Note: We are very grateful to the Lord for those who have lovingly supported us with their finances, and we pray the Lord’s richest blessings upon them. This article does not reflect how we feel toward them who are our partners in the Great Commission.
The Church has a secret hidden away in her closet. It is actually an open secret. But most believers are reluctant to talk about it. They would rather be “tolerant” and “loving” and not face the accusation of being judgmental. But Jesus taught that if we first take the plank out of our own eye, then we will see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. Thus Scripture teaches that we can speak up under that condition.
The spirit of greed has invaded a significant segment of the Church of Jesus Christ (but certainly not all of it). This segment has become fat by living in a post-Christian culture that places a premium on not what we can do for God, but what God can do for us. The emphasis is on what we must do in order for God to bless us spiritually, materially, and so forth. We are taught correctly that God wants to bless us so that we can be a blessing to others. We see that there is an end and that there is a means to that end. The end or the ultimate purpose is for us to be a blessing. The means is God’s blessing upon us. But some have lost sight of the end and now focus on the means. They are more interested in being blessed than in being a blessing. Partially as a result of this the Church in the West is largely neglecting and failing to fulfill the Great Commission entrusted by Christ to us.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Because of the deceitfulness of our hearts, “prosperity teaching” in its various forms has now become very popular in certain segments of the Church. For example, just turn on your television to a certain type of Christian program, and you will learn all the ways God wants to bless you here on earth. More often then not, these messages end with an appeal to the viewer to sow their seed in some ministry by the giving of their finances. Sow and you will reap. Give and it will be given back to you. Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Yes, it is the Lord’s will for believers to support churches and ministries with their offerings. But because of the deceitfulness of the human heart, we focus on what we can receive by giving. It is of course not wrong to experience a measure of enjoyment when we receive. But it is not difficult for the heart to cross the line to where it desires to receive predominantly to finance a very comfortable lifestyle. It is not wrong for a believer to be wealthy and to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Rather it is a question of the priorities of his heart. Some of us preachers, whether unwittingly or otherwise, encourage wrong priorities in the hearts of God’s people.
Years ago when I was a local pastor in New York City we hosted an evangelist who had a gift for ministering to the sick. He had high expectations for a big offering from the people. In those days I had a degree of proficiency in getting people to give generously—something I had learned by watching successful and well-known preachers take offerings. Feeling the pressure to receive a large offering for our guest evangelist, I exhorted the people to give so effectively at the meeting’s end that one person said my exhortation was better than our speaker’s evangelistic message. After my short but very persuasive “give-to-get” message, we collected a large offering from God’s people that evening. But afterwards I felt badly, as if I had “prostituted the anointing” of the Lord.
There is another side to this coin. Some of what God’s people give so generously ends up financing the opulent lifestyles of some full-time ministers of the gospel. Here, “full-time” indicates those who preach the gospel and receive their living from the gospel according to the Lord’s command in I Corinthians 9:14. Some of them have become wealthy off the gospel. They insist on being lodged in the most expensive hotels. One celebrated evangelist stayed in a hotel costing a reported US$18,000 per night during an overseas Crusade. Others live in multi-million dollar homes, walk around in shoes costing thousands of dollars, insist on luxury limousine service, charge thousands of dollars for speaking engagements, or fly around in their own jet planes and helicopters. Some are willing only to minister in large churches; smaller churches cannot afford them. And they use Scripture very convincingly to justify such things. Yes, there may appear to be some justification for them. But the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
It is not an exaggeration to say that the “celebrity-superstar” spirit of Hollywood is invading a segment of the Church.
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. …21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
I am not pointing to any particular preacher as a false prophet. However, Jesus commanded us to “watch out” for them. False prophets look and sound like sheep. They preach the gospel and win souls for Jesus Christ. They can even prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. But their ability to minister in the supernatural does not mean that they are true servants known by the Lord—even Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve was given authority to heal the sick and drive out demons. It is well known that Judas had a problem handling money. False prophets will have to account to the Lord for how they have handled the matter of money. The Greek word translated “ferocious” in Matthew 7:15 literally means “rapacious” or “ravenous” as when describing an extortionist or a robber. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “rapacious” as “excessively grasping or covetous” and “living on prey.” Wolves prey on sheep to satisfy their excessive covetousness.
It is time for this “secret” to be revealed openly and for the Church to clean house before God judges us. Which should be the Church’s highest priority: completing the work which our Lord has sent us to accomplish and fulfilling the Great Commission? Or is it to maximize our comfort and wealth in this life through the Lord’s material blessings? Some may answer that we can have both in this life. However, remember what Jesus told the rich ruler who came to Him asking about eternal life. Jesus knew the priorities of this man’s heart.
Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.
When Jesus told the ruler he had to choose either riches or following Him, he become very sad. Now the Lord knows our hearts and does not require every person to choose between the two. But if we also balk like the rich ruler if and when we are asked to choose, then we may need to reconsider our priorities. We understand better what Jesus meant when he then said, “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” It is not impossible, but according to Jesus it is hard. Perhaps it is because of our deceitful hearts which only God can cure.
The Church is getting dangerously close to fulfilling the prophecy of the Church of Laodicea.
Revelation 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. …19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
But the Lord is giving us an opportunity to repent. May God grant us repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.