God to placate His wrath—for a price to be collected and used by the middleman.
All of this begs the question, how much money does God need?
Whether or not Christians have financial obligations to the church is not the issue here. We do. Moses took up an offering—commanded by God—for the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-2). In the New Testament, Jesus affirms that the Pharisees should be tithing carefully (Matthew 23:23). Paul claims the right—the authority—to make his living from his preaching, implying that the brethren had the obligation to support him through tithes and offerings (see I Corinthians 9:7-18; II Thessalonians 3:6-9). However, in none of Paul's epistles is there even a hint of a message that "Time is running out! The end is near! Keep sending me your money so I can do God's work."
What is God's work? Can men do it? Will more money cause it to be done better or faster?
John 6:29 defines what the work of God is: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" God's work is getting people to believe—specifically, to believe in the One whom He sent, the Head of the church. Because of our short time on this earth, we naturally desire to do as much as possible, to make as much progress and have as big of an impact as we can, before our time is up. Humanly, we believe that "money answers everything" (Ecclesiastes 10:19), and so, our logic goes, with more money we can get more done faster, so we—WE—need more money in order to do "God's Work."
Yet, if it is God's Work, will He not finance it? Will He not be doing it? Can a man make another truly "believe"? Where is God in this picture?
The plain fact is that God is not calling all people at this time (John 6:44, 65). For only a small number is true belief even possible, and for those few, only God can instill that belief. Faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). While God's servants certainly have a part to play in this—and financial resources are required for the work He gives His servants to do—it is God who is running things.
Only God knows with whom He is working at this time to instill belief. Only God knows what it will take for them to believe. Only God knows how much time is truly left. Therefore, only God knows what resources are needed for Him to do what He is doing.
Jesus Christ paid the Temple tax—though it was unnecessary for Him to do so—through miraculously providing a fish with a piece of money in its mouth (Matthew 17:27). He provided bread and food not only for five thousand men, but when they were finished eating, there were twelve baskets of bread left over—one for each disciple (Matthew 14:15-21). Clearly, the Head of the church knows its needs and can supply them! The Creator knows how much physical rain is needed and gives it in due season—when the inhabitants of a land obey Him. Does He not also know how much money is needed for His will to be accomplished and when it is needed?
One of the hardest parts of overcoming human nature is surrendering control. Our carnal inclination is to determine our own goals, our own timelines, and the means we think are best for accomplishing our will. While this is not necessarily wrong on the physical plane, if we apply these same principles to God's will and purpose, it puts us in competition with the Almighty. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is leading His church, we will find it much easier to release the reins and allow Him to direct us. Relinquishing control—control that is not ours to begin with—allows us to look to God for direction, trusting that He will provide what He knows is required.
The bottom line is that all the gold belongs to God anyway (Haggai 2:8). As the coin in the fish's mouth illustrates, He has no difficulty distributing it according to His will. The difficult part for us is following His lead, confident that He will supply the need.