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What can or can't be sold?

The requirement to freely give does not apply to everything. While we do have a general encouragement to be generous with what we have (1 Tim 6:18), the command to freely give only applies to ministry. That which pertains to spiritual things. Not limited to occupational "ministers" but anyone who engages in ministry or creates ministry resources.

The scope of Jesus' command

Interpreting it too broadly or too narrowly misunderstands Jesus' expectation for ministry.

With that in mind, let's consider some specific examples:

  • Preaching: No church would ever charge to hear a Sunday sermon, and yet some churches do charge for downloading past sermons, especially by famous pastors. But the preaching of God's Word should never be offered for pay.
  • Conferences: The preaching of God's Word should never be charged for, whether at a church or at a conference. However, other aspects of conferences are less clear. For example, it could be permissable to charge for food, rent, or accommodation and still make clear that the actual teaching is free of charge.
  • Baptism: While most Evangelicals would be horrified at the idea of charging for baptism, charging for baptism classes has occurred despite often being a prerequisite to baptism. There should never be a financial barrier to any aspect of baptism and committing to follow Jesus.
  • Books: Christian teaching should not be charged for, whether it is being offered via a sermon or written down in a book. Some may choose to charge for printing costs but the actual teaching should always be free to access elsewhere or print yourself.
  • Music: Songs intended for corporate worship certainly must not be sold and one should never need a license to worship God. Songs that are personal expressions of faith are less significant, but if their purpose is to provide spiritual encouragement then they too should not be sold.
  • Weddings: With marriage being a symbol of Christ's love for his church (Eph 5:23), it is important to not charge for it. Modern weddings however involve far more elements than are necessary for the actual ceremony to take place. Churches should offer the ceremony and preaching free of charge, but there is no obligation to fund weddings beyond that.
  • Funerals: Like weddings, funerals are also spiritually significant occasions and the base ceremony should be offered free of charge, but there is no obligation to provide beyond the base ceremony.
  • Counselling: Assisting people as they deal with difficult life circumstances is usually a deeply spiritual affair and so Christian counsellors should not charge for such ministry.

Other products and services in areas such as IT, audio/visual, websites, etc. are not as clearly connected or essential for the proclamation of the gospel. As such, they don't necessarily have to be freely given. They are important parts of most modern churches though, and so believers may choose to offer them freely in the aim of supporting gospel ministry. Some contexts may be more clear than others in this regard.