Now that I have your attention, allow me to explain my statement. The New Testament presents at least three things ministries (groups of Christ-followers working together on mission) need, and money is not one of them.
1. Ministries need leaders who are free of the love of money and full of the love of God
What is the “love of money” as referred to in 1 Timothy 3:3? For years I thought it referred to leaders who were greedy for gain or, in modern terms, in it for the money. While the idea of being “greedy for gain” does appear in Titus 1:7 as a trait that must not be present in the lives of Christian leaders, the Greek word, philarguria, defined as “the desire for money” or “the love of money” in antiquity refers to an different concept altogether.
This term refers to people who think money is the answer to every problem, and in so doing, bestow it divine honors and, consequently, are guilty of idolatry (cf. Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). My favorite first century usage of this term appears in the writings of Philo, a contemporary of Jesus from Alexandria, who depicts people with this vice in a manner that sounds like present day development officers.
“All the needy who are possessed by that grievous malady, the desire for money (philarguria), though they have no wealth of their own on which they may bestow worship as its due, pay awe-struck homage to that of their neighbors, and come at early dawn to the houses of those who have abundance of it as though they were the grandest temples, there to make their prayers and beg for blessing from the masters as though they were gods. To such he says elsewhere “Ye shall not follow idols and ye shall not make molten gods,” thus teaching them in a figure that it is not fitting to assign divine honors to wealth. (Special Laws 1.24.3; cf. Leviticus 19:4)
When we fall into the trap of thinking we need money rather than God we are guilty of idolatry and actually become slaves to money, the one alternative god Jesus warned us about repeatedly (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). I have found that when I am attuned to the love of God, this affliction leaves me because my confidence is rightly placed.
2. Christ-followers working together on mission need more Jesus
As the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus, the Son of God, is all we need and will ever need. This is why He told people with resources to sell them and share them not with Him but with the needy (Mark 10:17-31). He instructed us to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth (Matthew 6:19-20). Jesus, in all his teachings essentially communicated: “Money is not the answer to life’s problems! I am! Show you believe I am by how you use money.”
3. Ministries need Spirit-empowered stewards to participate in the gospel
Christ-followers are stewards of three things for which we will give an account: spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10), material goods (Matthew 25:14-30), and the eternal gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). We “participate in the gospel” when we put our gifts and goods to work to make known the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:3-5), or in plain terms, when we are all in!
When we exercise our spiritual gifts, ministry happens not rooted in our skills but the Spirit’s strength. This is why our money or our talents can often be a hindrance rather than a help to ministry, because they lead us to think we can do it rather than taking a Pauline posture that the Spirit of God is working in us to do it (cf. Philippians 1:6).
Obedient followers who participate in the gospel are also referred to as faithful stewards. God owns everything and we are stewards of His resources. In the parable of the money (a.k.a. talents) two stewards are lauded for “putting to work” the Master’s resources, while the hoarder ended up like the sad folks on the TV show, Hoarders: they are ruined by fear. Ministry happens when people, empowered by the Spirit, put God’s resources to work as instructed.
Contemplation and Action
If after thinking through this you feel convicted by these truths, join the club. I have had to repent like Simon in Acts 8:18-24. If it sounds like a rebuke, receive it in the spirit of Peter’s rebuke in that same passage, which was focused on calling Simon to get his heart right before God. Ministries need leaders whose hearts are right with God.
So if our ministries don’t need money, what do we need? We need God the Father who says to direct all requests to Him (Matthew 7:7-11); we need more Jesus, our only Savior and Lord; and, we need the Spirit at work in and through people who participate in the gospel. All we do should reflect these beliefs and encourage this behavior.
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D., provides spiritual and strategic counsel for leaders for encouraging Christian generosity. To receive his daily Meditations, visit www.generositymonk.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLA is honored to have Dr. Hoag leading devotions at the 2014 CLA National Conference, April 14-16 in Dallas, TX. We invite you to join us for this annual event and encourage you to secure your seat at the Steward Leader Initiative Summit on Monday April 14.