10 times commercialising ministry is condemned
Mar 21, 2023 · Jon Here · 6 min read
The Bible has a lot to say about greed and love of money. Almost all Christians know it should be avoided. But how about misuse of money in ministry? While a more specific subcategory, the Bible too has much to say on this topic. It isn't limited to those who sell ministry either, but also those who offer to buy it. Here are ten passages that condemn commercialising ministry.
When Jesus said "freely you received, freely give" (Matt 10:8) when he sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel, the obvious implication is that ministry is not to be sold. But there are also specific examples of times it was sold, and condemned.
1. Eli's sons want the best meat
Priests in the temple were supposed to be provided for by receiving some of the food offered at the temple after it had already been given/sacrificed to God (Num 18:8-20). Eli's sons, however, decided that they wanted to eat the meat before it had been sacrificed, effectively requiring payment from those who came to worship God.
Even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast, because he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” And if any man said to him, “The fat must be burned first; then you may take whatever you want,” the servant would reply, “No, you must give it to me right now. If you refuse, I will take it by force!” Thus the sin of these young men was severe in the sight of the LORD, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.
2. Micah condemns the corrupt leaders
The leaders, priests, and prophets of Israel did many abhorrent things in the time of Micah the prophet. But included in that list is charging for ministry.
her priests teach for a price, and her prophets practice divination for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD, saying, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster can come upon us.”
Most of their practices would be abhorred today, such as judges taking bribes. Yet most Bible translations read the action of the priests as simply charging for their teaching, which is common practice today outside of Sunday services.
Some people explain that the reason why they sell ministry is because people would often offer to pay for it anyway, believing this would be appropriate since they also pay for everything else in their life, like shopping and servicing their car. However, this too is condemned.
3. Gehazi cursed with leprosy
There is a story in Kings about an army commander called Naaman who had leprosy, and Elisha the prophet instructed him on how to be miraculously healed. Naaman was very grateful and responded as follows:
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God, stood before him, and declared, “Now I know for sure that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha replied, “As surely as the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will not accept it.” And although Naaman urged him to accept it, he refused.
While Elisha refused payment for ministry, his servant Gehazi thought this was foolish. Why not accept payment if it is offered? What's the harm in that? So he ran back to collect the payment and was cursed with leprosy as punishment (2 Kings 5:27).
While the Bible condemns charging for ministry it also condemns offering to buy it.
4. Simon wants to wield the Holy Spirit
Simon was amazed at the ministry of the apostles, and especially how God granted his Spirit to people they ministered to. Rather than become part of that ministry through sincere means, he thought he could obtain it with money.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. “Give me this power as well,” he said, “so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter replied, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in our ministry, because your heart is not right before God.
Note that Simon's sin wasn't obtaining salvation for himself through money; he was seeking to dispense "God's gift" to others, just as the apostles were. Simon's sin became known as "Simony", the sale of spiritual things.
Profiting from ministry
In addition to actual examples of people commercialising ministry, the Bible has several things to say about those who make a profit from doing ministry.
5. The Super Apostles
In 2 Corinthians Paul responds to the "super apostles" who were not just leading the church astray but were also seeking to profit from their "ministry". Unlike the super apostles, Paul never charged for ministry (2 Cor 11:7), he only accepted voluntary financial support (Phil 2:18).
For we are not like so many others, who peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as men sent from God.
6. Paul's warning to Timothy
Paul warns Timothy about false teachers who seek to make a profit from their ministry. If ministers are not to profit from ministry, what is the alternative? Paul gives it. To be financially supported and content with that.
men of depraved mind who are devoid of the truth. These men regard godliness as a means of gain. Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
7. Paul's warning to Titus
Paul also warns Titus about false teachers who will teach for dishonest/shameful gain. Is the problem that they are stealing or obtaining money illegally? Probably not, just that they take more than they actually need.
For many are rebellious and full of empty talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced. For the sake of dishonorable gain, they undermine entire households and teach things they should not.
8. Requirements for elders
Peter also talks about those who minister for "shameful profit". Again, it is unlikely illegal activity is in view here as that would be too obvious a sin for elders to mistakenly fall into. Rather ministry can never be entered into with mixed motives, you cannot serve God and seek to make a profit at the same time.
As a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and a partaker of the glory to be revealed, I appeal to the elders among you: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over them not out of compulsion, but because it is God’s will; not out of greed, but out of eagerness;
Mixing commerce with ministry
It is fine to engage in commerce in society at large, but Jesus himself warns us of the danger of mixing commerce and ministry together.
9. The inability to serve both God and money
Seeking to serve God and pursue money at the same time is not possible according to Jesus, as it will render one or the other insincere.
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
10. Jesus cleanses the temple
Last and most memorable is Jesus' anger at those who tried to profit from people who came to worship God in the temple, as recorded in all four Gospels:
In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!”
Obviously Jesus was not opposed to the general sale of animals in a normal market. But people were seeking to do commerce in a place of ministry and worship, God's very own temple. While the holiness of the temple is important context, we should remember that God's Word is also holy, and all ministry deals with that which is holy.
We too have turned ministry into a marketplace, and the Lord is not likely to be pleased.
Jon has served as a pastor, a missionary in South-East Asia, and went on to start his own company for creating apps for mission. Every app his company makes is free to use and open source.
“The first app I made was for evangelizing using plain Scripture. It was almost done when I realised Bible translations forbid sharing plain Scripture! Copyright has been the number one barrier to my ministry ever since.”