Christianity is costly. When I became a Christian, I became a poor man. The program is not the same for everyone, but it does become a bit more difficult to serve mammon when you are serving the Lord. Jesus is pretty emphatic that Christians cannot serve both (Luke 16:13). The Apostle Paul claimed that he had learned how to live whether he was abounding or being abased (Phil 4:12). We must learn, too.
When I was a seminary student and then dependent on economic relationships, I also learned that activity requires resources. This is clearly seen in the necessity of the servant of the Lord to use other peoples’ money to accomplish their service to the Lord. Remembering the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1), I would like to suggest the economy of the church is not really between Christians, but between the Lord and His people. He owns and supplies everything we need for life and ministry (2 Cor 9:8–11).
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually (Acts 10:1–2).” Contrast this with Luke 16:14, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him (Jesus teaching that you cannot serve God and money). Here is the economic irony of the humble God-fearer and the proud religious leader.
So, we contrast the God-fearing giver of alms and the lovers of money who love gratitude and recognition (another depiction of the Pharisees). One has the heart of God to meet needs in the church, like Barnabas did in selling his possessions for re-distribution (Acts 4:36–37); and the other is about accumulating wealth for himself and looking prosperous to others (Lk 18:18–24).
The third party in these human relationships in the church is the one who needs resources to do the work. The erroneous premise of economic theory is the concept of “scarce resources.” Placing a limitation of activity in planning is always based on fear, not faith. There is no blessing for the church that operates in fear of lack. In this, the body of Christ denies her Head. Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of everything in the universe (Gen 1–2; Heb 1:2; 11:10). As the leader of His people, He has placed no limitations on our activity to make His name great among the nations, although we must submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, He says, “Give to everyone who asks of you (Lk 6:30).”
Activity demands resources, or we might say ministry needs to be funded. The Pharisee grumbles at another fundraising letter, while Barnabas stops to pray for more resources to give to those engaged in the ministry. It is more blessed to give one’s life, in service to the Lord for ministry and financing the ministry, than it is to receive gain for one’s own accumulation or consumption (Acts 20:35).
How rich was the church at Antioch in setting apart missionaries, praying for them, and funding them? How rich was the church at Philippi, who received the accolades of the great apostle for giving beyond their ability in the midst of their own poverty to fund the missionaries (2 Cor 8:3).
The minister and missionary of God’s Word will soon be begging God, the giver of every good and perfect provision for ministry (Mt 7:8; 21:22; 2 Cor 9; Jas 1:17). Their plea will find its way to Barnabas, who will be praying and to the Pharisee, who will not be praying for what God would have him dispense from His treasure.
Faithful stewards beg for money because they see the hand of God providing for the work He has called them to do, and they are humbled immensely in doing it. Faithful stewards understand the limitless treasures of heaven that are accumulated when the treasures of the earth in their care are discharged in faith to empower the workers to go to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). God gave His Son, and His Son inquires of your heart and mine, “Where is your treasure (Mt 6:21)?”
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 20, 2021