The sin of “ministry for hire”

By Pastor David Cox

Micah 3:11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, [Is] not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.

In our modern world, we have fallen victim to the idea that certain things have to conform themselves to the society, culture, and the economic forces of our day. This is seen most clearly in the way people “do church” in our day. For most Christians, we have become accustomed to the worldly ways of others, and we even expect this. But the Bible has many things to say about finances, and the way that the ministry is to be performed.

There are two very important considerations that orientate us as to the economic structure of our lives and our churches and ministries. The first is the all powerful avarice or covetousness, which is idolatry. The second grave danger is false prophets, who for personal financial gain, enter the ministry in order to “fleece the flock of God.”

Luke 12:15 And he said unto them,Take heed,and beware of covetousness: for a  man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

This principle is a very strong principle that runs throughout the Bible. A person trusts in something to get him what he wants. He either trusts in his own efforts and accumulation of those efforts (riches) or he trusts in God. The two cannot mix. God exhorts us with the clarification that we enter the world nude and with nothing, and we will exit the world and enter eternity just the same way, carrying nothing of all we accumulate with us. Possessions is not really how we should evaluate or value our lives, or the lives of others.

The second verse that

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.

Paul’s exhortation is to the pastors of these churches in Ephesus, and his concern was that they spiritually feed the flock of God. This speaks of spiritual edification, or in other words, spiritual education. Paul’s observation is that the wolves will enter in and “not spare the flock”. They will fleece the flock for everything that they can take from them, because the mark of a grievous wolf is that they cvet another man’s silver, gold, and apparel. In other words, the mark of a false prophet is their personal financial enrichment at the expense of the brethren. Is it just me, or do other people think it unjust, outrageous, and excessively (wolfly) to hand over half the price of a house to have somebody educate your children? A couple with both working can barely pay for a house for themselves in 30 years of payments, and if they send two kids to a typical Christian university, they will probably hand over close to that much between tuition, room and board, and all the extras that these wolves such out of you. What happened to Christ’s principle, “freely you have received, freely give” Mat 10:8? As a pastor of a local church, I observe what I understand God’s rule to be. I give freely to my church people, and as they have funds and God puts the desire in their hearts, they give. I don’t condition my ministry to them on their financial contributions to me. As a man of God, I have to learn to be content with what God gives me, and not try to force the sheep to give me even so far as their own life blood.
Ezek 34:2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord unto the shepherds; Woe[be] to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
Ezek 34:8 [As] I live, saith the Lord, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because [there was] no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search  for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;
God condemns those spiritual leaders that put themselves into a position of rule over God’s people for the end of personal financial enrichment. Simply put, this disqualifies them from ministry. While most local churches have a modest building and facilities, Christian Universities have millions of dollars of investment in properties and buildings. The people who work there in general make good money, at least those at the top. The Bible repeatedly put the example of renouncing riches as the goal of a man of God. These people try to justify the just the opposite. They reason that they “have to charge for their services” because it is a university and there is simply no other way of doing things except that they charge the students.
They promote themselves saying that they are a “Christian university”, and although you won’t get many to go on record publicly saying this, their attitude is very clearly, a graduate from their “ministry” is a thousand times more prepared and better Christian and minister than somebody who is a product of a local church. Perhaps this is true, because many pastors of local churches have put their ministries on “coasting” (doing the absolute minimum and minimum quality) because their thinking is that all the real Bible teaching will come when their young people go off to Christian college. First of all, this is simply a surrender of their mission as if they could not do it, yet they won’t get out of the way either, they stay in control of the local church, just barely maintaining it, and the local church’s mission (in their eyes) has changed from evangelization and equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry to be a feeder church for some Christian university. All the activities and focus of their church become preparation and convincing their members to send people to the Christian university that they somehow “are part of.” Secondly, this attitude basicly leaves all the adults helpless and floundering, because they work and pay the bills and cannot drop everything and go off to college. A NT biblical church is one that takes its evangelism and equipping/discipleship obligations before the Lord seriously.
At the same time they are telling us that it is absolutely necessary to make the Christian TEACHING INSTITUTION “ordained of God” a “for-profit” institution, they themselves are taking a large salary. Their reasoning is that any president of a secular business that takes is $100 million a year ($20,000 tuition each x 5000 students) has the president and vice president with salaries of 2-5 million each. While publically they do not mention these numbers, they exhort the students to be thankful because mom is washing floors somewhere back home, and dad also is doing some humiliating and demeaning minimum wage job in order to make extra to pay the school bills (which allows the top leaders of the University pyramid to have their own personal jets). Remember that these people insist that “this is the only way.”
When you study the pages of Scripture you find no hint of a structure or thing similar to a Christian university. What you find very clearly in the New Testament is the foundation of the church, and this is the instrument and method of God to do the work of God. There were no Christian universities nor schools of any kind in the New Testament. The scriptural teaching institution in the New Testament is the local church, that specifically has these distinctive factors:
(1) it is slow so people can slowly change their lives with firmness.
Why is slow better than the fast track? Because nothing permanent can be done quickly. Instead of spiritually changing people, fast, compressed, intense Christian education becomes a “facts filling heads” type of thing. Knowledge makes people haughty and arrogant, and it doesn’t make them spiritual. Moral change is what we really want, and this change makes one like Christ, and takes one close to Christ. The fast track is like a young fellow going up to some girl he hardly knows and says, “I don’t really know you, but I want to marry you, so what can I do in 1 week to get us to that point?” Girl’s response: “Get away from me, because building a relationship is not a list of things you have to do.” This is the same with God. You must walk with Him over a goodly period of time, learning, responding, and changing in order to be close to God. Spirituality comes from knowing God, not knowing facts. This knowledge of God does has a lot of spiritual principle involved with it, but understanding is what is necessary, not rote knowledge. Changing to reflect what you understand is also necessary. This literally takes years, and a life time. Nowhere in the Bible is any saint of God “on a fast track” with God. Moses took 40 years in Egypt, and 40 years in the desert before he even really started with God. Paul, went off into the desert to study and learn God’s word with just his holy Scriptures and God to teach him (no human teachers) and this took a few years, but Paul was a false prophet with the Sanhedrin before that, and had devoted his life to knowing the Scriptures from childhood probably. This wasn’t a fast track either. After a lifetime of study, it took him 3 years in the desert to understand that Jesus is the Messiah? That salvation is by grace and not works? The apostles did have a short time with the Lord Jesus Christ, and I would recommend that if anybody has the opportunity to personally sit under such a great teacher who is actually God incarnate to do it, BUT since the only teacher like that is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ has left and won’t come back until the revelation events, the rapture, I don’t think that is an option for anybody these days either.
(2) it has a known person who lives in front of the students what spiritual principles he teaches.
You can never get around the requirement of personal example as absolutely necessary for teaching spiritual truth. Morality is catch, not taught. You have to personally know the teacher, and see the teacher’s working out of the spiritual truths that he is teaching. Morality is not transfered from one person to another through book-learning, it is transfered by listening to why people live the way they do, and watching and evaluating their life and seeing that it works, and that it is reasoned biblical approach that has the authority of God ON HIS LIFE STYLE. Because of this I could never attend a church pastored by a homosexual, a child molestor, nor a divorced pastor. His lifestyle is unacceptable for me. But what about a Christian University? In any university setting, the whole point is to bunch up a lot of students in a classroom, and keep student away from professor except in the money making endeavor of teaching. ALL TEACHING in a Christian University is pure fact and head-learning, because you have absolutely no idea what kind of person is teaching you. Anybody can be a hypocrite, and play the part of a “spiritual person” for 50 minutes in class. But to go to the house regularly, weekly, and go out witnessing beside them, and see how they interact with their spouse and children, and get to know their family personally, this tells you what kind of man of God that teacher is. All of this is either absolutely prohibited, or it is very staged (i.e. students will get to know a single professor at a staged event where things can be controled and covered up as to the true spiritual nature of the teacher and his family). It is highly disturbing to see how Christian University staff seem extremely fond and very competent at acting. Many Christian Universities will have a tremendous drama and acting division on campus, and they will put on “theatrical works” showing off the great acting talents of these teachers in being excellent hypocrites, excuse me, actors. An actor is nothing more than a hypocrite, to be something you are not, and convince others by your sincerity and talent at deceiving others. In this, the Christian University professor excells. Does anybody out there think at all? This is a bad sign, not anything to be lauded.
Moral character is transfered from one person to another when the recepient (student) knows the moral character in the giver (teacher), and the teacher explains the biblical  reasons and basis for his lifestyle.
(3) God’s instructional method is free.
Mat 10:8freely ye have received, freely give.”

When Christ sent out the apostles on their mission trip, he imposed on them some spiritual principles of “how to do the ministry”. One of these is that what we deal with has to be free. At the same time, the minister as a worker is worthy of his salary (James 5:4). Paul discusses his right to financial support (forebear working in a secular job in order to dedicate himself to the ministry) in 1Cor 9:1-14. He resumes and concludes with verse 14.

1Co 9:14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

Mat 10:10 “for the workman is worthy of his meat”

Gal 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

1Tim 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Luke 10:5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace [be] to this house. 6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. 7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.

What we observe here is important to insist upon in Christian ministry. First of all, everything is free. As we have not had to pay to receive the Gospel or our spiritual discipleship or our spiritual food, neither should you charge others. Next we see that it is a spiritual responsibility for all Christians to support those ministers that are working locally in their local church to spiritually feed them. Those that work in doctrine and exposition of the Word of God are due double salary if they labor well. But ALL WORKMEN are due their salary. Therefore our conclusion is that the people should pay their minister that gives them spiritual food on a weekly basis, but what they receive should not be charged for, but freely given. Why? How does this work? According to the University people, it cannot work on a free will basis. So let’s look at what they say and how it relates to what God says.

First of all, a Christian making a meager income, will not go to the bank and borrow money equivalent to about the price of a house in order to spiritually educate two of his kids. This is true. But why do Christian Universities charge so much? Why do they put their tuitions equal with state and secular (pagan) universities? Because that is what they are considering themselves to be, just a secular university. They have the same desire for income that a secular university has. They are no ministry except for PR purposes (Public Relations). Otherwise they would have pity on the poor, and give the poor free tuition. It is amazing to see secular universities giving away tuitions to the poor and the Christian Universities extending credit for 30 years to their poor brethren. This is not charity! It is big business. If I purchase a product and it does not work, am I not within my rights to ask for a full refund? So why do Christian Universities graduate so many students that never actually get jobs in their career field? Many as high as 60% or 70% will have to go back to some local junior college and get a real education in what is available and what they can do. The job of the Christian University is to prepare the student for life, but they fail morally to communicate moral standards, and they fail on a normal technical level. Their graduates on the whole don’t enter their fields of study. This is because it is a business, and they will always take a student’s money, let him study for something that knowing people in that field would tell him that he has scarce chances of getting into (because the student is not smart enough, it is over saturated as is, or simply the truth, people in that field rarely will take graduates from a Christian college). Even the same Universities parade their few success stories of a few students that are accepted into medical school or law school, but if you ask what percentage of their prelaw or premedicine students actually are practicing lawyers and doctors, they become strangely silent.

Micah 3:11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, [Is] not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.

What we see in the Scripture is that moral education should be free, and as a moral principle. Either morality works or it does, and if morality does work, force the financial survival of the teachers of morality on their success at teaching. Don’t THEY AS SPIRITUAL GIANTS HAVE THE FAITH TO LIVE BY FAITH? Short answer, yes they are spiritual giants (according to them), but no, they will not risk their financial wellbeing to “their faith”. This is always the problem with a false prophet. He will never be satisfied with what God gives, but gets a covetous soul to himself, and must enter upon “fleecing the sheep” somehow. Some money making scheme. I would insert here that so many churches today have a store where they sell religious trinkets and books and things under the same lack of faith.

So God works this way. Teach everybody without charging anybody. We deny religious service to nobody, but concentrate on all those who attend and participate at our church. But we teach the spiritual principle of God’s people having an obligation to support their local ministers, and if the church as a whole successfully communicate this moral message (which they should be experts at arguing the truth of Scripture) then they will support themselves. The system is designed by God in such a way, as to always work with true ministers of God, immediately indicate a false prohet because they cannot work the system. A false prophet does have the personal reputation and trust that a true man of God  has, and so he has to resort to brow beating his people, selling junk, or embarrassing the people into giving. Morally arguing the obligations of Scripture are met with resistance by the congregation because he lives in a high life style that they don’t have, and so they won’t give. The most common way around this barrier is to hide his lifestyle from those who pay and then “poor mouth” (talk of all your “valid” ministry expenses, and how poor and needy you are, and how even a single dollar would help out, etc). Some churches do this, but every Christian university has a system which in the system of a University, the income and profit is hidden, the fees are charged and non-negociable by those who pay the tuition, and it has all the marking of a false prophet.

Luke 12:15 And he said unto them,Take heed,and beware of covetousness: for a  man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

We as Christians must renounce riches as the goal of our life. It is placed on the shoulders of true Christian ministers to bear this standard. God repeatedly place the requirement of abandoning financial gain as the goal or highest priority of our Christian life. This is mockery to have 6 digit incomes and pretend that you comply with this requirement of God as an entry level spiritual requirement before spiritual ministry is allowed.

I would add that the Bible places an exception here in that of missionaries. No they are under same requirement of rejecting and denouncing riches as their goal or priority. But a biblical missionary is the ONLY exception of a local church sending money to somebody that is not locally ministering in that particular church. All other ministries are under a physical local church which monitors the economic lifestyle of those ministers. Most Christian ministries today are specifically set up to hide their economic situation as well as their true doctrines and practices from “their donors.”

I would also briefly state that the only thing that is a biblical NT missionary is a man or couple who goes to another country to evangelize and start local churches. Outside of that pattern, the person/ministry breaks with the NT pattern, and he is no longer biblical.

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